Two mountain ranges, the Huachucas and Chiricahuas attract many birders to Southeastern Arizona. This is where we were headed for the next few weeks, starting with the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista.
The last time we had spent any quality birding in either area was in 2011 when friends Dave and Betty Dunsmore had flown from Wisconsin to join us on a ten day tour of Southeast Arizona. Since then the Monument Fire that started in June 2011 caused considerable damage around the Sierra Vista area. Several birding hot spots were temporarily closed. We had stopped for a brief time on our way through the Sierra Vista area in October 2011 but owing to the time of year and our rush to be elsewhere, we forewent surveying many of our favorite birding spots. Our 2012 schedule would now allow more time to explore what changes had occurred in spite of it being so late in the year.
First up, though, we had seen reports of a Rufous-crowned Warbler seen the day before at the Beattys Guest Ranch and Apiary/Orchard in Miller Canyon. This would be a life ABA tick for both of us and while the chances of re-finding such a small bird in the vastness of Miller Canyon were slim, Miller Canyon is also where Spotted Owls nest. Tom Beatty normally charges a small fee for access to the apiary and his more convenient access to Miller Canyon but due to recent flooding, Tom had waived the nominal fee for the weekend. Huzzah!
|USGS photos showing Marshall Canyon (above Beatty Gulch and Miller Caynon). Note post-flood scouring|
|blue arrows indicate debris flow direction|
|Beatty orchard and pond before and after (water flowed right to left)|
|debris field below entrance to canyon trail|
|birding the EOP|
|Ash Canyon B&B hummingbird feeders|
Tuesday morning we picked up Erika at a prearranged meeting site then proceeded on to Fort Huachuca, a large Army base. The base had a few canyons noted for birding opportunities: Garden and Huachuca. In the past, fort access meant having to stop at the guard house, sign in, show vehicle registration, show proof of insurance, and show a valid ID for everyone in the vehicle. This time we simply pulled up to one of the post gate houses and showed our picture IDs. Rules can change without warning so it's best to check ahead.
Out of all the fort's possible birding spots, today we focused on part of a paved road that lead toward Garden Canyon and birded the nearly totally dried up ponds at the “gravel pits”. We then shifted out attention to Huachuca Canyon. Along the way Erika had us stop at a birding area just off Allison Road on the main base we had previously not known existed - a pond next to a picnic area. Erika said that the spot was a pretty good site when she did her Christmas Bird Count. In Huachuca Canyon where the road ended, we hiked up Sawmill Canyon Trail. New birds for the year: Red-naped Sapsucker, Hepatic Tanager, and Arizona Woodpecker.
|evening meal at Jim and Erika's home|
|one of the "smooth" sections going up Carr Canyon|
|overlook from Reef Townsite|
|trail to Clark Spring|
We opted to spend our last morning birding once more in Fort Huachuca where we managed to find not one but three Elegant Trogons on Sawmill Canyon Trail! Then it was time to begin to saddle up for Rodeo.
|site at Rusty's RV Ranch|
|great place for morning coffee|
Our relatively short route east took us through Bisbee, AZ where we stopped for a tasty breakfast at our favorite eating establishment, the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Then we worked our way down to Douglas near the U.S. Mexico border before jogging north into the familiar “Sky Islands” and the San Simon Valley.
|picnic with Dave and Betty Coronado National Memorial May 2011|
On a side note, In June 2011 a month after a picnic with the Dunmores in Coronado National Monument, Monsoon rains in the mountains flooded the same dry creek bed which was captured on film by the USGS. Pretty dramatic footage that shows why it's important to heed flash flood warnings.
Rusty’s RV Ranch has been our go to place for larger rigs wanting full hookups. We parked and within minutes of putting out our hummingbird feeder, Black-chinned hummers jousted for ownership.
|road to Rustler Park|
|burned forest and blazing fall wildflowers|
On Sunday, our first full day, we briefly cruised State Line Road for Scaled Quail and Cassin’s Kingbirds. Check. Then we drove up the long gravel road to Rustler Park Campground only to find the campground still closed from the fire from May 2011. The fir-pine trees had clearly sustained a lot of fire damage but it also had opened up the canopy which afforded an explosion of fall wildflowers. Nearby Barfoot Park (down a bumpy, narrow dirt road) netted us Williamson’s Sapsucker, Mexican Chickadee and excellent looks at Olive Warblers. As foreseen, we were too late for a few of the other western warbler species. Drat. Oh - one added note: Barfoot Park was one of six recently designated as National Landmarks!
|road to Cave Creek Canyon|
|Southwestern Research Station|
|Cave Creek Canyon - South Fork|
|Cave Creek - first you see it then you don't|
|Tom and Dave clowning about seeing a Crissal Thrasher|
|Crissal Thrasher through the scope|
|yes - fresh bear tracks (but never saw one)|
On Wednesday we went back to Cave Creek Canyon. We've never tired of the extraordinary view of the canyon’s entrance. A brief stop at a hiking trail along the road resulted in more of the same - no target birds. We reversed direction and headed up Paradise Road as far as the Paradise Cemetery. Along the way we stopped at a few pullouts to hike down to riparian areas along a dry creek bed. And once more, we were reminded of how different and slow the birding was in late September.
|"Willow Tank" wetland|
On Friday we were invited once more to Dave’s digs where lo and behold, we managed to pull in not one but two Crissal Thrashers. Normally these skulkers are nye impossible to see but one in particular sat up in the open and called for several minutes. There was even time to retrieve our scope for an extended look. Success!
Friday was our last full day to bird the Portal area. One more pass through a section of Cave Creek then up to the Research Station to take the road to Herb Martyr. All this was for one more try to for Montezuma Quail but no luck. Dave had said that he couldn’t recall a year when the quail were so cooperate. Well, for Dave yes, just not for us.
|when it rains in the desert you take advantage|