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Southeast Arizona 2015

Part 4:  The Swift Trail

Woke up an hour early, so decided to hit the road and get out there pre-dawn.  It was a great move:  got to the entrance to the National Forest, and the sky was just starting to turn light, and you could see the lights of Safford in the distance!  It was quiet at first, but once everything got used to my presence (I guess), Poorwills started singing in the distance, and before long, one was singing close enough to hear the little “hiccup” at the end! J  A Great Horned Owl sounded off, and early songbirds included Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows, and Blue Grosbeaks.

A Common Poorwill is almost drowned out by a Rufous-crowned Sparrow pre-dawn.

Sunrise over Safford

A half hour before dawn I started up the mountain and picked up the usual foothill stuff, but was happy to confirm the Scrub Jay!  Mexicans were all over in the lower elevations (Jays, that is ☺), and at one of the pulloffs that overlooked a nice riparian canyon added Summer Tanager and a Hooded Oriole up on the hill (a Scott's was singing further up)!  I hit a little picnic area right at dawn and picked up Painted Redstart, and at another pullout was surprised to hear Montezuma Quail (although it was quite grassy there).  Getting up into the evergreens added a flyover Violet-green Swallow, and the Arcadia Campground was quite active with Grace’s Warblers, a friendly Hermit Thrush, and noisy Ravens, but the camp host’s dog was also noisy, so we took off and discovered the Upper Arcadia Campground which was primitive and empty!  There the pines were thick, and bagged the Mountain Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches, along with a couple of calling Western Tanagers (assumed until proven otherwise J).  Another pullout had another nice Painted Redstart, but also one near me that sounded “funny”, and it turned out to be a black-bellied youngster!

Lush riparian area in the foothills area

A Broad-tailed Hummingbird's wing whistle has a ringing quality to it!

View of Safford now that the sun's up...

What you're driving up...

A pair of "Red-shafted" Flickers were dialoguing at one pullout...

...while a Scott's Oriole sings its whistled song unseen.

Bridled Titmice tend to like the lower elevations (a wheezy Hermit Thrush calls in the background).

Immature Painted Redstarts lack the red belly of the adults.  (Their cheer is a little weak, too...)

An adult Painted Redstart calling...

...and singing.


Hermit Thrush

Arcadia Campground

Mountain Chickadee 

A pair of Common Ravens had the campground staked out...

...while a Western Tanager called high in an evergreen.

But the jackpot was at Cluff Dairy, a big pullout that was a “primitive area”:  it had a feeding flock with the normal chickadees and nuthatches, but a little pishing and tooting brought in juncos (of course), Steller’s Jays, a Hermit Warbler, Black-throated Grays, and the real prize, a knock-down gorgeous Red-faced Warbler!  Even the Ravens were upset! Something was making a loud whipping noise that I didn’t recognize, but thankfully the perp sat right out in the open:  a Greater Pewee!


Greater Pewee at Cluff Dairy 

Continuing up the mountain...

Twilight Spring Road, which leads to another campground.

I was a little concerned because I kept seeing all these Olive Wannabes (aka Hermit Warblers), and the last one I saw did seem to show a yellowish wash on the primary edges (which would favor Olive), but the head just didn’t look right, and being familiar with Hermits from San Diego, I was expecting an Olive to look, well, more like the illustration in Sibley’s guide!  At the next stop the little buggers were whistling all over, but just couldn’t get one to show himself (got some Abert’s Squirrels upset at me, though…).  At yet another stop that had a chickadee/nuthatch feeding flock, heard the doggone whistle, and with a little tooting everything but seemed to respond, including a for-sure Hermit (with a black throat), an Audubon’s, and a Townsend’s, in addition to yet another Red-faced and a couple of Painted Redstarts.  I was trying to get on every bird (and when dozens are circling the wagon, that can be a trip), but finally a bird popped into view that looked exactly like the picture of the female Olive, so I breathed a big sigh of relief, happy that I wasn’t losing my mind!


Red-breasted Nuthatch (unfortunately the only one of the bunch that was cooperative for photos...)   (The short, nasal notes belong to the nuthatch, while the chattering belongs to Mountain Chickadees and the barking belongs to an Abert's Squirrel.)

A feeding flock "chorus": listen for the descending whistle of an Olive Warbler, the nasal chattering of some White-breasted Nuthatches, and the barking of the Abert's Squirrel.  A hummingbird (probably Broad-tailed) adds his chase note to the mix.

Everything was anticlimactic after that, but continued the half-mile stops right up to Post Creek, which was a terrific little waterfall along the dirt portion of the road.  There was also a huge meadow just full of yellow flowers, and a patch along the road had several Pipevine Swallowtails, a Painted Lady, and a White-lined Sphinx trying to make like a hummingbird!  Other high-altitude stops (some with some gorgeous views of the flatlands) yielded a female Clouded/Orange Sulphur, what was probably an Echo Blue (only saw the dorsal, which had nice thick black borders), and a couple of non-stop Weidemeyer’s Admirals.  The dirt portion was a little bumpy in spots and really reminded me of Carr Canyon Road, but one of the views yielded a pair of Pine Siskins bouncing over, and on the way to the cul-de-sac at the end of the road a couple of Turkeys calmly walked across!

Yet another hairpin turn!

White-breasted Nuthatch

View from the top

An Olive Warbler sings a rather burry song while a Red-faced Warbler interjects one of its sweet songs!

Clouded/Orange Sulphur (they can look identical at times)

Echo Blue

Crevice Spiny Lizard (best guess)

Juvie Yellow-eyed Junco crossing the road...

Tackling the dirt portion...

The Meadow


Pipevine Swallowtails (males left and center, female right)


White-lined Sphinx (what a face...)

The waterfall at Post Creek

The only disappointment was that I didn’t have time to hike any trails and look for more bugs, as I really had to start down in order to get to Benson at a decent hour.  So down we sailed (pavement never felt so good in my life J) and made good time, got gassed and iced up, and checked in. 

Click here to continue to the Huachucas

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