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After all the "wet" of the day before I was a little concerned about the condition of Pinery Road (especially after the two birders I ran into at Twin Lakes told me they came down it and passed a "Road Closed" sign), but the sky was absolutely clear the next morning, so I took off with high hopes. On the way there (still pre-dawn) something brown took off from the middle of the road; I suspected it was probably a Poorwill, so I pulled over to see if I could hear anything, and sure enough, among the pre-dawn Blue Grosbeaks and Black-throated Sparrows was a distant Poorwill singing! The sky was just getting light getting closer to the road when I spotted a Great Horned Owl sitting on a telephone wire, of all things!
The flat road going in always looks slimy, but isn't (all the "Use at your own risk" signs tend to freak you out a little), and picked up the typical grassland birds for the day here (Cassin's Sparrow, "Lilian's" Meadowlark, and Scaled Quail to name a few). This road climbs into the pinyon forest quite rapidly, and picked up Chipping Sparrow, Western Wood Pewee, Mexican Jay, Spotted Towhee, and Bewick's Wrens in here. The creek crossing near North Fork that I always worry about was absolutely dry this time (just a little bumpy), and after one more very shallow crossing we were home free!
First forests along the Pinery Road
First forests along the Pinery Road
After about eight miles I was in the high country, and pulled over at some suspicious chatter. Had a marvelous feeding flock, with the target Mexican Chickadees coming in close, along with Bridled Titmice, Hutton's and Plumbeous Vireos, some "baby" Hepatic Tanagers doing a strange oriole-like wheep I had never heard before, and another great bird (although not all that much of a "looker"): a first-year Olive Warbler! Grace's and Black-throated Gray also came in, along with a couple of Painted Redstarts and anti-climactic White-breasted Nuthatches. At another stop I tried doing a Pygmy Owl in addition to the pishing, and got a lady Western Tanager all upset at me.
L-R: Mexican Chickadees (found only in the Chiricahuas in the US), Bridled Titmouse, Hutton's Vireo, and shy Olive Warbler youngster
Up at the road to Rustler Park added House Wren and the other two nuthatches for a sweep, along with two old San Diego favorites, Hairy Woodpecker and Butterbutt (aka Yellow-rumped Warbler). And speaking of San Diego, ran into two couples up at the park proper who were also San Diegans (well, Poway and Carlsbad; that's close enough) who had come up from Portal; they also had an Olive further down, but neither of us had found the target Red-faced Warbler yet. I had also run into another couple who were just casually birding and had only found Yellow-eyed Junco up there (which had been all along the road going up), but I took a walk around the campground anyway (for exercise if nothing else), and also added Flicker and more nuthatches. Back at the car picked up a Brown Creeper hitching up a tree (and discovered that the chickadees can make a very creeper-like call)! I learned something else as well: I kept hearing Selasphorus ringing that almost sounded waxwing-ish to me, and sure enough, Sibley confirmed that it's the Broad-tailed that sounds most like a waxwing!
Rustler Park (basically at the summit of the road)
The road descends quite rapidly after that, and at each stop I scanned the skies for a Short-tailed Hawk (I had heard something that sounded like one up at Rustler, but there were Steller's Jays up there, too, so I didn't trust them...) Almost passed by the road to Paradise (they don't sign it going down), so I headed that way in hopes of Juniper Titmouse. Now that road has some dicey creek crossings (one I even bottomed out on)! And on top of that a storm was brewing over the mountains; I got out of there just in time!
Running ahead of the storm on Paradise Road!
Looking the other way
Shortly I arrived in Paradise (so to speak), and passed a sign that advertised the "George Walker House"; I had heard about it, but didn't know that this was where it was! So I pulled in and parked in what looked like the public parking lot, and shortly the proprietress (Jackie) and her Boxer (Tundra) came out to meet me, and gave me the "best seat in the house" seeing as I was the only one there! The place was fabulous with all sorts of feeders, including a "peanut butter pine cone" that was attractive to Juniper Titmice! Just not this time: an Acorn Woodpecker was hogging it most of the time, to be relieved by a dad Black-headed Grosbeak feeding his grown youngster. Both Magnificent and Blue-throated Hummers gave good looks (although I have trouble with the females sometimes, so Jackie tried to help me with that), along with Blackchins, Rufous, and the occasional Broadtail. Bridled Titmice came in to the seed feeders, though, along with tons of House Finches.
Birds at the George Walker House...
Acorn Woodpecker (eyeing the Peanut Butter Cone at left), Mexican Jay, and Magnificent Hummingbird
The storm was a-comin', so I decided to take off after about 20 minutes. Jackie encouraged me to stop by Cave Creek Ranch (they now allow day visitors, so I was glad to hear that), so after a lightning bolt hit too close for comfort I tootled down the road, staying enough ahead of the storm to pick up additional species in progressively lower elevation habitats: Rufous-crowned Sparrows and Scrub Jays in the oak savannah; Crissal Thrasher, Virginia's Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, and Canyon Wren in the chaparral; and Gambel's Quail and Cactus Wren in the lower desert habitat. Got some great shots of the oncoming storm as well!
Once again we try and stay ahead of the approaching storm!
Once on the pavement I decided to road bird Cave Creek, seeing as I was tired of fleeing these monsoons every time they popped up (although as Judy reminded me, they're nothing to mess with...). I'm glad I did: Cave Creek is such a gorgeous place, and added Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher to the day list. Going in to the South Fork trailhead it did start to rain, but very lightly; it was so short-lived that I was able to continue getting out of the car and enjoying a mom Hepatic Tanager feeding her grown baby!
Entrance road and monsoon, and Idylwild Campground
The loop road around the trailhead was kinda messy, but Jip made it fine, although with the thunder I didn't really want to hike. But in the meantime a flock of Mexican Jays came in to my feet, and I was so engrossed in photographing them that I almost didn't notice the sun come out! So I hiked the trail after all, although there were no birds to speak of; the creek crossing was roaring, so that effectively stopped me. When I got back to the car an Arizona Woodpecker came tearing in, and while I was enjoying him several female birders arrived for a picnic; unfortunately the woodpecker took off, and I hadn't seen any trogons (that was the first question), so I left them to their lunch (the one lady had two adorable Bichon Frises, so I certainly got my doggie fix) and I took off down the road. Almost at the end I stopped in the road to shoot the gorgeous mountain in front of me (a ranger chose that time to come down the opposite direction), and a trogon sang deep in the woods off to the side! It would have been useless trying to fetch the ladies, though...but I was gratified to know that they’re "gettable" by doing my normal route; otherwise the only trogons I would have had for the trip would have been a result of that death march at Madera!
South Fork Trail and Cave Creek
I quit the trail at the raging creek and returned to find friendly Mexican Jays back at the parking area!
Views of the mountains on the way out
I had planned to head to Willcox after that, but decided on a lark to stop at Cave Creek Ranch after all, and what a place! Again, I was the only one there, and enjoyed many of the same birds as at Jackie's, with the addition of a Cardinal, White-winged Doves, and female Anna's and Broad-billed Hummers! Lesser Goldfinches attacked the sock they had up (and I'm noticing a lot of dark-backed males here), and just before I left a Ladder-backed Woodpecker sounded like he wanted to horn in, but I think the Acorns kept him at bay...
Birds at Cave Creek Canyon...
L-R: Bridled Titmouse, House Finches, Acorn Woodpecker, Rufous Hummingbird, and female Black-headed Grosbeak
More feeder birds included White-breasted Nuthatch, Magnificent Hummingbird, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds (right three shots)
Had a nice chat with the owner before leaving (he asked me how the Pinery Road was, and I told him "fine", that it was the Paradise Road that was bad, and he said it was always bad!), then headed home for real. Took a side road to find a place to potty before hitting the freeway and ran into my San Diego friends again who were looking for Crissal Thrashers! The side trip added Cooper's Hawk, Lark Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Western Kingbird for my own list. They were looking at a raven nest (forgot to ask which one), but I was glad they got out of Rustler before the storm hit!
That same storm looked like it was clobbering Willcox as I headed west, but thankfully it had passed on by the time I got there. It was late, so I reluctantly skipped going to Twin Lakes.