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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 2:  Pinery Canyon

Took off in good time the next morning, and sure enough, we caught the train going through town! L  But it worked out great and we got to the starting point well before sunrise; in fact, I thought we were gonna be a little late because the sky was lightening in the east already, but that was only because the sky was so clear!  And I’m two for two:  nailed another Poorwill heading in L and saw a couple of others pop up from the roadside; at least I don’t know what else they could be, because nighthawks don’t feed from the road and we were way too low in elevation for Whippoorwills (unless they were Buff-collared, which I highly doubt…).

Enjoyed the morning chorus until sunrise proper:  the grasslands were glorious, and had Botteri’s, Cassin’s, and Black-throated all singing away (had nice looks at the Botteri’s), and both Scaled and Montezuma Quail were calling!  Got to hear, but not see, a Crissal Thrasher doing its chewy-chewy, and Blue Grosbeaks were out the nose!  Had my only Roadrunner, Verdin, Shrike, Cactus Wrens, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Kestrels, Common Ravens, Canyon Towhee, and Lark Sparrow of the route down here, as the road quickly rises into woodland (and also flushed what I’m pretty sure was another Monty).

Lower Pinery Canyon Road chorus:  the dominant song is a sputtering, bouncy-ball Botteri's Sparrow, plus the clear whistle of a "Lillian's" Meadowlark.  If you listen carefully, you'll hear the soft, descending trill of a Montezuma Quail!  (The "outer-spacey" sound is due to filtering out the hiss...)

Lower Pinery Canyon Road pre-dawn

The Mexican Jays were the first specialty to make an appearance, normally I’d be content with just hearing them, but since I'll be doing more guiding, I wanted to get into the habit of trying to see them, because when you have others along for whom these things would be life birds, you need to put in that little extra effort!  As we climbed the hill more mountain-like birds started showing up, like Canyon Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrow, and Robin.  Spotted Towhees were all over, and the one songbird that won the “Numbers Game” was Yellow-eyed Junco – wouldn’t be surprised if I actually undercounted the things!  Old San Diego friends such as Acorn Woodpecker and “Red-shafted” Flicker showed up, along with the sad but harsh descending note of the Western Wood Pewee.  A friendly Hermit Thrush fed at one of the creek crossings, and while stopped at another “seep”, what looked like a Pale-faced Clubskimmer drifted by, as it was a good-sized dragon with a swollen “tail tip” with a big white spot on it!  Dipped on the two “target warblers”, but had good numbers of Black-throated Grays; in fact, on the “down” side I was trying to pish in some Bridled Titmice and it was the warblers (along with a Painted Redstart) that attacked me!  Heard several Brown Creepers, and a couple of miles west of Onion Saddle finally heard the wheezy calls of the target Mexican Chickadees, and eventually got some nice looks!  Also in the same area was a Hepatic Tanager, Grace’s Warbler, Hutton’s and Plumbeous Vireo, and some House Wrens making a fuss.  I thought I finally had a female/young Olive Warbler, but it turned out to be a Hermit (story of my life).  Interestingly, the picture I took looked rather orangey, but the thing chinked, so that clinched it…  A squealy young hawk had me wondering if the Shorttails were back, but when the perps finally took off they turned out to be Redtails…

Getting into the foothills

One of the many creeks...

...that you get to cross!


Yellow-eyed Junco, probably the most abundant songbird along the route!

Camera-shy Hutton's Vireo


Hepatic Tanager

Hermit Thrush


House Wrens


Olive Warbler Wannabe (aka Hermit Warbler)

The dominant peeping notes are Pygmy Nuthatches, but listen also for the wheezy aaa aaa calls of the Mexican Chickadee, found nowhere else in the US except here in the Chiricahuas!

Mexican Jay flock

Spotted Towhee call

Plumbeous Vireo

I was wondering where all this fire damage I had heard about was until I got close to the top, and it was pretty devastated, although stuff is growing back and there are still a lot of pine trees around; the fire crews were up there downing the dead stuff, but even so along the road to Rustler Park was able to bag Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, Eastern Bluebirds (they liked the very tippy tops of the burned trees), Hairy Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays, and Rufous Hummingbirds going after these red flowers up in the open picnic areas at Rustler.  Several Cordilleran Flycatchers entertained me while eating lunch.  (For a light-hearted virtual drive from Cave Creek up to Onion Saddle taken just after the 2011 Horseshoe II Fire, click here...)

First views of the burned area

View looking towards Willcox (you can even see the Willcox Playa).

You can even see the road you just came up (or are going to go down, depending on your direction...)!

The road going to Rustler Park


Black-throated Gray Warblers; the left photo was taken with the Canon EOS Rebel (300 mm lens), and the right photo taken with the Canon Powershot SX50 (1200 mm maximum zoom, which is what I often used for birds)

Flyover Red Crossbills - one researcher ID'd them as possible "Sierra Madre" Crossbills.

The two-syllabled dee-DEET! of the Cordilleran Flycatcher.

The Cleah! call of a "Red-shafted" Flicker.

Primitive camping sites at Rustler Park

Burned hillside

There wasn’t nearly as much butterfly action as there was the last time I came up here years ago; because my time was limited I didn’t really check the flowers at Rustler, and when I stopped at the patch next to the Bear Warning sign that was so active last time, only got a few Northern Cloudywings and Ceraunus Blue this time, but a very cool Snowberry Clearwing Moth showed up to make up for it (at least that was the closest match on the Moth Photographer's Group - I'm open to correction)!  Heading down the grade to Portal I ran into the aforementioned titmouse flock (which also contained a Warbling Vireo and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher), plus a couple of guys with a flat tire who thought they were in good shape until their jack broke! L  I was hoping someone at the George Walker House might be able to help them, but a pretty nasty-looking stream (that was the famous Turkey Creek, I found out) turned me back shortly after making the turn onto Paradise Road, but in the time it took me to get back up to the main drag a forest service guy had shown up and was helping them, so I was very glad!


Western Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thetis)


Northern Cloudywing

It was noon by then (!) so decided to wrap up the BBS protocol (and the EBird survey) right there at the junction (a good place to stop) and just drive on in, stopping periodically.  Ran into a lady and her family who announced they had seen Montezuma Quail along the road where the research station is, and I almost went in myself, but decided that if I wanted to “feeder crash”, I needed to get going, so I reluctantly just drove through Cave Creek, picking up a calling Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher on the fly (all of the good birding spots were closed, anyway).  I did stop a couple of times, and one of them was very productive with a flock of Bushtits and another Grace’s Warbler that came in for pictures (I had been taking a page from a friend's book and “tooting” when things weren’t responding to pishing, especially little chirps and things that I didn’t recognize).

Forest road going past the research station


Grace's Warbler

Marine Blue

Headed straight to Cave Creek Ranch, where no one was in the office, so I stuffed my five bucks in the little box and spent a good 30 minutes there, adding what I thought at first was the target Blue-throated Hummingbird, but as time went on I realized I was seeing a young male Broadbill that wasn’t showing much red in the bill, as a nice adult male and female came in as well and they were all the same size (that’s the first clue J).  A juvie Black-headed Grosbeak and his daddy came in to the tray feeder, and an Acorn Woodpecker came in to the PB feeder.  A Curve-billed Thrasher called and a Canyon Towhee came in as well, but for the most part House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches were the main customers.  What looked like a Flame Skimmer was buzzing over their little pond, but he wouldn’t settle down.

White-breasted Nuthatch at Cave Creek Lodge

A juvenile Black-headed Grosbeak is still begging from Daddy!



...and the kid!


Acorn Woodpeckers

Cacophony of Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches

The ABA Book said that the residents of Portal welcome birders to wander the street and peek in their yards, only I didn’t see any active hummer feeders, and didn’t feel right about asking the folks at the Portal Lodge if I could sit in the back and watch for awhile (although I was told later by several folks that they probably would have let me if I had asked...).  But walking down the road a distant body was crossing it that I assumed was a Gambel’s Quail, but it turned out to be a male Montezuma!!  He was long gone by the time I got up there, of course, but on the way back I ran into a threesome of birders who got very excited when I told them!

Headed over to the Rodriguez feeders on Foothill, and thankfully the road was open (they had closed it a couple of days previously when a surprise morning monsoon dumped a whole bunch of rain), so we swam through and found the guy’s yard in the “Big Thicket” that’s supposed to be good for Crissal Thrashers.  My friend Jane had shown me this place, and it was much more active then than it was today (then again, since we were staying at the Lodge we could have gone later in the afternoon, too), but picked up a young Pyrr and a female Cardinal that looked like she could have had some Pyrr genes in her…  A couple of Black-throated Sparrows came in, and I had flushed a Sharp-shinned Hawk coming in (and, boy, was he tiny, so that made it easy to ID).  The same three birders showed up just as I was leaving, but the gal announced she heard some Gambel’s Quail, so I decided to sit with them awhile (I did hear what she was talking about, so that was good enough for the day list), and found out they were from Seattle; the one guy may be coming to south Texas in the fall!

Funky-crested female Northern Cardinal

Black-throated Sparrow

            It was really time to go after that, so we all took off and I headed back to Willcox, got some chicken at the travel place (along with ice), and enjoyed the Barn Swallow family outside the hotel!


Baby Barn Swallows outside the Holiday Inn (with Mom at right)

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