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Southeast Arizona, August 2002

Part 5: Cave Creek Canyon

Was up at oh dark hundred the next morning to get to Cave Creek by sunrise, where there was no sun and it was nippy enough to have to wear my down jacket! Hiked the little nature trail near the entrance where the most interesting thing was a squeaky Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher; other than that and the usual suspects it was unusually quiet not only on that trail but the other nature trail over by Idyllwild Campground, and even South Fork had nothing much more than Canyon Wrens and Western Wood Pewees! My friend Jane Barnett, who was here the week before, mentioned that Cave Creek was dry as a bone when she was here; not any more! That sucker was moving right along and had washed out the trail crossing! I did run into three guys who happened to work at the San Diego Natural History Museum, and they had seen the trogon earlier, but I dipped on it this time.

That done, headed up the dirt road towards Rustler Park and stopped every mile, and this was a wonderful adventure! Found a trail early on called the Basin Trail, and while it was quiet as well, it ran along some wonderful sycamore riparian woodland that looked great for trogons (only got an Arizona Woodpecker for my troubles, though). Getting higher into what looked like a chaparral-like habitat, I heard yet another Black-chinned Sparrow, and I hadn't gotten up too far into the pinyon/juniper/whatever it is when I heard a Mexican Chickadee singing away! Found him on a dead tree just having a big time, and before long his mate came in, and that was the end of the concert! Also on the way up had a pretty pair of Painted Redstarts and a buzzy Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

       

Left:  Heading up Cave Creek Canyon.  Center:  Mexican Chickadee.  Right:  Deer in the road...

   

Left:  Painted Redstart.  Right:  Heading up the Chiricahuas to Rustler Park

But the icing on the cake was at a turnout where you got a wonderful view of the ridge, and as I was scanning it, I couldn't believe what I was seeing soaring above it: two small buteos that were just as white as they could be underneath: the Short-tailed Hawks! Unfortunately they didn't stick around for scope views; only TVs and a Red-tailed Hawk cooperated for that.

Up at Onion Saddle I took a little of the Shaw Peak Trail, where I picked up Red-breasted Nuthatch for the trip. On the way to Rustler Park I ran into Rick and Oz and their crew again! They had a flock of stuff so I joined in, getting a brief glimpse of a male Olive Warbler, and a more cooperative Grace's. A couple of Brown Creepers kept flying around, a Hutton's Vireo with an atypical song and no wing bars said hello (don't know if it was the same bird, but I wouldn't be surprised...) and more Mexican Chickadees chattered away; Rick confirmed that any thing I heard that sounded like a Mountain to my ears was indeed a Mexican, as they can have an identical-sounding "wheeze"! We went our separate ways after that; I went on to Barfoot Park, which I'll never do again: the road down there was horrible! (And the Lord said, "That's why I gave you the Short-tailed Hawks on the main road, so you wouldn't have to go down this!") Didn't find the hawks, but did get a juvenile Hermit Thrush on the way out. Ran into the crew again who was going to try and wrap up their high mountain stuff before the rains came (it was getting dark up there), while I went on up to Rustler, picking up a flock of Red Crossbills on the way and enjoying several close Yellow-eyed Juncos.

       

Center:  Young Yellow-eyed Junco.  Right:  Coming down the other side into the grasslands

Headed down the other side towards Wilcox after that, and it wasn't long before it started dripping, then lightly raining, then pouring!! (Saw some pretty good lightning bolts pretty close up, too!) There were some pretty good rivulets in the road, and one raging river across the main drag (I watched to make sure the pickup ahead of me didn't get washed away before I tried it), but all in all made it down without incident (and without birds, except for a calling Hairy Woodpecker); I promised myself that next time I was gonna try this end first, then work my way over to Cave Creek before the monsoons hit! Down in the grasslands where the sun was shining, added Botteri's, Black-throated, and Grasshopper Sparrow to the list, plus the usual grassy things.

View of what we just came through...

Made a swing around the Wilcox ponds before checking into the motel, and Jane had warned me to be prepared for shorebirds: she wasn't kidding! The place was full of Wilson's Phalaropes, as well as pods of Avocets and tons of Ruddy Ducks out in the deeper water. The first little pocket of birds included White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Dowitchers, both yellowlegs, the reported Marbled Godwit, and several Baird's Sandpipers. Somewhere a Semipalmated Plover called as it flew, as well as its larger Killdeer cousin. Swinging around to the other side added a Black-necked Stilt, and enjoyed watching the peeps: several Least Sandpipers tentatively crept up to the water's edge next to the huge Baird's, then spotted the reported Semipalmated Sandpiper: a nice crisp juvenile with smooth scaling all over the back, and a nice little eye patch and dinky bill. Actually, saw a second one as well before long, and then a Western came along and started chasing them out of his "turf"! Scrutinizing the swallows could pick out Barn, Tree, Rough-winged, Cliff, and at least one Bank (heard several), and in the bigger bird department a Forster's Tern sailed overhead while a Great Blue Heron stood sentry in the middle of the lake. Circling around to the beginning, found something that according to the book is even better than all those shorebirds: an Eared Grebe in with the Ruddies! A Cassin's Sparrow added music to all these goings ons...

   

Wilcox Sewer Ponds (aka Twin Lakes) has a plethora of shorebirds (mostly Avocets above)...

                                   

Left:  Wilson's Phalarope.  Center:  Pectoral Sandpiper.  Right:  Semipalmated Sandpiper

Headed on in to the motel, hot but happy!

Continue to Chiricahua National Monument

Go back to the Huachucas

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