Starting Big

Madera Canyon landscape

Every birding trip is a narrative. And among the choices a narrator must make is that between offering a leisurely introduction and lighting the story’s short fuse right away. Today we opted for the latter.

It paid off.

Rather than spending time making the acquaintance or the re-acquaintance of the common desert birds of urban Tucson, we ate lunch and headed south to Madera Canyon, where things got serious right away at the feeders of Santa Rita Lodge. I’d expected to have to wait a little while, but no: a lovely plain-capped starthroat showed up just as we did, and returned half a dozen times to the sugar water while we stood and admired. Trochilid diversity at those feeders was otherwise very low for some reason, leaving us with a tally made up 33% of starthroats — not bad for Arizona.

We took in a satisfying fill with that rarity, knowing that we’d be back at those feeders later this week, and walked up the hill to the Madera Kubo. Hepatic tanagers and black-throated gray warblers accompanied us on our short stroll, along with small groups of implausibly plumaged acorn woodpeckers. Just as we reached the Kubo, two Arizona woodpeckers flashed across the road to land in front of one of the cottages; they stayed for several minutes, sampling the suet and relieving my worry about whether we would get good views of a species that can sometimes be hard to see well even in its favored montane habitats.

As usual, there were several huge, dark magnificent hummingbirds haunting the Kubo feeders; eventually, all of us got great close views of these purple and green beauties, their aggression towards everything winged overcoming their native suspicion of humans.

My favorite bird of the Kubo experience this time was less refulgent and less demonstrative. A movement in the low vegetation turned out to be the rustlings of a fine rufous-crowned sparrow, which shuffled along behind and beside and occasionally on top of some of the nearby rocks. Aimophila rules, still.

Tomorrow morning early: a longer day, north along the rivers to look for desert and riparian species. It’s going to be great.