AZ: Day 2 (Aug 2) - Santa Ritas to Cali Gulch

Today's schedule was quite ambitious and was going to take some luck to complete!

We started off with the approach to Madera Canyon, which included some fine desert habitat, Florida Wash, and desert grassland. Highlights here included 2 LUCY'S WARBLER, our first of many CANYON TOWHEE, many more RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, and both BOTTERI'S and CASSIN'S SPARROWS.

dawn over the Santa Ritas

Heading into Madera Canyon we decided to drive straight to the end of the road and take a walk for Elegant Trogon. Near the trailhead we had a mixed flock with PAINTED REDSTART and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER. Walking up the trail we had a few SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS. After about an hour of searching, we heard an ELEGANT TROGON calling from up a steep hillside. After a few minutes of contemplating our next move, we trekked up the slope to find the trogon calling contently from a bare branch. After a few minutes of calling, the bird flew back down towards the trail. Upon arriving back at the trail, the trogon was again calling from a perch, this time right over our heads. We enjoyed some ass-end looks before heading back toward the car.

searching for trogons

male Elegant Trogon over our heads

No visit to Madera Canyon would seem complete without a stop at the Madera Kubo feeders. Here we had a few brief looks at the continuing BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD in addition to a VIOLET-CROWNED and several BROAD-BILLED.

Black-headed Grosbeaks

Broad-billed Hummingbirds

Our next stop was a bit further south down the Santa Ritas to Montosa Canyon. We were here for one target bird: BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER. After about a half-hour of searching, a BCGN found us. The bird even stopped to preen for a minute, allowing great scope views...uncharacteristic for this typically twitchy genus!

Black-capped Gnatcatcher. This bird's worn undertail was difficult to assess, but luckily it was frequently calling. And check out the size of that bill!

While waiting for the gnatcatcher we were occupied by VARIED BUNTINGS, CANYON WREN, and ROCK WREN.

Varied Bunting

At this point we were surprisingly ahead of schedule as we drove in the direction of California Gulch. We even had time for a few stops along the way. First was Rio Rico, right off the interstate, where we tallied several TROPICAL KINGBIRDS and a single flyby BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK.

Next was Pena Blanca Lake as we approached California Gulch from the east. A pair of LEAST GREBES had attempted to nest here but were washed out by heavy rains a couple days before. We were pleased, and a bit surprised, to relocated the pair of grebes collecting nesting material. Other birds included VERMILION FLYCATCHERS and BLACK PHOEBE foraging over the lake.

can you see the Least Grebe hiding back there?

We resumed our journey on Ruby Road toward the gulch. Along this road we had several dozen WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS whizzing past, some at or below eye level! A GRAY FLYCATCHER was an early migrant, and we saw several RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS.

Finally we reached the 4-mile road to California Gulch, which is infamous for its awful condition requiring a high-clearance vehicle and 4WD. It took us a while to slowly maneuver the ditches, ruts, and flooded washes. But we were able to drive all the way to the spot. Not long after starting down the trail we heard our first FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW. Light was falling, and the birds weren't too cooperative, but we all enjoyed decent scope views of a singing male. It was quite an effort for one bird, but we were all very pleased with the results.

more scenery along Ruby Road

Given the difficult road conditions, we decided to leave the gulch before dark instead of owling. We chose Pena Blanca Lake as an alternate location. Immediately upon arrival we had a COMMON POORWILL calling. We were also able to tape in a pair of WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS that gave us great looks.

We walked away absolutely thrilled at the day's successes. We were off to a great start.

- NB


  1. Can't wait to get back there this coming April. Looks like you had a good time there.

  2. We had a great time. Can't wait to get back myself. My next visit will likely be in the spring.


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