Arizona: August 18-22, 2010

August 18, 2010, I took a 6:00 AM flight to Tucson. After arriving I drove around lost for an hour in 102 heat looking for the grocery store. In Target getting some propane I ran into a lawyer I know whose office is one floor below mine. Finally with everything I needed I headed south on I-19 to Madera Canyon. It was hot and muggy and a few drops fell but there were few birds, just a few Cassin’s Kingbirds and Lesser Goldfinches. I hiked a couple of miles up the Old Baldy Trail but didn’t feel that great after getting up at 3:45 AM. I set up a camp site in the canyon at Bog Springs Campground and then walked around Proctor Road for a bit until the sun got too low. Saw Blue Grosbeak with a worm in its mouth. The sunset was spectacular. Back at my campsite a racoon came and wouldn’t leave but as night fell the Mexican Whip-poor-wills began to sing along with an Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, and Common Poorwill.

August 19, I woke up late and only left the canyon at 6:00 AM. It took me one hour to drive south to Ruby Road to Pena Blanca Lake. There was not a single person in any of the campgrounds. I saw a Thick-billed Kingbird at the lake. There were a lot of birds on the road including White-winged Dove, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Varied Bunting, more Cassin’s Kingbirds but not the bird I was looking for, a Montezuma Quail. I drove to Sycamore Canyon and parked. The place was overrun with mosquitoes and I had no repellent. There were three guys taking down their tent. They looked like very inexperienced hikers. I hiked the canyon for about a mile or so before turning around. The water was very high and there were few birds. However, there was many butterflies including many Pipevine Swallowtails, Orange Sulphur, Southern Dogface, Sleepy Orange, Dainty Sulphur, Painted Crescent, Gulf Fritillaries, and Two-tailed Swallowtail. While driving back on Ruby Road I saw a Zone-tailed Hawk circling overhead plus Hooded Oriole and Bronzed Cowbird. I drove around in a big circle because Highway 89 to Patagonia was closed. So I had to drive back north on I-19 to Madera Canyon and then across on the dirt road, Greaterville Road. I stopped along the way and saw dozens of American Snouts on an acacia tree. While looking at them many insects bit the back of my knees. There were Cassin’s and Botteri’s Sparrows singing in the field. I drove past the tiny town of Sonoita south on Highway 82 to Roadside Rest, a famous birding spot. There was a Thick-billed Kingbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Gila Woodpecker. From there I drove back north to Las Cienegas Conservation Area where there were lots of Cassin’s and Botteri’s Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, and Lucy’s Warbler. There were rolling hills of grasslands to explore but I didn’t like that it was a working ranch full of cows, which I dislike intensely. So I decided to drive to the Chiracahuas. It was a long drive with too much time to think. I saw some Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures along the way. My intent was to camp at Pinery Campground. But as I crested the canyon at 7000 feet and arrived there a man was already set up with his chair and such so I continued up the canyon. I stopped long enough to bathe and then continued all the way to Rustler Park. I set up the tent, put my food in the bear box, and was very content with my book until I read in Birding Southeast Arizona that marauding bears were a serious problem at Rustler Park. I was the only person there ! Forget that. I took down my tent, threw it in the car, and continued to Cave Creek where I found a lovely site at Sunnyside Flat CG where only one other person was camping. I could hear a faint Whiskered Screech-Owl calling during the night . It was hard to hear because the creek was so full of rushing water.

August 20, I woke up early; it was a cool 62 degrees. A Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was in the campground. The sun was just coming up and illuminating the red canyon walls; it was very beautiful. I drove to the Cave Creek trailhead intending to take this famous Arizona hike but the creek was so high I had a hard time finding a safe place to cross. I finally found a somewhat low point and almost made it across when my right foot went in. I made it across and tried to re-find the trail. While crossing over a log my foot went through some rotten areas and it tore the flesh away from my left leg. It bled and was painful. There were zero birds. So I gave up and went back to the car. I next went to the Southwest Research Station. There were a couple of Say’s Phoebes and one lone Blue-throated Hummingbird and that was about it so I left there. Next I went into the tiny town of Portal. Some man was mowing his lawn on Main Street and there were no birds there either. I intended to get gas and head back over Pinery Canyon to Chiracahua National Monument to hike around but there is no gas station in Portal. I had only half a tank so I proceeded slowly up Pinery Pass conserving as much as possible. I drove right past George Walker House and the Paradise Cemetery where Ken later told me Montezuma Quails can be found. Urgh. Melody Kehl, bird guide, who was too busy to help me find a Montezuma Quail, drove right past me when I was down to 1/4 tank and not even to Pinery Summit. I could have gone up to Barfoot Park for the Short-tailed Hawk but couldn’t chance wasting precious gas so I drove slowly to the summit and then coasted all the way to the National Monument. Near the entrance I found a Common Poorwill in the road. Someone had run over the poor thing’s head and crushed it. I couldn’t even drive to the rock formations for which the park is famous for fear of running out of gas so I pulled into the picnic area instead, had lunch, and took a short walk to an old homestead called Faraway Cabin. It was very hot. I drove slowly to the tiny town of Sunizona where I finally found a gas station and filled up. Then I drove the back roads to Tombstone, Arizona where I stopped briefly to film downtown and the courthouse. I was too embarrassed to be filming such a hokey thing and soon left. I found Charleston Road with my iphone’s help and drove a dirt road all the way from Tombstone to the Charleston Bridge. I got out and walked along the San Pedro River. There were many birds, Blue Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Beardless Tyranulet. I couldn’t walk very far because the river was so high so I left and drove from there to Ramsey Canyon, one of the most famous birding locations in the US. On the road to the canyon a Roadrunner ran across the road. You can sometimes find up to 14 species of hummingbirds in Ramsey Canyon during migration. On the day of my visit I saw just two or three Black-chinned Hummingbirds, one brief look at a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and one brief look at a Magnificent Hummingbird. I drove to the next canyon over, Miller Canyon and pulled up to Beatty’s Guest Ranch. I was looking around for the upper hummingbird watching station and Tom, Jr. came out. He was so hostile. He said I had to pass through the gate but that I had to pay $5. He stood over me making sure I put the $5 in the basket before entering through the gate. Then the obnoxious guy followed me up to the viewing station with his obnoxious dogs and breathed down my neck for 20 minutes. I had to stay despite the harrassment though because he had hundreds of hummers. Within five minutes a Berryline Hummingbird, a rare vagrant from Central America flew within five feet of me. I got my camera on it but when I got home found the footage blurry. I was so disappointned. There was also one White-eared Hummingbird, many Anna’s Hummingbirds, Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-billed, and Broad-tailed. At 6:00 PM I had to go. I drove all the way around to Sonoita and then from there to Parker Canyon Lake to the Lakeview Campground. During the drive a Common Nighthawk nearly flew into the car. There was only one space left at the CG right across from some man who was pouring lighter fluid on his fire to make it bigger. Someone was playing very loud music. I was concerned but it was too late to drive anywhere else. Also according to my bird finding guide Montezuma Quails can be found here around the lake. I stayed at campsite #2. There were tall weeds growing right next to the picnic table. Around midnight some rednecks arrived in a truck. Actually everyone there was in a truck. They rolled down their windows and began to blare music at about 25 decibels for nearly an hour while they put up their tents. I thought it would never end. I am a very light sleeper but there is no way anybody could sleep through that. Finally they finished and turned off the music when the people in campsite 3 let their stupid ass dog scamper over to my campsite and begin to sniff around my tent. I had just fallen back asleep but had to keep yelling at the dog to get away. What assholes would let their dog loose in a campground late at night? I really don’t like Arizona. Why do all the most wretched states have all the good birds? I was furious. The only redeeming thing about that noisy campground was it only cost me $5.00 and during the night I heard a Great horned Owl and Common Poorwill.

August 21 at 5:30 AM the people who poured lighter fluid on their fire got up to go fishing in the lake; they turned on their truck and left it idling loudly for about 30 minutes. I got up dejected. I just wasn’t up to walking the five mile trail around the lake with all those rednecks there so I left. On the way out of Parker Canyon I saw a Band-tailed Pigeon and a Cooper’s Hawk. I drove the back roads all the way from Canelo Hills to Patagonia but saw zero Montezuma Quails. This was prime quail habitat too. I stopped at Canelo Hills pass at 4500 feet before dropping down into the grasslands and past Vaca Ranch. I stopped again in San Rafael Valley where I heard Grasshopper Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks. I went through Hershaw Canyon one of the top quail habitats but no quails. So I returned to Patagonia and went to Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve. There was a sign at the sign-in kiosk announcing, “we have chiggers.” The guided walk at 9:00 AM was about to start. Two guys were there and one leader. The leader took my $3.00 and asked me if I wanted to join the walk. I said no. So he said “we have chiggers; do you know what those are?” I said yes I already had a couple I must have gotten at Sycamore Canyon. He gave me some insect repellent which I sprayed on my bare legs and headed out. There were more birds than I had seen the whole trip and dozens of species of butterflies I had never seen before. But I could see that the chiggers were going to be a problem as the grass was very high in places. Yellow-breasted Chats were singing all over and Phainopeplas were in droves. I also saw Summer Tanager, Gila Woodpecker, Yellow Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Western Wood peewee, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak and heard a couple of Yellow-billed Cuckoos. The butterflies I was able to identify were Arizona Skipper, Golden-headed Scallopwing, and Tiny Checkerspot. I left around 11:00 AM and went back to Roadside Rest to put away my tent and pack some of my stuff. The Thick-billed Kingbird was acting like it was tired of being looked at but I got some nice video of the Gila Woodpecker. I looked at my iphone and saw an email from the listserv for Arizona. There was a report of two Black-capped Gnatcatchers at Montosa Canyon. Where in the hell was Montosa Canyon? It was not in my bird finding book or anywhere else. I drove to the tiny town of Patagonia where internet service is pretty good and downloaded the Tucson Audubon Society’s web page and found directions to it there. I could either drive south to Nogales on 82 or take Greaterville Road across Madera Canyon to I-19. I decided on Greaterville Road. While driving a little bit too fast on that dirt road I crossed a streambed and bottomed out. I heard a loud clank and hoped I had not punctured the oil pan but continued to drive on to I-19 and then south to Elephant Head Road and then toward the National Geographic Observatory to a concrete lined wash that marked the spot. I walked up and down the canyon. I saw dozens of Phainopeplas, Summer Tanager, Varied Bunting, Canyon Wrens calling, one large brown bird with white spots on its tail that I flushed, and one lone Painted Redstart but no gnatcatchers at all. I was willing to spend the rest of the afternoon if necessary but dark clouds were moving closer and closer and it was incredibly muggy. Soon drops began to fall and worse lightning began to pop too close for comfort. I got in my car and watched it cover up the observatory high on a hill of the Santa Rita Mountains. I was willing to sit it out but realized I was in a flood area so I drove to higher ground. I saw a picnic area and pulled in to wait out the storm. I had the door open waiting and watching the ligthning and the clouds moving toward Madera Canyon. The border patrol drove past on the dirt road that leads up to the observatory and then made a u-turn and pulled up beside me. The passenger took one look at me and realized it was a waste of time. They both looked like teenagers. The driver said “how’s it going?” I said, “great. how are you?” But he wouldn’t answer like it was his first day on the job and he didn’t know what to say or do. He finally said, “what are you doing? Waiting to pick somebody up?” I said I’m waiting for the storm to pass, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m patrolling!” I said well good luck! What a dumb job. Finally the storm passed and I drove back to Montosa Canyon. I walked up and down some more and finally after 30 more minutes two Black-capped Gnatcatchers flew into an acacia tree very nearby. I got a very good look which is good because they were both females or immature– hard to differentiate from Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. They called which was helpful. I got zero video because it was still raining and I had no cover for my camera! Shoot. Best bird of the trip and no video. All in all it took two hours to get that bird but it was worth it because my trip was essentially over. It was dark quickly due to the rain and clouds. I stopped briefly in Madera just to have a picnic dinner before heading back to Tucson to my hotel. I checked in, took off my socks, and examined my feet. They were covered in chigger bites, hundreds of them. I also had them all over my waist line, buttocks, arm pits, abductors, ankles, and behind my knees. I showered but it was too late. I drank a lot and went to bed. I am still itching as I write this.

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