Monday, 2 May 2016

Arizona Day 5: Miller Canyon

The great thing about being based at Sierra Vista is that all of the birding sites are pretty close and within a 30 minute drive of motel. And one of our major target birds we are keen to nail straight away is Spotted Owl. So we drive just 20 minutes or so to the turn off to Miller Canyon and drive up a dirt track to the end of the road. It seems that most people tick off this owl here and with a world population of just 15,000 individuals and a declining western USA population this is an
important bird to find. 

Mexican Spotted Owl

The birds in SE Arizona are of the southern race S. o. lucida race known as Mexican Spotted Owl and a potential split. I must admit I’ve seen one before in California, so this was just an ‘insurance’ tick for me but a lifer for everyone else. So we enter Beatty’s Guest Ranch where Tom Beatty snr gives us directions to the usual roosting sites, although the high winds are a potential problem as the birds tends to move into denser cover in these conditions. So we hike up the canyon, which is quite steep but the rocky trail eventually levels out and we reach the first owl spot after about a mile’s walk. Well there’s nothing here except some droppings showing where the birds roost was, so we continue walking upwards to the next spot. Here too we draw a blank until Tom Beatty Snr appears and asks if we’ve seen the owl. Apparently we’ve walked right past it and drop back down the trail where sure enough there’s the owl, perched in a reasonably leafless tree right beside the track! How the heck did we miss that? To be fair we were looking in the denser trees away from the trail and not right on the trail and another couple of British birders have also walked past it, so it wasn’t just us!! But what a bird and we soak up every detail as it lounges on an exposed branch.

Painted Redstart

With that done we hike higher but the wind isn’t making it easy yet we enjoy nice looks at the usual Sky Island species such as Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler and Plumbeous Vireo etc. Some roving flocks hold several Townsend’s, Black-throated Grey and a skulking Virginia’s Warbler, as well as Hepatic Tanager

Arizona Woodpecker

A fine Arizona Woodpecker shows well and is only our second sighting of the trip and is the last bird seen before we decide to walk back down the trail. A White-nosed Coati is a surprising sighting, and there’s also Canyon Wren, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and two lifers eventually appear – Greater Pewee and Buff-breasted Flycatcher

White-nosed Coati

Once we get back to the ranch we take a look at the feeders and take a seat and wait. Several Magnificent Hummingbirds are joined by the common Broad-billed Hummer, and after a while we see Broad-tailed & Black-chinned Hummers, then an Anna’s appears, followed by my lifer Rufous Hummingbird. Sadly we are too early for White-eared Hummer so leave and head over to Ash Canyon and yet more feeders, seeing Rock Wren along the way.

Magnificent Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Some people do not like the idea of ticking birds off at feeding stations but I’ve got no problem at all with it. It’s no difference to having a bird table I your garden is it? And with the lure of a Lucifer Hummingbird on offer we are certainly ‘up for it’. 

Lucifer Hummingbird

Once we find the right place, we take a seat and within 10 minutes the bird flies in and begins to feed – a cracking male Lucifer Hummingbird. Wow! It isn’t here long and is soon just a memory so we move to the other seating area overlooking a number of bird tables and feeding apparatus. Here we enjoy Scott’s Orioles, Bushtit, more commoner hummers, Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bewick’s Wren and other common species. It’s a lovely way to while away an hour or so in the lovely sunshine, and we also see a female Lucifer Hummer as well as the male again. With all targets met we decide to head back to Sierra Vista for an early finish.

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