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Southeast Arizona 2006

Part 4: Mt. Hopkins Road

Revisited the road up to the Whipple Observatory again the next morning, starting pre-dawn as usual, and was inundated by all the Black-throated Sparrows singing away!  The usual desert fare joined the dawn chorus, but for a San Diegan it's always nice to hear specialties such as Cassin's and Rufous-winged Sparrows in addition to the regulars (although it takes a bit of getting used to hearing Purple Martins in the desert when we only get them in the high mountains)!  Added another Great Horned Owl, and lots of "Cardipyrrs" sang up the road; wasn't able to get a positive ID on either until leaving later in the morning! 

  The whole purpose of doing this road was the possibility of Black-capped Gnatcatchers, and ironically, I didn't even have Black-tailed until on the way out!  A new trip bird did materialize, however: a couple of Crissal Thrashers doing their distinctive chewy-chewy calls!  Also had Curve-billed with their rude whistles, and lots of Blue Grosbeaks and Varied Buntings singing side by side for good comparison!  Up into the narrow canyon added Bell's Vireo and lots of Canyon Wrens (Ed told me later that this is where the gnatcatchers usually are, and indeed some other birders did have them later in the week, but they also used tapes, which I probably should have done…), and a Scott's Oriole made a funny nasal note that sounded similar to the Black-vented Orioles we had in Copper Canyon!  (Yeah, that thought crossed my mind, but I had one doing the same nasal note along Ruby Road, so as the saying goes, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras...)  Canyon Towhees were along here as well, doing the same "greeting chatter" as our Californias back home, and was surprised to hear the rising pdrrip! of a Western Tanager this low (guess they're dispersing already...).  Bewick's Wrens were all over.

  Working up the hill had more spectacular views, and startled a young buck White-tailed Deer in wonderful Monty Quail habitat (where they were churring enticingly).  Then I heard a blowing sound I had also heard along Ruby Road and just assumed it was a Turkey Vulture (it sounded like the recording, anyway), and discovered it was the deer doing it!  His mate was out of view, and they were "blowing" at each other; it was evidently an alarm call of some kind.  He also waved his "white flag" for good measure...


Scenes going up the road


White-tailed Deer (big ears notwithstanding) in great Monty Quail habitat!

  Up in the higher elevation had most of the same birds I had two days before, with the addition of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Spotted Towhee, and Steller's Jay (had a sweep along with Scrubbie and Mexican).  Up at the top a flock of Band-tailed Pigeons flew over, and a funny wheezy noise turned out to be the wind whipping through the wings of the White-throated Swifts zooming overhead! 

  Heading back down, I had seen an old road/trail on the other side of the ravine, so pulled in a little parking area down the hill a bit to see if there was any access, and I did indeed find an old, overgrown trail that I took a little of; it was pretty rough going, and there was lots of fresh bear scat around (one had taken a dump just inside the observatory gate the last time I was up there).  Had a great look at a pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows along here, but just as I was about to call it quits, this brown bowling ball with wings suddenly exploded from the side of the hill, giving a panicked version of his trill, and it took me a minute to realize I had just actually seen a Montezuma Quail!  (BVD, of course... J)  Almost at the trailhead I was trying to sneak up on a singing Hutton's Vireo when something else exploded from the side of the trail; I had nearly stepped on a rattlesnake!  (Black-tailed, I think, from the pictures...) 


Old road/trail near the top, and telescope from the trail


Black-tailed Rattlesnake I almost stepped on...

Cruised down the hill, and near that narrow canyon was a forest road (if you care to call it that) labeled 4077; I just parked in the entrance and hiked down it for about five minutes.  This was a much better trail in cactus/mesquite habitat, with a great view of the two "humps".  No gnatcatchers in here, but had a great view of a singing Rufous-winged Sparrow (in the shade, of course)!  Took it slow the rest of the way out, just listening, and like I said, did pick up Black-tailed Gnat, and got a knockout view of a singing Pyyrhuloxia and added Botteri's and Lark Sparrows for the day.


Scenes along FR 4077


Left:  Pyrrhuloxia   Right:  Western Blue Flax 

  It was about 10:30 by then, so instead of going to that De Anza Trail I decided to explore the other road (Elephant Head), which I guess is the one that leads you to Chino Canyon.  I followed it to its terminus, where you come to a dirt road that goes back into the national forest (the Elephant Trail head was four miles further), but I also had a great view of what I just left: Mt. Hopkins was shrouded in an ominously-developing monsoon, and it wasn't even 11:00 yet!!!  I decided to walk a bit of the dirt road (I realized later that that was probably that area you're supposed to pass through and not stop in) and was able to add a Roadrunner with lunch to the list before the thunder turned me back...  So I came home early to input the data and decide whether to do Madera again the next day or zip up to Mt Lemmon instead...

The "wrath of God" on Mt. Hopkins 

Continue to Madera and Greaterville

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