Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 8: June 21 – Canyons and Emerald Green Gems

Rising almost 7,000 feet above the surrounding desert, Mount Wrightson caps off the Santa Rita Mountains.  The north flank of the mountain range has been carved by a stream over time and is known as Madera Canyon.  Like Cave Creek Canyon, this place is a must for any serious birder.

With Joe’s dental work looming in the afternoon (and Corrine needed to assist him),the plan was to bird the lower canyon as a foursome for the morning. By lunch time, it would be just Nat and I.

Things started off well when we finally scored Natalie’s Roadrunner on the drive to the mountain’s base.  While hardly rare in the region, you never know where you will see one.  Try as we might, we never heard him say “Beep Beep!”.

The lower canyon was not particularly birdy.  A highlight was the Bronzed Cowbird at what appeared to be the home of Bilbo Baggins. Known as the Madera Kubo, this Bed and Breakfast has a feeder station that a Wild Turkey also found enticing. 

By early lunch time, Joe and Corrine had left and it was up to Natalie and I locate one of Arizona signature birds.

Ascending the canyon on a series of switchbacks (part of the Carrie Nation Trail), we hiked at least a mile in.  I can’t tell you the altitude change, but we were getting up there.  The Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was nice!

Right about the point when our notes told us to be on the lookout, the “barking” started.  Racing up the trail still further, we settled in to a wonderful viewing spot overlooking the wash below.

Granted, it took a few moments, but for the next 45 minutes, we enjoyed some pretty fine looks at three Elegant Trogons.  All were males and they seemed to be interested in finding nesting cavities.  

Throughout the rest of the day, we bopped around the Canyon.  At the low end, we managed brief glimpses of the most uncooperative Varied Bunting the world.  Elsewhere, we had more Painted Redstarts and Bridled Titmice.  The hummingbirds at the Santa Rita Lodge were cool.  Nothing new there, but you can’t be bored!

It wouldn’t be fair to mention birding in southeastern Arizona without mentioning the lizards.  Everywhere.  Big ones. Little ones.  Drab. Pretty. Too many for me to name here!

After a camp meal at the top-most picnic area, we settled in for our evening of owling.  Joe and Corrine had told us be on a bridge by 8:00pm for Elf Owl.  When we scouted the bridge in the morning, we joked about how the Owls are probably nesting in the hole in the sycamore tree that is right NEXT to the bridge.

 Elf Owls, by the way, are the smallest owls in the world.  Standing huge at 5 inches tall, they eat insects.   I have to think a mouse would kick the snot out of these little tikes…

Come 7:30pm, as we waited patiently, we could hear the tree hissing.  Okay, it wasn’t  the tree, it was coming from inside the hole.  Something has to be in there, right?  Trees don’t hiss.  At about 7:53pm (as I recall), a shadow whisked by.  Carrying a bug the size of an macaroni elbow, it slipped into the hole.  The hissing became loud, chirping and screaming fits and we immediately realized we were feet away from an Elf Owl nest. 

For the next 15 minutes, we watched as mom and dad slipped in and out of the nest to feed the hungry mouths.  No kids left the cavity, but there had to have been at least two nestlings in there.

Attempts were made to track down the calling Mexican Whip-Poor-Will. But like his brother in the Chiricahuas, it was not to be had.

With a long successful day behind us, we returned to Joe’s place.  We were hoping for a neat mammal sighting on the drive down the canyon. Mountain Lion or Coatimundi.  The best we could muster was a fat raccoon. Bummer. I didn’t drive across the country to see something I can see filing through garbage cans in my neighborhood.  

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