We decided to get away from the election rat race (okay not totally) for some camping and birding . We left Sedona in the early morning (for Jack anyway) – 7:45 a.m. I had been up since 5:00 a.m. getting the last minute items into the van for the trip.
Our first stop was Catalina State Park near Tucson Arizona. When we made reservations the Tuesday prior to our trip, the campsite spaces on either side of us and across from us weren’t taken. I chose spot A-44 and once we arrived I realize it isn’t quite like the photo on the state park website. Very misleading. The photo on the website looks like there is some shade. The only real shade we got was from our van. We were so happy to have that shade as it got up to around 88 degrees F both days. Wind was in the forecast and we had it on most of the drive, but not at the campground where we desperately needed it. This is a very popular campground (those three vacant sites were filled when we arrived) and often it is difficult to get a site without a reservation. We plan to return in January and when we made reservations back in mid August all sites for February were full and we could only find one site that had two consecutive sites in January. I think people like it because you feel away from everything (adjacent to a National Forest) but just outside the park is a big mall – Walmart, Best Buy, movie theaters, and more.
We sat behind the van in the shade and read until late afternoon as it was too hot to walk until then. As we were sitting at our campsite, a neighboring camper called out a Greater Roadrunner. Sure enough the Roadrunnner was hoping from campsite to campsite. Crazy bird. Then about a half an hour later, a Cooper’s Hawk came flying through and landed in a nearby tree where the Roadrunner was earlier.
Around 4:00 PM we did walk the trail from the campground to the main trailhead parking lot. We only totaled 9 different bird species. Not good. We did have a Pyrrhuloxia. Jack and I call it the pyrex bird. Easier for us to say and we know what we are talking about. We also saw another Roadrunner. Yay!!! Some nice birds, but a lot fewer than two years ago when we were here last (December 31 (2018)/January 1,2019) and it snowed.
We haven’t been at this campground in November before so I’m not sure what the bird life is like this time of year. All I can say is that it is slow – not many birds. Maybe its the heat, lack of food, lack of water. I don’t know and I don’t like it. Our bird life is in peril from so many fronts: habitat loss, climate, window strikes, CATS, wind power, cell phone towers, and the list goes on.
Despite having been in the high 80s yesterday, it was quite cool in the morning, but pleasant. The clouds help. The pleasant temperatures lasted until about 9:00 a.m. when it felt like someone turned the heat up high as the sun broke through the clouds We were out on the “Birding Trail” at Catalina State Park when the heat increased. We walked to this trail from the campground, so all told we walked a little over 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) roundtrip. And when the temperatures increased quickly we were half way through our hike.
Once we got back to the campground off the the store we went to go buy ice for our cheap cooler. In this heat, the ice doesn’t last long. We have our new Dometic refrigerator for the van, but right now it can only be powered by a small battery we have in the car. This battery charges when we operate the van so sitting in the campground for several days does not charge the battery. I think having the battery available for our fans is more important than to keep food cool. We can buy ice daily if necessary. I didn’t bring down our electric fan so couldn’t take advantage of the electricity available at the site. And our refrigerator cannot be connected to a 120 V outlet. The goal is to buy a battery that will power the refrigerator and other items for several days before needing to recharged. We are looking at a Goal Zero Yeti 1500x. Expensive, but with the camping we do we need power.
We saw a lot more birds this morning than we did last night. In total, we’ve had 25 different species at the park, of which 6 are FOYs – first of year. None are life birds. Tomorrow we venture over to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona to look for the Eared Quetzal. Fingers crossed. I haven’t decided whether to bird along the way or just make a beeline for the canyon. We’ve been there before and love the area. Generally we visit there during the winter months and freeze. I wouldn’t mind some cooler weather, however. It’s so nice to get outdoors, camping and birding again.
While we were eating lunch, Jack saw a Greater Roadrunner in the campsite across from us. We lost track of it, but then I saw it under our picnic table. This is one brave bird. They are so fun to watch as they run, stop, lift their tales and their crest feathers, and look around. Then off they go again, some times very short distances, other times much longer, and then repeat the process all over again.
I love Indian food and there was a place nearby – Flavor of India – so we got take out. While the food was plentiful, the flavor was lacking. At least with my dish. I would not recommend this restaurant.
Today was a driving day. Luckily we had to travel near Ina Road, where a Northern Jacana (rare bird in the U.S.) has been seen, to get to our final destination of the day – Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona. We did see the Jacana! It was feeding on some vegetation near a bend in the Santa Cruz River (not much of a river – so dry here). I didn’t have my camera with me so no photo. I did walk back to the car (some distance away) to get my camera, but when I got back the bird was a no-show. Two birders said the bird flew closer to the bridge, but I couldn’t find the bird. It must have walked into the reeds. Oh well. This is not a life bird for me. We had seen the bird before in the U.S. when it made a brief appearance in Texas one year when we were driving through. Still these are great birds and so worth the short detour to see.
We continued on to Cave Creek Canyon. We love this area, but haven’t been here during November so not quite sure what to expect – both in terms of weather (pleasant) and people camping at the Sunny Flat Campground. There are only about 13 camping spots, and only half were full when we arrived. They are first come-first serve – so no reservations. You take your chances when coming because it is a popular campground. The cost is $20 per night and they have restrooms and water available.
We were here last in early 2019. Then with the old geezer pass it only cost $5.00 a night to camp (50% off). The price has doubled (now $10 per night – old geezer pass), but still very reasonable. We picked site #2 because it is heavily treed and we wanted to make sure we had some shade. We’ve had this site before during a winter visit and we had snow. In the winter, the sunny, open campsites are preferable.
On the way to Portal, we make a quick stop at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista. This is a favorite place to bird. You drive past the area on your way to Portal via historic Bisbee and Douglas, Arizona. There is a large old tree outside the visitor center where there is usually a Western Screech Owl. The owl was a no show this visit. We did walk to the river. Hot, with no water in sight so we gave up birding the greenbelt . Again, a very dry year. Of course we did get here around noon. Despite the heat I was surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot.
Once we got settled at Sunny Flats campground I walked up the road (FS42) in search of the Eared Quetzal that has been here for about the last five weeks or so (at least that is what we told). I didn’t see the bird on my walk as I didn’t walk far enough. On eBird, the sightings mention a bridge. I never saw the bridge so when I got back to the campground I got in the van with Moxie (Jack stayed back) and went in search of the bridge. I drove to the bridge and saw several cars parked along the road with people standing in the road with their binoculars looking up at a tree. I got out of the van, quieted Moxie, and looked up into the tree. There was the bird! Unfortunately it had its back to me. I saw it for about 5 minutes before it took off. Most e-Bird sighting of the bird were between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., so I didn’t expect to see the bird – there is actually a pair, and possibly a second male. Hopefully I will get a better view tomorrow.
Nighttime was comfortable – unlike at Catalina State Park where it was much warmer. Since the Eared Quetzal had not been seen before 9:00 a.m., we decided to start out about then and walk up to the bridge. The walk was pleasant and we birded along the way finding a large flock of about 20 Western Bluebirds in the trees hanging over the road, and a large flock of about 10 Wild Turkeys.
Once at the bridge we did hear the bird, but didn’t see it. Another couple had arrived shortly before and they too heard the bird. While we stayed near the bridge searching in the Hackberry trees, that couple walked down the road. When they didn’t come back, I decided to go in search of them. When we came around a bend in the road, there were about six masked people looking up into a tree. A branch hung over the road and a male Eared Quetzal was sitting on the branch. Everyone got great views of the bird. I decided to get closer for a better photo and I unfortunately flushed the bird (dang). Luckily the bird didn’t fly far, but it did have its back to us. We stayed about ten minutes and then headed back down the road.
After a brief snack, we then walked up the canyon road (FS 42E) about a mile where it dead-ends and becomes a trail up the south fork of Cave Creek. There were a few places where there was water in the creek, but not much. We did see a total of 15 species. I was happy to see several Brown Creepers and Canyon Wrens. Boy are those birds vocal – Canyon Wrens. One was real close and I got some decent photos. Wrens are probably my favorite group of birds.
When we got back to the campground it had filled up so now we have tent neighbors. At least there is more vegetation here between campsites than at Catalina State Park. Actually the neighbors were quiet for the most part. Always nice.
Mid afternoon we made a visit to Cave Creek Ranch located nearby. This is a private ranch with about 12 guest cabins, but they open up the area to birders from 10:00 – 4:00 p.m. They do request a $5.00 donation per visitor. We got to the ranch around 3:15 pm and proceeded to the feeders. There were a few birds at the feeder. It is generally much busier in the morning (we’ve visited the ranch during our last trip to the canyon). We did have two Blue-throated Mountain Gems (aka Blue-throated Hummingbirds) come to the feeder. I got a decent, but slightly unfocused shot of one of them showing off his beautiful blue throat (not the photo in the blog). Great birds. A Greater Roadrunner crossed the driveway to the main feeding area coming within several feet of two people watching birds. That bird didn’t seem to have a care in the world, at least with respect to people.
We broke camp around 8:00 a.m., headed up the road to see if we might see the Quetzal again – no luck. We then said goodbye to this beautiful canyon. About four miles down the road, we stopped at Bob Rodriquez’s place, a former Alaskan who keeps several feeders going. I swear there were over 50 Gambel’s Quail feeding at one time, and more in the adjacent vegetation. We’ve seen some good birds here in the past, including a Streaked Oriole.
After Bob’s place, we headed to Madera Canyon via the backroads. We probably should have gone via the freeways as we might of have gotten a campsite within the Bog Springs campground at Madera Canyon. It only has about 13 sites, so they fill fast. Since the campground was full we went to a dispersed area and dry camped nearby. Luckily we could park so we had some shade as it was quite warm and sunny out. Bog Springs Campground is shaded; the dispersed campground area is pretty open.
Before setting up camp, we did stop and check out the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. Lots of feeders and birds to entertain us. There were at least three species of hummingbirds: Rivoli (formerly known as Magnificent), Anna’s, and Broad-tailed. There was also a Red-naped Sapsucker in a shrub about ten feet from where I was sitting. This is always a fun place to sit and bird.
And speaking of Hummingbirds, on our way to Madera Canyon we stopped at Paton Center for Hummingbirds only to find it closed due to Covid-19. I think they could open the center and allow limited entry since the viewing areas are outside. At Patagonia village, the Gathering Grounds café and coffee shop was so busy people were spilling out the door. Crazy.
Got up early and headed up the nature trail (from the Proctor’s Parking Lot to Santa Rita Lodge) to bird. For the first twenty minutes it was pretty quiet – did see or hear a single bird. As we got closer to Santa Rita Lodge the bird species started picking up. A woman birder asked if we had seen the Williamson’s Sapsucker. I said no, but luckily on our way back to the van we did see the sapsucker. This is only my second sighting of this bird – period. The first time was at least ten years ago on a trail outside of Sedona. Nice to see the bird again.
We did stop off at the Santa Rita lodge again to bird. This is a favorite spot for photographers – they especially love to photograph hummingbirds. I bet this place had at least 7-8 hummingbird feeders out. I heard several guys talking and one guy said he flew in from Georgia to bird. He had already seen the Jacana, the Quetzal, and a Rufous-backed Robin. We didn’t try for the robin as we’ve seen it before at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. That had to have been over ten years ago because we still had our dog Cody, who died in May of 2011.
Surprisingly there weren’t too many people on the trail. Overcast skies and windy, so not that hot. Also helps that we are up in elevation here.
We spent the afternoon at our campsite. Luckily there was a breeze that kept it comfortable. Before it got dark we decided to go for a short walk on the nature trail. Again, not crowded, which was nice. On the way back I heard a bird song that sounded somewhat familiar. Then into a tree flew a Painted Redstart. This is a favorite bird (yes, I have a lot of favorite birds). Jack had decided before going on the walk not to bring his binoculars. He said I would see more interesting birds that way. He was right. Thanks Jack. I had so wanted to see this bird on this trip.
Our goal today was to return home, but with a stop along the way to bird – the Santa Cruz Flats. This area is north of Tucson about 50 miles (and on the way home). However, Mother Nature had other plans. There were strong winds, which in the “flats” results in nasty dust storms. Not so bad that we couldn’t see to drive, but enough that we couldn’t roll down the windows to see the birds or hear their calls or songs. So instead, we kept heading north to Sedona with high winds and threatening weather. Luck was on our side as many people decided not to venture north for the day or weekend. Traffic was normal and not the steady stream of Phoenix area residents trying to cool off for the weekend. Rain and snow are predicted over the next couple of days. The precipitation is badly needed so no complaints here.
I’ve heard there is a Ross’s Goose at a pond near a local golf course here. I need to go check it out. Remember …
IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD