Mary Beth Stowe's Website

Home Page    Trip Reports    Christmas 2003 Main Page

Christmas Trip 2003

Part 1: Sulphur Springs Valley, AZ

All photographs © 2003 Mary Beth Stowe


Got out at a decent hour and had a nice, uneventful drive to Benson, but started with 21 species on the first day, so that’s not bad (got the obligatory Cattle Egrets and White-faced Ibis in the Imperial Valley, but no Burrowing Owl).  Got checked in, called my birding buddy Judy Pike, and made plans for the next day! We met at the Denny’s in Sierra Vista, where we actually had to kill time waiting for the sun to rise! The first place we headed to was San Pedro House, where it was much quieter than it was four years ago during the sparrow workshop! Hardly anything was moving; we managed to kick up some Song Sparrows and Abert’s Towhees at the river itself, plus a few Mexican Ducks that went whizzing by, but I guess it was just too cold for the birds; had a nice Red-tailed Hawk on the way back, though! All the action was back at the House, naturally: the trees were full of Redwings, and Whiteys and Gambel’s Quail came in to the seed feeders (we also managed to see both Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrows on the way back). A very cold Flicker on another feeder let me walk right up to him!


We head for San Pedro House at the crack of dawn, where birding buddy Judy Pike shows off her new Prius (while freezing her buns off)!


Red-tailed Hawk along the San Pedro River


Left:  View from the Nature Trail.  Center:  Female Red-winged Blackbirds.  Right:  Very cold Northern Flicker  

Judy wanted to fill the feeders at SABO (Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory), which was fine with me, so off we went! You really have to know where this place is: it’s on the road to Bisbee, and you make a hairpin turn onto Hidden Meadow Lane, but I figure that the next time I’ll find it by reminding myself that if I hit the passing lane I’ve gone too far! The first sound to hit the air was the Mexican Jays, and as I helped Judy with the feeders, I was amazed at the place: they have a little cabin where you can sit and watch, and even as I sat inside an over-wintering Violet-crowned Hummingbird came to a feeder! WOW! I never expected that! We had a battle with a stubborn hose at one point: they have a pump which keeps the water in the birdie-pool from going stagnant, and if that hose pops off (which it did for us) it’s inflexible enough that getting it back on is a real trick! Once we got that fixed and got everything filled we had to wait quite awhile for everything to return, but I was overwhelmed at the variety: Gray-headed and Pink-sided Juncos came in right after the finches, and before long the Canyon and Spotted Towhees came in, followed by Scrub and Steller’s Jays! (The Mexicans never actually came in, unfortunately...) I almost died when Judy casually mentioned the knockout Pyrrhuloxia coming in, but she got excited about the Cardinal! (That’s eastern bias for you, I guess: I grew up with Cardinals, so to me a Pyrr will always be more exciting!) We also had great looks at Chippies, a Bewick’s Wren, and even a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers coming in! And musn’t forget the Curve-billed Thrasher, too!


The SABO House, another great place to sit and feeder-watch!  At right, Judy faithfully fills the feeders and the birdie-pool...


It takes awhile for the birds to come back after all the
excitement, but the House Finches are usually the first to brave it!


Chipping Sparrows (left) and "Gray-headed" Juncos (center) were common, but totally unexpected was an over-wintering Violet-crowned Hummingbird (right)!


Canyon (left) and Spotted Towhees


Bewick’s Wren (left) likes the peanut butter treat, while the Scrub Jays go for the corn... 


L-R:  Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, “Long-crested” Steller’s Jay (a candidate for a split), and a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers caught in the act... 

Something spooked them all, so we chose that opportunity to scat and head over to Whitewater Draw (with a stop in Old Bisbee for coffee first; even the 7/11 had a pumpkin mocha that was to die for!). What a place! Since we were there four years ago they had put in a loop trail and two viewing platforms, and the cranes were just all over! What a sight and sound! A guy named Alan joined us (he said he volunteered for Ramsey Canyon) and said he had a Great Horned Owl earlier! In the ponds were several Shovelers, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddies, and a few Cinnamon Teal. Alan also told us about a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers, which we eventually found, getting fair to midland shots through the scope (needed to adjust the exposure more). But the cranes indeed stole the show—there were just thousands of them! Eventually a Golden Eagle overhead spooked them all, and what a sight! A few white geese were in with them, and a couple were definitely smaller, so I felt safe calling them Ross’. A mystery hawk had us guessing until it took off and revealed itself to be a juvenile Redtail. Found more ducks in the ponds (this time Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon) along with a Greater Yellowlegs. A pair of Avocets had flown by earlier, and we flushed a Sharpie as well.


We head to Whitewater Draw for the crane spectacle, while a local birder enjoys the sight! 


That gray mass is made up of thousands of Sandhill Cranes (with a close-up taken through the scope)!


A raptor overhead sends them all scrambling!


View of the marsh, and looking for goodies...


Left:  Northern Shovelers; right:  Vermilion Flycatcher (both take through the scope)  

Judy needed to scoot, so we exchanged gifts and goodies, kissed goodbye, and I headed on to Willcox and Twin Lakes. The wind was wicked there, and the ponds were way down (in fact, I was worried about dust getting into the digital camera; I had to change "rolls" about then), but we did manage to pick up a few new trips birds such as Great Blue Heron, Ring-billed Gull, Common Merganser, and Horned Larks. No longspurs, though...

        Horned Larks at Twin Lakes

Called it a day after that, with praise for some great experiences (and pictures)!

Continue to Balmorhea and Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR