When I arrive at the ranch I am greeted graciously by my hosts. A table is set under tall pines and mesquite with a steaming pot of coffee and homemade pastries to boot. It is some of the best coffee I have ever had, but I only take a few sips as I don't know how long we will be gone, I don't know these people, and I don't want to have to go find a cactus halfway through the hike to relieve myself! We grab our gear and head south down the wash from Andrada Ranch. Gray skies provide some relief from the desert sun as we enter the wash. Desert broom brushes up against us as we pad along the sandy bottom. People engage in friendly chatter as we walk. It is strangely quiet at first, but there is still a lot to see.
Charlie is the caretaker of Andrada Ranch and besides being an excellent cook, he is a wealth of knowledge. He points out this beautiful wild morning glory blooming alongside the wash. I have to say that I am astonished since I have never seen a wild morning glory in the west. I have seen its cousin, bind weed up in Utah, but this is new to me. I feel I can fall into the depths of that blue.
Charlotte and Mike in deep conversation as they hike past one of the canyon's cliffs.
Devil's Claw seed pod which will dry and become the devil's claw.
A bit farther up ahead Charlie is the one to spot this bird atop a hackberry tree. When the bird comes into focus with my binoculars my excitement grows for if it is what I think it is, it will be a new life bird for me. I quickly switch to my camera and start snapping photos. I inch a little closer, for the bird is across the wash and up on the bank, but I do get close enough to get these shots, and though I had to crop and enlarge the photo quite a bit, you can see the characteristic bunting shape and the slight red on the back of the head, along with the bluish body. This is a Varied Bunting and a rare find indeed. For me, it is yet another lifer making this hike well worth it. Next we find a Velvet Ant, which I am told is not an ant at all, but a wing-less wasp. And yes, I am told it does sting, so I keep my distance as I take this picture.
In the middle of the dirt road we find a hornworm. those are charlie's fingertips to give you an idea of the size. It's munching on the tiniest bit of greenery and hanging on for dear life. It doesn't look like much of a meal to me.
As we ascend the west hill we look back to the spine of the Empire Mountains to the east. The silver ribbon of a road you see here will turn into a wide gravel track that will carry monster trucks from the proposed SEEL Limestone mine. If this mine goes through these hills will become rubble that will be seen from the once Scenic Sonoita Highway and huge mining trucks will rumble up and down this narrow and winding canyon road on a regular basis.
Before us I see the remnants of the previous limestone mining operation. The stone itself is beautiful, but the scar on the landscape is not. This scar is left over from a small mom and pop mining operation. I can't help but wonder what it will look like if a big corporation takes over and brings heavy machinery in here.
The evidence of past mining attempts are left to litter the hillside.
Here you see a view of the existing former limestone mine in relation to the Empire Mountains behind it, but if the Cal-Portland Mine and the SEEL Mine go in, you will never see these hills and mountain slopes this way again. Where will the Varied Buntings, barn owls, blue grosbeaks and Lark Sparrows go then? Where will the rock squirrels live? And where will we find such a peaceful place to hike, for the canyon will ring with the sounds of blasting and our lovely dark skies will be flooded with the high powered lights needed to run the mines 24 hours a day. And perhaps the biggest issue of all will be the water. Where will the water come from to run these mines and what will happen to Davidson Canyon when the rains come and the runoff flows downhill to Ceinega Creek Preserve?
We end our hike back at Andrada Ranch where I am served lemonade and scones. We review the birds we have seen today and discuss another possible birding expedition in the fall when the Autumn migrants will be passing through. Then I bid my gracious hosts good-bye and drive up across the Davidson Canyon wash, to old Sonoita Highway. As I drive home I wonder if I am seeing the end of a lifestyle here in Davidson Canyon, or the beginning of a new wave of conservation, where wildlife and nature take precedent over the quick buck. It is my hope that the preservation of this beautiful and sensitive area will prevail. This is truly a unique natural area unlike any other place in Arizona or the United states. I believe it should be preserved now, and for the generations to come.
Location: Andrada Ranch
Ranch/Davidson Canyon South from Ranch to Limestone Mine.
2 hummingbird sp.
Number of species: 12
Gambel's Quail 1
White-winged Dove 8
Greater Roadrunner 1
Barn Owl 1
Cactus Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Lark Sparrow 10
Northern Cardinal 2
Black-headed Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 2
Varied Bunting 3
was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/)