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

Peña Blanca Canyon, California Gulch

Another brilliant day of birding and photography in my favorite area, the Atascosa Highlands and Pajarito Wilderness.

Ruby Rd:

A quick stop at the roadside near the Calabasas Campground produces good views of singing BOTTERI’S SPARROW.

Peña Blanca Canyon:

A fire that started in Mexico has apparently jumped over the border and into the upper reaches of the canyon. Our birding was somewhat curtailed by the noise of helicopters low overhead every few minutes, taking buckets of water from the lake to dump on the flames. Hopefully they can contain the fire before it does too much damage…

Fire helicopter [1]

Fire helicopter [2]

Fire helicopter [3]

We found a beautiful male ELEGANT TROGON.

Elegant Trogon [4]

Elegant Trogon [5]

Also in the canyon, MONTEZUMA QUAIL, BLACK VULTURE, nesting ZONE-TAILED HAWKS, GREATER ROADRUNNER, calling WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL, PACIFIC-SLOPE, DUSKY-CAPPED, ASH-TROATED, and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, HUTTON’S VIREO, PAINTED REDSTART, HEPATIC and WESTERN TANAGERS, singing VARIED BUNTING, and HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES.

Hutton's Vireo [6]

Painted Redstart [7]

Painted Redstart [8]

Zone-tailed Hawk [9]

Ruby Rd again:

Along the road we found ‘AZURE’ EASTERN BLUEBIRD, HEPATIC TANAGER, and a gorgeous SONORAN WHIPSNAKE.

'Azure' Eastern Bluebird [10]

Sonoran Whipsnake [11]

Sonoran Whipsnake [12]

Ruby Lakes (aka California Gulch Dam, NOT at Ruby):

Ruby Lakes [13]

I was delighted to find a COMMON BLACK HAWK, which took off from trees on the slope and headed south.

Common Black Hawk [14]

Common Black Hawk [15]

Please read my post about Common Black Hawks in SE Arizona [16].

It was a great few minutes for raptors, with a GRAY HAWK, and a pair of GOLDEN EAGLES overhead. They nest somewhere on the nearby cliffs.

Golden Eagles [17]

Golden Eagle [18]

Golden Eagle [19]

Golden Eagle [20]

Golden Eagle [21]

Also in the area, ‘MEXICAN’ MALLARD, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, VIOLET-GREEN and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, LARK SPARROW, SUMMER TANAGER, BLUE GROSBEAK, and BRONZED COWBIRD.

Bridled Titmouse [22]

Bronzed Cowbird [23]

Cassin's Kingbird [24]

At this time of year, adult birds that are feeding young often lose feathers around the base of their bills, on the forehead and chin. This can produce a surprisingly long-billed appearance, as can be seen in the second BUSHTIT below.

Bushtit [25]

Bushtit [26]

California Gulch Rd:

We found a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET in the same area that I have seen them recently.

Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet [27]

Confluence of California Gulch & Warsaw Canyon:

The BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS were again easy to find and gave us really good views.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher [28]

Black-capped Gnatcatcher [29]

Black-capped Gnatcatcher [30]

Black-capped Gnatcatcher [31]

Black-capped Gnatcatcher [32]

We had a much harder time getting views of FIVE-STRIPED SPARROWS in the strong wind, but after hearing a few calling we were eventually able to persuade one to show itself.

Five-striped Sparrow [33]

Five-striped Sparrow [34]

Five-striped Sparrow [35]

Five-striped Sparrow [36]

We enjoyed watching a nest of BELL’S VIREOS.

Bell's Vireo nest [37]

Bell's Vireo at nest [38]

Also in the area, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS, a brief snatch of CRISSAL THRASHER song, SUMMER TANAGER, BLUE GROSBEAK, and HOODED ORIOLE.

California Gulch [39]

Ruby Rd again:

As we drove back to Rio Rico I was delighted to spot a BROWN VINESNAKE on the road. We stopped and got out for a look, but it had sneaked into the grass and disappeared. Knowing how this rare species acts, we spent a while scrutinizing the adjacent manzanita bush and oak tree for signs of movement. Eventually, after shaking the bush a little, we spotted it moving very slightly, just a few inches in front of our noses. They are incredibly good at hiding in trees! It looked just like a branch, or a vine, hence the name. Spot the vinesnake!

Brown Vinesnake [40]

Brown Vinesnake [41]

Brown Vinesnake [42]

Brown Vinesnake [43]

Brown Vinesnake [44]

Brown Vinesnake [45]

It was fun to watch as it slowly moved, a few inches at a time, up into the oak tree. It was deliberately swaying in the breeze to mimic the movement of a branch – simply fascinating. When it finally made the move from the manzanita to the oak, it was able to suspend itself almost horizontally with only the tip of its tail wrapped around the bush. What amazing body control!

Brown Vinesnake [46]

Brown Vinesnake [47]

Brown Vinesnake [48]