Monday, 25 May 2009

Arizona - Part 2

On the way to our next three-night stay in Sierra Vista there was another step back in time when we stopped for an hour in Tombstone, 'the town too tough to die', best known for a 30-second gunfight that took place at the OK Corral in 1881. No matter that they are on a birding tour, almost everyone we have ever taken to Arizona wants to have at least a brief look at Tombstone with the Boothill graveyard a particular interest.

Site of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Tombstone

Boothill, Tombstone

We also stopped near the small 'town' of Apache to see the rather unremarkable stone monument that commemorates the final surrender of Geronimo in nearby Skeleton Canyon in 1886. The capture of the Apache leader effectively brought to an end Indian guerrilla action in the USA.

At Whitewater Draw, where we found eight White-faced Ibises, an American Golden Plover was the most notable amongst a selection of shorebirds. This is a very unusual species to find in Arizona in the spring and so we were surprised to learn that it was the second to be found at this site in the space of a week.

While based in Sierra Vista we had two days to spend birding in the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains. We actually started though by going to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a ribbon of green through the desert that provides a corridor for migrating birds and more than a few illegal immigrants from across the border just a few miles to the south. Whatever else you might see here, it is the Vermilion Flycatchers that make the most impact.
Vermilion Flycatcher

When we reached Ramsey Canyon Preserve we found that it had just been closed as a precautionary measure because of a wildfire that had broken out in the mountains. This seemed a bit of an extreme reaction and it was disappointing particularly to those amongst us who were ready to spend heavily in the excellent bookstore. However, it did mean that we could spend more time in Miller Canyon where, at Beattys' Guest Ranch, a White-eared Hummingbird was the star.

In order to visit Garden, Scheelite and Sawmill Canyons, accessed through Fort Huachuca we had to arrange in advance to have an escort with military credentials. This is because as non-US citizens we were a security risk and obviously a single retired US military person would be more than a match for a group of seven birders heavily armed with binoculars and telescopes! Anyway, our main aim here was to see the endangered lucida race of Spotted Owl, often referred to as Mexican Spotted Owl, which we did with little difficulty. There were also good views of Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Botteri's Sparrow and others so it was a successful morning.

We also had a drive out to Ash Canyon B&B where Mary Jo Ballator's feeders regularly attract one or two Lucifer Hummingbirds. It took a while before we saw one but with the temperature around 35°C we were happy to sit and wait.

Moving on from Sierra Vista to our next two-night stay in Green Valley we spent the day birding at several sites around Patagonia, including the home of Mrs Marion Paton. Paton's is probably the most famous of all the birdwatching gardens in the USA where for many years the family's well-stocked feeders have drawn in a wonderful array of hummingbirds and other species. You don't need an appointment to visit Mrs. Paton's backyard. You don't even have to knock on her door to ask permission to go around the side of the house to the viewing area. You just walk in through the gate and sit down in front of a row of feeders and enjoy the spectacle. Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Indigo Bunting were our targets here and they duly obliged. It was also here that we again bumped into Sierra Vista-based bird guide, Stuart Healy, last seen only a couple of weeks ago in Texas!
Paton's yard

Other highlights of this travelling day were a Thick-billed Kingbird at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest, a Prairie Falcon at Kino Springs, 14 Willets and two Clark's Grebes (thanks Stuart!) at Patagonia Lake State Park, 30 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks at Rio Rico ponds and a Bank Swallow at Amado Sewage Pond. Later, just outside Green Valley, we watched several Lesser Nighthawks taking insects from around the street lights in Continental Road.

The highlight of our morning in Madera Canyon was Mr Flame or Flameboy (whichever you prefer), the returning male Flame-colored Tanager that is a frequent and regular visitor to the feeders at the Kubo gift shop. Constantly vocal, this bird would have been truly hard to miss! Presumably he was still hoping to find a mate of the same species!


The Arivaca Cienaga section of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge provided us with a very pleasant afternoon's birding as always. By now there was also increasing interest amongst the birders in the frogs and many lizards that we were seeing. Once again it was hot!


The next day we got religion! We began with an early morning visit to the Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley but this was to see the Great Horned Owls that nest there every year. The young had just fledged and one was half-hidden in a small tree just a few yards from the nest site. An adult was roosting nearby and keeping an eye on us. This was followed by a short diversion off the interstate to see the impressive San Xavier del Bac Mission, a historic Spanish Catholic mission located on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. No birds to see here – this was purely a tourism interlude!

San Xavier del Bac Mission

On the way north through Tucson we called at Sweetwater Wetlands, a site that seldom disappoints. Most of the winter ducks had gone and there were only a few shorebirds but it was worth the visit for the Harris's Hawks and at last a co-operative Abert's Towhee. We also enjoyed seeing the many Zebra-tailed Lizards.

Zebra-tailed Lizard

There was more tourism to come with an overnight stay in Sedona described by some as the most beautiful town in the USA. It was here that one of our group dubbed the USA as 'The Land of the Fee' and it is true that few chances are missed to extract money from visitors to the Red Rock Country.

Red Rock Country near Sedona

Finally we spent two nights at the incredible Grand Canyon. Even though we have lost count of our visits it still impresses. It truly is awesome! Again we went out to Hopi Point for the sunset and to Grandview Point for the sunrise and in between we looked for birds. In particular we looked for the re-introduced Californian Condors and, in Kaibab National Forest for Red Crossbills, Pinyon Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers, all of which eventually obliged.
Hopi Point, Grand Canyon

California Condor

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