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Southeast Arizona 2006

Part 1: Madera Canyon & Sweetwater Wetlands

After all the trouble Jip was having on the last trip, I was glad everything was apparently fixed when we started up Sunday morning and went to pick up my friend June for the drive out to Tucson!  Her daughter Liz lives out there, so the plan was to have dinner when we got there, drop June and her stuff off, then I'd be off birding for two weeks, picking her up again on the way home!

June and Liz Melson in front of the latter’s house

So after dropping June off I headed down to Green Valley and just missed the monsoon, I think! Got gassed up (and should have gotten some more ice, really), checked in, and called my friend Ed Post to make plans for chasing the Aztec Thrush the next day; he agreed that we should meet somewhere (rather than him come pick me up), so we agreed to meet at the trailhead (he said it’s been a mob scene lately), so I made plans to go early and just road bird before hitting the trail!

We planned to meet up at the Vault Mine trailhead at about 6:15, as I wanted to start road-birding pre-dawn down in the Santa Rosa Grasslands.  Didn't pick up any specialty night birds, but Great Horned Owl and Lesser Nighthawk were nice (Ed pointed out a smushed one in the upper parking lot...).  There were sparrows galore: Rufous-winged, Black-throated, Botteri's, and Cassin's were all singing away (I thought I also had Lark Sparrows but then reneged later when I realized that Blackthroats can "snort", too...), along with tons of Blue Grosbeaks.  At one stop a Scott's (I’m assuming) Oriole chattered, and at the Proctor Trailhead (to make a quick potty stop) picked up Curve-billed Thrasher, Hooded Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Canyon Towhee.  Heading straight up to the parking lot after that added Bridled Titmouse and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher out the car window; I love this place!!

  Ed wheeled in shortly after I did, and after happy hellos we headed up the trail.  It wasn't too terribly bad if I took it slow; the first portion was nice and smooth, but past the bench (where the birds had evidently been sighted) it gets a little rocky and you really have to watch your step.  Before long a familiar face, Gjon Hazard, caught up with us, so we plugged along and added Black-throated Gray Warbler, Painted Redstart, Arizona Woodpecker, and Mexican Jays.


Left:  The easy part of the Vault Mine Trail.  Right:  Gjon Hazzard and Ed Post on the dicey part!

Before long we came to the "camp" where a couple of other ladies were already keeping watch (they were from back east); Ed went across the creek and up the trail a little and I followed, as we were hearing suspicious-sounding "seeps" as described on one of the posts (like a Blue-throated Hummingbird, it said).  A young Cooper's Hawk wasn't making things easy, but Lesser Goldfinches were all over.  We eventually went back down and joined the ladies, where we had a couple of juvenile Hermit Thrushes, and a Western Wood Pewee was exciting for them. 

  Eventually we were joined by several other people (including Al Schmierer, a fellow I worked with at the last Morro Bay Bird Fest), and as the sun peeked out, there was more activity in the choke cherries: several Hepatic Tanagers came in close (we had also had some earlier, mistaking their chup for a Hermit Thrush), a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and both Hutton's and Plumbeous Vireos song-battling right over our heads as if to say, "Hey!!  Pay some attention to us, will ya?!" A pair of Elegant Trogons came in and entertained everyone, and the male even starting song-battling with another trogon up the trail!  Around 10:00 my almost-50-year-old bod had had it, so we made plans to leave (getting up off the ground was the first challenge) when suddenly Ed zeroed his bins on the nearest choke cherry tree and said, "I have the bird!"  That got people moving, and thankfully I saw movement, got on it, and got a brief but identifiable look at a beautiful male Aztec Thrush!  He lunged back into the bush, and while the others waited for him to come out again, Ed suggested we discreetly move out, so off we went, happy with the morning's efforts!

Happy birders enjoying the lost Aztec Thrush (among other things)


L-R:  Hepatic Tanager, Elegant Trogon, and Aztec Thrush (photo courtesy of Jane Barnett)

We were just at the bench when one of the fellows came tearing down to gather more birders; he said the bird was just "sitting there"!  I got the impression that meant that a photo was possible and started back up (Ed continued on at that point), but after I started back up I changed my mind (a combination of recognizing greed in myself when I see it, and laziness not wanting to make that trek back up the trail) and tried to find Ed again, but I lost him.  He said he was gonna check out Proctor Trail, but couldn't find him there, either (found Gjon instead and told him about the thrush), so I did the loop, picking up a brilliant Varied Bunting singing away on an ocotillo stalk (just like Ed said they'd be, actually)!  Also along the trail were more Bridled Titmice, Bell's Vireos, and something I couldn't place and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pinpoint; when I finally did he was in lousy light, with a deformed bill (it looked like), and when all I could make out was a hood I realized it was a Yellow-eyed Junco.  (Kinda low, I thought, but maybe he wasn't doing so well...)  One bare tree had a beautiful male Western Tanager and two young kingbirds that I couldn't ID (probably Western, but I just wasn't sure).


Scenes coming back down the trail with a view of Green Valley


Proctor Trail


Varied Buntings


Right:  Sonoran Spotted Whiptail

A monsoon was dumping in the grasslands, so rather than drive through that I drove back up to the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, and ran into one of the gals who had been up at the thrush spot (she was from Tucson); she reported Magnificent Hummer (which I just briefly saw), Eastern Bluebirds, and plenty of Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummers.  An Acorn Woodpecker was trying to access one of the seed feeders while a Warbling Vireo sang in the background. 


Left:  Mexican Jay.  Right:  Feeders at Santa Rita Lodge

When it started thundering I decided to head on to the motel in Tucson, and ended up driving through the storm anyway; a couple of the washes were already running, but not so deep that Jip couldn't make it.  Heading over to Ina Road I decided to make a quick stop at the Sweetwater Wetlands and try for the Purple Gallinule and Least Grebe; dipped on both but picked up several good birds for the day/trip, including "Mexican" Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Moorhen, Green Heron, Gila Woodpecker, Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and Abert's Towhee.


Sweetwater Wetlands (sewer ponds turned wildlife area)

Headed to the motel after that; what a day! 

Continue to Saguaro National Park

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