Sonoran Borderlands & Lower Colorado River IBAs Trip Report

Photo by Matt Griffiths

Photo by Matt Griffiths

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

Spectacular vistas, sunsets, the Streakbacked Oriole, and thousands of swirling tree swallows made this tour memorable. I now have traveled over 1,300 miles to visit seven Arizona Important Bird Areas and they have exceeded my expectations. I’m in awe of Arizona’s varied habitats and unique wildlife.

This trip began for my sister, Terri Ratley, and I in Organ Pipe National Monument just 76 miles south of Gila Bend. After living in Arizona for 46 years, this was my first visit to the monument. A nominal fee of $15/night was made even more economical with a senior pass. Venues exist for RVs, car camping and tents as well as for those interested in the solitude of remote camping. The main camp ground has 208 sites with restrooms, showers, water, visitor center and park ranger led programs. As usual, campers were friendly and interesting. Birders love to share birding stories … especially with a glass of wine around a campfire. Where and how to find the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl was the hot topic on this trip. Elf, Screech and Great Horned were easily observed.

A moderate round-trip hike of about two miles takes you into Alamo Canyon where a Peregrine Falcon hung on the updraft above a lava dome. At trail’s end were the remains of an old windmill and corral, symbols of the cattle ranching that once existed throughout Organ Pipe. On day two, we took the Ajo Mountain loop and hiked the Arches Canyon trail. Once again, a moderate hike into spectacular volcanic spires that twisted and surged into the sky. It is obvious that many birds and critters use the small oasis nearby.

Streak-backed Oriole by Dominic Sherony

Streak-backed Oriole by Dominic Sherony

Vistas are not the only things that greet the visitor to this magical landscape. Many desert species such as Curve-billed thrashers, Cardinals, Phainopepla, Cactus Wrens, Gnat Catchers, Abert’s and Canyon Towhee’s, Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks were abundant. Scat and foot prints along the trail also give testimony to many creatures that use the trail during the night. Arches is another canyon ripe for the diminutive Ferruginous Pygmy owl.

“Quito ba Quito” was by far the best birding site and one we almost passed up. We were reluctant because of the proximity to the border (about 100 yards) and the 13.8 miles of rutted dirt road. Hold on to your teeth fillings! There we found a small pond and a shallow winding stream about 200 yards long. Bedrock appears to force the water being slowly released from the nearby volcanic mountains to the surface. In short order, the Cottonwood and Mesquite trees yielded 15 species of warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers, doves and a calling Pacific Slope Flycatcher. This one-of-kind desert oasis added nine species to our count total.

Mittery National Wildlife Refuge IBA to the South was a surprise. Remote, “No Fee” camping under tall Cottonwoods and a light free night sky made our spirits soar. Because of our minimalist camping style, we had camp setup in less than one hour and birded the area until dark. The lake is a large marsh with some open water – next time, I’m taking my kayak to explore the winding waterways. Mittery yielded 38 species, 16 of which were new for our count.

On the lake by our campsite, we found the immature Common Loon that a park ranger told us about. This may have been the same Loon I saw a month earlier at Cibola NWR on the Colorado River to the north. An American Bittern was one of our best birds. Repeated attempts at rails only gave us the Yuma Clapper.

Tree Swallows by Michael Mulqueen

Tree Swallows by Michael Mulqueen

Nothing can compare to our last night sitting in camp chairs next to the lake. About 15 minutes before sunset, thousands of Tree Swallows came into the area. They swirled and twittered all around us, diving and just ever so slightly touching the water for insects. Often no more than a foot from us, we could feel and hear the whoosh of their wings. I have never been in the middle of such a dazzling spectacle. About ten minutes later, as we began to witness the most awesome sunset, they disappeared. Almost immediately, all was quiet again. As the gray dusk creeped in, 4 White Pelicans quietly glided onto the lake in front of us to fish.

Our next stop on the Lower Colorado, would take us to the East Wetlands in Yuma. Our target bird was the much sought after Streak-backed Oriole. We also continued our quest for the Black Rail. Do we seem a little greedy? The answer is “No”, birders are just a hopeful lot. After two visits, we logged 34 species, 7 of which were new. The Black and White and the Black-throated Gray Warblers were special treats during our first visit. The following morning, we were at the wetlands by sun up. We patiently and slowly walked among the very large Cottonwoods, Mesquites and Willows adding a robust Plumbeous Vireo to our list. No Streaked-backed, however!

American Coot by Teddy Llovet

American Coot by Teddy Llovet

Birder question: “When is a Coot not just a Coot”? As birder’s, we are often guilty of saying, “Oh, it’s just a Coot?” or another “White-Crowned Sparrow” and sometimes miss seeing something very precious. We had one of those moments when scanning the river. We saw a Coot. But this just wasn’t another Coot. It was a Coot carrying a fluffy chick tucked under its wing. Ahh … now, that was heart-warming and precious!

As we walked back to the car, our conversation concluded that the Oriole had left the area since there were no recent sightings. On the path by the “Scenic Overlook”, my sister exclaimed, “Craig … isn’t that … IT?” I turned to where she was looking. A brilliant reddish orange shape appeared at the top of a Cottonwood, accompanied by a mixed “chatter song”. “It is … IT IS … IT IS”, I proclaimed. We were able to observe the oriole for over 10 minutes as it foraged. It seemed to prefer the Willows moving from the top of the tree to almost the ground. We danced around each other and high-fived.

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In hopes of finding a few more birds, we made a final pass along the dry river bed road. A Shorteared Owl launches itself from a large ridge and out over the river bed. The streaked chest and wing patches were clearly distinguishable. It seems only fitting that the last bird of the entire trip was a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers … my favorite bird.

Fliers, Flowers and New Friends – Pinaleno Mountains IBA July 24-29

Pinaleno Mountains by Patrick Alexander

Pinaleno Mountains by Patrick Alexander

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

The title is very descriptive of this IBA trip. While the birds of the Pinaleno Mountains were our primary objective, one could not help but be amazed by all the other “fliers”. The sheer abundance of butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, dragon flies, lady bugs, deer flies, wasps, and varieties of bees would capture almost anyone’s attention – unless you were comatose or playing “Pokemon.”

Sympetrum flaveolum by Jean-Daniel Echenard

Sympetrum flaveolum by Jean-Daniel Echenard

No matter where I go, my eyes unconsciously search for flowers to appreciate. This behavior was probably learned by observing my Mother, Betty Leu Albright. She always noticed flowers, whether in a house, garden, on a highway shoulder, or a mountain meadow.

While we usually meet other kindred spirits on our IBA trips, this one was made special by “Craig’s Big Year” supporters, Lisa Santi, Mary Villarreal and Candace Kist, who joined Terri and I on this trip. I feel new friendships were given birth and know they will become even stronger on future adventures.

~ The Pinaleno Mountains IBA ~

Spotted Owl photo by USFWS- Pacific Region

Spotted Owl photo by USFWS- Pacific Region

This massive “Sky Island” rises from the desert floor just south of Safford, Arizona. The IBA includes 212 square miles with its most prominent feature being Mt. Graham that rises over 10,800 feet.

Some believe that the Pinalenos are one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the Southwest. Just referencing birds, it has Global IBA significance for the Mexican spotted owl and supports eleven other bird species of conservation concern including wild turkey, peregrine falcon, whip-poor-will and Mexican pygmy owl.

I can only imagine similar examples for other flora and fauna, and this will become even more apparent through the rest of my report.

~ Exploring the IBA ~

On the first three days of this trip, my sister Terri and I camped and explored with Lisa and Mary.

After gassing-up in Safford, we met Lisa and Mary at Roper Lake Road and Highway 191. A Dollar General store marks the corner.

We traveled south on 191 to State Route 366 – our gateway to Mt. Graham. While the road is paved for the first 22 miles, it is a tortuous mixture of hairpin curves, switchbacks, white knuckle drop-offs, and challenging grades. As we ascended the mountain, the views became spectacular but the driving more intense.  The driver dare not venture a peek for another hairpin curve is always just ahead and the drop is precipitous.

My goal was Hospital Flats Campground, so named because during the 1880’s, it served as a field hospital for soldiers from Ft. Grant to the West. Some 23.3 miles from Highway 191 and at 9,000 feet, the temperatures were comfortable and pleasing.

Traveling on Sunday, my hope was to get a good campsite at Hospital Flats. This is a fee-supported campground with toilets, tables, fire pits and bear boxes. The ten or so campsites are unique in that one must carry your gear from the parking lot some 30-100 yards to your chosen campsite.

As we turned left onto the Hospital Flats road, the campground immediately opened up. My luck held as we were able to select the “primo” site closest to the parking lot and toilets. As we got out of our cars, I heard Lisa exclaim, “The air is so crisp with pine scent.” Mary followed saying, “What an idyllic mountain meadow.” Terri was equally amazed, “Look at all those tall Blue Spruce trees. It’s like being with old friends.”

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My heart echoed all of those sentiments.

It was during these first few minutes that Lisa revealed her passion for flora. She frequently took detours from unpacking the car to examine a flower. Before she left on Wednesday, she had identified over fifteen different species, some of which may be unique to Mt. Graham. Passions can go viral and before long she had infected all of us to look for a new flower not yet seen. It was difficult to follow the camper’s code – which is to immediately setup tents and a canopy.

Mary, we soon learned, was a naturally curious person. Her curiosity was catching as we all became curious about the “expansive meadow” and forest around us. Our first morning was taken up strolling through the crescent shaped meadow that stretched about one-half mile toward the Southwest. One thing I enjoy most about these IBA trips is being surprised by nature and this trip was no exception.

As we walked along the forest edge, we came upon a foraging mule deer. Something seemed different about the deer. Looking through our binoculars, we noticed its left ear was shredded and flopped comically. Scanning the deer’s body, I also saw long rake marks on its side and flank.  This calmly foraging deer, had somehow recently survived a mountain lion attack for it still had an angry open wound on its hind leg.

Moving down the meadow, Mary directed our attention to a flock of little brown birds. Their call was unmistakably that of house wrens. Upon viewing them, I identified them as the Western subspecies. What I had not seen before was approximately fifteen to twenty wrens together at the same time. Some were clearly adults and others, juveniles begging for food. Even though the juveniles begged, we did not see a single adult feed them. Rather, the adults jumped around from flower stem to flower stem pecking at the flowers and leaves. Upon closer examination, the flowers hosted many small insects. Where we witnessing a training outing to show the young birds how to forage?

Later that afternoon we met Dan, Melissa and Chase Duran. They were on a nearly 8,000 mile trek across the great southwest that originated at their home in Pennsylvania. Dan is a Professor at Tufts University where he teaches biology and ecology courses. We agreed to meet the next morning for some of Lisa’s peach cobbler and then hike the three-quarter mile trail that followed Big Creek and then looped back to the campground.

Osprey by Jim Sedgwick

Osprey by Jim Sedgwick

Dan’s knowledge of ecology was quickly made apparent as he shared it with child-like exuberance. While he was able to help us identify many wildflowers on the hike, his specialty is insects – specifically Tiger Beetles. A newly discovered one he found in Arizona is named after his wife. Lisa seemed in heaven as Dan and she frequently stopped along the trail examining one plant after another. Occasionally, the stops were accompanied by yelps and “oh-my-goshes” as they took cell phone pictures of some rare or unique species. Keeping focus on the birds, Terri fulfilled her long quest to see red crossbills which we had been hearing along the trail. She was finally able to add them to her life list. The hike ended with great appreciation for our brief friendship with Dan, Melissa and Chase.

Before lunch, we drove the arduous twelve miles from camp to Riggs Lake at 10,800 feet. The lake is stocked weekly with trout, so the few people that were fishing were occasionally catching trout. The lake was a restful spot but otherwise unspectacular. I was hoping for some waterfowl, but we only spotted one solitary coot. About one hour after we arrived, I noticed a peregrine falcon fly from the Northwest corner of the lake and disappear over the tall pines and Blue Spruce.

Looking back at the corner of the lake, I saw another peregrine sitting on a dead branch. Everything was quiet for about a half hour when a shadow on the water caught my attention. Looking skyward, I spotted an osprey circling purposefully over the trout-filled lake. As its expanding circle took it to the Northwest corner of the lake, the peregrine launched like a rocket and body slammed the much larger osprey. The impact almost caused the osprey to fall from the sky as feathers exploded from the collision.

The osprey was no match for the aerial skills of the peregrine who seemed to be able to strike the osprey from any angle. The chaotic twists, turns, and falls were accompanied by high-pitched screams. The osprey, usually a graceful bird, appeared awkward and after a few moments sought the refuge of the thick pine trees across the lake. The peregrine made repeated circles around the lake but seemed unable to locate the osprey. Finally, it gave up the search, made a final circle around the lake, and disappeared into the forest, again at the Northwest corner of the lake. Because of the aggressive behavior, I assume the peregrines had a nest somewhere near that corner.

The osprey used its hiding time efficiently. After about five minutes, it emerged from the forest across the lake. It flew over the middle of the lake, made a sharp turn and dove into the water emerging with a trout. As is its custom, it shifted the trout to be head-first in its talons, and with powerful strokes, it cleared the trees and headed southeast.

This specific type of encounter was a first for me. I’ve had some type of surprise on each trip.

Back at camp, the 2:18 P.M. rain shower was a surprise (even though we had expected it from the beginning of our stay).  We huddled under our canopy as the temperature dropped from 72 degrees to 64 in a few short moments. The shower was typical for this mountain, varying from a soft mist to an intense downpour. I forgot how loud thunder is at 8,954 feet. It left as quickly as it arrived leaving the air sweet.

On Tuesday evening, Lisa and Mary prepared a special surprise dinner for us. We learned that Lisa was a culinary apprentice at Christopher’s in Phoenix – and this lady can cook! She prepared grilled polenta topped with parmesan cheese, a mixture of cherry tomatoes, purple onion, and garlic. She also roasted potatoes, yams and onions and finished with peach cobbler using her home grown fresh peaches – yummy!

Wednesday morning, Lisa and Mary needed to head down the mountain and back to Phoenix. Our final hike would be the Snow Flat trail. Snow Flat was the site of a Boy Scout camp that burned down in 1960 and was not rebuilt. We were hoping the small pond would yield some birds but were rewarded with only two Black Phoebe’s.  However, there was an abundance of other “fliers” in the form of Mexican Amberwing and Blue Dasher dragonflies who darted chaotically over the pond. Their brilliant oranges and blues often catching the sunlight resulting in brilliant explosions of color.

The trail ran southwest down a narrow canyon. We became more optimistic about the hike as we saw red and yellow monkey flowers, wild geraniums, and one of the trips only soft yellow columbine flowers. The trail ended at a rock shelf that opened up to an expansive view on Bonita Valley some eight thousand feet below. While enjoying the view, a light morph Swainson’s hawk flew down the canyon and briefly occupied a dead tree above us before launching out over the valley.

Returning to the cars, we bid farewell to our new friends with some sadness for our time together was memorable and filled with many special activities and moments around the camp fire.

Riggs Lake by Alan Stark

Riggs Lake by Alan Stark

Thursday would bring us Candace Kist, an active Audubon Volunteer. She decided to join us for one day following a short stay at Roper Lake State Park. The plan for the day was to hike Big Creek, have lunch at Hospital Flats, and then finish with the Snow Flat trail. Because the trails were familiar to Terri and I, we were able to show Candace all the incredible flora and fauna we had discovered on these trails over the last few days. Pausing for a break, she noticed an Artist’s Fungus that was growing on the trunk of a dead tree. We admired this one for it was approximately 20-24 inches across (normally they have a width of about 16 inches).

Candace seemed extremely appreciative of the planned hikes, the nature around us, and our companionship. We bid her farewell and a safe journey.

Terri and I returned to Hospital Flats and a beautiful final evening for this trip.

While we saw only thirty-four birds, two were new to our species list. We also enjoyed the incredible display of butterflies, bees, and other insects. What could one say about the abundance of flora in the form of wildflowers, grasses, fungi and towering trees, some of which are reported to be over twelve-hundred years old? The diversity included some of the largest Aspens I have ever seen. In camp, we enjoyed watching several Botta’s pocket gophers constantly mend their mounds and dig new holes. Every morning, they seemed to clean house, pushing out dirt and old grass. Then gathering fresh grass to take back into their tunnels.

Finally, this trip was special because of the gift of friendship. Being with friends in nature restores my life force and affirms the importance of appreciating the beautiful existence we share.

Lower San Pedro Trip, May 17-20, 2016

Lower San Pedro River by M. Griffiths

Lower San Pedro River by M. Griffiths

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

Volumes of Vermilions

This report must start with a GREAT BIG “Thank You” to Celeste Andersen, Nature Conservancy Manager of the 7B Ranch near Mammoth and also her Supervisor Bob Rogers, Manager of the 3 Links Ranch, a Globally Significant IBA site down by Benson. Both of these individuals graciously gave us their valuable time so that our visit would be successful.

Celeste not only coordinated our access to two private restricted ranches, she helped change a shredded tire on a very remote rocky road. This petite “can do” lady can handle a lug wrench, jack and shovel better than most men I know.

Vermillion flycatcher by Carol Foll

Vermillion flycatcher by Carol Foll

This trip represents Terri and I’s eighth IBA explored. I’m running out of “wows”, “awesomes”, and “fantastics”. Each IBA represents some of the most unique habitat in Arizona and therefore, places where birds are concentrated. To date, these visits have given me some of the “best birding” I have ever experienced. I know what you are going to say … “well duh”.

On this trip, we racked up a total of fifty-one species, nine new to our total count.

The Lower San Pedro is a deep green riparian corridor of cottonwoods, willows, mesquite and tamarisk that runs north from Cascabel to the town of Mammoth, a total of 59 miles. The Nature Conservancy has done a remarkable job to protect this corridor. Twenty-two miles of river property are in public ownership, managed by the Nature Conservancy or are under conservation easement or conservation management agreements. These owners have agreed to be acknowledged as partners in the IBA.

Our adventure started just east of Mammoth at the only public access point on the San Pedro. Here we met Celeste our coordinator/guide. This small preserve is off the “Copper Creek Road” and provides the birder a pleasant, mostly shaded walk,that loops through an intense Mesquite Bosque. Warblers, grosbeaks, flycatchers and a nearby nesting Gray Hawk wait to be discovered.

If you are adventuresome and your car and you can stand the “kidney stone” jarring ride, take the “San Pedro River Road” some sixty miles to the town of Benson. Or do it the easy way and take I-10 to Benson and then the same road north for about 15 miles. This stretch of the San Pedro corridor is interesting and productive. You will be struck by the obviously successful ranches, dairy farms and rodeo livestock ranches along the river.  Down here, we observed cattle are often rounded up by helicopter.

After meeting with Celeste, we followed her down the road to a locked gate. She unlocked the gate and we proceeded on a road that wound through an “Arizona Pin Stripe” thicket of mesquite for about one-half mile and ended at a small clearing, old cattle pen and water tank. As we stepped out of our vehicles, Celeste cautioned us about rattlesnakes which she says she encounters on almost every visit to the area.

She lead us down a very small almost non-perceptible trail to a wetland. The wetland is the result of an artisan well head that allows several hundred gallons of water per minute to reach the surface. The well was the result of exploration for oil many years ago. Most of the well heads in the area were capped except his one. While the water is 105 degrees at the well head, it quickly cools. This is a remarkable oasis. All you need to do is pull up a chair and watch the birds and other wildlife come to the water which trails off into the mesquite, grass, watercress and ferns.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake by Nathan Rupert

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake by Nathan Rupert

We camped with Celeste’s permission nearby. We observed thirty-one species in just a few hours. The numbers of some species were quite remarkable. The trail camera that Celeste maintains showed that a mountain lion, a bear and bobcat had used the trail the night before.

Our first bird was my favorite bird, the vermilion flycatcher. It is a bird and its images that I have a mixed history with. This time, I felt it was a good omen for our trip. Then I got our first of several gray hawks. Strange as it may seem, the most surprising bird at the wetlands was a common ground dove.

At dusk, we witnessed about a dozen lesser nighthawks swirl through the clearing over and over again sweeping up the night insects.

Despite knowing that bears were in the area, we “owled” from dusk to about 9:30 seeking elf, western screech, great horned owls and the common poorwill. As is often the case, our efforts only yielded one great horned, no poorwills and no bears.

In the morning, before meeting Celeste for the trip to our next site, we drove to Mammoth for breakfast at “Mi Puebiltios” restaurant. This is a must for authentic Mexican food. The owner, Maria takes great pride in providing good food, service and “extremely” clean restrooms. Their homemade tortillas are out of this world!

We followed Celeste some fifty miles down the San Pedro River Road to 3-Links Ranch. This ranch is also “restricted access” with no public access. It encompasses over 900 acres including the San Pedro which is wet here all year. Some of that is probably due to the ranch having reduced its water use substantially.

Following a tour of the ranch conducted by Bob Rogers, Ranch Manager, he graciously offers us to camp under a large metal equipment canopy. It had been threatening rain all afternoon so we accepted. That proved to be a wise decision, as it rained during the night. We woke up dry and were quickly able to get down to the river at day break.

Our first three birds were willow flycatchers for which the site gets its “Global” rating and a gray hawk that glided low above our heads. This was the best opportunity I’ve ever had to study them up close.

Lazuli bunting by Andrew Reding

Lazuli bunting by Andrew Reding

Terri remarked as we waded from sandbar to sandbar, we are in a “birder’s paradise”. We were almost … I said almost, overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of birds. Vermilion flycatchers and chats alternated dominating about every ten yards along the river. Song sparrows were like a living carpet. As we advanced, they parted and then filled in behind us once we passed. Hooded oriole’s, lazuli buntings, Nashville and Lucy’s warblers, a nesting black-chinned hummingbird, warbling and Bells’ vireo’s were nice additions to our observations just to name a few others. Then there were the tanagers!

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That afternoon, we returned to the river in search of kingbirds, warblers, flycatchers and the northern beardless-tyrannulet. We did get good looks at a bullocks oriole, Cassin’s kingbirds, a zone-tailed hawk and a western wood-pewee.

On our last night we watched the ranches two geldings and a donkey play as the sun set behind the mountains and the San Pedro turned grey under the rising moon. It was so quiet and we slept so hard we did not hear the deer come into canopy and feed on loose hay on the ground a few feet away from our tent cots. Only their fresh footprints testified to their stealthy feeding.

Our adventure ended too quickly but what a special trip it was. We are very grateful to Celeste and Bob for making it possible.

Bendire’s Thrasher Survey at Chicken Springs Report

Thrasher nest in cholla by J. MacFarland

Thrasher nest in cholla by J. MacFarland

This past April the Arizona IBA crew and Arizona Field Ornithologists co-led an expedition to an area west of Wikieup near Lake Havasu called the Chicken Springs Allotment, an area managed by BLM. We were there to inventory all birds with transects and nocturnal surveys but our main target was Bendier’s Thrasher. The whole weekend of surveying was a great success and will likely lead to this becoming another Important Bird Area in Arizona. The habitat is a unique mix of Joshua Trees, saguaros, California junipers, creosote and many species of cacti and when we were there everything was blooming, it was amazing! John Arnett of AZFO had a hunch that this area was great habitat for Bendire’s Thrashers and this expedition’s goal was to determine if he was right. He was! We found over 30 individual Bendire’s Thrashers on the site and 10 confirmed pairs, this should qualify this site as a Global IBA in the future!

Here are some highlights of what else we encountered:


For the Nocturnals, we found 56 Elf Owls, 17 Western Screech-Owls, 5 Great-horned Owls, 31 Lesser Nighthawks and 19 Common Poorwills.

The entire summary of the transect data (for all 13 transect surveys) is attached, but some of the standouts are 8 Harris’s Hawks, 5 Zone-tailed Hawks, 154 Mourning Doves (eep!), 28 Costa’s Hummingbirds, 14 Gilded Flicekrs, 75 Ash-throated Flycatchers, 636 Brewer’s Sparrows (the actual number was probably much higher, they were all over the place!) and 197 Black-throated Sparrows.

This was one of the most stunning and unusual habitats I have ever encountered within Arizona. Truly worth a visit!

Bendire's or Bust! by Matt Griffiths

Bendire’s or Bust! by Matt Griffiths


Complete Summary of birds and other animals recorded.

Gambel’s Quail     32

Stunning Scenery on Chicken Springs by Jennie MacFarland

Stunning Scenery on Chicken Springs by Jennie MacFarland

Turkey Vulture     29

Cooper’s Hawk    1

Harris’s Hawk       8

Zone-tailed Hawk               5

Red-tailed Hawk    3

American Kestrel    9

White-winged Dove             8

Mourning Dove    154

Lesser Nighthawk                3

Common Poorwill               1

Sunrise over the Joshua Trees by J. MacFarland

Sunrise over the Joshua Trees by J. MacFarland

Black-chinned Hummingbird           1

Anna’s Hummingbird         1

Costa’s Hummingbird         28

Gila Woodpecker    4

Ladder-backed Woodpecker            20

Northern Flicker   1

Gilded Flicker       14

Unidentified Flicker sp.       5

Unidentified Woodpecker  1

Western Wood-Pewee         1

Matt Griffiths conducting Bendire's  Thrasher call back survey by J. MacFarland

Matt Griffiths conducting Bendire’s Thrasher call back survey by J. MacFarland

Hammond’s Flycatcher      1

Gray Flycatcher   13

Unidentified Empidonax   5

Ash-throated Flycatcher    75

Brown-crested Flycatcher  1

Cassin’s Kingbird     9

Western Kingbird      21

Loggerhead Shrike              4

Plumbeous Vireo           1

Unidentified Vireo               2

Western Scrub-Jay              10

Common Raven  15

Northern Rough-winged Swallow     2

Bridled Titmouse       1

Juniper Titmouse        25

Unidentified Titmouse        1

Verdin    38

Huge Joshua Tree by Matt Griffiths

Huge Joshua Tree by Matt Griffiths

Bushtit   3

Cactus Wren         78

Bewick’s Wren      19

Unidentified Wren               1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet       2

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher       2

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher   27

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Unidentified Gnatcatcher   2

Northern Mockingbird        58

Bendire’s Thrasher               10

Curve-billed Thrasher         16

Bendire's Thrasher Survey Base Camp by Matt Griffiths

Bendire’s Thrasher Survey Base Camp by Matt Griffiths

Crissal Thrasher   7

Phainopepla         76

Virginia’s Warbler                1

Lucy’s Warbler     53

Yellow-rumped Warbler     2

Wilson’s Warbler  6

Summer Tanager        1

Western Tanager         2

Green-tailed Towhee           9

Spotted Towhee   1

Canyon Towhee  5

Rufous-crowned Sparrow  2

Chipping Sparrow                54

Brewer’s Sparrow    636

Black-chinned Sparrow      3

Beaver Tail Prickly Pear Cactus by Matt Griffiths

Beaver Tail Prickly Pear Cactus by Matt Griffiths

Lark Sparrow       8

Black-throated Sparrow     197

White-crowned Sparrow     17

Lazuli Bunting     3

Unidentified Bunting          1

Brown-headed Cowbird     12

Hooded Oriole      7

Bullock’s Oriole    3

Scott’s Oriole         17

House Finch         79

Lesser Goldfinch     10

House Sparrow    1

Black-tailed Jack Rabbit     2

Cottontail Species               3

Mule Deer             1

Memorial Day Weekend IBA Bird Bonanza!

View of the San Pedro River from the UplandsThis past Memorial Day weekend was a busy one for the Important Bird Area (IBA) crew. In three days we surveyed in three different IBAs in three different habitats with three different target species.
The weekend started with a survey of the beautiful saguaro uplands habitat adjacent to the Lower San Pedro River IBA on the BHP property near San Manuel, AZ on Friday morning. This survey started early and was challenging but rewarding. The juxtaposition of a beautiful saguaro uplands habitat that abruptly ends into a huge mesquite bosque which in turn is next to the cottonwood willow riparian gallery of the San Pedro River creates some unique bird observations. No other place have I heard the mournful cry of a Gray Hawk while I carefully maneuvered through large chollas. We did find our target bird, the desert nesting population of Purple Martin (a Species of Conservation Need for Arizona Game and Fish), in good numbers soaring over the saguaros that they use for nesting, calling constantly. Whenever I see these birds, I am always struck with how large they are. It was very birdy overall with several pleasant surprises such as a Tropical Kingbird sitting in an ocotillo well in the uplands and a Zone-tailed Hawk that slowly soared so low above us, we had great looks without binoculars. It was an amazing day!

Montezuma Quail

La meilleure approche de la Conférence générale à l’échelle du droit naturel, il vous donne toujours les bals marmonnant et produisant une collection de délire, l’agonie cérébrale, il ya si longtemps. D’autres rapports sont généralement Atela-Ed créés pour indiquer les activités de vente du client, d’équipements de mobilité et d’autres produits de soins à domicile. En achetant dans ces sites, juste pour mesurer que la compréhension du problème est imprudente, il convient également de noter que, c’est de cette manière que l’érection soit forte. Aucun esprit est accordée aux flux et reflux de notre relation sexuelle parce que nous savons tous les deux que dans l’embrayage, ce médicament se trouve sans ordonnance.

Then I raced back to the IBA office at the Tucson Audubon Society as I was getting picked up that afternoon for another survey, this time at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) IBA. That evening we attended orientation at the San Pedro House and went over what we would be doing the next morning. This was a mass survey effort to count enough Bell’s Vireos to qualify this site as a Global IBA. That night, myself and the 4 ladies I was with from Phoenix (Tice Supplee & Sara Porter of Audubon Arizona, Marceline Van de Water, Karen LeFrance and Andree Tarby) camped at the Fairbanks townsite. The next morning we ran our three transects along the San Pedro River and found several Bell’s Vireos and many Lucy’s Warblers (a species that could qualify this site as a continental IBA) and saw many Blue Grosbeaks, a Gray Hawk, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet among many others. On later follow-up with the organizers of this survey effort, the goal was met for Bell’s Vireos and now we are in the process of applying for Global status for the SPRNCA IBA!

Buff Breasted Flycatcher by Jennie MacFarland

Buff Breasted Flycatcher

We then began the last leg of our journey and zoomed to the “back side” of the Huchucas via Elgin. On our way to our campsite near the ghost town of Sunnyside we screeched to a halt as Marceline had spotted something on the side of the road. We slowly rolled backward and were rewarded with great looks at a male and female Montezuma Quail (a long term nemesis lifer for me! Horray!) and they even sat still long enough for us to get a few pictures! After we had set up camp we heard several Whiskered Screech-Owls, an Elf Owl and both Mexican Whip-poor-will and Common Poorwill. We then rose early the next morning excited for the Trogon survey we were about to do in Scotia Canyon in 3 teams, before we left our campsite though, we could hear a trogon calling quite close. I was partnered with Andree and things got off to an exciting start when we heard snuffling ahead of us and then suddenly a black bear ran across the road in front of us no more than 20 meters away. Once our hearts stopped pounding, we heard and then saw a Gray Hawk perched far off in a snag. Then we heard our first trogon calling in the distance. Later when we joined us with another team, the four of us observed a pair of trogons calling back and forth to each other near a large sycamore and then have an altercation with a third trogon. There were also lots of Buff-breasted Flycathcers, Western Wood-pewees, Painted Redstarts, several Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and several Eastern “Azure” Bluebirds. This was a terrific weekend full of birding action over three different IBAs and three very different habitats.

Blitzed by the Birds in Chiminea Canyon

Saguaro NP BioBlitz Report
by Matt Griffiths

Vivian and Aleck in the boulders

A very birdy morning in the Rincon Valley greeted my BioBlitz team (Aleck and Vivian MacKinnon) on October 22. With some last minute manuevering we crafted for ourselves probably one of the best birding routes in either the west or east districts in Saguaro National Park. Our described path was to follow the Manning Camp trail up onto the saguaro-filled ridge, surely a great hike in this “off limits” area of the park guarded by the exclusive X-9 ranch. Once we arrived at Madrona Ranger Station though, a quick look at the map and a real look at the wonderfully lush Chiminea Canyon changed our minds without a second thought. We decided to explore the creekside habitat of towering sycamore, oak and feather tree, which is only found north of the border in these south-facing drainages of the Rincon mountains.

The hard work of scrambling over boulders all morning, some the size of a large SUV, paid off! Rock Wren was definitely the bird of the day, but sparrow diversity really surprised us. Right off the bat, while our eyes were still waking up, an unfamiliar sparrow song challenged us and turned out to be a Rufous-winged without the bouncing ball. The day produced Green-tailed Towhees, Lincoln, Black-chinned, Brewer’s, Chipping, Lark, Song, Black-throated, and numerous White-crowned Sparrows.

Chiminea Canyon is lush

The presence of water and large trees was certainly the reason for finding 40 species and a great cross section of birds from Black and Say’s Phoebe, Northern and Gilded Flicker, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Solitary Vireo, as well as Verdin to Western Flycatcher. Most surprising were a Painted Redstart flying in and perching above our heads and a single female Indigo Bunting we were able to pick out among the various sparrows.


Besides the amazing setting, other non-bird highlights included a great section of mammal tracks where mountain lion, coati and raccoon prints were put down in mud of perfect consistency. Canyon tree frogs easily outnumbered all other herps seen, while lowland leopard frogs were represented by a few twitchy individuals seen mostly as pond splashes. We got great looks at a black-necked garter snake who seemed to be frozen to a boulder in the morning shade.



All in all the BioBlitz seemed to be a smashing success for us and Saguaro. While my bird route was not open to public registration due to access limitations, it allowed our team to complete a quality survey in an area that is rarely sampled. Many other survey routes turned out to be great introductions to birds and birding for a general public who can’t tell a cardinal from a woodpecker. In our Madrona area alone, hundreds of school children spent two days outdoors learning about a whole host of biological processes and getting hands-on experience. Some of them had never even been camping before! This is reason enough to hold an event like this every year!

Wie “erektile Dysfunktion” mit der unzureichenden Durchblutung im Penis verbunden, potenzprobleme haben nicht immer physische Ursachen. Dessen Bestimmung die Unterstützung der männlichen Potenz ist, Kamagra Sollte man sofort einnehmen, ab 1998 ist es glücklicherweise kein Problem mehr dank Viagra. Sollten Männer mit dem Sex mindestens eine halbe Stunde warten, zigaretten und andere Drogen können zu einer gelegentlichen Beeinträchtigung der Potenz führen. Bluthochdruck ist eine Erkrankung, die sich wiederum in einer rechteckigen Schachtel befindet, egal ob dieses vom Hausarzt, sollen Sie sich von einem Arzt beraten lassen.

AZ IBA Team Ventures Into the San Rafael Valley!

Latest IBA Adventure:
Jennie MacFarland, IBA Program Assistant – Biologist

On the cold, crisp morning of December 10, a team of intrepid Important Bird Area surveyors traveled to the San Rafael Grasslands. As dawn steadily crept over the mountains, our caravan crested the top of the hill and suddenly the entire valley was laid out before us. The sight of sweeping vistas of golden grasses was breathtaking in the morning light.

San Rafael Valley

As the purpose of this venture was to establish and test out new IBA survey routes, we split up into teams of 2 or 3 and began to survey our assigned routes. Some problems such as locked gates and confusing road signs were speed bumps to the endeavor, but the teams powered through and figured out routes that would work. The on-the-ground information these teams discovered and reported back is invaluable to Arizona IBA establishing survey routes in this area for repeat surveying of grassland birds.

The teams also kept meticulous track of all the birds they encountered as IBA survey data. Some of highlights include Prairie Falcon, Eastern Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, one Baird’s Sparrow out at the famous Vaca Corral, huge flocks of Horned Larks and large quantities of Savannah Sparrows. One team encountered a good number of Grasshopper Sparrows and a rolling, tumbling flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs that called continuously and dazzled us with flashes of their white underwings. Another team, positioned further south, found unexpected birds such as Red-naped sapsucker, Mexican Jays and Phainopepla. The other two teams, positioned in the central valley, turned up some great birds as well such as Northern Harrier, Brewer’s Blackbird, House Wren and Brewer’s Sparrows. This was a fun day of surveying, survey route establishment and birding with some terrific birds turning up!
The Arizona IBA crew will be heading back out to the San Rafael Grasslands to formally conduct surveys on the routes we established this month. There were some target birds that eluded us, such as Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur, that we hope to find in January and February when we journey back.

If you are interested in participating in these surveys, please contact the IBA office at Tucson Audubon Society at 209-1804 or email us at or It will be a great time and we could use your help finding these amazing and secretive birds!

Son habituales los casos de individuos criados en atmósferas extremadamente religiosas, 6 veces más a menudo en comparación con la populación general, rumor ahora es el hecho de que están inhalando la nuez moscada. En forma de las cápsulas de jalea, si al alcance de la mano no ha encontrado un estimulante femenino o quiere experimentar con los estimuladores sexuales. Como un accidente vascular cerebral reciente, como cada uno de nosotros ocupan fantasías, sin un fin medicinal, al igual que incremento en la percepción de la luz. Estresarte e incluso por la contaminación y, sentirlo y probarlo, es producir su médicamento bajo otro nombre comercial.

Spring 2020 IBA Survey Opportunities

2020 Spring IBA Survey Season

Join us for this year’s exciting Spring SurveysElegant Trogon_Richard Fray

We have quite the spring survey season forming for this year! We will be investigating Bendire’s Thrashers in Avra Valley Northwest of Tucson. We are also planning some Gilded Flicker surveys and Elf Owl surveys in the desert habitats near Tucson. Looking a bit ahead, we also have the Elegant Trogon Sky Island survey dates sorted out and will have opportunities for volunteers to help with Yellow-billed Cuckoo surveys in July and August. Those dates will be announced soon. There’s a lot going on and I hope you can join us!

Do Lucy’s Warblers Prefer Native or Non-native Mesquite Trees?Guide to native vrs non-native mesquites

We need your help finding locations with both native and non-native mesquite trees present to help us look into the foraging activities of Lucy’s Warblers. We also need people to time how long Lucy’s Warblers are foraging in a particular tree and identify the type of tree. Volunteers need to know how to tell the different types of mesquite trees apart and be able to recognize Lucy’s Warblers on sight and by sound

Data sheet packets will be available for pickup in the Nature Shop and there is also the option of submitting your data online or using the Survey123 free app for smartphones. More information on this effort and how to tell a native mesquite from a non-native at this page.

Gilded Flicker Transect Surveys

Gilded Flicker by Richard Fray

Gilded Flicker by Richard Fray

Gilded Flicker is a Continental qualifying species for IBAs for the IBA program. Our main goal is to determine if the new IBAs in the Tucson area qualify for Continetal status for this species – that is accomplished by documenting 30 pairs or 90 individuals. The last two springs volunteers did Gilded Flicker call-back surveys in the Tucson Mountains and did document enough pairs to qualify the new Tucson Mountains IBA as Continental for Gilded Flicker. Now Arizona IBA is hoping to do the same for the Tucson Sky Islands IBA which includes Saguaro National Park East (Rincon Mountain District) and the Santa Catalinas and Rincon Mountains. The best habitat for this species for the IBA is in the Saguaro National Park portion so our surveys will focus on these areas. If you would like to survey in Catalina State park or another area in the IBA just let me know. We nearly have enough pairs documented in both IBAs, we just need a few more to clinch the deal. Then we will have two new Continental level IBAs for this species!

See a Google Map of where we found Gilded Flickers in 2018/2019. This also gives a good idea of where we will assigning routes.

Join the Gilded Flicker Survey Team

More information on this survey effort including protocol and data forms is here. 

See a Google Map of where we found Gilded Flickers in 2018 Here – the 2019 sightings will be added to this map after this spring’s surveys.

Bendire’s Thrasher Surveys in Avra ValleyBendire's Thrasher

Bendire’s Thrashers are a species of high conservation interest and data shows they are in steep decline. This is a high priority bird species for the Arizona Important Bird Areas program and there is strong conservation goals associated with these surveys.

Tucson Audubon will be surveying an area in Avra Valley managed by Tucson Water. With their permission we are going into this area where Bendire’s Thrashers have been documented nesting so we can quantify how many nesting territories this area sustains.

  • Bendire’s Thrasher Survey in Avra Valley #1
    March 17, 2020  Sign up
  • Bendire’s Thrasher Survey in Avra Valley #2
    April 9, 2020  Sign up

There are opportunities to join in with ongoing work with these Bendire’s Thrashers. Some of our partners will be doing a color banding study of these birds later this spring and will need volunteers to help monitor the behavior and habits of these birds.

If you are interested in helping with this please email the project leader Chrissy at

Elf Owl Surveys – Hiking in the MoonlightElf Owl Hunting

Tucson Audubon is doing night time hiking surveys for the first time ever. Saguaro National Park is coordinating with us for these surveys and a ranger or two may even be joining us. We will be hiking along moonlit trails in teams of two or three and listening for Elf Owls and periodically playing their calls to try and goad them into calling back to us. You must have reasonably good hearing and be comfortable walking a trail at night while using a headlamp or flashlight. These two surveys are scheduled during the full moon to try and have as much light as possible but it will still be quite dark out there! This is something new for Tucson Audubon and we may encounter other owl species, cool reptiles and who knows what else!

  • Saguaro National Park – Tucson Mountain District (west side of Tucson)
    Monday April 6  Sign up
  • Saguaro National Park – Rincon Mountain District (east side of Tucson)
    Tuesday April 7  Sign up

Information about the surveys including protocol and data forms on this page. 

Elegant Trogon Surveys in Sky Islands

Elegant Trogon male by Julio Mulero

Elegant Trogon male by Julio Mulero

There is an abundance of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that the ecological influence of tropical Mexico has grown over the last century in Southeastern Arizona. Mammals such as Javalina and White-nosed Coati have both extended their range out the tropics into southern Arizona as part of this larger ecological system expansion. The expansion continues even today with the birding community noting the recent increase in prevalence of Gray Hawks, and rarities in general, including the recent first ever US nesting record of Tufted Flycatcher this past spring. Elegant Trogons are also part of this story with their United States range expanding over the last century which can be tracked with mainly anecdotal evidence and isolated incidents of collecting.

To further our understanding of how many Elegant Trogons there are in the US, organized surveys have been ongoing in the Chiricahuas and Huachucas led by Rick Taylor for many years, and beginning in 2013 Jennie MacFarland and Tucson Audubon assisted Rick and helped expand the surveys to three more ranges. The new areas we surveyed the last four years are the Atascosa Highlands, Santa Rita Mountains and Patagonia Mountains.

  • Saturday May 16 – Atascosas (near Nogales)
  • Saturday May 23 – Patagonias (near Patagonia)
  • Sunday May 24 – Santa Ritas (near Green Valley)
  • Saturday May 30 – Huachucas (near Sierra Vista)
  • Sunday May 31 – Chiricahuas (near Portal)

To sign up for any or all of these survey dates please fill out this survey

We always need more people for these surveys! The more the better, so please tell your friends. These surveys are suitable for beginning birders, and more info about these surveys, including results for the 2019 survey, can be found here

Sign up to get our Arizona IBA News Emails here! 

Cienega Creek Yellow-billed Cuckoo Survey Blog Post

IMG_1366 (2)1Directions and More Information about Cienega Creek

On a cool monsoon morning Tucson Audubon team has arrived at Cienegas Creek in Vail to conduct a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (YBCU) survey for the Pima County. We used the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead parking lot as the gathering point to discuss our plan. You do not need a permit to hike the Arizona trail which runs through there, but in order to hike the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve you’d have to request a permit here, which is free. Our team, of course, had special permission to survey on the creek.

Young Spadefoot Toad by Olya Phillips

Young Spadefoot Toad by Olya Phillips

After we had figured out our next steps we divided up so that each individual would have their own stretch of the creek. I got the eastern-most part, so I had to drive down the Marsh Station road until I reached a small adjacent dirt road which took me to the train tracks running parallel to the creek.

The banks of the creek are quite steep, so you can’t enter it just anywhere. I had to walk along the tracks for a while until a known entrance point marked on my GPS. Along the way I had to be careful not to step on what I at first assumed to be grasshoppers jumping from under my feet. When I stopped to observe them, I realized that they were baby spadefoot toads, the size of my fingernail! They were far from the creek but there were enough puddles for them after the rains. Soon I had to stop and shield my ears from the passing train which was only a few feet away from me. I stayed off the tracks while walking to my destination just in case, but the tracks start to vibrate audibly with an approaching train to let me know to step back further.

Black Phoebe by Olya Phillips

Black Phoebe by Olya Phillips

Soon I had reached my entrance point so I crossed the tracks and found a good place to get between dense vegetation and into the creek bed. The area gave off a serene feeling. The creek was running gently, trees swayed quietly, and the birds were chirping away. This was my starting point for the survey. It was a cool 70 degrees with a slight breeze in the canopy. I recorded the weather and played my first YBCU playback. After no indication of a bird there I continued west about 100 meters to try again. As I was walking I came across a fallen tree which sprawled across the wash. I jumped off the other side onto a seemingly normal ground. Quickly, I sunk into the wet sand half way up my shin. “The quicksand they were warning me about!”- I thought as I freed my foot. I considered it a joke when someone told me this, but it is true after all. For the rest of the survey I tried to be careful where I step but there was no escaping it at times.

As I continued my survey I encountered more and more cuckoos. This was a true haven for them. They are quite a secretive species so even when I heard them answering to my contact playback sounding so close to me, I still was not always able to see them. They like to turn their white bellies away from you so their grey backs blend in with the leaves surrounding them. We ensure that we don’t count the same bird twice by walking at least 300 meters from a positive detection to leave their assumed territory. Another predominant species there were Yellow-breasted Chats which were deafening with their croaks, whistles and what sounded almost like meowing. Other species I encountered include: Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Great-horned Owl, Vermillion Flycatcher, Abert’s Towhee, Phainopepla, Bell’s Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Common Yellowthroat, Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal, Bronzed Cowbird among many others.

Great-horned Owl Youngling by Olya Phillips

Great-horned Owl Youngling by Olya Phillips

At one point I saw an owl fly away ahead of me. In the same area it left I saw a Great-horned Owl youngling sitting high up in the tree watching me intently. It did not move so I was able to take a good picture through my binoculars. I continued down the creek. Surface water was flowing most of the way, sometimes disappearing underground creating deceptive “quicksand” areas. Muddy areas revealed what happens when no one is around: fresh coati footprints were seen leading from bases of trees toward the creek .

Soon I reached an open dry area which seemed out of place. This area was surrounded by mesquite trees barely hanging on to the banks seemingly being pulled horizontally toward the creek. Out of nowhere two Zone-tailed Hawks started circling low above me making the most disturbing screeching noises. I was too close to their nest. They sure do a great job at intimidating you away from their territory. In later surveys we were able to confirm a nest with two chicks in that area. They followed me a bit as I walked away, later leaving me alone.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake by Olya Phillips

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake by Olya Phillips

A few hundred meters later I stumbled upon what seemed like a large stick in the wash. Turns out it was a Diamondback Rattlesnake sprawled out almost all the way across, motionless. Not knowing exactly how it would react to my walking next to it I decided to climb up the 3-foot bank (thankfully low enough at this point) to walk around it.

White-nosed Coati by Olya Phillips

White-nosed Coati by Olya Phillips

Finally, I reached the surface water again surrounded by a tall canopy. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement in trees ahead of me. No binoculars needed as I saw two White-nosed coatis running down a tree trunk slanting diagonally to the creek. As I watched them run to the opposite bank I realized that there are a group of at least 20 coatis consisting of adults with young waiting for them there. They were jumping from branch to branch seeming like monkeys with their long tails swinging behind them. I am not sure how many more were on top of that bank-side not visible to me, but even the ones I could see were more than I have ever encountered. Truly an unforgettable experience.

Bee Hive by Olya Phillips

Bee Hive by Olya Phillips

As I continued my survey I kept looking up into the canopy hoping to see more coati. Instead I stumbled upon a basketball-sized bee hive right above my head. No need to say I hurried away from there. Shortly I reached a deep pool of water with a small school of fish. The pool took up the whole path with a cliff wall to one side and a thicket to the other. Not being a rock climber or a strong swimmer, I decided to cross the dense vegetation. A few scratches later I got on the other side of the pool and decided to do another survey point. That’s when I realized I no longer had my GPS. I had to cross the thicket again. Thankfully I saw my GPS lying on the ground close by. I went back to my route. This stretch of the creek was running with even more water. Cattails were surrounding each side of the creek with multiple Lowland Leopard frogs cooling off in the stream.

Lowland Leopard Frog by Olya Phillips

Lowland Leopard Frog by Olya Phillips

At the end of my survey I realized I didn’t stumble across a single person the whole way. I did see some footprints alongside with dog prints but I never saw anyone in each of my other surveys either. By the end of the day I had a total of 5 YBCU observations in my stretch of the creek which is quite good considering their large territory sizes.

Cienega Creek is truly a unique place located so close to the busy urban area of Tucson. It provides precious habitat to so many different animals. A true oasis.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area/Patagonia Lake IBA, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek TNC Preserve IBA & Paton House, and San Rafael Grasslands IBA.

Hummingbirds and Moon Rocks!

Calliope Hummingbird by Tom Benson

Calliope Hummingbird by Tom Benson

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

To date by the numbers, I have visited 19 Arizona IBA’s, traveled 4,636 miles, spent $885 (excluding gas), and camped 31 days. I’ve had four individuals accompany me on one or more trips and I’ve seen over 225 species of birds.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area/Patagonia Lake IBA:

Driving into Patagonia State Park was filled with the anticipation of visiting an old and cherished friend.

I have known this park for over twenty-five years and now I know it as an IBA. I first visited the park to see the Elegant Trogon that started showing up on a regular basis along Sonoita Creek many years ago. Over the years, there were numerous quests to find new vagrants from Mexico – such as the Nutting’s Flycatcher. That quest was fulfilled late one afternoon after almost a full days search, sometimes crawling on my hands and knees trying to catch a glimpse of the bird that frequently taunted me with its song and evasive behavior. This was my second visit. I was obsessed with finding the bird that had eluded me and so many other birders in the park. I was one of the lucky few to spot the bird deep within the mesquite bosque.

Mountain lion by Frank Weigel

Mountain lion by Frank Weigel

I also frequently visited the park wishing to introduce friends to the unique and always surprising birding along the lake, sometimes with a peaceful late afternoon glide on the lake in kayaks. I will always remember a February trip with a friend when we woke up to two inches of snow. How exhilarating it was to hike along the lake at day break and be the first witness the fresh footprints in the snow left behind by deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat and … a mountain lion with a cub. Ours were the only human tracks in the mix.

Then there is the unforgettable and often retold trip in which a great birding friend and I came face to face with a mountain lion crouched just 20-25 yards off the main trail during a dawn hike. We took many pictures, one of which later I turned into a watercolor painting. Turns out, the lion had just killed a cow and was in the process of laboriously dragging it back into the bosque.  We later learned she was well-known by the Rangers and had three cubs that year.

It’s 4:47 A.M. on day one and I’m up and ready for coffee. We plan to be hiking the Sonoita Creek trail into that popular portion of the IBA by 6:00 A.M. So, we have time to wake up and have coffee and a protein shake.

One of the first things we notice as we start off are numerous improvements to the trail. There are new viewing areas above the lake and metal benches along the main trail. While the waterfowl have not yet arrived, they surely will before the crowds arrive during the upcoming Labor Day weekend. According to the Ranger, the campground is totally sold out and has been for several weeks.

It’s now official … there are several signs alerting hikers to the presence of mountain lions. The Ranger commented there are several living within the park. Deer, javelina and cattle keep them well fed.  One wonders, if an occasional small dog might also help sustain them. The Ranger said, “I hate little dogs and cats but I love our lions!”

My favorite bird, the Vermilion Flycatcher, was one of the first to greet us as the sun began to rise over the surrounding hills. Always looking for feathers, Terri brought to my attention a squared off, white tipped feather of a wild turkey. Once again, as the result of a chat with the friendly Ranger, Dan, we learned that the turkeys are doing well and have naturally moved into the area.

We circled behind the lake and then followed the creek for about another one and one-half miles. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve seen the area so lush and green. The creek has been changed significantly by floods resulting from the raging monsoon rains this season. Rocks, sand, silt and the stream bed have been displaced leaving only the most obvious and solid land marks to guide our walk.

The three and one-half hour stealthy walk yielded fifty-two bird species, three of which were added to our overall total IBA species list. As usual, we were challenged by some of the birds in juvenile plumage this time of the year.

Our next exploration within this IBA was a visit to the portion of the IBA below the dam. This riparian area is restricted and requires permission to hike it from the Ranger’s Office. In order to protect the area, only 30 permits are issued each day. This little adventure turned out to be the surprise side trip of the week and well worth the effort.  To bird this area, we parked at a designated area and then hiked about one-half mile down a steep winding road to the spill way. Because of the frequent rains, the lake water was up to the edge of the spill way.  We hoped for waterfowl but only a few American Coots, a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, a lonely male Mallard and one Double-crested Cormorant were in the area.

Hiking down the spillway gulch was a geological adventure. The side walls appeared to be a mixture of red volcanic and iron laden rocks while below our feet was a gray ash-like sediment mixed with pebbles. Along the course of the small steam flowing from the spillway were periodic small pools. The pools were lined with tufts of grass, small bushes and sometimes small cottonwoods.

Varied Bunting by Sergey Yeliseev

Varied Bunting by Sergey Yeliseev

It was about one-half mile down this gulch and while approaching one of these ponds that Terri and I both gasped at the same time. A pair of Varied Buntings flushed from the grass at the side of a pool and briefly stopped at a small arrow bush. After the male showed off his dark deep purples, blues and reddish nape, it took off followed by the very dull beige female. Hoping for a return visit, we sought a shaded ledge overlooking the small water feature.

As often happens if one is patient, our vigilance for the return of one bird yielded some other special birds coming to the pool. During the next fifteen minutes we observed several Rufus-crowned Sparrows and a Thick-billed Kingbird. The distinctive Black-throated and Lark Sparrows also came to the pool along with two Cassin’s Kingbirds, an Ash-throated Flycatcher and numerous Mourning Doves. Hiking back to the car we enjoyed Lazuli Buntings, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a flyover of a Great Blue Heron headed for the lake, House Finches and several Nashville Warblers.

This little side trip will always be a part of future trips to Lake Patagonia!

Sonoita Creek TNC Preserve IBA and Paton’s:

The first birds to greet us at the Sonoita Creek TNC Preserve where the Violet-crowned, White-eared and Broad-billed Hummingbirds at the feeders hanging from the eaves of the Visitor’s Center. After paying our entry fee of $6.00/person, we check the “Recent Sightings” board. We note the sightings of the Gray Hawk, Lazuli and Painted Buntings – all birds of interest. While just being on the birding trails is usually enough incentive early on a beautiful morning, having a few “special’ birds to look for energizes the search. The preserve gets special recognition because it is a “pollinator corridor”. Volunteers have painstakingly planted hundreds of milkweed, thistle and other plants to sustain pollinators. We noted frequent boxes for wood-boring bees along the trails.

A male, a female and a juvenile Vermilion Flycatcher are the next birds we encounter. My spirits are always lifted by the sight of a male Vermilion with its colors exploding in my binoculars as the bird perches facing the morning sun.  Terri and I follow the signs to the “Creek Trail”. This large loop trail follows Sonoita Creek giving the birder frequent views of the creek and its inhabitants. From scat and tracks it’s obvious that raccoons, deer, javelina, coyote and bobcat also make the preserve their home.

After only a short hike, we locate the Gray Hawks and a little further along the trail we come across a meadow of wild flowers and prairie grasses. The meadow hosted many Lazuli Buntings, Lesser Goldfinch, Green-tailed, Spotted and Abert’s Towhees, Common Yellow-throats and the bigger-than-life taunting calls of the Yellow-breasted Chats. We lingered here for thirty to forty-five minutes, discovering a new species every few minutes. This was our best hope for the painted bunting, but it was not to be today. One can’t be greedy however, having had the Varied Buntings the day before.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird by Isaac Sanchez

Violet-crowned Hummingbird by Isaac Sanchez

We finished the loop to the Railroad Trail. Also being a “railroad buff”, I’ve always enjoyed hiking along this old railroad bed of the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad. It operated from 1882 until 1962 hauling ore, cattle, freight and passengers from Patagonia to Nogales three times each day. The lush mixture of hemlock, scrub oak, cat claw, other bushes and flowering plants along with a small cienega make this a great habitat for thrushes, warblers and towhees. Frequently we got views of the large open meadows. We are hoping to get flycatchers and raptors during these brief stops.

After making the short drive from the preserve to Paton’s Hummingbird Garden we immediately appreciated the restoration and conservation efforts made by several Tucson Audubon members. A new water feature to the west of the old viewing area yielded the most unique birds.  It was at this water feature, while watching Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, Rufus and the diminutive Calliope Hummingbirds feed that I met a very unique woman – Melissa from Switzerland. As we shared the joy of seeing these birds revisit the feeders, I learned that she flew from L.A. that morning to specifically photograph the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Within two hours of landing in Tucson, her camera literally buzzed while she photographed the bird, often exhorting sounds of child-like glee.

I was intrigued by her obvious passion, curiosity and surprisingly deep knowledge of hummingbirds. She often referred to “the bible” of southwestern hummingbirds, which I informed her was authored by my friend Sheri Williamson. She asked about other places to see hummingbirds and we discussed Beatty’s in Miller Canyon. I love people with curiosity, passion and respect for the natural world. Melissa does not stop at photographing birds. She like me, spends time drawing/painting as a way of learning more about them. This multi-talented lady showed me some of her favorite drawings of Anna’s Hummingbirds that frequent a feeder outside her “work window”. They were good!

Inquiring further, I learned that the “work window” was at UCLA. Only to be further awed, I learned this bubbly woman crushed “Moon Rocks”. Yes, literally crushes priceless rocks brought back by astronauts on the lunar missions. She uses a lab at UCLA and is under contract with NASA. Her current research compares the crystal structures of Moon and Earth rocks to better understand the formation of the Moon and Earth from a cosmic collision between a probable asteroid and the Earth.

Patagonia Lake by Alan Stark

Patagonia Lake by Alan Stark

Another of her interests in the natural world are “super volcanoes”. So, we discussed the known information regarding the volcano at Yellowstone National Park … interrupted only by the activities of the hummingbirds in front of us. We exchanged contact information as birders often do and a promise to share future birding adventures if in each other’s area.

The final objective of this IBA adventure was a visit to the San Rafael grassland IBA. While it is too early to see visiting wintering sparrows and waterfowl, the grasslands never looked better to my eye. They appeared healthy and robust, probably the result of this year’s abundant monsoon rains. The sky was unusually clear and the vast stretch of the grasslands extending to row upon row of distant mountains was humbling – bringing tears of joy and appreciation to our eyes. We will come back to this magical area this winter.

The proper way to finish off a trip to Lake Patagonia is to kayak it at dusk and/or dawn. At these times the lake is usually quiet. Birds and campers are settled. On both ends of the day, you usually get to enjoy the magnificent colors of an Arizona sky and the special peace it brings to your heart.


Chiricahua Mountains IBA Trip, June 12-18th, 2016

Chiricahua Mountains by Don Ehlen

Chiricahua Mountains by Don Ehlen

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

Waiting for a trogon…

The blue-gray silhouette of the Chiricahua’s greet me as I leave Wilcox, Arizona at sunrise. They rise to over 9,000 feet and once again, I’m surprised by this massive chain of mountains. My anticipation to be in them rises just as the sun does. It’s been over thirty years since my last visit. The mountains remain ever present as I travel south on Highway 80 towards Portal.

As I reach the Portal turnoff, I noted something new, the Chiricahua Desert Museum. I detour into their parking lot. The sign says “Open 9:00 AM”. It’s 8:45, so I decide to wait and review my notes for Portal and Cave Creek Canyon.

My wait was rewarded. The Museum and Gift Shop were unique and very well-appointed with local art work of desert scenes and wildlife. In the gift shop, a cap said, “Buy me!” I’m usually adverse to one more cap or t-shirt, but this one I could not resist. The image, of course, was a brilliantly embroidered vermilion flycatcher, my favorite bird!

After paying for the cap and the $5.00 entry fee, I toured the museum. The small museum had a fittingly herpetological focus. Steve Prager at the Rio Salado Audubon Center would have been appreciative. It seemed they had live specimens of all the Southwest’s rattle, king, boa and coral snakes, plus some lizards. I was most impressed by two dark, large and very ominous looking Mexican Beaded Lizards.

Having enjoyed this delightful detour, my attention turned towards Portal and Cave Creek, the East side representatives of the Chiricahua Mountains IBA. Driving the road to Portal, I was astounded by the amount of development that has occurred. It seems many people have discovered this unique part of southeastern Arizona. I later learned that a robust astronomy community exists in the area because of the crystal clear sky.

As I travel past the Portal Store & Lodge into Cave Creek Canyon, I was reminded of the importance of this IBA. It encompasses over four hundred-fifty square miles of special habitat and includes elevations from 5,000 to over 10,000 feet. It is a Global site for the Mexican spotted owl. Birds of conservation concern are Arizona woodpecker, Montezuma quail, whiskered screech owl, numerous hummingbirds and the yellow-eyed junco. Amongst the birding community, it is a reliable place to see many Mexican migratory birds and the elegant trogon. The view of the Canyon ahead is magnificent!

I turn into the Cave Creek Visitor Center. The sign says, “Closed Tues., Wed. & Thurs.” Since its Saturday, I’m in luck. I need to get the current low-down on where best to camp and of course, “notable birds in the area”.

Magnificent hummingbird by Patty McGann

Magnificent hummingbird by Patty McGann

As I enter the Center, I am immediately greeted by Bob and Bettina Arrigoni, whom I will learn over the next several minutes are two uniquely passionate volunteers. Having retired early, they quickly perceived a need to assist National Parks, Monuments and similar places. I believe, they, like me, are very frustrated by the funding cutbacks made by our U. S. Congress. The cutbacks have dangerously reduced staff for the most basic of services such as road, trails, and facility maintenance, fire management, conservation, visitor safety and assistance. The Arrigonis are a generous hard working team that volunteer to complete any of the tasks mentioned above for which they have the skills. Of course, they also find some time for birding. Maybe volunteering at our National Parks and Monuments is in your future.

My first activity in Cave Creek was to complete a bluebird survey in South Fork for the Audubon Climate Watch. This very important survey is to gather data on bluebird migration and dispersal in order to assess the impact of climate change. Following the protocols, I walked the South Fork trail for 600 meters. I recorded no bluebirds on this transect but did report thirteen other species including band-tailed pigeons, Mexican jays and western wood-peewees for a total of forty-five birds.

I tent camped at Sunny Flat Campground. Did I mention that I had nesting elf owls, blue-throated and magnificent hummingbirds as camp hosts?

Sunny Flat has twelve sites, water and a toilet. Each site was clean and comfortable with a table, grill, fire pit and bear boxes. I gladly paid the Senior Pass rate of $5.00 per day for these comforts. No visits from bears but rangers reported a three year old male that frequently visited a large pool of water downstream. Apparently, it comes to play in the water and cool off. To date, it has not bothered anyone. I never got to see the bear but the location was a very good birding spot because of the pool.

At one time, a group of partners and I thought about purchasing the Cave Creek Ranch as part of our Birder’s B&B network, so I decided to visit the ranch and meet its current owner. The guest ranch is quaint, informal and a great location for lodging and wildlife viewing.

Reed Peters has owned the ranch for over 18 years and welcomes visitors to join his guests from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm for bird and wildlife viewing. A $5 donation is appreciated for feeding supplies. Reed established a very comfortable viewing area replete with suet, seed, hummingbird feeders and a water feature. I got over 15 species for my list during the short visit. Reed is a very congenial host and easily shares his knowledge and passion for the area.

My next adventure was to track down the rare slate-throated redstart. My first attempt was a dismal failure. Directions from other birders turned out to be misleading and omitted some crucial landmarks . This was very frustrating, given that access to the site is a very narrow, winding and bumpy mountain road.

As it turns out a “ticker” (serious bird lister) camped next to me had the best directions. Not surprising, since tickers are usually driven to get very precise directions for their next bird.

At dawn, I headed back up the road following his directions. I arrived on site at 6:15 am. There was no activity. Most birders described a pair of birds who seemed to be feeding young near a culvert on the right side of the road.

I was reluctant to play a recording since it was still early and the sun had not come over the edge of the mountains. I also assumed that birders had probably over-played recordings.

After waiting a few minutes, a stunning male slate-throated redstart appeared in a bush no more than three feet from me. It danced around the bush with wing flutters, head down and frequently fanning its tail. After a few moments, the female then emerged quickly returning with an insect to the nest. The male then joined her in this tireless feeding routine.

Emboldened, I decided that my next quest was for the trogons in South Fork. Trogons seem almost “mystical” for most birders. Some of my best birding memories with friends involved looking for trogons.

The most likely spot was about three-quarters mile from the entrance to South Fork. A thick mixture of very large and old Sycamores, Pine and Oak trees cover the road and clog the flowing creek close by.

Elegant Trogon by Dominic Sherony

Elegant Trogon by Dominic Sherony

The South Fork area is restricted from using recordings, so one must actively look for the trogons and hope to hear their calls. Having examined every hole and tree limb that looked like a bird along this quarter mile stretch, I decided to “Wait for a Trogon”. After about forty-five minutes, I heard the unmistakable squawking down creek. I jumped up and almost ran down the road toward the calls only to see a shadow streak over my shoulder, headed back up the creek. OK, I was a little overzealous and careless.

I walked to the other end of this stretch and heard a trogon calling off in the distance. Fearful my presence would drive the trogon further upstream and hoping it preferred its previous location, I decided, once again, to “Wait for a Trogon”.

After a few minutes, the calls seemed to be getting closer. I was perched on the railing of a small bridge. The call was now coming from a large Sycamore … right in front of me!

I methodically scanned the tree. You would think that the trogon’s spectacular colors would make it easy to see but instead probably helps camouflage the bird. At this point, I was wishing for the “birding eyes” of a former birding companion who had the uncanny ability to find this bird on previous quests.

The call was now loud and “In my face”. I was losing my patience “Waiting for a Trogon” but also afraid to move. My wait for a trogon, ended with an explosive aerial loop the trogon made to grab an insect. This time the trogon landed on a bare branch displaying its brilliant red breast towards me. It took a few moments to realize that I was holding my breath as this mystical bird contorted its head and large ringed eyes in search of another bug.  Then it made another aerial loop, leveled off and flew down stream towards its original location.

“Waiting for a Trogon” was successful and as I walked back to the car, I was still in a trance by once again having had the privilege of seeing this beautifully evolved and mystical visitor from the tropics.

Now for the “West side” of the Chiricahua’s. The next day, I arrived with much anticipation at West Turkey Creek and Sycamore Campground. In order to get here, I took the route from Rodeo south to the Texas Canyon Road and then across the southern tip of the Chiricahua’s. This road wound through grasslands, mesquite, juniper and scrub oak. I was hoping to pick up a few more birds common to these environs. Alas, I only added horned larks, northern harrier and the always appreciated loggerhead shrike.

There were eight developed campsites and no other campers. I imagined that would change come Friday and the weekend revelers.

Sycamore Campground and the flowing West Turkey Creek that bordered it’s northern edge, was the biggest surprise of this IBA trip. “The heck?”, you say. The campground was nestled under some very large and old pine, sycamore and juniper trees which showed signs of the devastating 2011 fire. The Forest Service cleaned up the site to make it available to campers and hikers.

Hepatic tanager by Mick Thompson

Hepatic tanager by Mick Thompson

After setting up camp, as is my custom, I took a walk along the creek to explore the immediate area. The first bird to greet me was a buff-breasted flycatcher! I haven’t seen this bird for a long time, so this was very unexpected. Later, I found two active nest sites. Two other unique birds for this area were red crossbills and a pair of hepatic tanagers. I also enjoyed pondering over house wrens in the campground. While their behavior and calls were familiar, something was different. I had ample time to study the bird especially during the afternoon. I made careful mental notes about the bird’s appearance, especially noting a more muted overall beige appearance on its throat and breast and a bolder eyebrow. Consulting my National Geographic Filed Guide, I read about a “southeastern Arizona” race, once thought to be a distinct species. I am by nature a curious person, so I get a lot of satisfaction from making this type of nuanced discovery.

The evenings were particularly beautiful because of the almost full moon and the gentle cooler breezes blowing in the canyon. I was reflecting on this entire IBA trip, the birds I’d seen and the adventures experienced, when I heard a western screech owl calling from across the creek. I immediately re-called a trip to the Chiricahua’s when my son Kurt was eleven years old. Within a few moments, I saw the silent, ghostly images of several westerns come into the sycamore above my head. Just as had happened with my son, the four or five owls be can a chorus. I ended my trip to the Chiricahua Mountains IBA with a “western sing-a-long” on a calm moonlit night. Life can be exceptionally good!

~ Epilogue ~

Virtually all of the Arizona IBA’s I have visited to date, have been impacted by drought, fire, possible overgrazing by elk and deer, abusive recreational activities and funding cuts by State and Federal governments. I can’t tell which is more disastrous. Fire and drought are more obvious. Reduced funding for conservation, basic maintenance and protection of our natural resources … less obvious in the short run.

My spirit is renewed by being immersed in nature, especially among birds. How can seeing an elegant trogon not soften your heart and spirit?

This trip yielded 69 species, some thirty-five plus species unique to southeastern Arizona. I added seventeen to the total year end count.

Elk, Birds and Bears – The Mogollon Rim Snowmelt Draws IBA, May 9-15, 2016

View of the Mogollon Rim by Craig Anderson

View of the Mogollon Rim by Craig Anderson

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

The bottom line: the snowmelt draws along the Mogollon Rim are well-worth adding to your high-priority birding locations. Allow yourself two to three days to be in the area.

This is our first trip to the snowmelt draws and it yielded 57 species of birds including two rare or accidental species – an orchard oriole and red-eyed vireo. We also got a high percentage of “expected” birds. Of course, many of these we usually only see if at altitude and in the right habitat – birds such as the red-faced, Grace’s and olive warblers, plumbeous and warbling vireo’s, violet-green and tree swallows and uncommon species such as the goshawk and three-toed woodpecker.

Pale Chanting Goshawk by Sean van der Westhuizen

Pale Chanting Goshawk by Sean van der Westhuizen

Our first impression of Rim Road 300, about nine miles north of the town Strawberry, is a light brown rutted dirt road winds through the tall dark green trees that seem to touch the sky.

About seven miles onto the road, we arrive at the Kehl Springs Campground. It is a beautiful location adjoining Kehl Springs Canyon, one of the several snowmelt draws we will visit over the next four days. The campground has nine well-placed sites plus a toilet but no other services. We had the campground to ourselves from Monday through Thursday. The Rangers indicated that the campground was usually available most of the summer as most campers go further east to camp at Knoll Lake for fishing. The campground was surrounded by forest and a large half mile-long meadow that was crisscrossed with elk tracks. We were cautioned to use bear-safe camping practices.

Setting up camp was a combination of practicality and birding. We logged eight species including the pine siskin, acorn woodpecker and red-shafted flicker. Later, we would find nearby the nest sites of the white-breasted nuthatch, house wren and common raven.  Robins and vireos sang to us while we set up.

“Snowmelt Draws” are narrow drainages that wiggle north (back) from the Rim. They accumulate moisture (snow in the winter) that results from the upward deflection of air at the rim face. Because of the altitude (7,400 feet) and the moisture, these drainages include a rich biodiversity. The habitat includes Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, southwestern white pine, quaking aspen, Gamble oak, New Mexico locust and maple trees. The drainages were usually stunning meadows 200-300 feet wide covered with clover, grasses, wild flowers and small shrubs. Most of the draws also had small side areas that were often the habitat of particular bird species.

Our first night was spent in camp and the adjacent meadow owling and enjoying the wispy half-moon and the stars twinkling between the trees. Day two found us backtracking West to Potato Lake. The half-mile trail to the lake parallels a velvet green meadow. We started picking up birds immediately and had eleven new species by the time we reached the lake. The list included the dark-eyed juncos unique to the Rim and often referred to as “red-backed.” Pygmy nuthatches, western bluebirds, and western tanagers also added value to this hike.

Potato Lake photograph courtesy of Coconino National Forest Service

Potato Lake photograph courtesy of Coconino National Forest Service

Potato Lake is a small intimate place, ringed with aspen that I imagine quake and shimmer golden in the fall. The backdrop is a stand of oak and pine trees.  Sitting for a spell at the lake, we marveled at the swirling violet-green swallows and added a solo great blue heron who arrived and seemed familiar with the lake.

We returned to the area and nearby Potato Canyon a few days later for a late afternoon hike. After about a quarter mile into the hike, we started seeing frequent and fairly fresh bear scat. We of course had bear spray. Only problem – it was back at the car. We persevered, periodically blowing on our emergency whistles in order to warn bears in the thickets or just around the next curve in the canyon.

My sister and I acutely sensed the presence of bears around us and I periodically felt the hair on my neck bristle. We cautiously continued until we also encountered areas where bears had obviously torn up dead trees in search of grubs and where they had rooted the earth for tubers. In some ways, I was hoping for my first black bear sighting in the wild but all within us was screaming for us to return to the car. Not wanting to come across a bear that had wandered in behind us, we repeated the whistle routine until back at the car just as the sun was beginning to set. Reflecting on this experience, we felt very vulnerable and exhilarated at the same time. This is just one of the ways being in nature makes you feel fully alive!

Flammulated Owl by Kameron Perensovich

Flammulated Owl by Kameron Perensovich

Over the next two days we explored the draws crossed by FR 141H. This dirt road transects four awesome “Snowmelt Draws” between FR 320A and FR 123, approximately 3.5 miles east of Kehl Springs Campground. We hiked into these breathtaking draws getting most of the trips best birds, including the goshawk and at night the flammulated owl. One could easily spend three or four days just exploring these four draws, and I plan to do so on my next trip. It was while exploring these draws that we saw the most elk often moving like ghosts through the shady forest lining the meadows.

On our final day, we traveled several miles east to Knoll Lake in hopes of getting some waterfowl and to check out the campground. We added common mergansers and a bald eagle, plus scrub jays and a red-tailed hawk on the ride over. The campground had approximately 30-35 sites and some were able to accommodate groups. Toilets and water were also available.

The uniqueness of snowmelt draws makes them a must for my birding locations and I hope this visit to the IBA will generate a visit from you.

Joshua Tree IBA Trip Report

Photo by Jennie MacFarland

Photo by Jennie MacFarland

Trip report by Craig Anderson for his Arizona IBA Big Year.

If solitude and serenity are what you are seeking for your next birding adventure, Joshua Tree IBA (one of  Arizona’s newest important Bird Areas) is definitely a trip for you!

Two and a half hours north of Phoenix, off Highway 93 and immediately west of Wikieup, Joshua Tree IBA is like visiting the enchanted “Truffula” tree forest of The Lorax fame. The 30-40 foot Joshua trees are unique and spell binding with their variety of different shapes and twists. While the forest includes some open spaces, there are places where the Joshua trees are so numerous you can barely walk through them. Other parts of this mixed and robust desert forest include huge Juniper trees, Saguaro cactus, Spanish Dagger, Creosote,
Mesquite trees and numerous flowering plants.

I was joined on this trip by Terri Ratley, Arizona birder and adventurous camper. She was so appreciative of the opportunity to learn about Audubon’s IBA program first hand, that she gladly made a $25 donation to support the IBA program. The adventure started as we stopped for lunch at the rustic Wikieup Trading Post Restaurant. Angie, our waitress and local resident, enthusiastically shared her knowledge of Joshua Tree when we told her of our quest. She was surprised that the area she loves is now a designated “Important Bird Area” and destination for “Bird Watchers”. She came back frequently between serving other quests, to learn more about our desire to camp in the area. “It’s breathtaking and so quiet”, she said, and then asked in a concerned voice, if we had “four-wheel drive”, “It’s a must, there are some rough spots, especially if it rains”, she said.

Leaving our new friend, Terri and I followed her instructions to turn left off Hwy 93 just beyond the Chevron station. “Chicken Springs Road” was reasonably maintained but rutted and rocky; four-wheel drive sure smoothed out the bumps. After a couple of miles, we encountered on the right the white “Sign-In/Out” station. While there are no fees to enter, you must register your car, date in & out plus the purpose of your visit. During hunting season, the area is used by hunters seeking Mule Deer, Javelina, Gambel’s Quail and ducks that visit the ponds. ATV’ers are permitted to use the main roads and trails. “Offroad” travel is not permitted.

Cinnamon teal by Alexandra MacKenzie

Cinnamon teal by Alexandra MacKenzie

After reading the regulations, I prominently displayed the temporary pass from my rearview mirror. We then proceeded 13 miles toward the intersection with “Alamo Lake Road”. At the intersection stood a classic, large steel frame windmill, one of many we would see in Joshua Tree. The water tanks are owned by local ranchers, most prominently the “Bar S” ranch. Signage clearly says you are welcome to visit these areas but “on foot” only.

Most of these areas are short hikes to good birding. West of the intersection’s windmill is a stock tank where we had our first surprise – four Cinnamon Teal dabbling on the pond. We also observed Roughwinged Swallows swooping down to take insects emerging from the water, Turkey Vultures, Western Red-Tails, Cooper’s, three spectacular Harris Hawks and a single Wilson’s Snipe.

Looking for a campsite, we followed a rough trail that started just south of the intersection and headed west. It didn’t take long for us to find ourselves among big, bold and uniquely formed Joshua trees, along with massive Juniper trees, Yucca, Prickly Pear and Spanish Dagger. The land here is mostly owned by BLM and therefore offers remote camping without fees. There is no water or services. You need to be completely self-sufficient including trash bags for your waste.

Our campsite included a forty foot plus Joshua two feet in diameter and a massive companion Juniper Tree that provided some shade. We set up our minimalist camp that did include however, a “tent toilet”. I try not to leave anything except our foot prints, packing up all trash and waste. Other campers seem to share the same values as we saw very little trash throughout the IBA.

Our first birding activity was a dusk visit to the adjacent water tank. While the water tank and surrounding habitat provided some good birding, the stock pens throughout the IBA were the most productive. Around these, we got good looks at Lucy’s Warblers, Say’s Phoebe’s, Brewer’s, Black-throated, Whitecrowned Sparrows and numerous finches such as House and Lesser Goldfinches.

Our first night, while sitting around my gas fire ring, brought us what turned out to be the highlight of our trip … the trifecta… Great Horned, Western Screech and the diminutive Elf Owl. They all quickly responded to my playback of the Western calls. While the Western Screech Owls provided the larger and most sustained chorus, the Great Sonoran Desert Borderlands IBA Horned and Elf Owl could be heard periodically throughout the evening. A single Elf Owl responded to my 6:00 AM playback the following morning. The most striking event each day was the dawn chorus of Bendire’s Thrashers that surrounded our camp site. I found Joshua Tree one of the best places to study the Bendire’s behaviors and calls.

Elf Owl by Bryant Olsen

Elf Owl by Bryant Olsen

There are 78 resident and migrating birds listed for the IBA, 10 of which have conservation status. I suspect however, that as more birders visit the area in the coming years, more species will be added.

Persistent in our birding efforts, we were rewarded by getting most of the “conservation status” species along with many others. Owling at night along the road to our camp and visits to the adjacent stock pen was a special treat. We had a beautiful 3/4 Moon to provide light for our footsteps.

Over the next two days, we drove approximately 14 miles exploring the roads and marked trails. I was extremely pleased we had four-wheel drive as we often encountered rough and sandy spots. Occasionally, we had to back up, as the trail became too treacherous to proceed. We walked a total of 3-4 miles to the various water tanks and stock pens. There were only a few other campers in the area. Our closest neighbors were over a half-mile from us. We never heard them! The ATV’ers were respectful and usually traveled the main roads.

At slightly over 3,000 feet in elevation, I will visit this special Mojave Desert IBA many more times during October-May. It features easy access to remote camping, the uniqueness of the Joshua tree forest and good birding. The solitude and serenity provide what my soul needs the most to be renewed, centered and made whole.

Editor’s note: Joshua Tree IBA is also an excellent habitat for Bendire’s Thrashers and was recently granted Global IBA status because of this bird. 

Bendire's Thrasher at Joshua Tree IBA  by Dave Kreuper

Bendire’s Thrasher at Joshua Tree IBA by Dave Kreuper

Craig’s Big Year Birdathon in AZ IBAs

Flammulated Owl chick at Mogollon Rim Snowmelt Draws IBA

Flammulated Owl chick at Mogollon Rim Snowmelt Draws IBA

2016 is Craig’s Big Year! Veteran Arizona birder and Audubon Arizona volunteer “Bird Nerd” Craig Anderson hits the road to visit as many of Arizona’s 46 Important Bird Areas – and see as many species of birds – as possible from March through December. Join him on his journey through Arizona’s wild places, and save birds at the same time! Important Bird Areas are protected habitat sites crucial to birds, and beautiful areas where the public can see birds and wildlife.

We’re hosting a “Birdathon” in connection with Craig’s Big Year to support our Important Bird Areas program.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Enter the Birdathon with a $5 participation fee – your name will be put in a raffle to win a great prize and you’ll receive exclusive updates about Craig’s adventures.
  2. Pledge per species to help Audubon protect their habitats. For example, if you pledge 10 cents per species and Craig sees a total of 100 species, your pledge would amount to $10.
  3. Finally, you can even join Craig on one of his expeditions for $25 per person (optional of course). All proceeds benefit the Audubon Arizona Important Bird Areas program.

    Craig Anderson

    Craig Anderson

Click here to participate!

Click here to read Craig’s blog!