An epic day of driving and birding, looping around from Sierra Vista, through Bisbee and Douglas, into New Mexico, up to the wonderful Portal, over the top of the Chiricahua Mountains, back down the other side, across the Sulphur Springs Valley, and back to Sierra Vista via a quick stop for sightseeing and dinner in Tombstone. Phew! But it was worth it…
A small flock of SCALED QUAIL flew across the road near this ‘one-horse town’ northeast of Douglas. Soon after, I screeched to a halt to get a closer look at a couple of suspicious shapes in the sky, which turned out to be what I thought they were – a COMMON RAVEN mobbing an impressive GOLDEN EAGLE.
Also seen on the drive to Portal, CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, HORNED LARK, and ‘LILIAN’S’ EASTERN MEADOWLARK.
Another emergency stop was performed, this time for a small, fleeting shape scurrying across the road. Again, my original suspicions were confirmed: a splendid TEXAS HORNED LIZARD, only the second of this fantastic little ‘horny toad’ species I’ve seen.
Foothills Rd Feeders (aka Rodrigues House, Jasper House, Crissal):
The Portal area is blessed with several outstanding feeder sites, and we were able to visit two of them in our whistle-stop tour (unfortunately not the excellent George Walker House – sorry we missed you, Jackie and Winston! Next time…)
At Bob Rodrigues’s feeders we were treated to close views of a great mix of desert and lower canyon species, including more GAMBEL’S QUAIL families, side-by-side comparisons of ABERT’S and CANYON TOWHEES, RUFOUS-CROWNED and BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS, a late ‘MOUNTAIN’ subspecies WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, side-by-side comparisons of PYRRHULOXIA and NORTHERN CARDINAL (a couple of students were studying these), and BLACK-HEADED and BLUE GROSBEAKS. Thanks Bob!
Cave Creek Ranch:
This is definitely my favorite place to stay in Portal, and the feeding station is an absolute delight. One of the first birds we saw was a perky JUNIPER TITMOUSE at extremely close range – how about that!
This is also the best place in the USA to see BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, and several individuals made dashing visits (too quick for a duffer like me to photograph) along with MAGNIFICENT, BLACK-CHINNED, BROAD-TAILED and BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRDS.
Other birds at the feeders included ARIZONA WOODPECKER, SPOTTED TOWHEE, SUMMER and WESTERN TANAGERS, BLACK-HEADED and BLUE GROSBEAKS, and HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES. Wow!
It was fun for me to study the eastern ‘OBERHOLSERI‘ subspecies of CURVE-BILLED THRASHER, which is somewhat different to the ‘PALMERI‘ subspecies I see at home in Rio Rico, and elsewhere in SE Arizona.
This CANYON TOWHEE seemed somewhat agitated as it hopped along the wall next to us. On closer inspection of the photos, maybe it was the bug on its tail that was bugging it.
Reed, the owner of the ranch, told us about a fruiting mulberry tree next to one of the cabins, and kindly allowed us to go look. It was full of birds, including a flock of rather late CEDAR WAXWINGS, more WESTERN TANAGERS and a couple of BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS. Thanks Reed!
We failed to turn up any Mexican Chickadees at my normally reliable spot, but we did see some nice butterflies, and another big reptile highlight for me – my first STRIPED PLATEAU LIZARD.
Try as I might, I couldn’t rustle up a chickadee at Rustler Park either. I guess that mid-afternoon in the breeding season is not the best time to find them. So we had to be content with the other high elevations species of the Chiricahuas, which included HAIRY WOODPECKER (it’s always fun to point these out to birders from the East Coast, as our Interior West subspecies does look very different), GREATER PEWEE, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, PLUMBEOUS, HUTTON’S and WARBLING VIREOS, excellent views of the popular STELLER’S JAY, PYGMY NUTHATCH, ‘BROWN-THROATED’ HOUSE WREN, BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, HERMIT THRUSH, AMERICAN ROBIN, OLIVE WARBLER, GRACE’S, BLACK-THROATED GRAY and stunning RED-FACED WARBLERS, YELLOW-EYED JUNCO, and HEPATIC TANAGER.
We eventually got back to Sierra Vista quite late, tired and happy, after a long but very satisfying day.