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Southeast Arizona 2004

Part 1: Saguaro National Park

and Madera Canyon

Was wide awake at 3:30, so decided to go ahead and get up, and get an early start. Was glad I did, as we were able to make a quick stop at Fig Lagoon, padding the list with a lot of probable write-ins, like White Pelicans and Burrowing Owls (besides the Red-crowned Parrots that flew obligingly across the freeway in El Cajon), but it was fun to see fields full of Cattle Egrets, both curlews (Whimbrel were more numerous, interestingly), and at the lagoon, several herons (including Green and Least Bittern at the 11th hour), a perky Roadrunner, and the usual marsh dickies.

I was shocked at how "fast" we got to Tucson (by 1:30), but when you consider that we left at 5:30, that’s still an eight-hour drive! So I decided to time the drive to Saguaro, only I goofed—I took the Avra Valley exit (where the sign was), and came in the back way, when last year, I did come straight from the hotel, and it’s only a 15 minute drive! But we poked along the dirt road just to find our way to the "correct" entrance off Painted Rock Road, and I was shocked at how lively it was in the heat of mid-day (even Jip was overheating)! First thing to greet us was a brilliant daddy Pyrrhuloxia feeding his baby! We also had Curve-billed Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, and Gilded Flicker for the specialties!

Found our way to the hotel, left a message with my friend Liz, and caught up on the journal before dinner. She called shortly after, and came over to treat me to birthday dinner at Li’l Abner’s, a quaint rib and steak place! I had beef ribs, and I particularly liked the fact that they let you put on the sauce, and it was good ‘n spicy!

Next morning I was at Saguaro at dawn, and the air was filled with Gila Woodpeckers, Cactus Wrens, and Curve-billed Thrashers whistling rudely! (Actually, the first bird was another cooperative Pyrr…) Picked up several new birds for the trip, including Gambel’s Quail, Purple Martin, and surprisingly a singing Rufous-winged Sparrow right away! I couldn’t set aside the "numbers game", so kept track just like I do my surveys, and found that most of the species there went over the top, but we had a few goodies in smaller numbers, like a single Brown-crested Flycatcher, and a few calling Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. On the Esperanza Trail the local Rufous-winged Sparrow sang dutifully (didn’t show, though; had a more cooperative individual teed up on a saguaro down the road), and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers came in close. Down at the Visitor’s Center a Cactus Wren poked her head out of her nest very obligingly, and three Canyon Towhees had a brawl in the parking lot! Took the Desert Loop Nature Trail, but didn’t pick up anything new (it’s still Gila Woodpecker heaven). "CardiPyrrs" were very numerous, but the only birds I actually saw were all Pyrrs. Things were quieting down once I got on the one-way part of the dirt road, but a Roadrunner right in front of the car was nice.


Birds around Saguaro include the Greater Roadrunner


Cactus Wren at its well-protected nest!


Colorful Zebra-tailed Lizards

Headed to Madera Canyon after that, where Blue Grosbeaks and Botteri’s Sparrows greeted me right away. Varied Buntings song-battled but wouldn’t show themselves, and eventually the Bell’s Vireos started tuning up. Up the trail had a couple of curious Hutton’s Vireos while Rufous-crowned Sparrows sang from the hillside.


Upper end of Madera Canyon's Proctor Trail with Hutton's Vireo

Stopped at the lodge next, where I discovered that they have a whole new "wildlife area"! All the action seemed to be there, so I found a spot in the shade over by the trail head and enjoyed tons of House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches, as well as the required Broad-billed Hummers and a few Blackchins. A female Black-headed Grosbeak came in to the birdbath.

Female Black-headed Grosbeak at the bird bath

I asked a guy about the Flame-colored Tanager, but he said it hadn’t been seen in a few days, so I just went on up to the upper end of the nature trail, where they were evidently doing something to the parking area. Thankfully the trailhead was open and I headed down; it was rather quiet, but did pick up Western Wood Pewee and (finally) Mexican Jay (I was wondering what happened to them)! I was blown over by an ultra-cooperative Canyon Wren that came close for pictures (and said pictures revealed he was a youngster, which explained it…)


Canyon Wrens; the photo at right shows their unique flat-headed, long-billed look.

After that I just stopped periodically on the way down to listen; had a ton of Bridled Titmice at one parking lot, as well as a White-breasted Nuthatch feeding on the ground. Past the Proctor Trail I just stopped every half mile, and the Botteri’s Sparrows were just all over! Further down they were joined by a few Cassin’s, but after it really started getting quiet I decided to head on in to Rio Rico before the monsoon hit (and to time a couple of things: found out it’s 20 minutes from the Green Valley Best Western to Greaterville Road, and about 15 to where the National Forest starts on Ruby Road). Got gassed and iced up, and checked in, where we picked up Barn Swallow and Hooded Oriole for the trip, and enjoyed a terrific monsoon (from inside) while catching up on the journal!


L-R:  Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, young Lesser Goldfinch

Continue to Ruby Road

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