Friday, 1 August 2014

The Chiricahuas deliver

On 28th July, I visited the Chiricahua Mountains in extreme southeastern Arizona; so much so that to get to them you have to go into New Mexico and then west back into AZ. Anyway, I'd heard mixed reports about the road up there and with a massive thunderstorm overnight I was a little nervy about getting up the apparently steep mountain road. I needn't have worried, as this was a life lesson - Americans are a lot more risk averse in general than me, and they haven't experienced the shite roads I've been used to driving in places like Egypt, Turkey and Morocco. So there was no problem and lots of birds, which started with this nice pair on the way up.
Montezuma Quails - pair by the roadside on the road up the Chiricahuas
Gamebirds aren't my cup of tea usually - non-migratory bits of feather that do admittedly taste decent - but Montezuma Quail is an absolute beauty. They've had perhaps their best year to date, so seeing these two and another male on the drive up the Chiricahuas would be rather unprecedented in any other year.
Mexican Chickadee - Barfoot Junction in the Chiricahua Mountains

And so I continued to the higher elevation pine belt where Mexican Chickadee breeds - this being the only accessible site in the US for this species (apparently they breed in NM on private, inaccessible montane areas too). It didn't take long to find one, and I was fortunate in locating this bird coming to its nest near Barfoot Junction. Heading back down the mountain - with the accompaniment of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers squeaking away - it was time to visit Paradise. And though it was not what I'd envisage paradise to be in its entirety, The George Walker House feeders (owned by Jackie (and her two dogs)) was pretty nice. I'll do a separate post sometime on the 'feeder culture' of Arizona birding, but suffice to say you'd never get this hospitality in blighty. Anyway, the speciality here is Juniper Titmouse and after an hour or so a couple came down. The wait wasn't bad to be honest, what with stuff like Magnificent Hummingbird, Black-throated Grey Warbler, Bridled Titmouse and Black-headed Grosbeak all showing themselves.
Juniper Titmouse - a rather plain affair
Black-throated Grey Warbler - enjoying a wash at the George Walker House feeders
 The Jasper feeders in nearby Portal had some nice desert species showing themselves off, including Blue Grosbeak, Black-throated Sparrow and Cactus Wren.
Black-throated Sparrow - the archetypal North American desert sparrow

Driving west from the mountains, I stopped off at Cochise Lake for a wader fix where there were over a hundred Wilson's Phals and fifty or so Baird's Sands. And with the intention of getting to Rich Fray's place for the evening, I headed down through Sonoita to Patons in Patagonia - where the staked out Violet-crowned Hummingbirds duly obliged.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird - at the feeders at Patons
I'm now writing this having left Arizona for now, with all target species and more seen (got my gull fix this evening at the Salton Sea - plenty of Yellow-footeds!). Rich Fray was instrumental in doing this, and the re-branded Leicester Llama is now one of the dons of SE Arizona, with an amazing ability to charm the pants off the large numbers of mature birding women about in that neck of the woods. Cheers Rich for letting me kip around yours and showing me the ropes and birds of your adopted home... there'll be more on this soon.

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