It is early morning as I drive through Davidson Canyon on my way to go birding with Jeff and Dawn Fine. I am meeting them in Patagonia at the RV Park where they are staying. Though the sun has just barely started to rise the air is still quite chill at 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, as I drop down into Sonoita the temperature starts to fall! By the time I reach Jeff and Dawn it has dropped to 31 degrees! Dawn shows me the frost on their picnic table. I pull my fleece vest from the car and slip it on as we gather our things to go. Already on the alert, we start watching birds even as we transfer my stuff from my car to theirs. Dawn spots a meadowlark in the nearby pasture. I count a flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds in a tree and with them 2 female Brown-headed Cowbirds. A few other birds are spotted and we have our first list of the day. After a brief stop for coffee in Patagonia, we are on our way to Patagonia Lake state park.
Jeff parks the car near the birding trail at the south end of the lake where we are meeting other birders for a weekly bird walk. The group is large this morning with a mixed crowd of birders: men and women of varying ages and skill levels, and all with a passion for birds. Already we are seeing and hearing birds, from the Pyrrhuloxia at the bird feeder, to the broad-billed hummingbird in a mesquite tree, to ducks on the lake. Our day of birding has begun.
Of course, everyone here has one target bird they hope to get today: the Elegant Trogon. So far this has been an elusive bird for me, and though I have searched for it here and at Madera Canyon and Cave Creek Canyon I have yet to see this prize of southeast Arizona. Perhaps today will be the day.
We head down the trail along the ridge overlooking the lake. Already the day is warming and Dawn and I are both glad that she left her warmer shirt and I left my fleece vest at the car. Now we are comfortable in a light shirt with T-shirts underneath. We stop to spot swallows, ducks, a Black Phoebe, and a Black-crowned Night Heron across the lake. Then the trail winds down through a gate to the lake level where coots and moorhens hide among the reeds and cattails. Along the path some of the flowers are already in bloom. The tree tops are full of ruby-crowned kinglets by the dozens. We soon spot one Vermillion Flycatcher and then another. The crowd pushes through to the lake edge to see Neotropic Cormorants and Double-crested Cormorants. Here the Neotropic are more plentiful and the double-crested is the odd bird out. Floating around them all are dozens of Ruddy Ducks.
Now the trail has broken up into numerous little trails among the trees. The trees tower over our heads like gray giants that are constantly shedding their limbs. The dead branches and twigs lay scattered like pewter bones along the ground. Overhead a bright blue sky is barely visible though the treetops. All head are tilted upwards, all ears on the alert. Will we see anything today? Will we find something wonderful?
A flutter in the branches causes all eyes to focus in one direction. Someone has found the Painted Redstart that has been spotted here recently. Each person gets a good look at this flittery bit of red and black as it moves quickly through the tangle of twigs. We are all enthralled with this bird when someone else spots the Hepatic Tanager. Now all eyes focus on it as it hides in the shadows far above our heads. But then it moves down and into the sunlight and we all get a great view of the red head and body with the brown cheek and back. We "ooh" and "ahh" and watch for a while, then gradually wander off in pursuit of the trogon. It has been seen in this area as recently as yesterday. People are blogging about it and posting pictures. We hunt and hunt. We have at least 15 pair of eyes out looking for it, but after 30 minutes or more the crowd breaks up. Jeff, Dawn and I wander off alone to see if we can find it for ourselves.
We follow the creek upstream to an area I have never been in before. Jeff and Dawn have seen this bird before and they take me to places where they have seen it, but no trogon is here today. We find a Hermit Thrush hiding in the leaf litter, and a small flock of siskins high in a tree.
We finally find a Hutton’s Vireo after all the ruby-crowned kinglets we have seen, but still no trogon. By now it is after 1 p.m. We have gone as far upstream as the creek will allow us. A decision is made to head back to the car and find a picnic table for lunch. Though we stay on the alert all the way back we never do get to see the trogon. But, did we see something wonderful? You bet. 42 species of birds, sunlight on butterflies, and a white-tailed doe browsing in the glen.
We find a picnic table at the now closed visitor’s center along the lake. The visitor center closing is just one of the many tragic State Park closing to go into effect as the state of Arizona tries to balance its budget. 13 other state parks are on the schedule to close completely later on this year, including one of my favorites, Picacho Peak. I personally do not understand how shutting these parks helps the state save money when so many people come to this state to visit our parks. These people spend money in our economy. Shutting the parks is like hanging up a big UNWELCOME sign on our state if you ask me.
Still, I do no let this spoil my day and I laugh as Jeff, Dawn and I sit with sandwiches in one hand and bins in another. We are watching the antics of a horned grebe as it catches a silver fish only to have it repeatedly stolen by a coot! Finally the grebe is alone with a fish and gets to eats the meal it has caught!
While we are watching the grebes and coots a Great Blue Heron flies in to what looks like its nest on the opposite bank. Cormorants fly by on a regular basis, first heading south, then heading north, then back once again. Then to our utter delight, a whole flock of mergansers comes paddling by from the south in a string of rusty colored heads atop steel-colored prows right in front of us! The wind is from the south and it is blowing their already spikey crests into even higher spikes. We laugh as they float by, marveling at their “hairdos”!
After we finish our lunch we take a brief walk around the parking lot. I have heard a dove and I want to find it and discover which species it is. When we finally spot it in a mesquite tree the white edge to the folded wings and the blue skin around red eyes confirm it as a White-winged Dove. It sits peacefully on its branch until we get closer, then it looks down at us a bit nervously but it never leaves. We snap a few shots and then take off deciding it is time to find a new place to bird. At 3:25 PM we only have a few more hours of daylight to bird in.
Next Stop: Kino Springs
Common Mergansers relaxing on Patagonia Lake 3-5-10