Ten Life Birds
By Shirley Bartels
Originally published in Volume 47, Number 8 (August 2001)
Dick and I left San Antonio on May 4th and returned June 9th. We were off to visit relatives and friends in Arizona, California, and Colorado. We of course birded when we could and returned with ten new birds to add to our life lists.
Our first birding spot was at a rest area west of Ozuna, TX. This rest area, on the north side of I-10W at the 310 exit, we have found to be excellent for birds in the past and we were not disappointed this time, either. However, the rest area on east bound I-10 has never proven productive.
On this day we found many birds busy with nesting activities in this green oasis in the desert. We saw Vermilion and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Say's Phoebes, Western Kingbirds, Bullock, Orchard and Scott's Orioles, a Lark Sparrow, Cactus Wrens and House Finches. House Sparrows were seen for the first time out of many stops we've made here. Trouble was here too-- Brown-headed Cowbirds. In previous years we've seen Blue Grosbeaks, Curved-billed Thrashers and the best bird of all, a Lewis's Woodpecker.
Our first night we spent in the comfortable adobe motel at Balmorrhea State Park in west Texas. Here we saw a Yellow Warbler, two Scaled Quail, two Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper and Black Phoebes with babies before viewing a beautiful sunset.
The next day we got two life birds. By Olympia Creek, near Ft. Davis, there was a nesting COMMOM BLACK HAWK. At Davis Mountains State Park we saw a TROPICAL PARULA. A Blackpoll Warbler was there, also.
We continued on to Tucson, AZ where we saw no new birds. Along the streets in the small town of Summerhaven, on top of Mt. Lemmon, we saw mainly two species, Western Tanagers and Red-faced Warbler. There were approximately 30 tanagers and 20 warblers. We saw two pair of Red-faced Warblers building nests on the ground. Also seen were Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, a Pygmy Nuthatch and a Mountain Chickadee.
In Sabino Canyon, near Tucson, we saw Gray Vireos, Black-throated Sparrows, and Cactus, Canyon, and Bewick's Wrens. There were Gila and Downy Woodpeckers, Summer Tanagers, Cardinals, Phainopepla, Gambel's Quail, baby Inca Doves and Verdin.
We've been to Madera Canyon, near Green Valley, AZ five times and this was the first time we did not see an Elegant Trogon. Other birders did hear one calling. We did see Hepatic, Summer and Western Tanagers, Bridled Titmice, Painted Redstarts, and different species of flycatchers.
Our stop in Sierra Vista was a new B-and-B on Ramsey Canyon Road, east of route 92, called "Gasthaus Mountain View." Reservations are required. It's not far from the Huachuca Mountain canyons. They serve a very generous breakfast and will also pack a sack breakfast for birders wanting a very early start. Outside the Ramsey Canyon Preserve Visitor Center we got our next "lifer," a female BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD tending her nest. She was a beautiful green and brown. We heard a Trogon here, and saw a lady who told us she saw two males and a female Trogon at the Nature Canservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve in Patagonia, AZ. We saw a Plumbeous Vireo sitting on a well-made nest near the creek in Ramsey Canyon. We finally saw a male Trogon in Garden Canyon on the Fort Huachuca Army base.
The San Pedro River Riparian Area near Hereford, AZ was full of birds: nothing new but some good sightings of Blue Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chats, and Summer Tanagers. There are 36 miles of protected waterway here with 7 access points.
What a treat we had on Mother's Day: a mountain lion crossed in front of our car, at three o'clock in the afternoon. This sighting was also a first for us. We were about a quarter mile east of the town of Portal, AZ in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. We were driving up to stay at the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station where reservations should also be made in advance.
The Arizona Mexican Jays (photo, right) are numerous in this area and studies on them have been underway at the SWRS for many years. Mrs. Spofford's home, just past Portal, gave us good looks at orioles, hummingbirds, wrens, etc., but the best birds were the seven Red Crossbills we watched from our chairs as they fed at the feeder. There are other yards where we sat and watched. One is at the end of Main Street in Portal and the other is called Dave's Big Thicket. Both have signs out. Dave lives on Crissal Road down the hill from Portal-- there we saw our first CRISSAL THRASHER. At Cave Creek Canyon, above Portal, we saw a Strickland's Woodpecker, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and two male Elegant Trogons. One of the trogons followed us about one half mile down the canyon, giving us a view of him up close and from every angle. Before leaving the SWRS we heard a Whip-poor-will calling at night and saw a BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER just outside the gate.
On to California where in Laguna Niguel we added the TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD to our list. A friend took us to the San Diego Audubon Silverwood Preserve, northeast of San Diego, where reservations are required. It's a beautiful place with a resident manager named Nola. We got three new birds here. Nola was very helpful in locating a NUTHALL'S WOODPECKER, the OAK TITMOUSE and the WRENTIT for us. She also showed us several other species including a Pacific Slope Flycatcher. At Point Loma in San Diego we saw the CALIFORNIA THRASHER which gave us ten new birds and delivered us over the 500 mark to 502 species on our life list.
In Boulder, CO we were taken by a former Trinity University student and SAAS member, Jaymie Arnold, to see Boulder Falls which is up Canyon Road. Here we observed an American Dipper making numerous trips down the river and back apparently feeding young behind the large falls.
At a picnic site in Rocky Mountain National Park, I got a photo of the American Magpie (photo, right) begging at our table. These are strikingly beautiful birds.
The five week trip went by very quickly but we got home in time for the birth of our fourth grandchild eight days later.
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