Tuesday, January 13, 2009

MY World: Madera Canyon

Wild turkeys in Madera Canyon 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

Madera Canyon is a world class birding destination just east of Green Valley in the Santa Rita Mountains. People come from all over to see the numerous species of birds that make this canyon their home. At every season you can find birds in Madera Canyon. For some species this is one of the only location in the United States to see those birds. The Canyon is also a migrant trap and many unusual bird species have been spotted here. I first saw Madera Canyon when Gus and I came here on his job interview 2 years ago. At that time when we were looking at houses in Green Valley and when people found out that I was an avid birder they all asked me, "Have you been to Madera Canyon yet?" At that time I had never heard of it, but before we left the area we drove the 13 miles out of Green Valley up the long desert bajada on Whitehouse Canyon Road and into the tree covered cleft of Madera Canyon. We didn't get out of our car that day, but only drove to the top and came back down. It was January 28th and there was snow on the ground at the top parking lot. But today as I drive through the Sonoran Desert the sun is bright and the air is warm. I came to Green Valley to return some books to the library, but I brought along my birding gear, just in case!

Acorn Woodpecker by Kathie Brown 1-9-09

I bought a sandwich at Subway before leaving town and I ate my lunch at the Whitehouse Picnic area. Though I heard a few birds in the forest, none came close enough for me to photograph or identify, so as soon as I am done, I head up the road a short distance to the Madera Picnic area, which is the most reliable place to see Acorn Woodpeckers. It isn't long before I am rewarded with a view of this clown faced bird. I hear a rustle in the underbrush and find a Hermit Thrush, it's soft brown plumage blending perfectly with the dried brown leaves on the woodland floor. A twittering in the nearby juniper tree reveals a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and overhead the Mexican Jays raise a ruckus as they fly through the tree tops on wings of blue sky.

Wild Turkey eyes in Madera Canyon 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

Though it is late afternoon the sun is still slanting down into the deep canyon. Madera Creek bubbles merrily down the rocky slopes. I head on up the trail across the creek where I usually see Bridled titmice, but this time all is quiet as the sun sinks lower and the shadows deepen. I cross the creek again to climb the bank behind the Madera Cabins. Here the Cabin owners maintain bird feeders for their guests and I can sometimes find nuthatches. Imagine my surprise when instead of nuthatches at the feeders I see a flock of Wild Turkeys! I stand silent in the tree line as other people up on the road stop to watch the birds. The Wild Turkeys are wary and start to slip back into the forest away from the gathering crowd. With their concentration focused behind them they don't see me standing there. A few of the bronze beauties come straight towards me. When one large bird is within a foot or two of me it stops, takes inventory and decides to melt into the forest in the opposite direction. I stand still and all is quiet except for the clicking of my camera. While I have seen Wild Turkeys before in other states, this is my first time seeing them in Arizona. This bumps my Arizona Life List up to 200 species of birds. Though I have only lived in Arizona for just under two years, this is no great feat. Arizona is a birdwatchers dreamland and Madera Canyon is one of the many reasons why. Arizona's unique location and terrain provide one with so many diverse habitats, and diverse habitats draw diverse species of birds.

Bridled titmouse 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

I follow the wild turkeys across the creek and watch as they pick their way up the mountainside before disappearing into the shadows. This side of the road seems to have gotten quiet, so I decide to try the other side of the road where I have seen Painted Redstarts and Arizona woodpeckers before. The Mexican Jays follow me across the pavement and squawk away from the tops of Live Oaks, Junipers and Sycamores. Sometimes they land on the picnic tables or even on the ground, searching for acorns in the forest detritus. At the far end of the parking lot I finally find my Bridled Titmice moving busily about amongst the leaves. These little acrobats are never still as they climb up and down and all around on the leaves and twigs searching for food. And there on the tree trunks I also find the White-breasted nuthatches I've been searching for. Then, to my surprise, I find a small flock of dark-eyes juncos hiding in the brush.

Mexican Jay 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

The whole mixed flock of birds is moving down the mountain trough the treetops. I find a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the mix and then, a different bird with a white-breast, black chest and throat and a yellow head. I know it is a warbler and at first I think of Townsend's, but this is not a Townsend's, the face is too yellow and their is no striping. I try to get a picture but the birds are moving so fast and I am torn between looking through my binoculars and trying to get a photograph. Before I know it, they are gone and I am left with the impression of this white, black and yellow warbler. I only saw it from below and after consulting my bird guides I am at a loss. Part of bird watching is knowing field marks, but it is also knowing bird ranges and knowing what a bird is not. I know this bird is not a Townsend's. I have seen them before and I am familiar with them. This one is different and from the information in the bird guides it is either a Hermit Warbler, or a Black-throated Green Warbler-all of which should not be here at this time of year. Kaufman's Guide and the National Geographic don't put the Black-throated Green here at all. Sibleys says they can be here during migration. Well, this bird hasn't read the field guides and just seems to go where it wants! I only know I saw a clean white breast, black throat and bright yellow head. That seems to suggest the Hermit Warbler except the black seemed to wrap around the sides more like the Black-throated Green. What I don't remember is if I saw an eyeline and I never saw the bird's back. Drats! If I could positively identify this bird, I would have a new species for my Life List, never mind Big January! (Note: after consulting all the links I've put into this post I now feel confident that what I saw was a Black-throated Green Warbler.)

For now, the shadows are deepening and the temperature is dropping. As I head back towards my vehicle a little brown birds flies past me and disappears into a yucca at the edge of the parking lot. I don't know if I will ever get over this blending of forest and desert. It surprises me every time.

House Wren 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

I stop and wait by the yucca and finally the tiny bird hops out cautiously where I can see it. Well, I may not get to add the warbler to my list, but this little house wren is the first I've seen this year. So, with a smile and a warm heart I climb back into my car with the cold shadows of the snow-covered peaks of Madera Canyon falling dark and silent around me.

Snow on the Santa Ritas 1-9-09 by Kathie Brown

As I emerge from the violet shadows I am blinded by the brightness of the sunlight in the open desert once again. As I drive down Whitehouse Canyon road I keep glancing at the utility wires overhead. After almost two years of living here, I know what I am looking for and soon I am rewarded. I pull off onto the shoulder to photograph a Loggerhead Shrike. He is backlit by the setting sun and so the photo isn't very good, but I add him to my Big January count and head on down the road.

Big January Update: My visit to Madera Canyon added 11 more species to the list.

59. Wild Turkey-Arizona Life List

60. Hermit Trush

61. Dark-eyed Junco

62. Ruby-crowned Kinglet

63. Acorn Woodpecker

64. Bridled Titmouse

65. White-breasted Nuthatch

66. House Wren

67. Mexican Jay

68. Black-throated Green Warbler-Lifer!

69. Loggerhead shrike-Seen on Whitehouse Canyon Rd.


Dawn Fine said...

I love birding in Arizona! My favorite areas are Patagonia..where I saw the rose throated becard and rufus backed robin.
Catalina state park, Sierra vista area, Portal and Madera canyon.
We have spent several winters birding those areas.
This winter we are birding in Florida.
I think we are due next winter for an Arizona bird trip.
Nice blog!

Kathie Brown said...

Hello Dawn! Thank you and Welcome to my blog! I have yet to see the rose-throated becard or the rufous-backed robin but I have gotten some other rare species here. Have fun in Florida. That is a bird watcher's paradise also!

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Kathie, if I ever get out your way again, I'd love to join you on one of your walks!

Deborah Godin said...

I sure do love your blog and your photos! You not only document them so well, but you really catch 'personality'! Love the wild turkey eyes, too - except now I'm going to have Betty Davis Eyes on the brain all evening!!! Oh well, not a bad song :-)

A New England Life said...

Well I would say that was a very successful outing! Love all the birds! You were certainly lucky getting so up close and personal with the wild Turkeys. I wasn't that fortunate with the ones I just posted. They aren't the most attractive bird now are they!


Kathie Brown said...

Lynne, consider yourself invited!

Deborah, I can always count on you for a creative comment! LOL!

New England life, well, you know what they say, Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder! I kind of like their fuzzy heads and the blue skin myself, and I'm sure the other turkeys think they are attractve!!

SandyCarlson said...

I echo what Deb Godin said. These photos are wonderful, and your text takes us right there. Thanks for these.

I love turkeys.

Gaelyn said...

What a great place for birding. Marvelous walking tour. I like that area around Green Valley and Amado but never made it to Madera Canyon. It's on my list now. I agree about AZ birding diversity.

Larry said...

This is pretty cool Kathie.I just finished my post and you are one species ahead of me again! Congrats on he lifer!

denapple said...

What good timing! We are in Arizona right now, and someone mentioned Madera Canyon. We will definitely swing down to see it! I love all the new birds we are seeing here.

abb said...

I swear they're the same, but the heads of your Southwestern wild turkeys look totally different than our East Coast wild turkeys.
Darn it, yours are prettier! Must go research this.
Wonderful bird photos. Love that jay - his color is wonderful.

Arija said...

Kathie you know I love your posts. Ifind it quite awesome how your writing has come on in leaps and bounds while I have had the priviledge of following you posts. You have become quite lyrical in your descriptions of your birding and the nature which surrounds you.
Somewhere I see a book emerging in the distance along the lines of 'A Birder's Observations'.

kesslerdee said...

Wow! What a list of birds-the Wild Turkeys are wonderful and I love the picture of the Mexican Jay. I've got to go birding somewhere beyond my yard!

antigoni said...

Great post, awesome photos.

Doug Taron said...

>I bought a sandwich at Subway before leaving town and I ate my lunch at the Whitehouse Picnic area.

Hahaha, I've done exactly that before- bought a sandwich at the Green Valley Subway and eaten it at the Whitehouse picnic area. Of course, I had my butterfly net with me rather than binoculars. Great post about one of my favorite places.

Celeste said...

What a wonderful birding trip, how lovely to have so many species around in January, things are very sparse here right now. The highlight being a Coopers Hawk! I love the little Acorn Woodpecker, I would love to see one of those charming little characters.

Shelley said...

You always provide such great info and scenery! In that 1st photo - it looked like the turkey in the back had his eye on you. All lovely photos!

Anonymous said...

I really like your turkey photos.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen a mexcian jay yet. They look great. We used to have Acorn Woodpeckers though in Santa Cruz, California, and I just loved watching them bring acorns to the redwood trees where they inserted them into the holes they drilled to be retrieved for food on a winter day. A whole section of bark would look like a giant woodpecker pantry.