Birder Interrupted, Ch 28, More Arizona Highways

More Arizona Highways

According to the plan, we would be in San Diego on 7 May. How could we possibly be in California in five days? Either the time in Arizona had to be brief or the time in California must be short. It was California or bust, but with reluctance to short shrift fabulous SE Arizona. Armed in 1963, with a 1959 version the Tucson Audubon Society’s “Field List of Birds” that included only 261 species, counting accidentals, I was hopeful. Of course, using that list with real live Arizona birds never happened. In 2005, a “Checklist of Birds of Southeast Arizona,” updated in 2003 and published by the Tucson society, listed 482 species. The new list made birding Arizona all the more exciting, especially since actually using the list was more than a dream. Even allowing for taxonomic splits since 1959, the difference in the total number of species in the new list is remarkable. The approximate 185% increase in known species is likely a reflection of the higher number people interested in birds and known places to find birds. We were enjoying the knowledge of those birders and ornithologist and I was experiencing at least a 185% increase in my pulse.

In 1964, my old friend Alan Phillips, a short welterweight, with a giant mind, led ornithological gurus Joe Marshall and Gale Monson to author the landmark Birds of Arizona. Even though I had planned, in 1963, to find every specialty possible, which meant birding every locality Pettingill and others ever mentioned in print, I would not have known to look for species now regularly observed. I would not have targeted Thick-billed Kingbirds or walked up Miller Canyon for Flame-colored Tanagers or abused myself and vehicle in French Joe Canyon to search for Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers. Perhaps the biggest difference between the possibilities of 60s birding and now are the number of species of hummingbirds. The old list included nine species; the new list has 17 species. An obvious reason for such an increase is the increase of hummingbird feeders. In the last 20 years, feeding hummingbirds has become almost commonplace. Many people feed because their neighbor does, and neither may know the difference between a Ruby-throated and a Rufous Hummingbird. In fact, too many westerners convinced that the hummingbirds they see are Ruby-throated and all jays are Blue Jays. That was what they learned and that is that. What a great way to see hummingbirds. People have learned that maintaining their feeders beyond normal hummer departure dates, they will see birds longer and increase their chances of luring an accidental during winter. The increase in sightings of Rufous Hummingbirds east of the Rocky Mountains possibly reflects an increase of feeders, people to see them and less obvious reasons. I wonder if birds have and will change their distribution, without our help. Changes in vegetation may be adverse or beneficial to different species. When I studied the geographic variation of northern populations of Wrentits, it was obvious that fewer trees and more brush meant Wrentits in new locations. The change was the result of fire and logging. Several species have progressed northward over several decades. Could global warming be pushing so many species to cooler habitat? Anna’s Hummingbird in Oregon first showed up about six decades ago, bred in 1980s, and is now a resident over much of the western part of the state. It now breeds as far north as British Columbia and wanders to Alaska. Why? Was it feeders and ornamental flowers reflecting from an ever-increasing human population?

Thousands of gallons of water and tons of sugar quench the parched throats and feed a multitude of hummingbirds, not to mention several teams of orioles and bats. We saw ten species of hummingbirds before leaving SE Arizona. Ironically, the only species we saw that was not on the early Arizona checklist was Calliope Hummingbird, a familiar species from our home territory. Had we been in SE Arizona later, a couple more species would probably been added to the trip list. It is mostly timing, even if the difference is over 40 years.

*****

2 May

It was dark when we crashed in our motel bed last night. In the morning, I washed and vacuumed the car, removing parts of SE Arizona that were hitchhiking on our dime. We left Sierra Vista, proclaimed as the Hummingbird Capital of Arizona, and, without ever seeing a hummingbird there, headed west to the Paton’s where we would.

We drove south of the Whetstone Mountains, home of erstwhile warblers and north of the wonderful Huachuca Mountains to Sonoita Creek near the southeastern side of the Santa Rita Mountains. The high desert and all that came before it was a blur. We had been on the road for 36 days, pushed the speed limit most of the time, and stayed in more motels than we cared to count. More mosquitoes had bitten and more chiggers crept on board than remembered. We had looked into the abyss of the Grand Canyon, drifted across the high plains, reckoned our way through the Ozarks, glided quickly along the Gulf Coast, and ticked off birds from there to Arizona. Travel the last five weeks seemed to be at warp speed. I am not sure whether we had seen too much country in a too brief time, or we were tantalized and frustrated by what we did not have time to see. One thing was certain; we missed the Montezuma Quail and the revenge. Somehow, we managed to stay healthy while on the verge of birder exhaustion.

When traveling in the early sixties, I soaked in the environment. I became the landscape. Sometimes I may have had more landscape on me than is polite. The phases of the moon were as familiar as the rising sun then, and although I marked the lunar cycle on our current itinerary, we had little time to observe the moon. In the 1960s, time was not of the essence. In the 60s, age-wise, time hurtles past, whether you want it to or not. Now, we were racing time, inflating gas prices and rising digits reported by local meteorologists.

Perhaps we had met a level of saturation. If so, it was akin to too much good food. You have to work to produce or buy a great meal, but it is oh so wonderful to cater to long waiting taste buds. I had waited for this trip, but now, I was beginning to realize that all good things have a limit. A state of fullness was approaching. Maybe there were too many interstate miles, too many stints of packing and unpacking the vehicle, way too many bugs to scrape from the windshield and too many scenes of human impact on the land. A tremendous amount of fun still electrified our emotions, but there was not enough time to soak in completely all that we experienced and realize that this was actually a fantastic trip. Where are the roses when you need to smell them?

Our last major birding stop in Arizona would be in the Santa Rita Mountains. On the way, we had a few places to visit, not in the least was a stop a few miles east of Patagonia to get rid of some used water. Bushtits and Verdins are not the only animals benefiting from low growing vegetation.

The next birding sight, Paton’s Hummingbird Haven, is a well-marked plot of land in the outskirts of Patagonia just off Sonoita Creek. Thousands of birders visit the Paton’s 24-7 hummingbird smorgasbord annually. Unlike Beatty’s place, Hummingbird Haven is on flat even ground. I could have worn my beloved sandals. Once inside the back yard, we encountered a canopied rectangle replete with chairs for hummingbird birders. We selected a couple of shaded seats. Behind and to our left was a garden fountain, in front were a row of hummingbird feeders hanging from the back of the house, and, far to our right were more feeders for hummers and non-hummers. The hot dry air blew delicately enough to not disturb the birds but hard enough to cool us.

Two people were leaving as we arrived. Our meeting was a silent nod. They looked content. For at least thirty minutes we had the place to ourselves except for the bird show that was about to begin. Broad-billed and Violet-crowned hummingbirds were new birds. A mostly reddish-billed bird swooped to a close feeder. At first glance, I thought it was a White-eared Hummingbird. Its throat was plain and tail forked. It was a female Broad-billed hummer. Big Anna’s evicted smaller Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. We were on the edges of our seats. A Green Violet-ear, a hummingbird rarely found only in Texas, was at the feeders during the week. There were plenty of non-hummingbird tantalizations. A Thick-billed Kingbird was in the neighborhood but not today. What appeared to be two groups of people, totaling about nine individuals arrived. Their level of excitement depended on where they were from. William L. Murphy, not the one who invented the Murphy bed, was particularly interested in a male Lazuli Bunting whereas Linda and I jumped out of our seats to see an Abert’s Towhee scratching for dropped seeds below a feeder. Linda divulged that I retired from Smithsonian whereupon Bill Murphy acknowledged help on bibliographic details from my next-door office neighbor Roger Clapp at Smithsonian. Had I known Murphy was author of a bird-finding guide on Trinidad and Tobago, I would have discussed Caribbean avifauna and my bird survey on St. Kitts in the northern Lesser Antilles. I was an et al. author, number three of four of a paper published in Caribbean Journal of Science twenty years after my fieldwork. If that seems to be a long time between fieldwork and publication, James Peters of the famed Peters Checklist of Birds of the World, was on St. Kitts in 1922 and never published his survey.

Just as there is more work and less time for ornithologists to devote to their trade, time today was ticking away and there were plenty of birds yet to see. Linda announced she sees a Zone-tailed Hawk, a species I failed to see in Texas. In seconds, I joined her and the group to ogle the hawk gliding low overhead. Another few days and time would have ticked away the opportunity to see that bird. The sight of White-crowned Sparrows and Bronzed Cowbirds near the fountain produced a strange picture. Strafing hummingbirds zipped in and out of view. The show of birds and birders was going strong when, after three hours, we grudgingly departed.

The next stop was the Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, famous for several Arizona specialties. The day’s heat and excitement at the Patons drained us, but not enough for a hike across the road. Except for the busy highway, it was quiet. I was determined to scour the region hoping for Varied Bunting and Rose-breasted Becard. A female becard did finally reveal herself, and a pair was calling across the tight fence between the road and Sonoita Creek. In the meantime, Linda located Yellow Warblers and saw a male becard. Long shadows enticed mosquitoes to patrol our bare arms.

Almost desperately, we scurried into Patagonia Lake State Park. Black-capped Gnatcatchers breed there, and I had a map of the precise locations of the last known nests. The sun had long since set. The rough terrain and hard brush along the trail would not be forgiving after dark. I walked a few yards above the manmade lake, then a few more before accepting gnatcatcher defeat. Neon lit the Nogales streets where we rested the night.

3 May

Today would be more of a day of rest. A kingbird called from its electric wire perch behind the motel. Like a wish sandwich, the one without meat, it would have been great if it were a Thick-billed instead of a Tropical Kingbird. It is amazing how fast listing creates a skewed attitude. A few weeks earlier I would have considered a Tropical Kingbird as the must see bird. It depends on where you’re from or where you’ve been.

Deciding to make one more visit to another border town, we drove to the edge of Nogales, Mexico. Linda visited there in the 1970s, and was surprised about the growth. Pharmacies dominated the scene just as they did in Ciudad Juárez on the Rio Grande. In fact, by lunchtime we had to return to Nogales, Arizona, in order to find a Mexican restaurant. We could have ordered a hamburger but our minds were set for food that was as authentically Mexican as possible.

By the time our lunch was well into our systems, we were motoring up the Santa Cruz River on I 19. We passed the exit for California Gulch and our only opportunity to find Five-striped Sparrow. Linda was more intrigued about this rare bird than I allowed my listing fever to entertain. Besides, time was a wasting, notwithstanding would our vehicle take the punishing road up the canyon. Maybe some other time. Maybe we would rent an SUV just for the sparrow. Yeah, that’s it. We drove on, passed Tumacacori National Monument and a preserved 300-year-old mission, and then sped by Tubac, once the sight of a 1691 Jesuit stomping ground and now a community of artists. Linda remembered a small 1970’s town and found the sight of so much commercial and residential growth appalling.

Exit 48 took us from the busy interstate to Amado Roadside Rest Area to look for Rufous-winged Sparrows. We found what appeared to be the correct site, and drove the dirt tracks north of an inn on the east side of the interstate. The heat from the lateness of the day and season and being about 1500 feet lower than Sierra Vista bore down. Determined, we rolled down the windows and cranked up the CD playing a Rufous-winged Sparrow going for the gold. A couple of probable sparrows flew from one grassy knoll to another, but did not stop long enough to respond to the recording. A few 20+-foot trees were loaded with Wilson’s Warblers. There were fewer Yellow Warblers and a lone Black-headed Grosbeak. A car rolled by during one sparrow calling exercise. The driver slowed down, and a young woman leaned out her window saying disappointedly that was their favorite place to neck. Being shy, Linda and I would do our necking tonight. As for the sparrow, if it was there, it remained speechless. We remained hot until we got the hell out of Amado, with the windows up and air-conditioner at full tilt boogie. In 1963, many cars, including the VW, had a small window just forward of the main door window. The small window could be pivoted at an angle to direct air at the driver. The right side of the car had a similar set up. All that was necessary was to drive fast.

We did drive fast, heading up Elephant Head and Mount Hopkins Road to Montosa Canyon. The climb, gradual at first, took us through low growing scrub of the Sonoran Desert. The silvery domes that house four of the telescopes of Smithsonian’s Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory beamed from the top of 8,585 foot Mt. Hopkins. Named for Gilbert Hopkins, a mining engineer, it was the mountain where he and his boss William Wrightson of 9,453-foot Wrightson Peak died in 1865. They were surveying a disputed mining claim, and Apaches, probably fed up with so much trespassing, killed them. About 100 years later, Mangas Coloradas’s efforts for peace and the Apache that he led have long vanished into the Southwestern hinterlands, and Smithsonian Institute built the observatory. My mixed view of the region held appreciation of the spirit of those who came before us, a feeling of pride when I posed for Linda in front of the familiar sunburst logo on the visitor center’s sign and anticipation of birding in Montosa Canyon.

A dry wash crossed the road not far beyond the visitor center. The road widened a few feet beyond where we parked. The prolonged high temperature and prospect of the sun helped Linda decide to wait in the shade of the car. A breeze offered some cooling as I got out, said I would be right back, and walked the steep inclined road to the wash. Two birds in bushes at the road edge stopped to investigate the noisy sound of rocks crunching under my boots, or maybe they just stopped to munch a gnat. In two minutes from leaving the car, I had my first Black-capped Gnatcatchers. That’s more like it!

Before mounting the interstate again, we stopped to check vacancies at Madera Canyon. We had thought of staying there about a month before we left Oregon. Because sources suggested making reservations a year in advance, and because it was difficult to know our precise location every day, we did not even try for a night in Madera Canyon. Now, we were trying, but nothing was available tonight but tomorrow night was clear. It would cost, but we assured ourselves it would be our treat. We could wake to the sounds of birds not diesels.

Green Valley is a planned retirement community where almost everyone is white and over 65 years of age. A quick foray in the local grocery store was akin to being on the movie set of “Cocoon.” The motel, one of few in town, was quiet, landscaped with more plants than most sterile lodging sites, and had a pool and Jacuzzi for our overly birded bodies. When pulling into our parking slot, a female Gambel’s Quail was sittings on the tarmac next to the right front tire of a car. Being the only empty place to park, our left front tire rolled near the quail. She did not budge. I leaned out the window, which is all her little quail nerves could tolerate. She sat upright. At that moment, tiny downy juvenile quail exploded from underneath the female. They ran in every direction. I audibly gasped, something I am not prone to do except during moments of great surprise and non-avian pleasure. Seconds ticked as a male joined the female. They both herded a dozen chicks, barely the diameter of half-dollars, along a six-inch curb in front of us to another curb about 15 feet to our right. The female stood at the top of the curb making almost inaudible noises as the chicks jumped to reach their parent. They were too short. The watchful male moved the downy balls with legs a few feet to the right where they could achieve high ground before sundown. We sat mesmerized, hardly breathing. As for the pool, a huge but polite party was thriving poolside. Most of the liquid that the older revelers were enjoying came in a glass. Our deeply tanned arms and faces contrasted to the remainder of bared skin, especially my reflectively white legs. We did not care. We had the heated Jacuzzi and crisp pool to our young selves. I gasped.

4 May

Madera Canyon was on the 1963 itinerary. Then, it would be camping; today we were fortunate to stay in a cabin. On the way up, we drove passed Florida and McCleary washes to the higher riparian zone. Our Madera Kubo cabin nestled below cottonwoods and sycamores towering over sparkling Madera Creek at 4,800 feet in elevation. A 1800s lumber mill once stood near the big rock, the entrance to our lodging. The air was cool and clean and the only sound was the faint gurgling creek and birds. For a place in a range named for the saint of hopelessness, the Santa Rita Mountains produced a superb canyon.

Standing at the entrance were two birders looking toward our little blue cabin. After thirty minutes of unpacking, we realized why and how lucky we were. A brilliant male decked in a color somewhere in the rainbow between orange and red landed in a tree not more than 25 feet before our astonished eyes. Its yellowish partner promptly joined it. This was a 100% pure breed, paper carrying Flame-colored Tanager. The male was particularly interested in a halved orange impaled on the tree. The female seemed particularly interested in the male. An Elegant Trogon perched several feet above, silently watching the six of us. This was too easy.

We unwillingly got back to setting up house for the next two nights. That was not difficult in the well-appointed one-bedroom cabin, replete with a larege livingroom, full kitchen, bathroom, even a TV that we were not going to switch on, and suitable space between neighboring cabins. We could live here.

We abandoned homemaking chores as soon as possible. By now three different people had posted themselves at the driveway to view the tanagers. We felt guilty, almost, that the tanagers and a trogon were in our yard, at least for a couple of day. A few feet from the cabin door was close enough to realize that two of the people were the Parkers. This was our third meeting. We invited them for a closer look before walking with them to their vehicle and trusty dog at the Madera Amphitheater parking lot. Last night, they lodged at the same Green Valley motel where we stayed. It is a large establishment, but they might have noticed us if we splashed and yelled from our evening swim. They were headed back to the Huachuca Mountains before returning to their California home. We doubted we would see them again, at least this year, and said goodbye. Before the day was over, many other birders stood vigil at the edge of the driveway. Flame-colored Tanagers were discovered in Madera Canyon in the mid-1990s. In 1963, if they, or some other such fantastic species, were there, I too would be standing at the edge of the driveway.

A trail from the amphitheater parking lot meanders on the other side of the creek. We followed it down, locating three more calling trogons, Dusky-capped Flycatchers and a couple of unfamiliar sounding White-breasted Nuthatches. Although not an expert in identifying bird sounds, being interested in composing and classical music had helped tune my ears. These nuthatches did not sound like White-breasted Nuthatches from southwestern Oregon. Of course, this was not breaking ornithological news. The seventh edition of the AOU Check-list stated that further study of the vocal and other differences of the Pacific coast, interior and eastern populations are needed to sort out the species limits of what we call White-breasted Nuthatch. Could these populations, currently recognized as three separate subspecies, be distinct species? Were the Madera birds suffering from sore throats? Would I someday add two more nuthatches to my ABA life list? Should I pay more attention to detail and maintain better notes? Only the last question was answerable, and that would be a firm yes.

A few rivulets beyond, we crossed the creek and entered the backside of Santa Rita Lodge. The hummingbird feeders were under guard of patrolling Black-chinned and a few less Magnificent Hummingbirds. The strange-sounding nuthatches fussed in the shade of oaks. It was time for a siesta by the time we climbed the paved road back to the cabin. Four birders were glassing and photographing the obliging Flame-colored Tanagers.

After a home cooked dinner, we waited for darkness. About thirty minutes after sunset, we drove the short distance to Santa Rita Lodge, where, at around 10 o’clock, so a birder in Texas told us, we would be treated to an Elf Owl. We parked and found a good seat. Finally, when we could see only darkness, a battery of floodlights exploded white rays on a nearby utility pole. The waiting humans were ready for the sudden Edison event. A tiny owl emerging from the woodpecker hole blinked its yellow eyes and stared into the light. I wondered if it thought it was dead. The audience was likewise not particularly flummoxed by the bright lights. Most of us earlier witnessed a local television crew setting up the bank of lights and a couple of cameras for a photo shoot of the owl. The owl, use to noisy humans, perched in the cusp of the entrance hole, occasionally chattered and made a foray after what appeared to be a moth. The bill snapped as did cameras, and the bird returned to its vigil.

Meanwhile, Linda had stationed herself about 20 feet from a different utility pole. She was joined by another avid birder. With far less candlepower, an Elf Owl emerged in the shadow and beams of a couple of 5-cell flashlights. The diminutive round head rotated first at its paparazzi of two, and then it fixed its gaze toward the dazzling scene near the spotlights. I joined Linda before the second owl disappeared where we congratulated each other without the aid of powerfully bright television lights. We crunched the gravel under our boots as we slowly crept to the first owl. The photographers, who had been standing on the roof of a cabin, eventually decided to call it quits. The owls, once their night vision returned, could go back to chortling and foraging. Mammals need not be concerned by the insectivorous Elf Owl.

Thrilled by the Elf Owl show, we jumped in the car, headed down the canyon to Proctor Road and parked in the pitch black. In minutes, we heard an Elf Owl calling, but could not locate it from the car. Neither of us was keen on walking since rattlesnakes might be around, and could be satisfied with the two owls we had just observed. After an hour of listening and patrolling the road, we rounded up our enthusiasm and went home. The cool night and owling adventure whetted our appetites so we raided our own refrigerator for a snack while a ring-tailed cat boldly raided the hummingbird feeder on the back porch. Except for the lack of thumbs, this mammal was an expert at drinking the bird‘s sugar water. The great night added a new life mammal, for me. Linda had enjoyed those earlier times, but I was, except for a week documenting 1980s off-road vehicle damage in Mojave Desert, basically a Southwestern virgin. By now, I was delighted. Two Elf Owls seen and another heard! I was glowing.

5 May

The alarm did not go off. I was already semi-awake and pulling on my shaken jeans. Even though I was just a Southwestern novice, Linda suggested I could help avoid pesky scorpions and spiders by the morning jean shake. No potentially ambushing critters was a good way to start the day. Thoughts of owls, including a familiar Western Screech-Owl and a Whip-poor-will heard last night rolled into the back of my brain while I concentrated on breakfast and packing a lunch. Not unlike 1960s part of the journey, I was always hungry. In fact, a doctor more or less ordered me to have food with me at all times. What an agreeable idea. In addition, I was trying to slip out without waking Linda, who decided to soak in the immediate surrounding tanagers and hummingbirds at a more civilized hour.

My goal was the hot climes below the canyon at Florida Wash. As most birders and those fluent in Spanish know, Florida is pronounced Flow-REE-dah and means full of flowers. Perhaps the wash was full of flowers when it was named, but on this day in May the weather and roaming cattle did not suggest many flowers. A Black-throated Sparrow was drinking from a small black rubber hose that dribbled water near the bank of the bone-dry creek bed. I walked down a barbed wire fence to a stile, crossed, and meandered passed mesquite and over cow patties to the wash. The cool morning air should have been filled with song but it was not. Occasionally, a Bewick’s Wren or Bell’s Vireo called, but my targeted Rufous-winged and Botteri’s sparrow were quiet.

Black-throated Sparrows kept jumping into view, tantalizing me to alertness. A migrant Lincoln’s Sparrow foraging at the top of the vertical bank surprised me, but the Black-throats almost annoyed. By now, so many of those sparrows had fooled me. Each one could be the target bird, but each one was not. Black-throated Sparrows had become nemesis species du jour, birds that repeatedly catch your attention when you are trying to find a different species. Even big red Northern Cardinals were nemesis species du jour on several dates along the coast of Texas. There were no cardinals in Florida Wash, but there were a few Bewick’s Wrens to remind me that they had been nemesis species. By now, the sun had warmed the wash and the cow patties that had not yet succumbed to complete biodegradation. A new nemesis species, the Full of Flowers Cow Patty Fly, was buzzing around. There was more than one, and each step brought more to enter my air space. I returned to the stile in time to greet four older birders, who had found Rufous-winged Sparrows near Continental, the settlement near Green Valley.

Across the road and down Florida Wash seemed a promising option. Although it was hotter now, flies were as absent as was evidence of cattle. I was surprised to see a border patrol vehicle on a road that crossed the wash a few yards down. The vehicle stopped. Eventually I was within earshot when a patrol officer asked if I left the gate open. I yelled back that I was walking down the wash from the paved road and that I did not know anything about a gate. That seemed to be a satisfactory answer as the green and white roared out of sight. A few more yards, and I was standing at the edge of the dirt track when a red pickup ground to a stop. The driver and two passengers starred for a moment before one of them asked if I would close the gate on my way out. I told them I had just walked down the wash from the main road and did not have knowledge of a gate. Again, my answer seemed satisfactory. The pickup left, and at last, I was alone. Ten minutes passed as I sat munching on a peanut and orange marmalade sandwich. Not the eleventh hour, but the eleventh minute of my recess I head the song Linda and I played over and over at the Amado roadside area. The Rufous-winged Sparrow sang long enough to trace it to its perch.

Slightly a mile up I stopped at McCleary Wash. This is where Linda and I should have been last night. The sight and sound of Verdins filled the slopes along the trail to the overlook of the deep wash. Tall red blooming agave waved in the hot wind gusts blowing down from Madera Canyon. A brief trek up the trail from the Proctor Road Parking area did not produce Montezuma Quail or Varied Bunting. It did reveal that Linda and I parked last night near utility poles that might have been used by the Elf Owl we heard.

Back home, that is, back to Linda at Madera Kubo, I was greeted by her, Flame-colored Tanagers now visiting the feeder hanging at our back porch, and a Townsend’s Warbler on its way to Oregon or possibly all the way to Alaska. We left this haven for a hike up Hopkins Fork to look for early Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. Several birders coming down the steep trail asked if we had seen any trogons. Most of them seemed surprised to learn that we found them easy to see near the inns. Of course, we asked about the flycatcher. No one had seen them. Somewhere around 6,500 feet I saw only the flash of a rufous tail of a bird high above the trail. We never relocated or heard the bird. With our remaining daylight, we rushed down Madera Canyon to Florida Wash to listen for Botteri’s Sparrows. After dinner, we sat on the back porch. A Western Screech-Owl called over the quiet murmur of the creek. Our birding night ended hearing a Whiskered Screech-Owl and an oddly sounding Whip-poor-will.

6 May

Packing the car after two glorious nights in Madera Canyon went at dawdling speed. We did not want to leave, and the calls of the male Flame-colored Tanager punctuated our regret. A Magnificent Hummingbird flew within three feet of my face as I carried our ice chest to the car. Broad-billed Hummingbirds were at the back porch feeder and a Dusky-capped Flycatcher snapped an insect from the shady canyon. Linda wrote in the visitors’ log of the cabin how much we enjoyed the tanagers, other birds, and our appreciation of the comforts of the accommodations. We knew we would have to come back.

A quick stop at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders revealed the usual suspects. We knew we were saying good-bye to a couple of species of missing species of hummingbirds, but we could not wait for them. Zipping passed Florida Wash and on to Continental, we bid ado our chances to see Botteri’s Sparrow. Filling the gas tank at the brink of the interstate, we glanced back with fondness and looked forward to a hard drive to California.

Our itinerary had included the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Kitt Peak, both places that Linda wanted to revisit but we agree to push onward. My 1963 itinerary included Organ Pipes National Monument, but the monument and its birds will have to wait some other year. Going west, we were on our last miles of Arizona highways.

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