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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 3:  Fort Bowie & Chiricahua National Monument

Woke up before the alarm went off, so decided to go ahead and get going, and that was a great move, as I ended up getting to the starting point a little before dawn, so I went ahead and began the BBS protocol.  First thing to hit the air was a group of Chihuahuan Ravens – at least that’s what I assumed they were until they started making some very Common Raven-like croaks! L  I went ahead and logged it for myself, but it went in as “raven sp.” in the EBird report…  Cactus Wrens were all over, so much so that EBird flagged my total of 36!!  Same with the Black-throated Sparrows, and there’s always the possibility I was double-counting something, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those were accurate numbers.  Was very glad to hear several “for sure” Crissal Thrashers (couldn’t see any though L), and the usual desert fare was well-represented, including another curious Roadrunner at one of the washes, and a small group of Gambel’s Quail at another wash, so they were fun to see!  A pair of Swainson’s Hawks chased each other, and I made a pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers mad by pishing (not surprisingly, as they sound like pishing J).  Cassin’s Sparrow was another plentiful bird that EBird “burped” at, but the star of this leg was a brilliant male Lazuli Bunting that flew in and perched briefly! 

Sunrise along Apache Pass Road

Subadult Black-throated Sparrow

Gambel's Quail running across a wash

Another wash

A singing Cactus Wren sounds like an old car trying to start!  His call notes are low-pitched, while the Black-tailed Gnatcatchers tend to hiss.

 

Another agitated pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers

A Cassin's Kingbird says, "C'mere!"

Once getting into the hilly stuff, a Bell’s Vireo sounded off, along with an Ash-throated Flycatcher and several Rufous-crowned Sparrows.  Rock and Canyon Wrens liked this area as well (this is near where the actual trailhead to the fort is), and heard what I felt comfortable calling a Common Raven, especially in that stuff.  The scenery was just gorgeous, and past the trailhead you started getting into more savannah-type habitat with whatever little trees are growing there; in this area I spooked a Cooper’s Hawk out of one tree, three male Lark Buntings bounced overhead, whistling as they went, and a song I could just not figure out was coming from one of the trees that almost sounded like a cross between a Rufous-winged Sparrow and who knows what else – when I finally found the bird I figured it had to be a young Botteri’s Sparrow trying to learn his song!  Nothing has thrown me off more than young sparrows learning to sing! J  A female Scott’s Oriole was in the same bush, making that funny little nyep call that so many orioles seem to do.

Scene near the Ft. Bowie trailhead.

More scenes along Apache Pass Road

A really weird sounding song turned out to be a young Botteri's Sparrow learning to sing!

Blue Grosbeak song

   

Distant Rufous-crowned Sparrow; the diagnostic "moustache" shows well in the left-hand shot.

Another "highland" shot...

Descending down into the grasslands, the Cassin’s Sparrows were the dominant bird, but a big surprise was a Common Nighthawk batting by, and an even bigger surprise was a Great Blue Heron powering by low in the distance (I actually thought it was an eagle at first)!  Another Bell’s Vireo sang cooperatively, but when I pished just to see what would come out, a nice little Lucy’s Warbler showed itself!  Flushed a couple of Scaled Quail from the roadside, and the Horned Larks and Lark Sparrows were back as well.  Several dragons landed on the barbed wire fence, and I really thought I had something new as they had dark thoraxes with two white stripes, and an intricately-patterned abdomen (one even had a reddish tail), but they turned out to just be Variegated Meadowhawks (the striped one was a youngster, and the photos revealed the dominant two dots on the adult); I had never seen such strongly marked specimens!  Some Variegated Fritillaries were attacking a small bed of yellow flowers, but the mammal prize went to what looked like a Porcupine crossing the road! 

Coming down into the grasslands...

Subaru commercial...

Looking back from whence we came...

Curious Canyon Towhee

   

Immature Variegated Meadowhawk

Adult Variegated Meadowhawk

    

Variegated Fritillaries

Sleepy Orange

A Bell's Vireo sings belligerently!

Sweet song of the Cassin's Sparrow

"Lillian's" Meadowlark (a candidate for a split from Eastern) sings and calls - they sound a little lower in pitch and timbre than most Eastern Meadowlarks.  (A Cassin's Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike can be heard in the background...)

Got that done in good time, so headed on over to Chiricahua NM, picking up probably the same Kestrel on the way.  Pulling in to the little gravesite there at the entrance, Mexican Jays made themselves known immediately, along with a strange cackling that I figured had to be Turkeys (either that, or someone let a bunch of guineafowl loose…).

Since it still pre-noon I went ahead and continued the BBS protocol where I could; pullouts were few and far between.  Picked up the expected foothill species (including a Black-headed Grosbeak sitting in the middle of the road); at one pullout had a flock of Bridled Titmice, and some Bushtits at another, but hit the jackpot at Sea Captain:  a few things came in to pishing (Hutton’s Vireo, Black-throated Gray, Bewick’s Wren), and a Dusky-capped Flycatcher was calling in the distance, but started “tooting” to see what else I could pull in (Canyon Wrens really got upset with that), and what should start calling from the mountainside but a real Northern Pygmy Owl!!  (And I knew it wasn’t someone playing a tape as it was coming from a tree on the cliff face… J)  He never did come in to investigate (at least that I noticed), but what a hoot (no pun intended)!

Entrance road at Chiricahua National Monument

Scene at one of the pullouts

Hutton's Vireo

Juvenile Yellow-eyed Junco

"Sea Captain"

A "tooting" Northern Pygmy Owl, along with the harsh call of a Western Wood Pewee and later the scolds of a Bewick's Wren.  While this call is more typical of Northerns, many pygmy owls in Arizona give a "double toot", more characteristic of the "Mountain" Pygmy Owl of Mexico, a candidate for a split.

Everything was kinda anticlimactic after that, but I dutifully went up to Echo Canyon and Sugarloaf just to hike a little bit of each trail.  Either I’m just getting older and more out of shape, but I sure don’t remember it being so blazing hot up there on the trails!! L  I took them slow and picked up a Flicker for my troubles (along with another surprise:  a Crissal Thrasher way up there), but that was about it; the scenery was great, though!  I didn’t even bother hiking Massai Point for that very reason (the heat, not the scenery ☺), plus that’s where all the tourists were J, so I just pulled out my Subway and sat at a shaded picnic table and enjoyed the view!  I thought I saw a Scrub Jay dart across the road, but didn’t get a good enough look.

Burned area on the way up to Sugarloaf

   

Female Black-throated Gray Warbler

   

Curious Bewick's Wren

Another view of the Willcox Playa from Sugarloaf

Mountain Spiny Lizard

Parking lot from the trail

Scene along the Echo Trail

Distinctive chewy-chewy call of the Crissal Thrasher

Sailed down the mountain and made a stop at one of the pullouts I missed on the way up, heard some rustling off to my right, and there was a Mexican Jay not four feet away!  He just sat there quietly, looking very old and tired frankly (kinda the way I was feeling at the moment J).  I checked all the TVs for Zonetails, but did manage to add several White-throated Swifts to the trip list that way!  I made additional stops at the campground and the visitor’s center, hiking about ten minutes’ worth of the Rhyolite Canyon Trail (and really getting a workout hiking slightly uphill and in the sun), but just as my timer went off and I was heading for a nice shady rock, I heard a rustling up the hill, and yikes -- there was a bear!!  I think we were both startled, as I didn’t even think to whip the camera into action, and he noisily took off in the opposite direction!  Needless to say I backtracked a bit before finding a shady spot to sit near the dry creekbed, but despite the utter silence when I first collapsed, after awhile both Bewick’s Wrens and Yellow-eyed Juncos came in, and the real star:  a very beat-up Canyon Wren!  Decided to toot a bit to see if anything different would come in (several Acorn Woodpeckers and a Cordilleran Flycatcher was about it), then headed back to the car and warned a couple of folks looking to hike the trail about the bear…

   

Friendly Mexican Jay

Scolding Bewick's and Canyon Wrens - the dry ship call is the Bewick's, while the more strident beep! and the descending song at the end belong to the Canyon.

Despite being wiped out I really wanted to check both Faraway Ranch and Bonita Creek, so hiked the latter down to the grove and had an upset Hepatic Tanager.  Just went to the picnic table at Bonita Creek where a pair of Canyon Towhees came up to say hello, but the prize there was a trilling Montezuma Quail – quail sweep! J  And what was even better was that one of the birds was doing that funny covey call I had recorded at Seminole Canyon, and this was even closer!  (The recording wasn't much better, but at least you can still hear it...)

Faraway Ranch

Hepatic Tanagers:  the chup is the adult, and the whiney-wheezy calls (barely audible) are those of the begging youngster.

A friendly Canyon Towhee comes to my picnic table and sings!

Listen carefully for the descending covey call of a Montezuma Quail (sounds somewhat like a whistled laugh).

Took some Advil and called it a day, heading up to Safford in anticipation of another exciting multi-life zone exploration the next day along the Swift Trail! 

Click here to continue to The Swift Trail

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