Saturday had me going on a half-day field trip  led by George Andrejko (a Chicago native, it turns out), a photographer for the Arizona Fish and Game Department. The focus of the trip was to enhance the participant’s photographic skills  (modern cameras are so complicated now that while I can do maybe five things with it, someone thoroughly knowledge could probably perform a hundred). Our destination was Ft. Huachuca. One of our first birds was a trogon that flew across the road but we never found it again. George spent some time with me and I did learn more about Nikons than I knew before (that is his brand as well.)  We also found some very accommodating Arizona sisters, a not uncommon but drop-dead gorgeous butterfly. (Also had a great shot of a two-spotted forester moth).

Sunday was Robin’s last day of vacation so Cindy and I arranged to meet her and Travis, as well as Gary and his wife, for lunch in Green Valley, just south of Tucson. Cindy and I arose early to do some birding at Madera Canyon in the Santa Ritas. One bird which I have not seen in decades was the varied bunting, a stunning finch whose US range is limited to AZ, NM, and western TX. It is not particularly rare but I have just tended to miss it. Bob Behrstock told us that a good place for it is near the Coronado National Forest center just before you ascend towards Madera. Cindy and I walked over to the kiosk and to our amazement read that the bird of the week was: varied bunting. We proceeded down the path and Cindy pointed to a small bird atop a shrub and said, “hey, that looks like a bunting.” Indeed it was a varied bunting. Seconds later, Bob Behrstock’s voice was heard proclaiming, “there is your varied bunting.” I wish all birds were that easy. (Bob was leading a tour and happened to arrive the same time we did.)

Up into Madera Canyon we ventured, stopping at the humming bird feeders at the lodge. It was a great opportunity to use the info offered by George and I took what I think are some pretty nice photos. While immersed in the birds, I heard my name called. This time it was from a totally unexpected source: Theresa Schwinghammer, from Indiana who provided me with some valuable passenger pigeon information some years ago and we have become cyber friends. But it took a trip to Arizona for us to finally meet.

After lunch with family and old friends, Cindy and I drove back to Han to settle in in our new digs at the Casa de San Pedro. Patrick and Karl are wonderful hosts and that night Cindy and I were the only guests. Last year I entered a swimming pool for the first time since the early 1990s but I couldn’t pass up this unusual opportunity. (It was encouraging that I can still sort of swim) Cindy spotted a great horned owl in the trees overlooking the pool and it was heavenly floating on one’s back while staring at the clear desert sky.

Our final day had us heading to my favorite mountain range, the Chiracauhas. On our way to the visitor center, we saw a freshly killed skunk by the side of the road. There are four species in the area and so we stopped. It was either a hooded (a southwest specialty) or a striped.  We stopped at the visitor center and I asked the naturalist about the skunks. During our conversation, I mentioned that the last time I visited the center, there was a big commotion due to a black-tailed rattlesnake curled up just inside the entrance. It turns out she was on duty that same day and shared my recollection of her colleague coaxing the snake into  a safer space out of doors. Our goal was drive up to Rustler Park, containing ponderosa pines and such specialties as olive warbler and Mexican chickadee, and then descend to Portal with its famous humming bird feeders. But I was most disappointed, indeed saddened, to learn that a forest fire in 2011 burned many thousands of acres of highland forest including Rustler Park (although I am told our target birds could still be found). Making matters worse, the denuding of vegetation made for more severe road washouts such that it is impossible now to get beyond Rustler. We decided to go up as far as we could. A little ways up the road we reached a dried washout filled with rocks: we crossed but grimaced every time we heard the thuds against the bottom of the car. Next we crossed a wet and muddy section. Things seemed to be getting more severe the higher we went so we decided not to brave the next challenge, a combination of deeper water and more rocks. We probably could have crossed but not knowing how much worse things would be before arriving at our destination we turned back.

Bob’s group stayed at the bed and breakfast that night so Patrick and Karl hosted a special dinner for them. We were invited to join and so even our last evening of the trip was particularly memorable. As I said to start, I really love southeast Arizona.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>