- Southeast Arizona Birding Guide, Richard Fray - https://www.arizonabirder.com -

California Gulch, Madera Canyon

A pleasant day of birding today with my friends Jenise Porter, Flory Simon, Laura Stewart, Deborah Vath and Bob Atwood.

Our first stop was at the rest area on I-19 just north of Amado, which gave us RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS amongst others. After passing through Arivaca we were able to study a dead LESSER NIGHTHAWK on Ruby Road. More lively were the many LARK, BLACK-THROATED, CASSIN’S, BOTTERI’S and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS along Ruby Road.

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Lesser Nighthawk

At California Gulch, FIVE-STRIPED SPARROWS were quite readily seen, though not as obvious or numerous as a couple of weeks ago. We still found five or six between Heartbreak Hill and the second stream crossing, so hardly a paucity, and we got nice scope views of several up and singing.

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Five-striped Sparrow

Also in the gulch, VARIED BUNTING, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, HOODED ORIOLE, SUMMER TANAGER and a slightly surprising lone juvenile BLACK-THROATED SPARROW hanging out with the Five-stripes.

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Birding at California Gulch

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Canyon Wren

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Elada Checkerspot

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Giant Agave Bug

Heading back towards Ruby Road, the dam area produced a family party of GRAY HAWKS and a NORTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET.

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Juvenile Gray Hawk

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Summer Tanager

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Flame Skimmer

We completed a clean sweep of Arizona’s Aimophila sparrows with a few RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS along Ruby Road as we headed east. It was the first time I’d been along Ruby Road since the Murphy Complex Fire earlier in the year. I was so pleased to see how everything looked – much better than I imagined. The brown area in the photos below, which takes up most of the higher elevations of Atascosa Peak, is all burnt. But there’s still plenty left, and the classic birding sites such as California Gulch and Sycamore Canyon survived relatively unscathed.

This area – the Atascosa Highlands and Pajarito Wilderness – is undoubtedly my favorite place in Arizona, for both the birding and the scenery. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

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Ruby Road

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Ruby Road

We stopped at Pena Blanca Lake to check out the habitat after the Murphy Fire and eat our lunch. It was pleasing to see how well the lake area looks – considering it took a real hammering from the fire – and from the Upper Thumb Rock picnic area we could see at least two adult LEAST GREBES as well as GRAY HAWK and a couple of LAZULI BUNTINGS.

A flat tire on Flory’s car held us up somewhat, but we carried on to Madera Canyon. We made the pilgrimage to the Aztec Thrush spot but did NOT find it between 3:45 and 4:45 p.m. More significantly, according to all the reports we heard, nobody had seen it all day, and plenty of people were looking. We were royally entertained by a fine male ELEGANT TROGON and a SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, which wasn’t a bad consolation. I got some half-decent photos of the trogon; still nothing near as good as I’d like, but probably my best efforts of this enigmatic species. I’ve given it a separate blog post [1].

Eleven WILD TURKEYS crossed the road near Madera Kubo to end the day. Presumably the chickens had the day off 😀

My thanks to everyone for another wonderful day of birding in SE Arizona.