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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 8:  Ruby Road

Woke up early again and headed out, but this time I waited until sunrise to actually start.  Even so it was pretty dismal, and I was a little concerned as it got lighter, as I could see a pretty big rainstorm to the north, and I had no idea which way it was headed!  But as I waited at the National Forest sign, I was serenaded by two Gray Hawks, plus multiple Rufous-winged Sparrows (that never came out, of course), and the usual thornscrub fare.  At one of the pullouts a family of Bullock’s Orioles chattered, which was new for the trip.

Ruby Road dawn chorus:  Dominant is the sweet, bouncing-ball song of a Rufous-winged Sparrow (found nowhere else in the US but here) and the rude whistle of a Curve-billed Thrasher.

Ominous sky heading into Peña Blanca Lake Rec Area

Since there wasn’t an EBird hotspot for Ruby Road as such, decided to do a survey for Peña Blanca Lake, and that was great fun!  Again, I pretty much had the whole place to myself except for a car that pulled in and parked at the very last parking area before you head on towards Arivaca, but since I was alone I stuck by the car and didn’t go wandering into the trees (although there were a couple of places I would have loved to do just that - long after I had gotten back to Texas there was a Green Kingfisher reported here).  The first stop was down a dirt road on the east side of the lake that went to an overview, where a couple of Black Vultures joined the Turkeys that had evidently been disturbed from their normal meeting place on the corrugated tin roof on the other side of the lake J.  Got a knockout look at a Varied Bunting, and another Gray Hawk flew over and then perched nearby.  At one of the picnic areas that had some large cottonwoods I picked up Yellow Warbler (and an accompanying cowbird L), plus Bell’s Vireos and some sprightly Vermilion Flycatchers flopping around.  At yet another overlook I could see a pair of Ravens on a telephone pole in the distance, and a flicker yelled, but in that area I guess it could be either, so it went in as “Flicker sp.”.  Another picnic area had some upset Hooded Orioles and a Wilson’s Warbler (that’s the place I really wanted to poke around in), and at yet another overlook a Great Blue Heron powered by, while a Violet-green Swallow joined several Barns swooping over the lake.

Peña Blanca Lake from the dirt road on the east side

Gray Hawk against a gray sky   

Distant Varied Bunting (kinda fuzzy, but rarely can you see the colors like this)  

Cliffs heading around to the other side

Trail heading to another overlook

View from the west side

I was debating whether I should even go down Ruby Road with that ominous storm to the north, but decided to take the plunge, and as usual, it was a glorious drive!  I remember on past trips thinking to myself, “I don’t remember the road being this bad!”, but this time it was actually pretty good!  There was one spot towards the west end of the road that necessitated Diggory going for a swim through a small lake, so I decided to walk it first just to see how deep it was, and it only went up over my shoes, so we were fine.  Other “lakes” had dry spots to the side where you could get some traction, but in all these wet spots turned out to be butter magnets, and there were some serious mudding parties going on!  Had at least three species of Blues (most were Marines), lots of Snouts, a handful of Tailed Oranges, and the occasional Gulf Frit and Cloudless Sulphur, along with a couple of what looked like Funereal and/or Mournful Duskywings.

Heading out on Ruby Road proper


Funereal and Mournful Duskywings can be tough to tell apart; I'm leaning towards Funereal on the left-hand bug due to the contrasting lighter cell spot on the forewing and the more "pointy" jizz.  I think Mournfuls (right) tend to be more chunky and lack the contrasting cell spot.  Feedback welcome!

Butter party with a Gulf Fritillary, Marine Blues, Tailed Oranges, and a Cloudless Sulphur.

Marine Blues have a striking zebra pattern below.

Cloudless Sulphurs are large, usually plain, and lime yellow.

Tailed Oranges are small and plain golden yellow below.

Gulf Fritillaries have a striking set of silver teardrops below.

Another Pipevine Swallowtail in the mud...

Tonto Dancer (token ode)

But I’m getting ahead of myself; by stopping every mile I picked up a lot of the same things that were at Peña Blanca, but the star of the route was a beautiful adult Golden Eagle that was perched up on one of the huge mountainous boulders that make this such a glorious road!  Montezuma Quail came through as per usual (and also as per usual were heard-only), and families of Cactus Wrens put on a good show at one stop.  There’s a nice wooded area you go through at one point, and had Chipping Sparrows and an Eastern Bluebird in here, as well as a Coati hightailing it across the road!  Once out of national forest land and into private ranch land, the Western Kingbirds and Cassin’s Sparrows seemed to explode, and a side trip to Arivaca Lake added Beardless Tyrannulet while I was wading through a grassy pond trying to scare up some odes (caught a pair of Plateau Spreadwings “in the act”, but everyone else was buzzing around ovipositing; thankfully some of the pictures were in focus and revealed them to be Spot-winged Gliders)!  Down at the boat ramp I ran into a man with his dog (and this big chocolate lab that was evidently abandoned there had adopted him), and tried to shoot more dragonflies; one that I did recognize (and unfortunately was unable to get a shot), a Four-spotted Pennant, is considered a here (although apparently Arivaca Lake is one of the two known localities in the state)!  Bird-wise we added Tropical Kingbird here, so that’s in the bag!


Golden Eagle that was waaay up there on a rock!  (Shoulda taken a wide-angle shot just for comparison...)

Ruby Road is the "jumping off" point for those rough treks to bag such specialties as Five-striped Sparrow and Rufous-capped Warbler (I'm still waiting for one to make it up to the good road... ☺)

Cactus Wren

The Canyon Towhee's song starts with a chup.

The Rufous-crowned Sparrow's song is more of a jumble...


Another Varied Bunting poses; the left shot shows the burgundy cap well.

From on high you can see the woodland you'll soon pass through (a popular place for primitive camping)!

Said woodland...

Savannah habitat that's great for Montezuma Quail!

Road hazard...

Continuing on (notice how the weather's improved... ☺)

Out of the National Forest and into private rangeland.

Woodland at Arivaca Lake

Plateau Spreadwings getting ready to mate...


A pair of Spot-winged Gliders in tandem; the right-hand shot shows the spots well.

It was right around noon by then (and even though Diggory’s thermometer only said 81, it sure felt a lot hotter), so decided to swing by Arivaca Creek Trail for a little bit of exercise.  That bagged three more day birds (Broad-billed Hummer, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Abert’s Towhee), and since I still had time, decided to take a swing through Buenos Aires.  On previous trips I had gotten tied up trying to find Aguirre Lake, Grebe Pond, and then getting stuck on the back roads L, so I rarely took a swing around Pronghorn Drive, so I focused on that this time, bagging a bird I always get here first thing in the morning but wasn’t sure if I would mid-afternoon:  Grasshopper Sparrow!  Cassin’s and Botteri’s were all over, and added some nice grassland species to the day list including Lark Bunting, Lillian’s Meadowlark, and Horned Lark (no Pronghorn, though).

Scenes along Pronghorn Drive at Buenos Aires NWR

The distinctive skyline of the Baboquivari Mountains

Enjoyed the drive to Green Valley via Arivaca Road (they had evidently had some serious washouts, as there were all sorts of “road closed” signs set off to the side), picked up enough chicken to last until Friday J, got iced and gassed up, and headed on in to the hotel. 

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