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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 7:  Patagonia Area

Woke up an hour earlier than the alarm, so went ahead and did the morning routine.  Going up SR 90 there was one of those “Amber Signs” that warned of inclement weather ahead, and when I turned onto SR 82 I did indeed see some lightning off in the distance, but we were fine and made it into Sonoita with no issues.  Once into Patagonia found Harshaw Road fine, then the National Forest boundary, and pulled over to wait until a half hour before sunrise.  Blue Grosbeaks, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and a Chat were already at it, but was glad to bag another Poorwill!  At about 5:15 I started the BBS protocol up the road, and quickly came upon Harshaw Creek Road, which the ABA guide highly recommended.  But at that point it was still pretty dark, so I opted to stick to the paved road and see where that took me.

It was a gorgeous drive, and besides the normal thornscrub/oak stuff had a singing Eastern Bluebird, and several Phainopeplas which were new for the trip!  Further up the road two Turkeys ran across, and at one stop had a feeding flock with three very friendly little Painted Redstarts, three Black-throated Grays, a Hermit, and a Nashville.  At another stop a Cooper’s Hawk was giving a very tentative version of its call, and up at the “top of the mountain” (that opened up into this beautiful meadow) picked up some Lark Sparrows.  The road went on for another 20 miles, so I decided to turn around at Rancho Santo Niño, which was about the 10-mile mark.  The real scenic stuff was going back down the mountain! J  But almost at the bottom I heard that distinctive Pow-WEET! and wheeled around to bag three Thick-billed Kingbirds interacting with each other!  I had heard a Varied Bunting at the pullout where I turned around, so after enjoying the kingbirds I went back down there and found the “little black bird” up on an bush!

Early morning scenes going up Harshaw Road

Friendly Painted Redstart

More scenes...

Pretty meadow near the top

Where the turkeys were...

Near Rancho Santo Niño, at about the ten-mile mark

Meadow at the top

Horsies on the way back down...

Gorgeous view of the mountains coming down!

Singing Eastern Bluebird; you can also hear some "chuckle-doo" calls.

Family group of Thick-billed Kingbirds; you can also hear the "police whistle" of an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

I did want to try Harshaw Creek Road, so I turned right at that intersection (the grader had just finished, apparently), and that was a road to die for!  Absolutely gorgeous sycamore/cottonwood/willow riparian woodlands along an open creek (with a steep cliff face on your right; there were a couple of pretty rocky spots along the road), but in addition to the birds encountered along Harshaw Road, this little 4.5-mile stretch added Montezuma Quail (heard-only), Western Kingbird, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, and Broad-billed Hummingbird to the list!  Gray Hawks were also yelling, and a Botteri’s Sparrow had me fooled into thinking I had just bagged my Black-chinned Sparrow for the trip…  Probably the most incongruous bird along this route was a Collared Dove!

Harshaw Creek Road

"Diggory" posing against the cliff face...

Rufous-crowned Sparrow sounds the alarm...

Harshaw Creek

Scenes along the road

Harshaw Creek Road reconnects with the road to the San Rafael Grasslands.

(This is not them... ☺)

Swung back around and into town, and turned onto Pennsylvania to check out the Patons’ place.  Someone on the listserv had put out a warning that the road to get there was impassable, but that the city was pretty good about getting that wash drivable again.  Well.  When I came around the corner, lo and behold a little car was stuck up to its belly in the middle of the wash, and three people were trying to dig it out with shovels!  I parked and talked to a local lady who said that yesterday the wash was in great shape, then they had a storm and this morning the thing was flowing full!  I offered to call a tow truck, but I guess they wanted to try and dig it out on their own; hope they succeeded!  In the meantime I shot some Pipevine Swallowtails that were mudding…

Why all those signs say, "Do Not Enter When Flooded"!


Pipevine Swallowtails getting nutrients out of the mud...

The lady suggested Salero Road as an alternate route, which I was gonna try anyway, so I headed out, stopping at the butterfly garden first.  Tons of Pipevines, some Tailed Oranges, an American Lady, a few Fiery Skippers, and a couple of Mexican Frits were the highlights there.  Headed on to Salero after that, and had I been on the ball, I should have taken a video of the Sonoita Creek crossing to show “the girls”, cuz it was worse than the wash!!  (The Border Patrol guy who whizzed by me evidently made it through fine, though…)  Obviously it was in much better shape when Norma and crew birded that road earlier in the week!

American Lady on ??? at the Patagonia Butterfly Garden


American Ladies are told from Painted by the two large eyespots on the ventral hindwing, and the little white dot within the orange on the forewing. 


Fiery Skipper

Tailed Orange (whatever that stuff was, everybody seemed to like it!)

Mexican Fritillary, which is somewhat of a stray in southeast Arizona.

So that shot Blue Heaven and the Patons, so I continued on to the Roadside Rest.  Since no one was there, I stuck by the car and listened every .1 mile; nothing new for the trip, but a beautiful male Western Tanager did decide to show!  A curious Bell’s Vireo and Lucy’s Warbler also made an appearance, and another Varied Bunting sang unseen up on the hillside, but sure enough, some creepy-looking guy (who was probably harmless) rolled in with his pickup and just sat by the picnic area, so I’m glad I didn’t decide to have my lunch there! 

Diggory at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest

I had almost forgotten about Patagonia Lake, so headed over there after lunch, and thankfully there were some parking spots at the trailhead!  Even though several blues and a couple of Checkerspots were mudding, I could tell it was gonna be tough cuz it was hot out there!  Made it down the stairs, and got to thinking that someone who didn’t know their bird calls might have been frightened by all the startled noises made by the Great Blue and Green Herons as they flushed unseen, to say nothing of the Coots!  At one of the lake openings had a Cliff Swallow swoop by, and a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers were having a big time, but I was pretty much distracted by the dragonflies: what were probably mostly Blue Dashers dominated the swamp, with maybe a Western Pondhawk or two (some of those blue dragons looked distinctly bigger), and was also able to catch a pair of ovipositing Variegated Meadowhawks, and a Common Green Darner.  One of those cool darners buzzed by, but he didn’t slow down enough for shots… L  Another pretty dragon turned out to be a Widow Skimmer, and boy, those things were big!  Some Desert Firetails were floating around as well, but the big thrill was one of those cool little forktails I was hoping to see (even though you can’t tell them apart except under a microscope J): the Pacific/Plains Forktail!  Walked almost to the end of the trail where the droning of bees sent me back L, and also ran into those “belligerent cows” the ABA Guide warned people about, but thankfully the one I encountered on the trail went up the hill instead of insisting I move off the trail!  After dragging myself back up the stairs (and checking out a white-tailed gnatcatcher that turned out to be a Blue-gray after it said something), it dawned on me that a Rufous-winged Sparrow was singing!  He was smarter than I, however, and refused to come out into the sun…

Entrance to Patagonia Lake State Park

Habitat along the Nature Trail


Male Blue Dashers, which are truly blue in Arizona (unlike in Texas)!


Females look the same both places...

This one is lacking markings on the abdomen.


Desert Firetail


Either Plains or Pacific Forktail - separated by the shape of their appendages (which you really can't see)


Lesser Earless Lizards (token herp)

Red-tailed Hawk that got spooked from a tree...

No Neotropic Cormorant, but that’s not nearly the big deal bag now that I live in Texas that it was when I lived in California, but decided to swing around the lake edges (with the A/C on at full blast) to see what I could see.  Nothing but grackles (that do sound different than the ones in Texas), but I checked out another reedy area near the boat launch place that just had more dashers and another Widow Skimmer.  Decided to call it quits after that, even though it was “early” (about 12:30 or so).

Pedestrian bridge on the other side of the park


Eastern (I think) Amberwing near the picnic area


Widow Skimmer

Heading towards Nogales, I decided at the last minute to swing by Kino Springs, seeing as it was right on the way.  I thought I had heard somewhere that the ponds were basically “no more”, and I found that to be true: the only good wetland left was surrounded by workers doing some weed-whacking, so I just continued along the road and did some exploring.  There were some nice retirement homes back there (the type you see near golf courses), and eventually the road T’d with a forest road that, had I turned right, would have taken me almost to where I had turned around that morning on Harshaw Road!  I turned left instead, and that made a nice little loop that dumped me back off on SR 82.

I still had time to explore, so I went on up I-19 to the Ruby Road exit and started that direction, and Whoa Nelly!!!  What a monster monsoon that was forming right in front of me!  It was a sight to behold (with no pulloffs, unfortunately…)!  I went into storm-chasing mode and made it to the National Forest boundary, but the view wasn’t the best, so not wanting to get caught in the thing, decided to head back to the motel.  But another monsoon was letting go to the north, and I finally found a road where I could pull over and get some full shots of the storm structure!  Holy mackerel!!  The locals going by (including a Border Patrol guy) were probably having a good time laughing at the tourist with the camera! J  Found out quite recently that Roger Hill and his crew were leading a "Desert Thunder" tour and were watching the very same storm from a vantage point further north!

Chasing a monsoon down Ruby Road

Another monsoon to the north, closer to Tucson

The "Ruby Monsoon" from a safer distance!

Gassed and iced up, and by getting in early I actually had time to enter EBird reports for all four places I went today!

Click here to continue to Ruby Road

Click here to return to the San Pedro Riparian Area

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