Tuesday, May 7, 2013
|Cave Creek Canyon.|
So when I left off the camp had arrived at Portal and settled into the Cave Creek Ranch, in the shadow of the walls of majestic Cave Creek Canyon. It was an incredible spot, with Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Magnificent Hummingbirds, Mexican Jays, and Acorn Woodpeckers all abundant just outside our rooms. Our first morning in the Chiricahuas was Friday, the third of August, and we had some great birding ahead of us.
We started in the grassland habitat east of and below Portal, near the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, and along State Line Road. There we found characteristic birds of the habitat like the striking Black-throated Sparrow, some Loggerhead Shrikes, and my lifer Cassin's Sparrows, which make up for their drab appearance with their beautiful song. Another very cool sighting was a Round-tailed Horned Lizard, almost perfectly camouflaged by the side of the road.
|"Hey, that's me!"|
|A lesser known Chiricahua specialty|
|The State Line Road area, with the Chiricahuas in the distance|
|Sounds good to me|
|Artsy Blue-throated Hummingbird|
|Nasty-looking but harmless|
|Jack with Mohave Rattlesnake|
|Seriously pissed-off Mohave Rattler|
|Big guy-- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake|
|Isn't he adorable?! I think this a baby mohave|
|Spoiler Alert-- We saw them!|
|Cathedral Vista in Cave Creek Canyon|
That night Dave Jasper again joined us for some owling in the canyon. While the first few spots were unproductive, we finally struck gold with a calling Whiskered Screech-Owl, a rare specialty of the Chiricahuas. Dave soon located the owl and we all got great looks at this excellent bird. At the next stop we made it a screech-owl duo by finding a Western Screech-Owl as well, which was a little less cooperative but still gave great looks.
We then began up the dirt road (at times crossing the portions of the road where flash floods cross were a bit touch-and-go, but both vans made it). The destination was Barfoot Park, near the highest peaks of the Chiricahuas and a much higher elevation habitat than we had seen previously. The area had burned badly the previous year, and we passed through areas that had been totally torched, but there was also a profusion of brightly colored wildflowers shooting up between the charred trunks of the pines.
|Evidence of the fire|
The lucky lizard definitely worked, because our first target pretty much found us-- a pair of stunning Red-faced Warblers that flew across the road in front of our van (noticing a pattern here?), then gave good looks after the furious scramble out. One of the prettiest of the southeast Arizona specialties, they're a small gray bird with a vivid red-black-and-white head pattern. They're also one of the trickier species to track down, and found nowhere else in the country, so we were all overjoyed to have the opportunity to see them.
The other main high-elevation target was tricker, but it didn't take too long before we heard the calls and tracked down some Mexican Chickadees, with their large black bibs and tiny U.S. range, in a gorgeous landscape of burnt pines and purple flowers.
When we reached the towering pines of Barfoot Park, we took a lunch break, ecstatic at our morning successes and also pleased to be back in the company of some Yellow-eyed Juncos, our constant companions in the Catalinas but present here only at the highest elevations. A Steller's Jay high up in a pine was the third jay of the day, and a first for me. We also climbed some trees. One disappointment was that the rare Chiricahua White butterflies were nowhere to be found, but everything else made up for it.
After lunch we headed back down the mountains, first stopping at the Southwest Research Station in Cave Creek Canyon, where there were lots of butterflies (Dotted Roadside-Skipper, Juniper Hairstreak, Common Buckeye), but no hoped-for Montezuma Quail.
|We also found this Desert Grassland Whiptail|
|Damn Montezuma Quails|
That evening, our last at the excellent Cave Creek Ranch, had two new birds for the trip-- Common Ground-Dove and Lesser Nighthawk. A night expedition did not turn up the hoped-for Elf Owl, but we did see a Couch's Spadefoot, a tarantula, and had some incredible stargazing (lots of shooting stars) untainted by light pollution in the empty desert. A very cool, if slightly disconcerting sighting so close to our beds, was a big Black-tailed Rattlesnake in the leaf litter by the side of the driveway as we drove back into the ranch for the night.
|Fairly self-explanatory, I think|
|One last Cave Creek Canyon Panorama|