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Posts Tagged ‘Madera Canyon’

Today we took a quick trip to Madera Canyon’s Santa Rita Lodging birding area—a group of covered roadside benches just perfect for relaxed birdwatching. Adjacent to a small grassy field holding about fifteen nearby numbered bird feeders all in a row and designed to attract different birds—we less adventurous (or time-pressed) birders can come up with some great quick spots. Although Madera Creek isn’t running (we’ve had about 20% of normal rainfall) and both the oaks and sycamores look pretty peaked, this is a time for migration through and coming home for many bird species. In less than an hour we saw flocks of lesser goldfinches, broad billed and black chinned hummingbirds, wild turkeys, a black headed grosbeak and, probably most spectacularly, a lazuli bunting. Not bad for some essentially drive-by birdwatching.

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In the last week we’ve birded at two of the most renowned birding areas in the US—in Patagonia along Sonoita Creek (a rare riparian habitat with year-round water on the east side of the mountains) and near our Southern Arizona home on the mountains’ western flanks up Madera Canyon where Madera Creek is currently flowing.

Broadbilled hummingbirdfrom Wikipedia Commons

Broadbilled hummingbird
from Wikipedia Commons

Patagonia was pretty much a bust (although Stan just might have spotted a rare grey hawk) but Madera Canyon more than made up for it. On the paved handicapped accessible trail our big sighting was a Lucy’s warbler, a rare though nondescript little grey bird (thank heavens there was a more seasoned birder around to point it out). It was also great to see a person birding from her motorized wheelchair.

800px-Piranga_hepatica

Hepatic Tanager
from Wikipedia Commons

But up the road at the Santa Rita Lodge, we hit the jackpot. It doesn’t hurt that the Lodge provides public covered seating and about 15 feeders, including multiple hummingbird feeders. Birding doesn’t get much easier and the results were spectacular: Wilson’s warblers; acorn, Arizona (Strickland’s) and Gila woodpeckers; black-chinned, Anna’s, rufous and (that unbelievably beautiful iridescent blue/green with an orange bill) broad-billed hummingbirds; Mexican jays; lesser goldfinches; a Scott’s oriole and a hepatic tanager.

Vermillion flycatcherfrom Wikipedia Commons

Vermillion flycatcher
from Wikipedia Commons

We completed this trifecta of birding destinations (truly people come from around the world to bird here) with a trip to Tumacacori (a Spanish mission on the Santa Cruz River at the base of the mountains), where, perched on an adjacent picnic table, we spotted a pair of vermillion flycatchers!. We also added the silky flycatcher and pyrrhuloxia to our life lists.

All that’s missing is that pinnacle of southern Arizona birding the elegant trogon, a supposedly common bird in spring and summer at both Patagonia and Madera Canyon. Maybe next time.

Here are some photos of the riparian habitats these beautiful birds live in:

Sonoita Creek © SR Euston

Sonoita Creek © SR Euston

Madera Creek © SR Euston

Madera Creek © SR Euston

Santa Cruz River at Tucmacacori© SR Euston

Santa Cruz River at Tucmacacori
© SR Euston

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Madera Creek © SR Euston

Madera Creek © SR Euston

On Monday we visited a beautiful, remarkably biologically diverse habitat, Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Mountains about 15 miles southeast of here. Renowned for its bird life and rare riparian habitat, it’s a naturalist’s paradise.

Or so they say. While it’s true Madera Creek is running (an unusual and delightful) event, water music was the only sound I heard the whole morning except for airplanes and a crow (or maybe it was a raven, I didn’t see it.) And along the trail we saw any number of unidentifiable plants including a flexible, soft two-needle pine, (like a white pine but it has five needles or perhaps it was a mutant three-needle Chihuahua?), and a multi-trunked shrub with alternate, smooth, leathery oval leaves with grey undersides (like a silver buffaloberry but they don’t grow in Arizona).

For me, this describes my all-too-common naturalist experience: Rarely do I see anything (especially wildlife) and if I do I can’t figure out what I’m looking at (especially plants). So I’ve come up with a few observations and recommendations for other amateur naturalists as they head out on the trail:

  1. You’ll almost never see what’s in the guide. Be it animal, vegetable or mineral, your specimen will always be unique.
  2. So go ahead and be decisive when identifying. Probably nobody else saw that bird you just  pointed out. And if anybody did, do they have a photo? If not, louder, bigger and absolutely certain usually wins. So go for it. Case in point: that was a Mexican Jay we (hardly) saw in Madera Canyon.
  3. Shrubs are a real thicket. Oaks too. Nobody knows and don’t let anybody  tell you otherwise. Your Emery oak is bound to be somebody else’s Gambel’s. Not to worry. Even the oaks don’t know. They’re too busy interbreeding. And shrubs? There’s a reason why most guides use line drawings. It’s up to the identifier to sketch in the details. Ferns and grasses? Forget it.
  4. My best advice? Marry a naturalist who’s been looking around at the natural world longer than you have. Even better, marry one with an encyclopedic memory for everything from the Golden Guide to North American Birds to the Boy Scout Handbook to Thoreau’s Journals (all fourteen volumes). Then go forth (together) and identify!
    Unknown Pine © AME

    Unknown Pine © AME

    Unknown Shrub © AME

    Unknown Shrub © AME

    Naturalist on the Snowy Trail at Madera Canyon © AME

    Naturalist on the Snowy Trail at Madera Canyon © AME

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