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Southeast Arizona 2006

Part 2: Saguaro NP & Mt Hopkins

Was out pre-dawn again the next morning to bird the Tucson Mountain portion of Saguaro National Park, and just for fun I kept track of numbers (somewhat).  Black-throated Sparrows were king of the roost, of course, followed closely by Mourning and White-winged Doves, Gambel's Quail, Curve-billed Thrashers, Gila Woodpeckers, Verdins, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Cactus Wrens, Gilded Flickers, and even Purple Martins (in fact, one almost nailed me zipping down the road)!  The "Cardipyrrs" were in good numbers, too, but I only saw a few to be able to positively identify to species (one Cardinal and three Pyrrs).  In fact, I thought I had one singing a rather strange song, and when I saw him silhouetted in terrible light, I thought, "That's funny—he doesn't have a crest!"  He had to add a chimp to his song before I realized it was a Canyon Towhee...

The Rufous-winged Sparrows were in good form as well, and a couple sang along the Esperanza Trail as usual (although one posed nicely along the road as well).  Had the best looks at the Pyrrs along this trail, too.  A Ladder-backed Woodpecker tried to hide behind an ocotillo stalk but wasn't very successful.  Other nice trip birds picked up along the road included Phainopepla, Loggerhead Shrike, Kestrel, and several Canyon Wrens.  Brown-headed Cowbird was new for the trip, but they weren't nice...  Over by the visitor's center I strolled their nice paved nature trail which was loaded with Cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpeckers, and the like, but the best bird was a Black Vulture soaring around with the Turkeys!  Several Zebra-tailed Lizards waggled their tails at me as well, along with a new lizard that most closely matched Giant Spotted Whiptail.


Esperanza Trail (left); scene along the Hohokam Loop Road (right)


Brown-crested Flycatcher (left), Curve-billed Thrasher (center), and Desert Cottontail (right)


The various cacti are home to Gila Woodpeckers


Wile both species of vulture are abundant in the southeast, the Black (left) is an uncommon specialty in southeast Arizona, and is told from the Turkey (center and right) by its white wingtips and black head. The Turkey Vulture gets its name from its turkey-like red head, and has two-toned wings.


Zebra-tailed Lizards (left and center) and Giant Spotted Whiptail (right)

  Got done with the area around 10:00, so I decided to check out that new road up to Mt Hopkins (picking up nesting Cliff Swallows under the freeway underpass on the way), even though I had a whole day set aside to explore that.  Ed told me that it was a relatively easy place to get Black-capped Gnatcatcher, so I wanted to try road-birding it, but having the time, I thought doing a dry run first would be a good idea.  The road Ed told me about actually goes up to the Whipple Observatory (which hangs a right off of Elephant Head Road proper), and once it leaves the pavement the road is in excellent shape (although I ran into the grader, so it could have been freshly done).  I drove straight to the top (the observatory itself is off limits) and then started road-birding down, and what views!  It doesn't have the nice high-elevation trees of Madera Canyon, but you do have some scrub oak and pinyons, enough that I could pick up Mexican Jay, Arizona Woodpecker, and Hepatic Tanager for the day.  Rufous-crowned Sparrows were all over, and at one spot I thought I may have heard a Gray Vireo, but other things were singing and it was just a couple of notes here and there, so I wasn't sure.  Heard another Yellow-eyed Junco, though, and Scrub Jay was new for the trip.  There were lots of both Rock and Canyon Wrens along here, and at one draw heard the descending whinny of a hiding Montezuma Quail!  A Bell's Vireo answered with his more belligerent song, and a Scott's Oriole gave his lovely flute-like melody. 


Views from the top of Mt Hopkins Road


End of the road at the Whipple Observatory


Left:  Deer in velvet through the windshield...  Right:  This road has some serious switchbacks!


More views coming down...



Rock Wren hangout


         Draw where the Monty Quail and Bell’s Vireo were                                                         Humped mountains

Down in the desert scrub things were still singing in the heat of the day!  Picked up a Varied Bunting along the road (a Blue Grosbeak was singing further up at the "interpretive stop" that told you all about the observatory), and I had several Black-tailed Gnatcatchers along here, but nothing that sounded like the recordings of Black-capped (basically the cadence of a California Gnat with the two-toned quality).  A singing Cassin's Sparrow was a nice day bird.


Left:  Black-throated Sparrow   Right:  What might be Elephant Head

A monsoon was suddenly forming, so I figured that would be a good time to head to Nogales; didn't work, as I ended up having to drive through that one, too, but, oh, what storm structure!!  That one was a beauty! Later in the motel room I had a front row seat to a terrific lightning show, so I just turned off all the lights, opened the curtains, propped my feet up on the AC unit (with a pillow) and enjoyed the show! Their key machine wasn’t working, so I wasn’t able to run out and raid the local KFC to satisfy a meat fix I was having, so I broke down and ordered a pizza (which I subsequently stuck in the cooler to be systematically devoured during field trips).


Monsoon heading down the I-19 corridor

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