Monday, April 28, 2014

April Weekend in Tucson (Part 2)

A day in the Chiricahuas chasing a Redstart

So having picked up the Rufous-capped Warbler and the Sinaloa Wren we were at first not sure what to do on Saturday.  As luck would have it though word got out that someone had found a Slate-throated Redstart at Cave Creek Canyon on Friday.  This was a target worth chasing and would have been an ABA bird for both Rich Hoyer and for me.  The only problem with Slate-throated Redstarts is that they almost always tend to be short-staying, usually one-day-wonders, but if we had to chase and miss a star bird we couldn't think of a better place to do it.  Cave Creek Canyon is one of the best birding spots in the US, and a personal favorite that I fell in love with when I first visited it 22 years ago.  It was a long drive but definitely worth the risk, so another 4am start and I picked up Rich and headed out of Tucson to the SouthEast en route to the Chiricahuas.

After stopping to get provisions (we were committed to a stake-out) we pulled into the parking lot at around 8am and headed up the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon.  The initial intel was good and we bumped into birders who had seen the Redstart on Friday afternoon, meaning it had stuck around for the whole day.  Reality set in soon enough though as we got to the area of the sightings and met more birders who had been looking since dawn and not seen the bird.  Still, we're both optimists so we plugged away at the canyon, birding hard for the next five hours hoping that this Redstart at least was stickier than it's kin.

Elegant Trogon - a star bird here, in fact most of the birders we met that day
were looking for Trogons and not for the Redstart.
Even though the Redstart was not cooperating, the birding was really very good.  We worked several large mixed flocks that had multiple warbler species (Hermit, Townsend's Black-throated Gray, Red-faced, Grace's and lots of Painted Redstarts) and had great looks at Elegant Trogon, Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, White-throated Swifts and even an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  All really good stuff.

Painted Redstart - or 'Wrongstart'  as I took to calling it by the afternoon.
Gray-headed Dark-eyed Junco - one of those Western Juncos we don't get to
see in New York.
Hummingbirds were also in great form with Magnificent, Black-chinned and Broad-tailed all zipping about.  Overall we had 44 species within about a mile of the trail head - as I said, it's a really neat spot - but unfortunately none of them was a Slate-throated Redstart which turned out to be another one-day-wonder and thus true to it's kind.  Can't win them all ....

Magnificent Hummingbird
Perhaps the highlight of the morning though wasn't avian but rather two really special snakes that we found on the trail not far from each other.  The first was a large Black-tailed Rattlesnake, coiled and rattling by the side of the trail.  Then shortly afterwards we bumped into a truly beautiful Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake, a lifer for me, and certainly a memory that will make up for the Redstart dip.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake - not as close as it looks, I had my 300mm lens on.
Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake - Rich Hoyer is the hand-model.
So finally admitting defeat, and pausing only to catch up with old friend (former WINGS office manger and private bird trip organizing genius from my more rabid days) Greer Warren, we gave up and headed out over the top of the Chiricahua Range hoping to add a few more things on the way home.  The drive added a Zone-tailed Hawk, Stellar's Jays, Pygmy Nuthatches, Yellow-eyed Juncos and a spiffy 'Gould's' turkey (who knew turkeys could have so much white on them?).  We also got a lucky break when some Border Patrol agents pulled a fallen tree off the road in front of us - if they hadn't we would have had to retrace out steps and add another couple of hours to our drive home.  Soon enough we were back down in the desert and saying farewell to the magic mountains (note to self: come back soon).

Yellow-eyed Junco
Faced with another three-hour drive back to Tucson we decided to break it with a stop to look for water birds in Wilcox and were rewarded with a great selection, and 31 species, including shorebirds, Franklin's and Bonaparte's Gulls, Eared and Western Grebes, and lots of swallows.  A little drama was added when a Swainson's Hawk blindsided a Peregrine and stole it's prey item right in front of us, plus we got a little intrigue when we saw a Barn Swallow with pure white undersides (couldn't be, right? Cough).   Then back on the interstate and, after dropping Rich off, back to the hotel, and finally a night without a 4am start to follow ... shower ... room-service ... movie ... 8-hours of sleep ... priceless.

Long-billed Dowitchers - a good bird in the East, but easier here.
So that was that for Arizona, a great trip with 142 species, 3 ABA birds, and a Lifer Snake - we could have seen more bird species if we weren't so target focussed, but I was really happy with my two-day haul of birds I don't get to see often any more.  Many thanks to Rich for the eyes, the ears, and the snake-wrangling.  I definitely won't leave it so long before going back again.

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