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I first visited Peña Blanca Canyon about eight years ago, but until last year I’d never been more than a half mile south of Ruby Rd. It was something of a revelation when I finally ventured further up canyon. Over the past year I’ve become increasingly fond of the place. I’ve visited so often and it’s such a great habitat, with excellent birds, in particular the ever popular Rufous-capped Warblers and Elegant Trogons.
My friend Steve and I, accompanied by my little dog Minno, spent the whole day there today. We hiked up canyon almost to the Mexican border, a round trip of about seven miles and a lot further than I’d ever been before. It didn’t disappoint, with 77 species in total, mostly in the canyon but a few extras along Ruby Rd and in Nogales. I managed to break a couple of personal records along the way.
Peña Blanca Canyon:
There’s something ‘going on’ with ELEGANT TROGONS in the canyon this year. There are just so many! At a conservative estimate, we found a minimum of NINE males and two females. It was the most Elegant Trogons I’d ever seen in one day. Their habitat stretches a good two and a half miles before the canyon becomes mostly oak and juniper.
It was also a banner day for MONTEZUMA QUAIL, with help from Minno who has become fairly adept at flushing them from the shady edges of the creek. Between us we put up a total of 14 and heard at least five more. By the time we were within a half mile of the car (or a mile south of Ruby Road) it was late afternoon. Another pair of quail appeared on the trail ahead of us, but Minno saw them first and trotted over to take a closer look, making them fly up slope. I then heard a scratching sound on the opposite slope, and after some searching we found three more, a male and two females, which we were able to watch among the rocks for prolonged views.
I’d never appreciated just how large their legs and feet are, and how strong they can be, flipping over fairly sizable rocks in search of food. After a while Steve took a few steps forward for a closer look, and the quail froze, despite us being some distance away. It took some time to relocate them, they were so well camouflaged. Our final tally of 24 was my best yet in one day.
Another game of ‘Spot the Montezuma Quail’? Go on, give it a go!
We heard a ‘MOUNTAIN’ NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL calling about a mile and a half south of Ruby Road, and another a further half mile beyond that. I did a few owl toots and to my delight this second owl came into view and gave us good looks for a while.
The RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS continue to be elusive, and we only heard a few chip calls and a brief burst of song in the usual spot a mile south of Ruby Road. I was a little disappointed not to find more up canyon, but this is not the best time to look as I think they are on eggs and keeping an extremely low profile. From what I’ve seen and heard myself this year, allied to what other birders have told me, I suspect there are at least three pairs in the canyon this summer.
One fun moment occurred about a mile and a half south of Ruby Road. A noisy group of MEXICAN JAYS passed through some oak trees and a WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL called in response from oaks up slope a little way. We didn’t see the owl, but it’s always nice to know they’re there.
Other birds in the canyon today included COOPER’S and SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS, a RED-TAILED HAWK on a nest way up canyon, GREATER ROADRUNNER, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, BLACK-CHINNED, COSTA’S, BROAD-TAILED, RUFOUS and BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRDS, ARIZONA WOODPECKER, HAMMOND’S, DUSKY, PACIFIC-SLOPE, DUSKY-CAPPED, ASH-THROATED and my first BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS of the year (multiple pairs, mostly beyond the mile and a half mark), CASSIN’S KINGBIRD, HUTTON’S and WARBLING VIREOS, BUSHTIT, HERMIT THRUSH, ORANGE-CROWNED, LUCY’S, YELLOW-RUMPED, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, TOWNSEND’S, HERMIT, and WILSON’S WARBLERS, PAINTED REDSTART, GREEN-TAILED, SPOTTED and CANYON TOWHEES, ‘OREGON’ and GRAY-HEADED’ forms of DARK-EYED JUNCO, HEPATIC and WESTERN TANAGERS, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, LAZULI BUNTING, and HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES.
Phew! What a day! I took lots of photos of the sections of the canyon I hadn’t visited before.
There’s a bit more water higher up canyon, watering holes which will warrant further investigation later in the summer.
We added GRAY HAWK, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, and PHAINOPEPLA to the list near the Calabasas Campsite. It’s interesting that the Gray Hawks that nested in the canyon last year about a mile south of Ruby Road haven’t returned, although there is a pair at the start of the canyon, near Ruby Road, so maybe it’s the same pair that have relocated.
A BELTED KINGFISHER flew over I-19 near Las Lagunas.
Thanks so much to Steve for tolerating my dog and my desire to explore as far up canyon as possible. It was a really memorable day and I’m indebted to you for your patience and great company. Can’t wait to do it again…