Lifers denoted by Bold
The morning of the fourth day of Camp Chiricahua, we awoke to the sound of western wood-pewees and Cassin’s kingbirds calling into the early morning mist. Going outside to explore the property of the SWRS a bit, we soon found a huge group of white-throated swifts flying around the cliffs overhanging the station.
Around the hummingbird feeders were the usual suspects complimented by blue-throateds and a single magnificent. While we were in Arizona, it was interesting to note the distribution of many of the hummingbird species. For example, the broad-tailed that had been so common throughout the Santa Catalina Mountains, were all but absent here whereas blue-throated were numerous in the Chiricahuas and nowhere to be found in the Catalinas.
After breakfast, we set out to explore the foothills of the Chiricahuas and the scrubland which surrounds these majestic mountains. On the way out of the station, we saw our first “Coues” white-tailed deer. This is a very small subspecies of white-tailed deer (second smallest behind the Key deer) which is found in the area around the Chiricahua Mountains.
Our first good birds came as we approached the town of Portal. A Lucy’s warbler was spotted along the side of the road and a little farther along both hooded oriole and a pyrrhuloxia x northern cardinal hybrid.
Not far past that we had a pure pyrrhuloxia to represent my lifer.
Past Portal, we arrived in the scrub/grassland near the Chiricahua Desert Museum and the New Mexico border. The beautiful songs of Cassin’s sparrows filled the air as we got out of the vans to see what was around. Besides the Cassin’s, Botteri’s sparrow was also in attendance as were the always beautiful lark buntings.
Rain clouds gathered in the distance as we drove onward towards the museum itself. We explored the inside of the museum for a bit as long as the outdoor area in the back where we were able to find a few more birds in between the intermittent rain. A bird I was very chuffed to see here was a cactus wren as so far I had only heard them calling. A Scott’s oriole on a telephone wire was extremely welcome as well.
To avoid rain and to get lunch, we headed back up the mountains towards the research station. We had barely entered back into the cooler recesses of the mountains and had our eyes peeled for trogons when two great birds were found a little closer to the ground. They were two Montezuma quail, a male and a female, feeding on the shoulder of the road!! The birds seemed undisturbed by the two vans and continued to eat (acorns presumably) along the roadside.
When we eventually needed to drive past, the quail moved off the road and moved upslope into the woods. It was a fantastic experience with this charismatic species.
After lunch, we headed towards the town of Rodeo, New Mexico, looking for birds along the road as we went. Not surprisingly, it was Michael O’Brien who spotted something good first. He had noticed and interesting looking thrasher along the side of the road in a derelict-looking playground. A few of us campers had noticed it as well but had mostly dismissed it as a curve-billed. However, as soon as we had pulled back around we realized that no, it was not just a curve-billed. In fact it was a Bendire’s thrasher!!
After a few minutes of observation, the thrasher flew into a tree where we noticed it had a nest (which explained the mass of insects in its bill)! Clearly this rundown little playground was something special.
It was about to become even more special as someone spotted a crissal thrasher perched on a scrub on the far side of the park!
Jennie Duberstein (for whom crissal thrasher was a nemesis) was by the vans at the time when the bird was found so its finding prompted a rush back to alert her of the bird’s presence. Thankfully, the thrasher stuck around and everyone was treated to good (although distant) looks at this great species.
The icing on the already awesome cake came when a curve-billed thrasher gave its whit-wheet call from across the road, completing the thrasher trifecta.
The birds we had elsewhere around Rodeo seemed like a bit of an anti-climax after that although a spotted sandpiper was nice.
Later that night, we went on a nightdrive down towards Portal. Our first stop was the Portal Post Office where there was a known elf owl nest.
The owls were a no show so we continued on to drive some of the roads in the Portal area.
The first good sighting we had was a coyote which trotted by our vans completely unconcerned by our presence. Toads however were the most numerous animals around with numerous species making appearances.
For me though, the real highlights were what we had later when we came across both a tarantula and a baby western diamondback rattlesnake in the road.
After the rattlesnake it began to rain and we started back towards the research station. By the time we reached the station it was pouring down and we had to sprint from the vans to our rooms. The day’s wildlife wasn’t over however for when we reached our compound we found a striped skunk there already. It didn’t stick around long and sprinted off as soon as it saw us rounding a corner and out of sight. The interesting thing was, one of the researched came around the same corner only about a second after the skunk had gone around it. How he didn’t see the skunk I still have no idea.