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Southeast Arizona 2004

Part 5: The Chiricahuas

Left real early for Pinery Canyon the next morning; in fact, we got there about 20 minutes early! (I remember in years past taking an hour to get to the Chiricahuas, but this time it only took us 45 minutes…) I was a little concerned about the weather because it looked like it could still be raining, and the beginning of the road seemed pretty slick (but when I got out to check it, it seemed fine). But it was just overcast, and we had a marvelous trip up the mountain! Started off in desert grassland with Black-throated Sparrows, Blue Grosbeak, and Eastern Meadowlarks, but then got into this transition habitat rather quickly that the Painted Redstarts, Arizona Woodpeckers, and Bridled Titmice like, and it wasn’t long before we were in deep woodland! Even though I was doing the drive-a-mile bit, learned pretty fast to stop when I heard chirping, because the birds were hanging out in feeding flocks; things seemed kinda quiet otherwise. The first flock had Black-throated Gray Warblers, redstarts, and White-breasted Nuthatches, and at another stop things were reticent to show themselves, but did pick up Bullock’s Oriole for the trip. The "raging river" from last time was indeed a bona fide creek crossing, but much tamer this time!

Climbing the mountain and getting into the pines, the next flock we encountered had the hoped-for Mexican Chickadees, all three nuthatches, a Grace’s Warbler, and the real prize, a Red-faced Warbler, which I hadn’t seen in years! A very olive Plumbeous Vireo right above him had me distracted, however, wondering if it was a Cassin’s, but a quick check with Sibley showed that young Plumbeous can look like that. Heard Hairy Woodpecker at one point, and later a white-breasted woodpecker flew over the car that was undoubtedly that bird.

                                           

Pine habitat along the aptly-named Pinery Canyon Road houses the endemic (for the US) Mexican Chickadee

Before we knew it we were up at Onion Saddle and Rustler’s Park, where we added Red Crossbills and lots of Yellow-eyed Juncos (the scruffy-looking youngsters were particularly curious)! At the saddle a chickadee came out for pictures while a Golden-crowned Kinglet sang unseen and a Pine Siskin shot overhead. No sign of the Short-tailed Hawks this time; I thought I saw a flash of white through the trees at one point, but not enough to tell for sure. Heading on, my heart stopped when I heard an Olive Warbler singing, but the cadence sounded slightly familiar, and sure enough, it turned out to be two guys down the road playing a tape! They hadn’t had any luck with the bird thus far, and as it turned out, I ended up dipping on that as well, but did end up getting a nice Hermit Warbler for the trip!

At the turnoff to Paradise I decided to take that road, since it was new for me and was mentioned as a good place for Juniper Titmouse. Only got Bridled, but did pick up a couple of Greater Pewees flopping around and calling! Tons of Black-throated Grays came in to pishing, and the lower we got, the hotter it got, but it sure was pretty scenery! Near the bottom picked up a calling Crissal Thrasher as we got back into Cactus Wren and Black-throated Sparrow country, and I thanked God we did it the way we did as a big thunderhead formed over the mountains! (Last time I got caught in a monsoon going the other way…)

   

Scenes along the Paradise Road (note the creek crossing, a common road hazard here...)

    

Left: Black-throated Gray Warbler

   

Right:  Why you want to get outta the mountains before noon!

Heading into Cave Creek, I didn’t dare hike anything due to the thunder (and later the rain), so we just cruised back and forth on the roads seeing what we could pick up; Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers were good for the day, but it was pretty quiet except for some seeing Brown Creepers. About 1:30 the sun actually peeked out, so we headed for South Fork for an exercise hike and last ditch try for the trogon. A family I ran into had seen them (he even told me exactly where to look), but alas, they eluded me (had some calling Hepatic Tanagers instead). Headed back to Willcox after that, almost running down a Gambel’s Quail family in the process, and thankfully just hit the edges of the monster monsoon as it clobbered Wilcox just before I arrived! I thought I was home free after that, but incredibly, it was still raining (and thundering) the next morning, and was drizzly almost all the way to Yuma! A screw in Jip’s front left tire slowed us down somewhat, but we got that fixed and headed on, sighting yet another monsoon near Ocotillo! Yet again I thought we were gonna bypass it, but we hit the Mother Lode going over the Lagunas (complete with hail), and thankfully made it through without incident (which is saying something, as visibility was zero at one point)!

                   

South Fork Trail at Cave Creek Canyon with Gambel's Quail family escaping across the road

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