Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Birding Arizona Top to Bottom (Day 2 of 4)

Eric and I began day two of our Arizona birding trip about two hours before sunrise so we could drive from Gilbert to the Florida (flo-ree-da) Canyon trail head by first light. Like the day before, it was a raptor that was first to make our species list for the stop. We had just pulled into the parking area of the canyon and exited the SUV when a pair of Cooper's Hawks called back and forth to each other. The large female was seen perched in a nearby tree. The male was seen soon after as it flew along a ridge line of the canyon.

We encountered expected species such as Cardinal, Spotted Towhee, Verdin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a range of woodpeckers and sparrows along the trail. Two life birds were seen while hiking along the trails of Florida Canyon--Rufous-crowned and Rufous-winged Sparrows. The tiny rufous-colored patch on the shoulder of the Rufous-winged Sparrow is not always visible, but once we recognized their chips and song we no longer needed to identify them by sight or field marks. They were singing around us nearly everywhere we went.

Rufous-winged Sparrow in Southeast Arizona
Rufous-winged Sparrow in Southeast Arizona
We encountered multiple wren species (Rock, Canyon, and House) in the canyon, but one very hyperactive, short-tailed wren caught my attention when I spotted it sporadically moving through some undergrowth. We were on our way down the trail and almost back to the SUV when we encountered the wren. It's reddish-brown color and cocked, short tail had me thinking Winter or Pacific Wren. Knowing it was likely a rare species for the area I aimed for a couple of difficult-to-catch images as the little wren bounced around inside its thick cover. I don't recall hearing the bird so it was tricky trying to distinguish between Winter and Pacific Wren. The image below is the best I could get. We wanted to head over to Madera Canyon so I decided to "shoot first" and ask questions later when I reviewed the images.

Vagrant Winter Wren Observed in Florida Canyon, Arizona
When I submitted the list of species we observed in Florida Canyon to eBird.org the local reviewer emailed and asked for more details. We agreed that it was a Winter, rather than Pacific, Wren based on the light throat, bold white stripe above the eye, white spots on the upper wings and back, and the barring. Picking up a rare bird on the trip to one of the birding meccas of the US was a fun accomplishment.

I had high hopes of seeing several new hummingbird species when we arrived at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, but it didn't take long to notice a real absence of hummingbirds around the feeders. I knew it was not peak season for hummingbird species in the canyon, but I still thought Broad-billed and Violet-crowned might be there. While waiting for hummingbirds to show up I took in a few more life birds with Mexican Jay, Arizona Woodpecker, Hepatic Tanager, and Yellow-eyed Junco.

Mexican Jay at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Yellow-eyed Junco at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Some Inca Doves were cooperative along with Acorn Woodpeckers. The Acorn Woodpeckers were happy to pluck up sunflower seeds, peanuts, and whatever else they could find to stash in the holes that had been carved into nearby trees.

Inca Dove at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Acorn Woodpecker Stashing a Peanut in a Tree for Later Consumption at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona 
Acorn Woodpecker at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Acorn Woodpecker Stashing a Sunflower Seed in a Tree for Later Consumption at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Acorn Woodpecker at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona
It's not a great image because it was getting dark, but Eric eventually spotted and pointed out a female
Magnificent Hummingbird that flew into one of the feeders at Kubo Lodge, just up the road from Santa Rita Lodge. This was another life bird for me. As I first looked at the bird it looked very similar to many female Black-chinned Hummingbirds I'd seen Utah. However, once I saw it perch on the feeder I realized it really was much larger (about 40% larger) than any hummingbirds I'd seen in Utah.

Later in the afternoon we decided to drive out of the canyon and back toward Green Valley. We stopped along the way for more Rufous-winged Sparrows and moved along to other areas where we searched for Pyrrhuloxias, another life bird for me. We walked a couple of washes to no avail. Finally we checked our Birdseye app and saw that Pyrrhuloxias were seen the day before at Continental Wash. We followed the directions on the phone and began walking the wash. We made short work of locating and photographing the targeted Pyrrhuloxia. It's a bird I've chased once in southern Utah when one was reported at Lytle Ranch and one I'd searched for numerous times in Maricopa County during visits to my daughter's home.

Pyrrhuloxia in Green Valley, Arizona
Pyrrhuloxia in Green Valley, Arizona
Pyrrhuloxia in Green Valley, Arizona
The Curve-billed Thrashers were abundant in the wash. I did my best whistling impression of their "quit, quit" calls and it certainly got their attention. I'm not sure if it sounded legit to them or they were wondering "What the heck is making that awful noise?" The one below popped up on the other side of the tree from which I was whistling.

Other fun birds we encountered as we walked the Continental Wash were Costa's Hummingbird and Greater Roadrunner. As with most places we visited the Rufous-winged Sparrows were chipping all around us.

We decided to enjoy a late lunch with Mexican Food and got a short look at a flying Harris's Hawk on our way out from the restaurant in Green Valley. After driving toward and missing further looks at the hawk we tried to turn Common Ravens into Chihuahuan Ravens without success. I really wanted another life bird, but it wasn't to be. For whatever reason I stopped to photograph one of many White-winged Doves we saw during the trip.

White-winged Dove in Green Valley, Arizona
We eventually made our way back to Madera Canyon and relaxed a little around Santa Rita Lodge, where we'd sleep for the night. It was nice to chat with other birders and see a Red-tailed Hawk fly overhead. A male Magnificent Hummingbird finally made an appearance. Unfortunately for me, it was far too dark to get a good image of my first-ever male Magnificent. Thank goodness for digital technology. I was able to pull out some of the color of the green throat and purple crown from an otherwise dark object.

Follow a little R&R and trying to resolve a wi-fi problem with the lodge owner I was beginning to get excited for owling. The sun was down, the canyon air was getting much cooler and I was looking forward to adding a new owl species to my life list. I'd thought about finding a Whiskered Screech-Owl for a long time before finally making it to southeastern Arizona. Whiskered Screech-Owls had been reported near our lodge. We heard the soft tooting of our first Whiskered coming from right behind our lodge. We decided to "suit up" with warmer clothes and a light and went searching for the owl. We didn't find that one, but we soon heard another one calling from the trees across the road from our lodge. The image below shows the very first Whiskered Screech-Owl we'd ever seen.

Whiskered Screech-Owl at Madera Canyon, Arizona
After spending some time with the owl we moved higher up the canyon to where the road ends. We spent some time at the picnic area and trail head and heard several more owls calling. We tracked one down and put a light on it. It was cooperative so we captured a few images.

Whiskered Screech-Owl in Madera Canyon, Arizona
Whiskered Screech-Owl in Madera Canyon, Arizona
After a great introduction to and experience with Whiskered Screech-Owls we made our way back to town for some dinner and a few groceries. We returned to the lodge for the night having been extremely successful in accomplishing our goals for the day. I was getting excited for day 3 of our trip.


  1. I can't wait to go in April :) thanks for getting me excited. I would love to see the whiskered screech owl. Awesome!

    1. Lucky you, Suzi. Do you need a guide :)
      I am heading back this summer.