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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 10:  Madera Canyon and Box Canyon

Had a hard time getting to sleep but I eventually drifted off.  The alarm jolted me, however, so I stumbled around and did the morning routine, and was all set to get to the top, when the silly computer decided it was time to download 20-something upgrades (and of course you’re not supposed to power down while that’s going on), so I was pacing for the next half hour, reminding myself that God’s timing is perfect, and I did go outside a couple of times to see if I could hear anything like the guy suggested, and I did hear the tail end of a Whippoorwill’s song, so since he didn’t call again, heck, I was gonna count it!  Songbirds that were tuning up already included Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and a Gray Hawk (not a songbird…).

After “Jack” finally wrapped up, I threw him into my suitcase and made a run for the top, only to find a big rig up there unloading a grader!!  (So even if I had gotten up there on time, my vigil would have been rudely interrupted, and I might have even had to have moved to make room for him…)  So I parked in a lower spot until he left, then went back up to see the dawn in; nothing really unexpected (a Painted Redstart and Yellow-eyed Junco fought over a perch, which was kinda cute), but once again I was hearing what sounded like a Pygmy Owl, so I just jotted it down until I walked around to another angle, and thought for sure I was hearing a frog-like lower note with each “toot” – a trogon?!  Don’t ask me how you could mistake a trogon for a Pygmy Owl, but unfortunately that’s when it decided to quit altogether, so I never got a better “listen”; needless to say neither got counted, as I really don’t know what it was…

Painted Redstart singing up at the upper parking lot.

Started down the mountain after that, stopping every .3 miles (when I could, anyway) and logging whatever came by; hit the jackpot at one little wooded area (not sure what its function was, but it was like a little “pull-through” road) where a feeding flock of Bridled Titmice also had White-breasted Nuthatches, Painted Redstarts, a Black-throated Gray, a couple of Hutton’s Vireos, a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, and even a female Magnificent Hummingbird!  The next stop was the lodge feeder area again, where the guy was setting out breakfast for the birdies.  Alas, the Starthroat never came in, but it was nice to pick up the Anna’s for the day, and you never get tired of those brilliant male Broad-billed Hummers!  A leucistic individual that had been coming in the evening before also made an appearance this morning.

Upset Bridled Titmice; the high teu at the end was made by a Lesser Goldfinch.

Leucistic Broad-billed Hummingbird

The soft hums and tucks of a Black-chinned Hummingbird

Listen carefully for the soft rattles of the Broad-billed Hummingbird (a Painted Redstart is calling in the background)

Continuing down, one pullout had another feeding flock with almost the exact same customers as the last one with the addition of a pair of Plumbeous Vireos!  A stop at a wash added Montezuma Quail trilling, and a swing around the Proctor Trail (did the whole loop this time) added the requisite Varied Buntings, Bell’s Vireos, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and a Hooded Oriole near Proctor Road.  An accipiter blasted through that looked rather smallish to me, but EBird didn’t have Sharpie listed as a possibility (just Cooper’s/Sharp-shinned), so that’s what I called it.

Elephant Head from the Proctor Trail

Beat-up female Summer Tanager

Juvenile Varied Buntings hiding along the trail.

View from the head of the loop

A report of a Rufous-capped Warbler had come over the listserv the night before that was seen right down the road (the guy gave very precise directions as to where it had been seen), so once I got down into the grasslands I was definitely keeping an ear/eye out for that!  Sparrows ruled the place, however, with Botteri’s being dominate, but also several Rufous-winged, Black-throated, and Cassin’s, along with Canyon Towhee at one of the one-lane bridges.  A big flock of Lark Buntings also bounced by, giving their funny little barking whistles, and a female Lazuli Bunting was another treat!


Botteri's Sparrows - the one on the left is a juvenile (note the fleshy gape mark) and the other is an adult.    (In the recording, a Rufous-winged Sparrow and barking Canyon Towhee precede the Botteri's clipped-bouncy song.) 

The same gal who was at the Florida Canyon Trailhead the day before evidently recognized me sitting at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders earlier that morning, as she jumped out of her car and informed me that the gate where the gnatcatcher nest was located was the main entrance gate right there at the parking lot, so I thanked her and made plans to check it out after road-birding Madera.  I also surveyed Florida Canyon Road, but decided not to enter an EBird report, seeing as a) they also had about three hotspot locations for the road, and b) I probably wouldn’t bird that road regularly in the future, so there was no sense creating a personal hotspot.  When I crossed the cattle guard there was a “Road Work” sign up, and I got to thinking, “Now wouldn’t that beat all if there was a road crew where I wanted to go here as well!”  Thankfully the grader was at about midpoint (but it was dicey trying to negotiate the part that was only half done), but even after getting there I gave it about five minutes and nothing responded, so I decided to head on as I definitely wanted to do Box Canyon Road before it got too hot.  On the way out, though, a new trip bird called from the creek:  a Pacific-slope Flycatcher!  A nice Blue Grosbeak posed on the way out for a movie, and almost ran over this huge rattlesnake that thankfully I was able to shoot (with the camera); checking the book I thought it might have been a Mojave Rattlesnake, as it had very large dark discs on the back, but several herp people wrote me back and ID'd it as a Black-tailed Rattlesnake, which has pale spots within those dark discs.


Scenes along Florida Canyon Road


Greater Roadrunner


Black-tailed Rattlesnake

(...looks like he just had lunch, too...)

Blue Grosbeak with a perpetually-open beak (when he wasn't singing he was panting)!

Properly surveyed Box Canyon Road next, picking up the same players for the most part along the lower elevation desert habitat stretch.  Getting up into the canyon was able to add Crissal Thrasher, Scott’s Oriole, and a very cooperative Black-tailed Gnatcatcher!  Dipped on my hoped-for target (Black-chinned Sparrow), although the habitat still looked great; I didn’t hear any the last time I went through here, either, so I’m beginning to wonder if that first time was a fluke, or perhaps they move around here (I’ve also had them along the Swift Trail and the east side of Pinery Canyon Road, but dipped the last couple of times there as well).  Up in the savannah the scenery was gorgeous (one of the reasons I love this road J), and had a couple of Arizona Woodpeckers calling from the thicker wooded areas.  In the open grasslands near the top I heard this funny gurgling noise that I couldn’t place, then decided it almost sounded like a shrike trying to sing, and sure enough, the perp did his normal nasty call, and there he was, right out there in an isolated tree!  But the stars for me were two Say’s Phoebes flopping around and making funny noises at each other!

Grassland near the bottom of Box Canyon Road


Rufous-winged Sparrow

Heading up into the mountains

Looking back into the valley

View of the road going forward


Black-tailed Gnatcatcher; males have pretty much lost their black caps by this time.

Up into the oak savannah

Meadow with mountains in the background

Say's Phoebe

It was really warming up by then, but it wasn’t even noon yet, so decided to head on into Tucson and scout the route from the hotel to the Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro, as I’ve never done the route “backwards” before (coming from San Diego, I’d always go in from Ina Road).  Diggory was a trooper, going up that rough and steep dirt road in the national park in 110 degree temps!  While getting my pass I asked the ranger if the Elf Owls would still be calling (debating whether I should get to the start of the route an hour before dawn again), but they made it sound like they were getting ready to head out about now, so I just planned on getting there a half hour before dawn.  Didn’t see anything new on the drive-through (several Gila Woodpeckers for the day were about it), so headed back to the hotel after gassing and icing up!

Click here to continue to Saguaro National Park

Click here to return to Mount Hopkins Road

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