It was June. The birder's summer had officially begun. With my spring in Texas in the history books, it was time to make my way back to the west coast....where people ate burritos, and no one craved fajitas. Where you could get good coffee in a town smaller than Austin. Where Mexicans were not controversial. Where the governor was a typical old, wrinkly white guy and not some smug dumbass who lives on nothing but the blood of minority children and omelettes made out of Golden-cheeked Warbler eggs. After doing some birding with This Machine's crew (and seeing Black-capped Vireos, holy shit!), I left Nate's apartment and set out west through Hill Country. I barged all the way though to Las Cruces, spent the night, and by early the next afternoon I was back on familiar turf...cruising south down Highway 90, the Huachuca Mountains loomed ahead of me. Despite arriving in the middle of the day (which I do not recommend for <#7 birders), I had high expectations.
A few years ago I lived and worked in southeast Arizona for a spring doing point counts, with field sites from Sonoita Creek to Mt. Lemmon, from Carr Canyon to the Santa Cruz River. We had lodging in Ramsey Canyon and Florida Canyon, where a Ring-tailed Cat lived in our attic (I shit you not) and the only Rufous-capped Warbler in the country was just a short walk upstream. It was great birding (shocker), but despite my local residency and numerous other trips to the sky islands, I had yet to cross paths with a couple of specialties.
One of my few remaining nemesis birds in southeast Arizona was Mexican Spotted Owl. Although I did hear one in Carr Canyon one morning, I've had pathetic luck with them in Miller Canyon over the years. The Miller Canyon Spotted Owls are probably the most famous pair of their subspecies, frequently roosting within site of a trail and growing quite accustomed to people. They've been there for as long as I can remember. Since Miller Canyon gets covered very well by birders, people seem to constantly be keeping tabs on them. Well, that hasn't stopped me from walking by them countless times without ever seeing them. As you can see, this trip would be different.
Having been given the nest location by a few other birders, I had a very good idea of where to look this time. However, I hadn't even begun to start looking for the nest when I heard that wonderful sound...hoo......hoo-hoo.....HOOO. An adult was calling in the middle of the fucking day. Just ahead of me on the trail I heard another sound I hadn't heard in years.....cooooo-weep! As I walked ahead, toward the second bird, I could hear the begging calls of the owlets. I was close.
But before I got to the nest site, I was shocked to look up and see the adult that had been "coo-weeping" next to the trail. It was in full not-giving-a-fuck mode, leisurely preening, stretching and dozing. The owl hardly even looked at me. I got such a good look at the bird that I didn't even bother looking for the nest, which I knew was notoriously hard to see anyways. Eventually, I left the owl on the same perch that I found it and headed back down canyon. My heart was on the verge of bursting with joy.
Some of the coolest bird feet I've ever seen.
Located at the end of the road in Miller Canyon, the Beatty's place is one of the most legendary geri-birding sites in the U.S. It is the place to go for White-eared Hummingbird, arguably the most facemelting Trochilid that regularly ventures north of Mexico. They are very reliable in late spring and summer at the Beatty's, and despite the considerable time I've spent in southeast Arizona, I have yet to see one elsewhere. All you have to do to see one is wait, as they are not particularly shy and there is frequently more than one individual coming to the feeders.
Do you see? Pretty snaz.
I don't see White-eared Hummingbirds often, but when I do, I prefer to look up one of their nostrils.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird doesn't make it onto BB&B very often, so we will go ahead and address that right now. Those fine rows of spots on the throat (without a central patch) is quite distinctive on females, and you can just make out that particular shade of blue-green on the crown and nape that is a bit different from other Selasphorus.
A male Black-chinned Hummingbird with a gnarly bill deformity. He looks like he's doing ok though.
Of course, the Beatty's is a great place to see numbers of Magnificent Hummingbird also. Blue-throateds are around sometimes, but the Chiricahuas are your best bet for those beasts.
After I wrapped things up in Miller Canyon, it was time to fall even deeper into geri-birding mode and visit the Ash Canyon B&B, which is the best place in Arizona (and the U.S.?) for Lucifer Hummingbird. This Clark's Spiny Lizard was out strutting it's rather impressive stuff under a feeder, swelling up its body and flaring out it's blazing dewlap.
He was trying to intimidate a rival male...it was a tense standoff, and we humans were lucky we didn't get hurt. Clark's Spiny Lizards can be identified by their incomplete black collar and the barring on the forelimb.
Expect more Arizona coverage in another post. Good luck with your Monday.