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Southeast Arizona, August 2002

Part 7:  Mount Lemmon

Finally made it up to Mt. Lemmon the next day (it seems like every other time I tried it had either been flooded out or snowed in or closed for some reason)! Actually, the eastern side of the mountain (i.e., the right-hand side of the road, at least up in the pines) was closed due to the aftermath of the big fire they had there recently. But all the rest of the areas were open, and it was glorious!

I followed the recommendations in the Davis & Russell guide, starting at the bottom at daybreak, where the cacophony of song was incredible! Added Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, both Mourning and White-winged Dove, Canyon Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, and Gila Woodpecker to the list right away. (A CardiPyrr sang but since he wouldn't show himself, he didn't get counted...) At the Babat Duag overlook added a noisy Brown-crested Flycatcher, a Black-headed Grosbeak, and distant Gilded Flicker to the list.

Molino Basin was terrific! The picnic area was closed, but the Arizona Trail was open, so I hiked at little of that along the creek. You're getting up into the chaparral/oak here, and it was easy to add Bell's Vireo, House Finch, Bewick's Wren, Lesser Goldfinch, both Canyon and Rock Wrens, Bridled Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Crissal Thrasher, Common Raven, and Cardinal (for sure) to the list. The scenery, as was all along this road, was spectacular!

Next stop was the Old Prison Camp; at the writing of the book I have they called it an unimproved site, but now they have a paved walkway and kiosk honoring a Japanese gentleman who pioneered for the rights of Japanese Americans during WWII. This area was a wonderful place to walk as well, with bigger oaks and some deciduous riparian things (cottonwoods?), where I added Arizona and Acorn Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Scrub and Mexican Jays, and Cassin's Kingbird. I had a question for the locals, in that up on the yucca-strewn, scrubby hillside, I heard what sounded to my ear like a Ladder-backed Woodpecker: both the "pic" and "laugh" were lighter than the Arizona calls. Unfortunately I couldn't get a visual, so my question was, can both species occur in this transitional habitat? This area looked not unlike transitional habitat in San Diego County where both Ladder-backed and Nuttall's can occur, but I am curious, as the calls of this bird sounded identical to our Ladder-backs in SD, and not harsh like the Arizona.


Left:  Yellow-eyed Junco at Rose Canyon.  Center and right:  Arizona Sister

Anyway, the next stop was Bear Canyon, now getting up into the coniferous woodland, adding Hutton's Vireo, the other Flicker, and Spotted Towhee. General Hitchcock Camp was closed, so I headed on to the two recommended vistas, Windy Point and Geology, where the only thing I picked up were White-throated Swifts (but the views were well worth the stops).

Despite the road crews working at the entrance, Rose Canyon was a gold mine (even though I dipped on the Red-faced Warbler): I parked and walked a little of the road as recommended, picking up Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatches (ubiquitous up here), a flock of Pine Siskins, and some very friendly Yellow-eyed Juncos. A Broad-tailed Hummer rang overhead, and on the way down to the lake (which was closed) I stopped for an "audio flock" that consisted of Western Bluebirds, an Olive Warbler, and a Plumbeous Vireo! Down at the amphitheater I thought I had a Grace's Warbler, but didn't get a good enough view. I thought the annual pass I purchased for the Coronado NF would cover this area as well, but a very nice ranger came by and told me otherwise; I guess he felt sorry for me cuz he let me stay for free after I told him I was just birding! On the way out picked up Robin for the day and House Wren for the trip.

Mount Bigelow Road was closed as well, so I just poked along the road to Bear Wallow, adding Hairy Woodpecker, Butterbutt, Brown Creeper, and near the main road a singing Greater Pewee. Had I to do it again I'd probably just park at the wide part of the road near the bottom and hike the road a little; the habitat looked wonderful.

Passed through the little community of Mount Lemmon, which was really cute; I was tempted to stop and have a mocha at their coffee shop! But I went on ahead to Marshall Gulch, which was a gorgeous hike along the creek and through deep woods, but it sure was a workout; I'm not sure I'd do it again (but maybe a sit in the picnic area would work)... Picked up Golden-crowned Kinglet in here for my efforts.

Marshall Gulch

Back at Ski Valley I indulged in a little chocolate sundae at the Irondoor Restaurant so I could sit on their porch and watch the hummer feeders! Broad-tailed were constantly in my face, but every once in awhile some Magnificents would show up, including one that had an awfully white throat. One Rufous Hummer was trying to intimidate everyone else, including the Mags, but he wasn't getting very far with them; the Mags just ignored him and just kept on sipping as he buzzed around their heads! A freeloading Steller's Jay also came in, as well as a very bold Yellow-eyed Junco!

Hummers at Ski Valley...


L-R:  Female Broad-tailed (with itch...), male Broad-tailed, and Rufous


L-R:  Black-chinned Hummer; female and males Magnificents


Left:  Selasphorus hummingbirds can be very difficult to tell apart: the amount of rufous on the tail of this bird suggests Rufous, but the size and shape of the tail suggest Broad-tailed.  Center:  "Long-crested" Steller's Jay, a candidate for a possible split.  Right:  Yellow-eyed Junco

After that headed on to the top of Mount Lemmon, stopping halfway up to listen and adding Red-breasted Nuthatch to the list. The trail at the top was absolutely beautiful, but didn't add anything new (the big excitement was getting "caught" while trying to take a potty break and thinking there wasn't anyone around for miles!). As an aside, while more people were in this area due to the fact that this was the "touristy" area and it was getting along to be mid-day, I was still impressed with how relatively quiet the whole birding experience was compared to the last time I made it up here (which happened to be on a Saturday): the place was mobbed then! It was so nice to have places like Rose Canyon practically to myself! (The fact that they were doing road work and had threats of delays could have deterred some people, too, but I had no problems...)

Trail at the top

I had originally planned to creep down the dirt road to Oracle, but that was closed as well, so I decided to do the drive-a-mile bit on the main road, and as it was, that worked out perfectly time-wise (even with a stop at the Ranger Station for souvenirs)! Granted, by this time there was more traffic and the lulls (so you could hear the birds) were few and far between, but even so was able to add Painted Redstart, Western Wood Pewee, Black-chinned Sparrow, Ladder-backed Woodpecker (for real this time), and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher as I descended through the life-zones! And the views going down were stupendous! The only frustrating bird was another CardiPyrr singing at the bottom who refused to come out; I strongly suspect it was a Pyrrhuloxia, but seeing as I can't tell the two apart vocally, I had to let that one go...

The grant total for the trip stood at 178 species!

Scenes coming down the mountain...


Spectacular views and rock formations


Typical Sonoran desert habitat at the bottom, with Black-throated Sparrow at right.

Go back to Chiricahua National Monument

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