The Ladder-backed Woodpeckers also gave good lucks, Pyrrhuloxias showed off their beautiful looks and even Cactus Wrens came in close and sang one of the sounds I most associate with the desert.
A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker trying its best to blend in.
By this time, another birder had joined us. He was also from the Southeast, but he was from Alabama. We kept our vigil but the warblers didn't show. The man from Louisiana then realized that he was just about space on his camera's memory card and decided to go to his car for another one. The other southern gentleman chose to leave as well since he was going to meet his wife and was going to come back the next day as well. About a few minutes after both had left, I started to hear some odd call notes coming about 30 feet up the trail. As I got close to the repeated
notes, my heart dropped for my earlier companions. Here were the two Rufous-capped Warblers they were looking for.
The warblers ended up giving me amazing looks at times no farther than 5 feet away. Last year when I saw them, they acted skulky and were unwilling to permit good views. This year was the opposite as the fed in the various shrubs for the next 10 minutes in plain view until I stopped following the warblers as they went around a bend. My excitement was tempered by the fact that I would have to tell the Louisianan that he had missed out on the warblers that he was looking for. I'm not even sure if he would have been able to get pictures as close as the warblers were with his long lens.
After I got my fill of the Rufous-capped Warblers, I headed back towards the entrance. After a few minutes I met back up with the other birder and delivered the bad news. He took it in stride and remained hopeful especially with a birding field trip ahead of him that might be able to help him locating the birds.
I got back into my car and headed the short distance on to Madera Canyon, another amazing birding spot in Southeastern Arizona. On my way, I saw several Loggerhead Shrikes and a few even let me stop my car next to them for looks.
My first stop in Madera Canyon was the Whitehouse Picnic Area. I found a nice mixed flock of Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I pointed them out to an older couple who seemed particularly interested in the seeing the nuthatches.
This White-breasted Nuthatch is eyeing me up
Brown Creepers seem meant to blend into Alligator junipers
Bridled Titmice proved hard to photograph
I headed up canyon towards the Santa Rita Lodge and Madera Kubo, two lodges that cater to birders and also put out feeders for the public to view. I walked to Santa Rita first where I found it full of turkeys with at least a dozen walking around on the grounds. When one of the employees of the lodge went to fill the feeders the turkeys barely got out of the way as if they were pets. There was a large flock of Mexican Jays coming to the feeders and quickly emptying them. A stunning male Hepatic Tanager put in a cameo in the trees around the feeders. After a careful search of a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows, I managed to pick out a Yellow-eyed Junco.
A flock of Mexican Jays at Santa Rita Lodge
The Mexican Jays were pretty tame
Some of the many turkeys at Santa Rita Lodge
A good view of the turkey's iridescent plumage
A colorful male Hepatic Tanager
I finally managed to see this Yellow-eyed Junco
After I got my fill of the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, I headed down to a path in the forest and walked up to the feeders at Madera Kubo. Along the way, I had some close encounters with my second ever Arizona Woodpecker, a Mexican Jay hiding some food and an Arizona Gray Squirrel.
My second ever Arizona Woodpecker
A good view of the Arizona Woodpecker's spotted belly
This Mexican Jay was hiding some food for later
An Arizona Gray Squirrel feeds on something a Mexican Jay may have stashed
Up at Madera Kubo, the feeders were slower than at the Santa Rita Lodge but there were some nice specialties there. A large Magnificent Hummingbird held down the area around the hummingbird feeders. I could hear a Painted Redstart in the area but was unable to locate it. There were a few tree-clinging species in the area including Acorn Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch.
A young male Magnificent Hummingbird
Some of the bright colors on the gorget could already be seen
I had to drag myself away from Madera Canyon since I had more birding planned out and headed back to the highway. I stopped for gas in the nearby town of Green Valley and while fueling my car I head the song of a thrasher across the road. I filled the tank and parked my car and walked over to find the thrasher. I followed its songs until finally spotted it, a nice Curve-billed Thrasher. He didn't seem bothered by me and I approached close to him and got amazing looks from a species that usually doesn't let you get to see it.
A very cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher
Not the most flattering shot of the thrasher
Side profile of the thrasher
A barrel cactus in the thrasher spot
A video of the Curve-billed Thrasher singing
I got back to my car and headed to my next spot, Patagonia State Park, the site of my missed trogon last year. Before I got to the park, I drove some side roads looking for Botteri's Sparrows which had been seen in the area. I thought I had one when a sparrow popped up from some shrubs and got my hopes up, but the sparrow ended up being a Rufous-crowned and I ended up striking out on the Botteri's.
While not a Botteri's, I still enjoyed this Rufous-crowned Sparrow
At Patagonia Lake State Park I headed straight to the Sonoita Creek trail. All the spots were taken at the trailhead so I had to park a little farther away and walk. On my walk I ran into a couple who mentioned the good birds they saw and also that they had just ran in to Victor Emanuel birding tour near the trailhead. I thanked them and hurried to get ahead of the tour group. I found them about 100 yards in and got in front of them and had great views at a Bewick's Wren at my feet, a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker hammering on a branch and a pair of Mexican Ducks on the lake in a flock of shovelers and teal. There were other interesting birds on the lake included Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks.
A mohawked Ladder-backed Woodpecker
'Mexican' Mallards on Patagonia Lake
While at the lake shore, I heard the distinctive call
of an Elegant Trogon and was excited for the prospect of seeing another trogon. I went back to tell the leader of the field trip what I heard and told him that it was either a trogon calling or someone playing a tape of trogon. He thought it may be the latter given that trogons rarely call in the winter. I went back to follow the creek where I heard the call and I heard a strange call. I looked up for its source and right over my head was gorgeous male Elegant Trogon.
Amazing views of a stunning tropical species
I managed to take a few pictures before I ran back to the birding tour and announced that I had found the trogon. Most of them grabbed their scopes as I led them towards where I had seen the trogon, hoping the whole time that it would still be there. At least I had a few pictures. As we neared the area where I saw the trogon it wasn't in the place I left it, but I was relieved to find it about 20 yards from the original spot and about 20 yards away from us! This one didn't seem to mind all the people and stayed in the area for a while. I got the tour on the bird as they oohed and aahed as the bird put on a show. It flycatched several times, one time it flew right over our heads and another time it caught a giant grasshopper-like bug that was almost as big as its head. It still managed to each it and gave everyone in the tour lifer views of this spectacular species. It even stuck around after a Great Horned Owl flew through the area.
The Elegant Trogon was relaxing even with many people around
Such beautiful colors
It caught this giant bug...
And managed to eat it whole!
Here is a video of the trogon with the giant bug
After viewing the aptly named Elegant Trogon for over 20 minutes it flew back into the woods and I saw this as sign that I should get going myself. I hiked in the direction of where the owl flew but I couldn't locate it. There were some flycatchers around including a Black Phoebe and a Dusky Flycatcher and also some woodpeckers. There were many Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and some Red-naped Sapsuckers and even a rare juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
A fresh looking Dusky Flycatcher
A very camouflaged juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
There were many Black Phoebes at Patagonia Lake State Park
I dodged some open range cattle blocking one path and continued back to the trailhead. There weren't too many species on the walk back and once back to my car I headed to the visitor center where there were a few cool feeder birds including another Ladder-backed Woodpecker and an Anna's Hummingbird.
This photo shows why this male Ladder-backed Woodpecker got its name
This male Anna's Hummingbird isn't as colorful on a cloudy day
From the park I headed towards the the town of Patagonia where I would venture to the San Rafael Grasslands, one of my favorite locations in Southeast Arizona due to its big sky and great views plus the birds aren't that bad either. This is one of the best spots for the Southwestern subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark aka the Lillian's Meadowlark and they were common. Coming over my first rise I was surprised to see a White-tailed Kite sitting on a fence post 40 yards away and it seemed surprised to see me too as it took off before I could get a picture of it sitting. Another kite flew overhead making these two birds on the 3rd and 4th White-tailed Kites I have ever seen.
'Lillian's' Eastern Meadowlarks were common in the grasslands
I accidentally scared this White-tailed Kite. Oops
This kite helps show why they used to be named the Black-shouldered Kite
As I drove around the grasslands I saw many Vesper and Savannah Sparrows and once again missed my target, the Baird's Sparrow which winters in southeastern Arizona, There were some other raptors around here including Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel. I also missed Chestnut-collared Longspurs but had hopes to see them the next morning in Willcox.
I drove back to the town of Patagonia and had dinner in a new pizzeria named Velvet Elvis where I had a delicious calzone and celebrated an amazing day of birding with the beer that I associate the most with birding, Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA due to me having it with lunch after mornings of birding Cape May. I highly recommend that anyone in this area visit this tasty local establishment.
After dinner I drove into unfamiliar territory and ended near Willcox where I found a nice place to sleep near Lake Willcox. As I drifted asleep I thought about the 86 species I saw that day and the incredible encounters I had with some memorable birds. It was fun visiting areas that I was already familiar with but seeing new birds at them. Hopefully Saturday would be more of the same.