Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arizona Abides


Black-chinned Hummingbird is a sort of bland species, unless you catch them in jussssssssssst the right light. Florida Canyon.

Back when nobody read this awful waste of cyberspace, I was living in Southeast Arizona...while many think of this area of the country as a cultural wasteland and racist snakepit, most of you reading this know it as Birder's Mecca, due to it's vast array of desert and Mexican species that pour over the border in that corner of Los Estados Unidos. While Mexicans of the human persuasion find themselves being controversial in the region, everyone embraces the avian Mexicans. Birders spend insane amounts of money in the area and travel from far and wide to see these birds, after all. When I was offered a seasonal job to study migrating songbirds there, I jumped at the chance. I made my first trip to the area way back in 1998, and have been drawn to the place ever since.

For much of the time of my work stint we stayed at the research station Florida Canyon, where birds like Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Rufous-capped Warbler lived within walking distance, and a Ring-tailed Cat lived in our attic. Yes, it was the best roommate ever, thank you very much. Our survey sites were, not coincidentally, some of the best birding spots in the area...Miller Canyon, Carr Peak, Madera Canyon, the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia reserve....you get the picture. One gets to feel a bit smug to essentially just go birdwatching in areas people pay large sums of money just to get to. Part of the charm of the area (granted, this is arguable) is the vast numbers of birders you will meet, and the number of homes and yards that have been opened up to birders simply so we can stare at the birdfeeders...I thought it was quite funny to be doing a point count next to the Patons' legendary backyard, counting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds for SCIENCE!

Oh yeah, I just noticed that all these pictures are of birds that are relatively early migrants, and should all be "in" by the end of the month...care to meet them? They will be there.

Props to Jeremy at AZ Birdbrain and Laurence at Butlers Birds And Things for keeping the Birdosphere posted on what's happening down Arizona way.


Southeast Arizona features a strange mix of birds that live by the Economy of Style, such as this Lucy's Warbler, and unholy looking rainbow-creatures like trogons and Varied Buntings. Santa Cruz River.


Rufous Hummingbird. We put up several feeders up while living at our cabin, and drew in Magnificent, Violet-crowned, Anna's, Rufous, Calliope, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Black-chinned and Costa's Hummingbirds. Too bad we couldn't stay longer that mid May, who knows what other Mexican goodness we could have attracted? Florida Canyon.



Most birders looking for their lifer Common Black-Hawk make treks to sites north of Tucson, but I saw quite a few on the Santa Cruz River (Tubac area)...most were migrants, but I think they do nest there as well.


Hammond's Flycatcher is one of the many Empidonax that frequent the area, much to the chagrin of Tyrannid-challenged folk. Patagonia (I think).


The view from atop Mount Lemmon. A lot of birding spots are going to have forests that look more like this this year, as a result of last year's raging wildfires. And if you are wondering, no, migrants don't find snowbound burnt-out forests very appealing.


One of the state's celebrity birds is this Rufous-capped Warbler, one of 2 birds that are more often than not hanging out in Florida Canyon for several years in a row. These are usually the only known individuals residing north of Mexico.


Violet-crowned Hummingbirds live up to their name, at least in the right light. Birders usually go to Patagonia to see Violet-crowns (as they should), so I felt lucky to get this as a yard bird in Florida Canyon. By the way, for those not savy, the work station in the canyon is definitely OFF LIMITS to birders...stay away or a man who goes by "Greg" will have to come out and keep it real with you.


Rufous-crowned Sparrow is one of those weird species where you may have to go to great pains to see one, but once in a while they just won't leave you alone. Greaterville Road, Coronado National Forest.


Looking eastward towards the northern Santa Rita Mountains. Look at that wash! It's got some nice birds in it.


Not the best image, but I had to throw in a gratuitous Vermilion Flycatcher. I still remember the first time I saw these birds, and still carry the scars to show for it...yes, my face is partially melted off now.

18 comments:

  1. I wish I had spent more time birding when I lived in Arizona, the photos make me drool.

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    1. They are great birds...they make me drool for the birds just a day or two south into Mexico! Too bad all the border states (in Mexico) are not mellow right now.

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  2. Super photos Seagull! It seems you're sort of like a birder mercenary, going to whichever armies pay for your services in the war to note and understand bird behaviors. I'm very envious of this mission in southeast Arizona. You got some great looks and photos still beyond me despite years of trying--your Hummer shots are off-the-chain.

    There are so many jaw-dropping species down there...I usually try to have my jaw wired shut before I go, don't want to lost it up in the canyons.

    Thanks for the shout-out Seagull. Great post, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Gracias Laurencio. Indeed, I am very much a nerd mercenary, although some would say "prostitute" is more accurate.

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  3. A ring tail living in your attic is waaaaaay cooler than any of those birds. Cool birds and all, but they are no ringtail.

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    1. The ringtail was cool, but I couldn't get it to eat out of my hand like the hummingbirds.

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  4. Seriously some of the best Hummingbird photos I've seen!!! What a cool job as well!

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    1. Thanks Tammy! The job wasn't perfect (due in significant part to the HR department), but I'm certainly glad I did it.

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  5. I need more hummingbirds in my life. Ruby-throats will only hold me over for so long before I snap and do something desperate. Your post is a sight for sore eyes, but it fuels the hunger inside me.

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    1. Yes Nicholas, yes you do. If you can't get to Mexico or points further south, Arizona is where you need to be.

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  6. Best roommate ever? I didn't know I was competing against such a unique character. But then again, you compete against TheGrub in my life list of roomies.

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    1. I only met that roommate once. We mostly just heard it running around in the attic...we tried to feed it a dead mouse once, but it wasn't interested.

      You did turn out to be a significantly better roommate than we all thought you would.

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  7. Fuckin a, after your last post I had a dream last night that I saw a Rufous-capped Warbler on a feeder at a school (and my brother was a teacher and half his students died, but that's a whole other tangent of the dream). Then I saw an Eared Quetzal and a mystery sapsucker hanging out on a utility pole, both acting sapsuckery. Anyhoo, sweet sweet shots from Arizona, I hope to get some even half as sweet.

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    1. Did I light your Mexican bird fire? Sick.

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    2. It gets worse. Last night: Roseate Spoonbill. What is happening????

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  8. See any Madera Canyon Alligator lizards? Those are ones that herpers drool over.

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  9. I embrace mexicans of all species! (with deadly snakes and cacti it's more of a mental embrace). Nice images as always!!!

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