Photo Highlights From Southeast Arizona

March 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Heide and I just returned from a week in southeast Arizona. It's never enough time. I had every day scheduled out to cover the most territory in the time we had. I had carefully researched e-Bird to find likely target species and map out where they were being seen. We even left early to try to get much of the long drive out of the way the first night so as to spend as much time as possible shooting. Yep. That's what I did. Of course, all that lasted a day or two at the most. It's the nature of wildlife and nature photography... animals are unpredictable. Well, not completely unpredictable. It's just that when you are on your way to see a particular species and run run into another unexpected species that you have not covered prior or that is incredibly rare, you change plans and cover what you have in front of you. So we didn't cover a lot of new ground from the last trip although we did get into some new areas for us. We did, however, see three rarities and managed photos of two of them. Here's how it went...

We left on Friday and drove to Riverside so as to get all that driving out of the way and better set us up to cover the eastern shore of the Salton Sea the following day. We had first been to the Salton Sea in October of 2013. It was incredibly hot then and was pretty warm this time, well into the upper 90's in March. We drove through the Wister Waterfowl Management Area. A great place for the usual waterfowl and picked up some nice photos of Neotropic Cormorants. After that we stopped at the Visitor Center for the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. There is a nice little visitor center here but the real draw for us is the surrounding grounds and trails. Within 200 feet of the visitor center we have seen Abert's Towhee, Gambel's Quail, Common Ground Dove, Barn Owl, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Great-tailed Grackle, several different sparrows, Desert Cottontail and several types of lizards to name a few. After that, just down the road a mile at the most is a mostly obsidian promontory that sort of sticks out into the lake. It was on a rock outcrop here in 2013 that a group of Blue-footed Boobies decided to hang out for a while. We saw them through a scope back then but were foiled from getting any good photos by the intense heat which prevented us from hiking out that far. Next we looked for the Roseate Spoonbill that had recently been spotted in the area but failed to find it. Lastly we went to the "seawall" for shorebirds. Although there seems to be a new gas powerplant being constructed in this area all the noise doen not seen to have effected the birds. There were hundreds of Cormorants, both Double-crested and Neotropic, Great Blue Herons, Egrets, Brown Pelicans, White Pelicans, Willets, Least Sandpipers and an Osprey perched on a snag over a nasty looking pond. This is what I was referring to earlier. If you happen across an Osprey in fairly close proximity that doesn't seem inclined to flush, you take photos of it. The only real big issue was the lighting. At the Salton Sea unless it is early morning or very late afternoon the lighting is what Heide refers to as "Nuclear Noon". But, you just have to work with what you get. We left the "Sea" about 4pm and headed to Tucson arriving late that night.

Next day we took it a little easy in the driving department and visited the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum west of Tucson. This was our second time here as well. What I like about this "museum" is not the captive animals they display in very progressive, natural looking landscapes but the wildlife that hangs around there from the surrounding desert. We found a male Phainopepla feeding young in a nest just off one of the museum's terraced patios, Cactus Wren feeding young in nest in Cholla cactii, Curve-billed Thrashers and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers not to mention the Hummingbirds ever present in a spring blooming desert. The only thing I would have done differently here was to go on a weekday to avoid so  many people. It wasn't too bad however.

The next day we were off to Florida Canyon and Madera Canyon but first stopped at the hawk watch park in Tubac where Black-hawks and Zone-tailed hawks are being spotted. There were a lot of people there and we did see a Common Black-hawk but it was very high... too high for photos. We resolved to return the following day. Black-capped Gnatcatchers had been spotted fairly often recently in Florida Canyon so that was the target. For a change our luck held and they were there thanks to the directions of a nice lady who told us of a "tree down the road by a gate" that had gnatcatchers in it" but she didn't know which kind they were. Well, telling a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher from a Black-capped Gnatcatcher can be complicated by the fact that neither one of them seem to sit still ever. However, there were actuall b oth in the area and we got a couple of photos of a male Black-capped and of a female that I haven't had time to look closely at yet to determine species. The Black-capped has a longer bill than the Black-tailed and its under tail feathers are mostly white and very graduated in length as opposed to the Black-tailed's mostly black under tail feathers which are not nearly so graduated in length. These are not easy traits to see on a very small bird, very high in a tree and in constant movement. Close examination of the photos later proved what I thought I saw in the binocs. On the way back out of Florida Canyon we got some photos of a Broad-billed Hummingbird and saw several Cardinals flying through the woods. On to Madera Canyon where we saw the usual Hummingbird show at Santa Rita Lodge. This time of year seemed to be dominated with Broad-billed and Anna's Hummingbirds with the occasional Rufous or Black-chinned thrown in. Also on hand were Gray-headed and Pink-sided Juncos, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jays, the ever present turkey flock, Chipping Sparrows, Gila Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, White-breasted  Nuthatch, Hepatic Tanager and a quick cameo appearance by a Painted Redstart. Up the road at the Madera Kubo B&B were more hummingbirds, another Bridled Titmouse and a Yellow-eyed Junco. Ended the day out in the desert on a small dirt road where we winessed a beautiful desert sunset. The highlight of this day was stopping at a pottery shop in Tubac that was near the creek. We were walking around outside the shop and Heide heard strange calls and saw birds in a small tree behind the shop. It turned out to be two wrens, at least one of which was definitely the Sinaloa Wren that has been seen in the nearby creek area. Unfortunately we didn't have a camera with us but I looked up the strange two-note calls we heard on xeno-canto and this seemed to confirm our ID. It was about the size of a Bewick's wren with the white supercilium but with black and white markings below and behind the eye. The call was something I've nevewr heard from another wren.

Tuesday was Patagonia Lake. Since we were a little early for Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon we thought maybe our luck would change since they had recently been spotted at the lake. To make a long story short, people saw it the day before but no one had seen it the day we were there. This is becoming the story of my life. We did see White-winged Dove, Vermillion Flycatcher, and Blue-winged, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal. After that we visited Paton's Hummingbird Haven for the first time since it has been purchased. I have to say I was a little disappointed but that may have been due more to the time of year as anything else. The benches were all facing the side of the yard opposite the pond instead of facing the house eves. ll of the hummingbird feeders had been removed from the eves also. There were some Gamble's Quail around and a few other birds but nothing unusual. A drive through the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve yielded  nothing notable. I should add that the highway on the way to Patagonia did produce nice photos of a southwestern "Fuerte" Red-tailed Hawk and the famous Patagonia roadside rest area yielded White-throated Swifts, Lucy's Warbler, Canyon Wren and some possible VERY high up Zone-tailed Hawks mixed in with vultures.  

Wednesday we did a little shopping around Tucson then returned to Tubac in the afternoon. This is a great place during March as the Common Black-hawks (nothing common about them) are migrating north up the Santa Cruz River. Along with them are migrating and resident Zone-tailed Hawks, resident Gray Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. This day we saw a few Zone-tailed Hawks and the vultures but no Black-hawks or Gray Hawks. A Short-tailed Hawk had been present in the area for a while but we missed it also. A lot of this was due to the windy and sometimes rainy weather we experienced that day. I would also like to thank Peter Cross who pretty much single handedly stands hawk watch in Tubac for the entire month of March to count the Black-hawk migration. He is a wealth of knowledge on all types of hawks doesn't mind answering incessant and probably stupid questions. After the hawk watch ended for the day we spent the last hour of daylight on some back roads finding Phainopepla and Vermillion Flycatcher.

Thursday we left Tucson to give us time for opportunistic stops on the way home. Northwest of Tucson we stopped at the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. This is a waste water treatment facility where natural filtering ponds act as an oasis for nearby wildlife. Herons, egrets, duck including another Blue-winged Teal, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Gila Woodpecker, several lizards and Round-talied Ground Squirrels were all in attendance along with at least three very visible Sora's. Spent way too long at Sweetwater so had a very long drive to Lancaster that night.

Our final day found us stopping at Kern National Wildlife Refuge where the north auto loop, now dry, presented two Greater Roadrunners and a Coyote. The south auto loop, some of it flooded yielded the biggest suprise of our trip. At Parking lot 1 on the southeast corner of Pond 2 we were scanning the pond for ducks when a male Long-tailed duck paddled by. Wow! This was the last thing we expected as we have been actively looking for this duck for years and have just never run into one. Long-tailed DuckMale Long-tailed Duck at Kern National Wildlife Reserve

So... a very productive trip in all. We saw eleven new birds with the Gray-headed and Pink-sided Juncos being two sub-species of Dark-eyed Junco. Other life birds for us were the Vermillion Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Yellow-eyed Junco, Bridled Titmouse, Canyon Wren, Sinaloa Wren, Common Black-hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk and, the biggest suprise, the Long-tailed Duck. We got photos of most of these as well as better photos of some birds we already had.

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Desert SunsetDesert Sunset




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