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Day 2 (Saturday, 17th May)

We arrived at the Fort Huachuca military checkpoint at first light, which was only a 2 minute drive along Fry Avenue from the cheap but comfortable Motel that we had chanced upon in Sierra Vista. After filling in the necessary red tape, showing passports and driving licenses, we accepted the prized token which proudly displayed allowed us entrance into the Canyon. Apparently, the commander who ran the fort 2 years earlier hadn’t allowed the Fort and canyon to be shown on the South-east Arizona Birding Trail map – it is worrying to think that he may have been only a step or two away from barring access to this superb and diverse birding site. The new commander is reported to be much more lenient in his views.

Grassland

Grassland from Fort Huachuca to Garden Canyon

The first few miles of the paved road cut through mainly grassland with sparse mesquite bush, and despite our desire to get to the upper picnic site as soon as possible, the temptation to keep stopping on the way when bird song was heard from open windows or shapes flitted in and out of the grass was too great. Most of these seemed to be sparrows, but were irritatingly distant or elusive. We did have a group of 4 Lark Sparrows which bucked the trend and landed at the edge of the road a short distance away, and a Botteri’s Sparrow singing in one place long enough to be scoped. Rufous-winged Sparrows, with a characteristic song reminiscent of European Wood Warbler, were heard regularly but not seen.

Headway towards the upper picnic site was punctuated by Cassin’s Kingbirds and Loggerhead Shrikes, but we eventually arrived just behind an Icelandic trio who we had met along the grasslands, and the odd American birder wandering the clearing already. We spent quite a few hours walking the woods, although we probably went no further than 200 metres or so from the picnic site, and the time is necessary to turn up an impressive variety of birds. It is recommended that you arrive and leave early on a weekend, due to numerous picnickers, but even when we left after 9 (and when we passed by on the descent later), there were only a few birders to be seen.
 

Upper picnic site

Road to Upper picnic site

Upper picnic site at Garden Canyon

Road down from Upper picnic site

The Upper picnic site is exactly as it sounds – the third of 3 picnic sites up Garden Canyon, with a few benches set in a small clearing in the woods. From the early Western Wood-pewees and Acorn Woodpeckers, we enjoyed a range of the commoner species early on, including a spattering of Warblers such as Orange-crowned, Townsend’s, & Black-throated Grey. We then walked downhill a short way, picking up the call of an Elegant Trogon as we descended. It was hidden at first, and the call seemed to be coming from much further than the actual location, but the bird was picked up on a dead branch over the small stream running alongside the road. We stayed here even after the trogon had flown, since other birds appeared as we watched, including Plumbeous Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Western Tanager. The species totted up as we continued down the road, such as Bridled Titmouse and Hepatic Tanagers. Swainson’s Hawk overhead was added as we returned towards the picnic area, as well as more vireos and warblers. The Acorn Woodpeckers seen on arrival were still lingering around the same trees, and we were stood under a singing Bewick’s Wren, which has a much more impressive long tail and song than the books justify.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Acorn Woodpecker

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Acorn Woodpecker

Bridled Tit

Western Tanager

Bridled Titmouse

Western Tanager

As we were about to leave to explore one of the higher canyons, a kindly ex Lancastrian appeared from his car and led us to a spot about half a mile further up the now rapidly deteriorating track, where we were treated to a very close Elegant Trogon, which was not only calling, but also perched for some time a few metres in front of us. We heard its muffled dog like mutterings for some time before it was located, and it is entirely probable that the hole in the broken tree branch that it sat next to was a nesting or roosting chamber. The bird was actually only about 10-15 metres from the road, over a dried up stream bed, but when listened to from the road, it appears as if it were some way up the hillside. We had seen other trogon species in Mexico, and this bird is every bit as stunning, and allows close approach while you decide on which is the best angle to view it.

Trogon site

Elegant Trogon

Site for Elegant Trogon

Elegant Trogon

Sawmill Canyon

Sawmill Canyon

When we had eventually torn ourselves away from the Trogon, we made our way up Garden Canyon to the next destination, which was Sawmill Canyon. It looked a nice and short journey in theory, but was complicated by the fact that the 0.6 miles from the upper picnic site in Lane’s guide was misread as the distance to Sawmill Canyon, but it was in fact a mile further then described. A second and much more time consuming problem was that the road becomes a track of many holes and bumps, and our beautifully comfortable saloon car might have looked good cruising on the interstates, but had a woefully low road clearance, so we had to regularly get out and guide it over the stones and ramps. We did eventually arrive at the end of the road, which was gated at the entrance to Sawmill Canyon, and found a much more coniferous woodland at this higher altitude than the mix with deciduous down canyon. It was worth the harrowing journey up, although the beauty of sorting out the much more varied populations of lycatchers up here is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I had heard that even the experts in the States can only achieve a percentage of positive ID’s of these birds, so enter a trio of bemused strangers. However, a little study, some obliging birds singing, and some good views helped us sort some of the birds out as Buff-breasted Flycatcher (the most common, and it varied in the depth of buff in the plumage, from deep to washed out), Cordilleran Flycatcher (the yellowish colour to the throat, seen in the books, is difficult to see), Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Wood-pewee, and a single Greater Pewee. Warblers at this time of day were few and far between, but we did manage a couple of Red-faced Warblers, one feeding on the ground to the side of the trail, and at least 4 Grace’s Warblers. Vireos were located usually by song – both Plumbeous & Hutton’s were recorded.
 

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Beatty's home

Upper feeding area

Feeders outside of The Beatty's

Seating for upper feeding area within The Beatty's

After stuffing ourselves with Mexican fast food at lunchtime, we passed a very close Swainson’s Hawk along one of the main Sierra Vista highways, and it stooped and tried to catch something in a nearby field as we watched. This was on the way to Miller Canyon, where the plan was to spend a little time admiring the hummingbirds on the feeders there, and spend the rest of the afternoon looking for other species further down the canyon. We ended up spending the rest of the day taking in the delights of the varied species of hummers that are a speciality of the higher altitudes in South-east Arizona. Around 2 miles up the canyon, another rough road (although not in the same league as upper Garden Canyon) reached the end of the track after about 2½ miles, at a car park adjacent to the Beatty's property. Mr Beatty has very obligingly set up a row of hummingbird feeders along the southern fence of his property, and a canopy opposite so that the birds can be watched in comfort. We saw him in his garden as soon as we arrived, and, after some initial pleasantries, he told us of the better feeders at the rear of the property. On a hillside just above a small (and running) stream, he has erected two small areas with plentiful hummingbird feeders, as well as chairs and canopies. The first feeders, just a few metres above the stream, are good enough, and had an assortment of hummers to and fro as soon as we arrived (Blue-throated Hummingbird was at this set only). Other regulars were Black-chinned and Broad-tailed.

However, Mr Beatty recommended the upper set of feeders, set alongside a small cabin (which could be hired for $50 a night). The feeding area has less feeders than the lower site, hung from 3-4 small trees, as well as a couple of double chairs for comfort. Hummingbirds here are manic, even though Mr Beatty claimed that this year’s numbers were low, they were in and out constantly. Some tolerated the other birds less than others, resulting in some superb squabbles, aerial battles, and high speed chases, with some buzzing very close past our heads. Most of the Hummingbirds here were Black-tailed, Broad-billed, or Anna’s, but a male Magnificent had a favourite perch which he constantly visited. Towards the end of our stay, we noticed a female that seemed to be smaller than the rest, and with a little study, she was identified as a Calliope – a rare visitor here for this time of year. There were other species mingling in the area throughout the afternoon, with Arizona Woodpecker in a low bush nearby, as well as Western Kingbird, Black-headed Tanager, and Mexican Jay.

Anna's Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Blue-throated Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Magnificent Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Magnificent Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpecker

Calliope Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpecker

We were about to leave for Sierra Vista and nourishment, when Mr Beatty informed us of a regular Lucifer Hummingbird a little further South. Thus after travelling another 2½ miles along the main highway, we turned on to Turkey Creek Road, and found ourselves at the end of a short and tortuous track seated rather comfortably, courtesy of Mary Jo Cox and her array of feeders, waiting for the aforementioned star to put in an appearance. However, it didn’t bother to turn up – not a big problem due to the action presented by the other hummers utilising the garden. They were again mainly Broad-tailed, Black-chinned & Anna’s, with regular cameos from Broad-billed & Magnificent. A pair of Acorn Woodpeckers also found the feeders to their taste (built specifically for hummingbirds, adapted especially by Acorns!), which meant that they were perched only about 3-5 metres in front of us. A most hospitable way to spend the final part of the day!

Home

Paintings gallery

Video clips

Images

DVD

Contact

Site map

Links

Content

Introduction

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Species list

Text only