Just Another Amazing Day in AZBy
Shirley and Jack and I spent Monday out and about in southeast Arizona, enjoying a beautifully warm day and a surprising portion of great birds–best way I know to get December off to a roaring start!
Our first major stop was Madera Canyon. Often quiet this time of year, the lower reaches were bustling in the couple of hours we spent there. We started with a quick walk down to the stream crossing at Proctor Road; the usual wintertime beauties were accompanied by a noisy Black-capped Gnatcatcher, one of the pair (now, I guess, the family) that has set up housekeeping there. A male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nearby provided precious comparative material. Black-caps are a recent addition to the US avifauna, and after a hesitant start 40 years ago, the species really seems to have established a beachhead these past few years, from Patagonia to Arivaca. Still, it’s always a delight to encounter this bird north of the border, especially when it gives such close looks as this one granted.
That target bird admiringly ticked, we headed up to Madera Picnic Area. It was quiet at first, and then suddenly we were surrounded by birds. The flock was mostly Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches, but there were at least three Townsend’s Warblers and a lovely Olive Warbler to remind us where we were. Eight or nine Montezuma Quail wandered down the bank to drink from the stream, and an Arizona Woodpecker appeared among the many Acorn Woodpeckers in the oaks, junipers, and tall sycamores. A pretty magical place when it’s birdy!
The Amada Sewage Pond was less exciting, though a hen Canvasback was pleasant enough. By the time we reached Kino Springs (after a typically wonderful lunch at the perfectly named Exquisito in Nogales), it was warm, and our walk around the ponds had something of a midday lull to it. Among the rather few sparrows were a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows, hurray, and a surprise on the shallow water was a young Double-crested Cormorant. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was working the sparrow flock, but without success as far as we could tell.
Causa pietatis we stopped and walked up and down the Patagonia Roadside Rest, often good for a lingering stray this time of year. Startlingly, we saw not a single bird, and heard only the usual residents: Rock and Canyon Wrens, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Verdin. That day the picnic table let us down.
Mrs. Paton’s yard is another indispensable pilgrimage station. It was great to see Mrs. Paton up and about and enjoying the fine afternoon; the feeders were nicely stocked, and eventually a few birds came in to partake. A pair each of Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias shared the millet pile, while a horde of Inca Doves (without, unfortunately, any of their ruddy friends) spent half an hour gorging. The only hummingbird was the male Anna’s Hummingbird at the top of the page, a real dazzler in the waning afternoon light.
We returned to Tucson by way of Sonoita, enjoying some grassland birding along the highway. Among the sparrows was a single Grasshopper Sparrow, uncharacteristically perched high with Vesper and White-crowned Sparrows.
Our last bird of the leisurely day was a White-tailed Kite hovering and hunting just north of Sonoita. The fact that a comfortably easy day visiting just a few sites produced more than 70 species reminded us again just how good it is to bird here, even at this “worst” time of year! As if birders needed the reminder….