At the end of March, we travelled to the Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona. We left early in the morning so we could stop along the way and see some birds in Willcox. Here’s a view of Cochise Lake in Willcox.

Here’s a closer view of the American Pelicans at the lake. They look huge compared to the Northern Shovelers swimming in front of them.

There were also some American Avocets.

Portal is on the east side of the Chiricahuas, and access roads are better from New Mexico. It’s possible to get to Portal over the mountains, but the road is impassable in the winter. Portal is a tiny village. The Portal Store (Cafe and Lodge) is the main building in “downtown.”

Just down the block is the post office, with the library is right beside it. That completes the tour of downtown. About 800 people live in the area.

We were staying at Cave Creek Ranch, but we were too early to check in, so we explored farther into the canyon.

We hiked up a short trail to a viewpoint to see this panorama. The rock walls are composed of fused volcanic tuff.

This is the view from the same spot in the opposite direction.

Sunrise from the ranch grounds was magnificent.

Here’s an early morning view from the patio in front of the office. Our unit was in the left low building in the background. The wild turkeys have gathered, anticipating a handout. The Cave Creek Ranch feeders are on the “must see” list for birders. The provided guidebooks have seen plenty of use.

This is the hummingbird we came to see: the Blue-throated Mountain Gem, and it was at Cave Creek Ranch. We saw this species in a couple of other places in the canyon, but the best views were at the ranch feeders.

This male Evening Grosbeak was also really close to the patio.

On our first full day, we drove farther into the canyon and hiked to Ash Springs. From the trail to the springs we got a good view of Winn Falls. The birds seemed to congregate at the spring area. The most interesting was a Yellow-eyed Junco. We were a little early in the season for a lot of the species, so we will visit later another year. There was too much water in the creek for us to safely cross, so we returned the way we came, rather than completing a loop.

We had our lunch at the John Hands Campground. The creek has been dammed at this location. Even though the creek is not in its natural state, the waterfall is still pretty.

That afternoon, we hiked a short way along the South Fork of Cave Creek, below impressive sheer cliffs..

The next day, we birded with friends that we hadn’t seen for years. It was by chance that we both came to Cave Creek on the same weekend. This photo was taken along the nature trail between the Visitor Centre and Sunny Flats Campground.

We took a few steps off the trail to get this view of Cave Creek.

This Painted Redstart was cavorting in the creekside willows.

That afternoon, we celebrated the serendipity of both couples booking the same weekend at Cave Creek Ranch. It was great to catch up and to get to know each other better.

We left the next morning, and headed out early to Stateline Road. Our goal was to find a Cassin’s Sparrow that we knew had been sighted along the road. Since it was a quiet road, our strategy was to stop as soon as we saw some birds moving. On our first stop, we were able to get a good view of the target bird. It was definitely not a sparrow that we would ever see in BC or even any other part of Canada.

The desert scrub along the road was also a good habitat for Bendire’s Thrasher, so we kept a lookout for one. And we were fortunate to see one perched in good light. It was our third sighting for the year, but the best photo.

Recent improvements to Willow Tank, that is farther south on Stateline Road, have meant that it is a dependable place to see several species of sparrows. The term “tank” is used to describe any man-made water hole in the desert, usually made to provide water to cattle. Sometimes the water is actually in a metal tank, other times it’s a depression that has been filled with water. Willow Tank has been fenced off from livestock, and now it benefits the birds.

Willow Tank has also been improved for birders to have good viewing opportunities. Here’s a view of the tank through an opening in a bird blind. There is no cost for anyone to visit Willow Tank. The enhancements benefit the birds as well as bringing tourist dollars into the nearby communities.

In late March and early April, we made two trips to Ramanote Canyon, in hopes of seeing a Rufous-capped Warbler. We didn’t see that bird, but we did experience an amazing landscape. Here’s a view of the canyon before we walk down a steep jeep track to the stream below.

We actually did see a species we had never seen, along the trail closer to the truck than the above photo. We saw two Scott’s Orioles. The female posed for a photo; we only got partial views of the male since he landed in the middle of the tree and was obscured by branches.

This photo was taken from the stream at the bottom of the steep hill on our second attempt. It was a chilly morning.

This was the view above the dam, which was about 500 metres from the stream crossing.

There was a faint trail, mostly put in by cattle. At the beginning it was fairly open and easy going.

Farther up the canyon the trail became a bit overgrown with prickly bushes.

Here’s a close-up of the bush, locally known as the “Wait-a-minute” bush (Mimosa aculeaticarpa.) It got that name because the prickles catch your clothing and you need to back up to get the thorn out, or risk a tear.

The warbler we were searching for likes sunny brushy habitat in foothill canyons. It stays low in the dense vegetation, so we spent time looking for movement, without any success. (A positive note: the birder in the photo did see the warbler, a few weeks later in a different location.)

Our trip home was uneventful, and when we arrived at our place, the snow had mostly melted. The bird species that we saw all winter in Arizona are making their way up to BC and soon there will be a dawn chorus cacophony.

The Fifth-wheel is all unpacked and cleaned and will be ready for our annual trip to Oregon in July. We might not do a blog post about that short trip, but we’ll post again in the fall when we go back to Arizona.

One thought on “March / April 2023 in Arizona – Part 3: Birding Farther Afield

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