Friday, June 4, 2010

Birding Portal: Day 2

DSC_0359 View from Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains 5-26-10

Donna and I are up by 6 a.m. and ready to take on another day of birding. We eat a quick breakfast outside on the patio with binoculars and cameras close by. As always, I have my pad and pen ready to list any bird species we see. We can hear the bird calls and birds song around us and soon see a bright bird land in the overhanging tree.

DSC_0296It is a gorgeous male Hooded Oriole and Bill briefly joins us as we all snap away. However, some personal issues have him distracted and he tells us to go on without him for the morning.

DSC_0301 I am delighted when this female blue-throated hummingbird lands at a nearby feeder and I get a close-up view of this species.  Soon Donna and I are packing our stuff up as we decide to head down the 1/4 mile Main Street to see what we can see.  And it isn’t long until we are seeing lots of birds.


 DSC_0315 From Cardinals and Pine siskins at the store feeders, to Black-headed grosbeaks along the way, the birds are calling us with their beauty and their songs. I hear a familiar song and gaze through the branches of a tree. I know this song, I tell myself, and then it hits me: Bell’s vireo!  Of course.  We see and hear it all the time in Sabino Canyon.  It is my first sighting for Cochise County but for Donna it is a Life bird! We find a pair working over a cedar tree but getting photographs in all those twigs and branches with the contrast of light and shadow can prove to be quite tricky. This is an amusing little bird and we are both so glad to see it. We spend just under 2 hours birding Main Street and end up with 28 species of birds. Our return to the lodge reveals that Bill’s car is gone. Thinking he just want to bird alone Donna and I pack up the car and head for Rustler Park high in the Chiricahua Mountains.


As we drive ever higher we keep our eyes and ears open for birds. We see a pair of western tanagers, a black-headed grosbeak, and a western wood pewee. We pullover by the beckoning creek where we see more wood pewees, a robin, 3 Mexican jays, 2 bridled titmice, 1 western tanager, an Acorn woodpecker, another black-headed grosbeak and a red-tailed hawk. We are tempted to linger in this idyllic spot but Rustler Park is calling us and up we go. When we near a spot know as the Onion Saddle we are driving along a the edge of a steep cliff. Ponderosa Pine and Engelmann Spruce dot the landscape and poke up like green candle from the cliff edge.  I can see evidence of a past fire and on a dead sang I spot a bird. Donna stops the car and backs up so I can get my bins on the black and white woodpecker climbing the dead trunk. It is a female Hairy woodpecker, a species I am well familiar with from Utah, Colorado and New England but not one I see very often where I live near Tucson and certainly not a species seen in the Sonoran Desert. The woodpecker soon spots us and flies off. We linger a moment to gaze off in the hazy distance as fold after fold of land gives way to the flat desert beyond. The temperature is rising and even up here at this higher elevation we can feel the blazing of the sun.


Yet as we continue our now alpine journey we are quickly reminded of how cool it still is as we fine a patch of snow tucked under a shady bank along the road.


We pull over shortly after the snow at the junction for Rustler Park.  Donna tells me that the Olive Warbler has been seen in this location but though we linger and look for 10 minutes or so, all we see are a soaring flock of turkey vultures and delicate clumps of blue lupine, so we hop in the car and press on. DSC_0330

Driving into Rustler Park reminds me somewhat of going to camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, though we are actually much higher.  Rustler Park sits at 8,500 feet in elevation and instead of Eastern White Pine we are surrounded by Ponderosa Pine and Engelmann Spruce. We are here to see if we can find a Mexican Chickadee and Red-faced warblers. We are so tempted to just stop and jump out and bird, but we drive past the entrance and the spring, past the campground and meadow to the Forest service cabins used by Fire fighters when needed. We park here and we are barely out of the car when we find this Cordilleran flycatcher hanging around the horse corrals just as we read it would be. Now that I see this bird, I realize how wrong I was about identifying a flycatcher I had seen in Sycamore Canyon wash a few weeks ago.  I had initially called it as a western wood pewee, then changed my mind and decided it was a cordilleran. Now that I see the cordilleran in real life I see that there can be no mistake.  The cordilleran is washed all over with an olive yellow color and is nothing like the western wood pewee.  I know that I was thrown off by what looked like yellow on the belly of the previous flycatcher but I now think that was reflected light from the morning sun and the blossoms of the Palo Verde tree it was perched in. These flycatchers really have me stumped and it is my plan to take a class with the Tucson Audubon to learn more about identifying them.  They can be so tricky for even the most experienced birders and even some experts cannot tell them apart in the field except by their voices.


The Ponderosa Pines tower over like flexible green spires. I can hear the wind gathering in the treetops and rushing towards us like a flash flood and though it moves the towering limbs it seems to stay high above us and barely ruffles our hair. Golden sunlight streams down in beams between the branches and dapples the ground around us.  We walk on a pine needle carpet as we head towards the meadow to see what we can see.  We follow a little path across the meadow.  Robins hop about in the shadows of trees and we spot one gathering nesting material in her beak. The whinny of a Northern flickers filters through the trees and high in a pine we spot a pair of ravens in their nest. The path though the meadow gives way to forest once again and we stop to view some yellow-eyed juncos. While we are looking at them we see motion further up the tree and hear the call we  have been waiting for: Mexican Chickadee!  Having grown up with the black-capped chickadee in New England I am familiar with its song and I wondered how this bird would sound.  Though its call is much harsher and more buzzy, I can still here the familiar refrain, “chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” We soon discover there is a pair in the tree, but they are high above us and small and lost in the branches, twigs, and needles of the pine.  Neither one of us is able to capture a good shot. Still, this is a Life Bird for both of us and we are thrilled.  It was our target bird, so now we relax into the rest of the day.

DSC_0342Farther along the trail we cross into the campground area and see some motion high above us.  A pair of pygmy nuthatches is moving through the pine needles feeding. They are so tiny and the needles so long and large that the little bird is dwarfed by them. If you look closely at the picture above you can just barely see the body of the little bird to the right of the stem.  Yes, every picture I took of a pygmy nuthatch on this day looks just like this!

DSC_0361 The morning passes quickly by as we wander about looking for birds. We find many more yellow-eyed juncos but the red-faced warbler continues to elude us, as well as the Olive warbler. I can sense the time is getting late as the sun is directly overhead.  A glance at the time reveals what I already know, it is noontime and I have to go.  It will take us a good 45 minutes to get down the mountains and I told Gus I would be on the road by 1p.m. I now doubt that will happen, but that’s okay. He knows my trouble with time concepts and he is very patient with me.

DSC_0365 We pack up our stuff and drive to the picnic area to eat a quick lunch, then Donna wanders off to do some more birding while I sit at the table assembling my bird lists. Soon it is time to hop in the car and we drive to the burn area right outside the gate. Donna wants to get some photos of the sweeping vistas. I keep looking for birds.

DSC_0367It is while we are here that I suddenly notice the gathering smoke in the distance. At first we are unsure if it really is a forest fire but then we seen the tankers flying.

DSC_0373 As I start to think about it I realize that this looks like it is very close to the direction we came from. Growing alarmed now I insist that we get in the car and head down he mountain.  I do NOT want to be caught on the mountain overnight in a forest fire. My car and all my stuff is down in Portal.  The only other way off this mountain is to go over the top and down into Wilcox and back around, a trip that would take us well over 2 to 3 hours at best! So down the mountain we go, stopping once to take more pictures of the fire.  On this day the fire was only 300 acres but by the next day it had grown to 600 acres and I learned it was called the Horseshoe Fire (click on the link for the latest update). Last report was that it had grown to over 1600 acres and was threatening some structures south of Portal.  Fire Fighters still don’t have it contained.DSC_0421 When Donna and I arrived at the Portal Store we checked on the status of the fire but so far the store owners had not been able to get any news.  We did learn that Bill had checked out earlier and gone home. Though Portal and the canyon were filled with smoke, Donna insisted on staying to do more birding. She is out of the parking lot before I am and heading back into the smoky canyon. She is one dedicated birder! I turn my car to the east and drive out of Portal towards New Mexico.

DSC_0422 However, I have to stop when I see this Swainson’s hawk soaring above the Portal Road. Since I have not crossed the Stateline Rd yet, I am still in Arizona, so this will go on my Cochise County list.

DSC_0426 At the end of Portal Road I pause debating with myself if I should take the 2 mile detour into Rodeo to get a count in New Mexico.  Heck, it’s only 2 miles I decide and head south.  I stop along the Main Street near a Historical Marker and count birds. To the west I see the smoke billowing above the Chiricahuas, a reminder of the beauty and the danger in all of nature.


In the 5 minutes I spend on Main St in Rodeo I count 10 species of birds, but now it is time to head on down the road, so I get back in the car, turn on my book on CD and do a U-turn. With my vehicle pointed north now I begin the 30 minute drive through barren desert and back to the highway where I will finally have cell phone service. I am lost in my story of Bally-buckle Bo in Ireland and so I do not notice my odometer has gone up beyond the posted speed limit. I barely notice the sheriff’s car coming towards me until it slows down, turns around, and I see the flashers go on. Oh No!  I have never been pulled over for speeding before in my life! I pull off the road in a safe location, shut off my story and wait for the officer.  I do not cry or tremble, which is what I always thought I would do.  I wait patiently to take whatever punishment I deserve.

The officer is actually very polite and patient with me as I search through the glove box for my insurance card.  I finally find a current one after first finding 2 others that are obsolete. He takes my info and return with just a warning.  I am so thankful and I promise him I will pay better attention as I drive the rest of the way to the highway.

But my birding day is not done.  I stop in Wilcox for gas and food and take my meal to a nearby park where I sit at a picnic table and count birds once again while I eat. Then it’s back on the highway and another hour and a half drive into the sunset until I am home.

Happy 33rd Anniversary today to my Sweet Husband, Gus!

Portal Main St. Bird List

Location: Portal
Observation date: 5/26/10
Notes: Portal Peak Lodge to the end of the Main St. We saw other flycatchers that we could not identify.
Number of species: 26
Gambel's Quail 2
Turkey Vulture 5
Band-tailed Pigeon 7
White-winged Dove 12
Mourning Dove 5
Broad-billed Hummingbird 2
Blue-throated Hummingbird 3
Acorn Woodpecker 10
Western Wood-Pewee 1
Say's Phoebe 1
Dusky-capped Flycatcher 2
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Bell's Vireo 2
Warbling Vireo 2
Bridled Titmouse 1
Cactus Wren 3
Bewick's Wren 1
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western) 2
Canyon Towhee 1
Northern Cardinal 4
Black-headed Grosbeak 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Hooded Oriole 3
House Finch 6
Pine Siskin 8
Lesser Goldfinch 8
House Sparrow 8
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Rustler Park Bird Lists

Location: Rustler Park
Observation date: 5/26/10
Notes: W/Donna Simonetti. What an awesome place! Love it! So peaceful!
Number of species: 13
Wild Turkey 1
Turkey Vulture 2
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 3
Cordilleran Flycatcher 1
Steller's Jay 3
Common Raven 4
raven sp. 8
Mexican Chickadee 3 Saw and heard voice. 2 in one pine together near meadow, then one seen and heard later by itself. *****Lifer for both of us!
Pygmy Nuthatch 3
House Wren 2
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 12
Yellow-eyed Junco 12

Location: Rustler Park
Observation date: 5/26/10
Notes: We stopped at the burn area to take photos of the view and saw these birds at the same time. We also saw the flames of a wildfire off in a distance and decided to get down the mountian fast! W/Donna Simonetti
Number of species: 3
Steller's Jay 1
Common Raven 1
Pygmy Nuthatch 2
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Rodeo, NM Bird List

Location: Rodeo
Observation date: 5/26/10
Notes: Took a quick detour to Rodeo so I could count birds and see the fire from this perspective. Stopped on Main street near the Historical Marker.
Number of species: 10
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
White-winged Dove 2
Barn Swallow 1
Cactus Wren 1
Phainopepla 2
Summer Tanager 1
Great-tailed Grackle 9
House Finch 2
House Sparrow 4
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Wilcox, AZ Bird List

Location: Keller Park
Observation date: 5/26/10
Notes: Stopped here to eat on my way home. Watched birds from my picnic table.
Number of species: 8
Rock Pigeon 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove 4
White-winged Dove 1
Western Kingbird 1
Barn Swallow 4
Great-tailed Grackle 9
House Finch 2
House Sparrow 5
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


Gaelyn said...

Kathie I so love your birding adventures. I barely know the local birds by sight and very few by sound.

Happy Anniversary!

eileeninmd said...

Kathie, I agree with Gaelyn . I love reading your birding adventures. Your photos are awesome as well as the great bird sightings.

Kathie Brown said...

Gaelyn and Ellen, thank you so much for stopping by. Your comments always encourage me to write more. Though I've barely caught up, I am off on another birding adventure this weekend with Gus. We will see what memories I bring back this time!

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous as always! ~Jess

Kathie Brown said...

Jess, how nice to see you around again!

Donna M. Simonetti said...

Another well written adventure with cool photos! I really enjoyed our birding adventure & it was very nice meeting you. Hopefully we can go birding again in the future. AZ is a great birding area. Oh, glad you didn't get a speeding ticket. Best of luck with the birding.