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Southeast Arizona 2006

Part 10: The Swift Trail

For the last day I made a last minute decision to do the Swift Trail (aka Mt Graham) instead of Mt Lemmon for several reasons: a) it was closer to Willcox so I didn't have to get up as early, b) they theoretically have the same species as Lemmon without the crowds, and c) it's the only place in SE Arizona I've ever had a Goshawk! 

  Started birding after the cattle guard on highway 366, picking up the low desert stuff like Black-throated Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, Cactus Wren, and Gambel's Quail.  The road starts climbing pretty quickly, so you're shortly into desert/chaparral where I added Blue Grosbeak, Scott's Oriole, Verdin, and Bewick's Wren.  The last time I did this road I had Black-chinned Sparrow along here, but not this time; got Rufous-crowned Sparrow instead.  In one of the little riparian areas had a singing Bell's Vireo, and Canyon Wrens were wherever there were sharp rock faces.  A couple of White-tailed Deer fawns sauntered across the road as well—cute!!


Entering the national forest at dawn, and looking toward Stafford


Black-throated Sparrow and Bambi...

Getting up into the junipers added Scrub and Mexican Jays, Arizona Woodpecker, Virginia's Warbler, and a curious Black-throated Gray Warbler.  Once into the higher pines added the first "San Diego" mountain bird that I still needed for the trip: Mountain Chickadee!  I shortly came upon a group of cabins (looking like they were not in use) where I pulled over and hit the jackpot: a family of Red-breasted Nuthatches was making the craziest tin-horning I ever heard!  A female hummer fed on some flowers right at my feet, and I thought for sure she was a Calliope because she was so small, very buffy underneath, and I didn't see any rufous in the tail, but alas, what photos I could get showed enough rufous (and a long enough tail—sure looked tiny in the field) that I couldn't rule out Broad-tailed (which was all over the place up there).  However, perusing the Internet once home and scrutinizing photos of female Calliopes just got me more confused, as many looked like my bird!  Something suspicious was singing in one of the oaks a bit down the drive, so I chased it down—turned out to be a gorgeous Red-faced Warbler!  That was the bird I came for! God is so good!!



L-R:  Shy Black-throated Gray Warbler, probable Calliope Hummingbird (hard to tell sometimes...), and Red-faced Warbler


Everything was kinda anti-climactic after that, but it was still great fun to bird this road, and the views were spectacular!  Dipped on the Goshawk this time, but besides the usual high-elevation stuff I also added Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Pine Siskin for the trip.  Yellow-eyed Juncos were all over, and saw several nice Abert's Squirrels, another special animal I saw here last time!  I also saw what looked like a Red Squirrel and then read later on that there's an endangered subspecies up here; wonder if that was it?



Yellow-eyed Juncos at the overlook



Hospital Flat and Tassel-eared (Abert’s) Squirrel



Weidemeyer’s Admirals


Half the road is paved and the other half dirt, but it's a fairly good dirt road (a few rocky bumps, but passable for a passenger car).  Went as far as I could and then backtracked to Riggs Lake to see if there might be any water birds there; nothing in that department, but a whole flock of Red Crossbills was dropping to the shore for a drink and/or bath and then zipping back up into the pine whenever the juncos would chase them!  That was a real treat!



Burned and unburned areas along the dirt portion of the road



Barely visible view from the end of the road



Road's end and Riggs Lake



Socializing Red Crossbills

  The bird-finding guide suggested several trails, but I only had time for one (I wanted to start back to Tucson by noon), so chose the trail at Shannon Campground because the book said it was "fairly level".  Unfortunately didn't have time to hike much of it, as the monsoons were developing overhead and I didn't want to be caught out on that trail with a metal walking stick...  I did end up strolling around the campground, though, and of course ran into another jackpot just before I had to leave: a couple of House (the old "Brown-throated"?) Wrens were being cute, and in what I think was an aspen was both a Hermit and Townsend's Warbler!  Another trip bird, a Western Bluebird, was doing its "rubber band" call from a tall pine, and also heard that distinctive down-slurred whistle of an Olive Warbler from somewhere.


Trail at Shannon Campground


Cliff Chipmunk


House Wrens; these may be part of the old "Brown-throated Wren" complex, but I think "Northern" House Wrens breed here as well.


I had to get going after that; I really wished I could have spent more time there, as I would have loved to explore all the campgrounds!  Picked up Bridled Titmouse out the car on the way down...  Made the drive to Tucson, checked in, and made plans to meet Liz and June for breakfast the next morning before heading back to San Diego.  To wrap up: nothing new for the trip on the way home, and made it home fine with the apartment still in place!

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