I was able to spend a day in Arizona around Green Valley and Madera Canyon last month (March 21st)… Following are some highlights from the days activities.
I arrived in Tucson just after sunset and headed up into the Santa Rita mountains to see if I could get a glimpse of the Elf Owls that frequent the canyon and also to see if there was any early spring reptile activity... Unfortunately, I struck out on both accounts. Did see many deer and a few coyotes but no owls or herps, it was in the low 60's at the lower elevations and 50's inside the canyon, still a bit chilly for nocturnal reptiles. I drove back down to Green Valley where I was spending the night, checked into my hotel and grabbed a few hours sleep getting up before dawn the next morning and heading back up the canyon as the sun began to rise over the lower elevations of the Santa Rita mountains.
Black-throated Sparrows were quite abundant at the lower elevations, I stopped near Box Canyon road and took a few shots of Black-throated Sparrows foraging in the mesquite along the road.
A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes watched me from above as I was chasing down the Black-throated Sparrows and a small family of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers that were also foraging in the Mesquite and Palo Verde.
I was a bit surprised to find several Eastern Meadowlarks at the lower elevations as well. While I had read that they were found here with regularity I have never seen one before in this area with this being at least my sixth visit to Madera Canyon.
There were relatively few raptors present along the road that leads to Madera Canyon proper. Other than several Red-tailed Hawks like the one below and a lone American Kestrel the power poles and skies were void of hawks and falcons. I mention this because quite often you can see at least a few different species along the way up to the canyon, Zone-tailed, Swainson's, Red-tailed, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Coopers and occasionally Northern Goshawk are present.
My first stop of the morning in Madera Canyon proper was at the Proctor staging area and trail. A short distance into my walk the trail crossed a Sycamore-lined running stream bed. I stopped for a few moments to see what would happen and the place immediately came to life. I was here very early and there were only a few people in the canyon including a few bird watchers that had taken off ahead of me from the parking lot but they had not stopped at the riparian area. I was greeted by a trio of Towhee species almost immediately. First to come out of hiding but stayed it's distance was a Spotted Towhee, followed immediately by a much more friendly Green-tailed Towhee and then a down-right gregarious pair of Canyon Towhees that literally foraged at my feet as I sat still watching them.
I was quite pleased to get some pictures of Green-tailed Towhees, this species had eluded my camera lens on several occasions in the past and while not a "lifer" for me, it was certainly the first time I have gotten any recognizable pictures of this cool species.
As noted above, a pair of Canyon Towhees seemed completely oblivious to my presence and literally foraged at my feet, making photography somewhat difficult as they were too CLOSE to take pictures of. I had to reposition myself away from the area that they were scratching for food to get some shots of them.
Several other birds made quick stops near where I was positioned including a pair of Northern Cardinals, a Yellow-rumped Warbler and this Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers were extremely common at the lower elevations, I saw dozens of them as they traveled around in small groups.
I slowly made my way up the canyon toward the Madera Canyon Lodge where the famous bird feeders are. Along the way I was followed by flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos. Two varieties were present including the common Oregon Junco variety as well as many of these Gray-headed versions.
Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Junco
A lone Chipping Sparrow was on the ground near the Madera Inn cabins, I was able to get a shot of him as he foraged for seeds.
By the time I made it to the feeders at the Madera Inn for the first time, it was approaching 9:00 AM and quite a crowd had gathered. Since it was Easter weekend there were probably more than the average number of visitors in the canyon. A group of about 15 birders were viewing the feeders and calling out species as they saw them. You'd hear "Broad-billed - left feeder" then "Anna's - right feeder" etc. That was when I called out "Magnificent - right feeder" as a huge male Magnificent Hummingbird stayed just long enough for one camera shot before leaving, not to be seen again by me at least for the rest of the day. They are quite spectacular and this one was no exception, unfortunately I did not get an unobstructed view.
The Pine Siskins just about numbered the same as the Lesser Goldfinches at the seed feeders. I had not gotten any good pictures of Pine Siskins before this day so this was another nice opportunity for me. All the Pine Siskins I wanted to photograph!
Mexican Jays were quite common in the lower elevations, in particular in the oak woodlands. Small groups would decent occasionally on the feeders, chasing every bird away with the exception of the ever-present Acorn Woodpeckers that weren't the least bit concerned about a Mexican Jays presence.
As mentioned above, Lesser Goldfinch were exceedingly common on the thistle feeders.
I was quite fortunate to record five hummingbird species during the day. The most common was the Broad-billed Hummingbird which are quite spectacular in their own right, in particular a bright male under the right light conditions. Here's a male taking a brief respite at a feeder.
There is a large contingent of Acorn Woodpeckers at the Madera Inn, I am not sure if they are one big family or several family groups but there are a lot of them. All of the telephone poles in the area as well as most of the trees are riddled with holes and stuffed full with acorns. They didn't seem to mind grabbing a quick bite a the feeders either...
There is NO cell phone coverage in the canyon, at least not on Verizon and I had a conference call I had to be on at 11:00 AM so after taking my share of pictures at the feeders I drove back down into the valley searching for a good cell signal. I ended up all the way back to the bottom of the hill, by the railroad tracks that run along the base of the mountains before getting a satisfactory signal. I parked underneath some trees along the railroad tracks and had my conference call. By noon it was over and it was back to birding for the rest of the afternoon. Right above my car I was able to spot a Plumbeous Vireo foraging.
Right next to the car I was quite surprised to see this brightly colored Yellow-rumped Warbler of the Audubon variety. These birds are quite frustrating as they often appear to be something that they are not. I was thinking that I had something unusual, perhaps a lone migrant Black-throated Green Warbler or some other rarity until it registered on me what I was looking at... The old "butter butt" as they are sometimes called. Anyway, still a pretty bird.
Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler
Making my way back up the canyon I stopped to take a picture of this Say's Phoebe that was perched on a phone line.
Several Curve-billed Thrashers were also present along the way including this one that I stopped to photograph.
I made my way back up to the Inn which by this time was pretty void of visitors, it being around noon and all and was pleased when this brightly colored Rufous Hummingbird showed up at the feeders. He was really lit up, pictures don't do him justice!
Also at the feeders were a couple of Anna's Hummingbirds and several Black-chinned Hummingbirds like the one below, unfortunately, this was the best shot...
There was also a Painted Redstart at the Inn but it would not allow close enough approach for photography. Up the road a ways, at the Madera Kubos were the usual assortment of Siskin, Goldfinch, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, and Hummingbirds including the fifth species of the day, a female Blue-throated Hummingbird. Several birders were standing around waiting for something interesting when from out of nowhere a female Arizona Woodpecker came in for some grub at one of the suet feeders, a lifer for many of the birders there. This was a four woodpecker species day for me with Arizona, Acorn, Gila and Ladder-back all on the list!
After spending at least an hour at the uppermost parts of the canyon without any luck and a fruitless search for the over-wintering Elegant Trogan that was seen a couple of days earlier, I made my way down the canyon. I had spoken with someone earlier in the day that had told me about an area in Green Valley with a great assortment of low-land desert birds including Pyrrhuloxia I decided to spend a little time in Green Valley before heading to the airport for my flight back to San Diego. However, I made a few quick stops on the way down the hill picking up a few more photos along the way including this male Northern Cardinal that allowed me close approach.
A female Purple Finch was at the Madera Inn feeders on my way back down the canyon as well as a female Black-chinned Hummingbird.
I arrived at the "spot" in Green Valley around 3:00 in the afternoon. It was quite a bit warmer down in the valley, probably in the mid 80's however there was quite a bit of bird life out and about! The spot was nothing more than a utility easement between two housing developments with a walking trail. The area has been planted rather heavily with native plants interspersed with a wide variety of cacti and obviously makes a nice little habitat for the local and traveling bird populations. While there wasn't a Pyrrhuloxia to be found anywhere there were several other species including Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren and hundreds of Gambel's Quail.
Another lower-elevation species of note were several pairs of Gila Woodpeckers. This male let me take some fairly close-up shots of him, all of the others were very skittish and were mostly seen from a distance or high up on a utility pole.
The highlight of the trip however came as I was leaving the complex! I had been told that there was a family group of Harris's Hawks that had selected this housing development as a breeding site however I had to be there in the morning to see them as they dispersed during the day and weren't usually seen again until the following morning. Well, as luck would have it, I was literally driving out of the complex when I spotted this large bird coming in for a landing on top of a large Cyprus. I thought it was a Raven from a distance but something just didn't look right and I pulled over to watch it land. I was quite shocked when I saw the rufous wing patches and white tail... A Harris's Hawk! Another bird that had eluded my camera for a while and one I have not seen for nearly fifteen years... Nice way to end the day before heading home.
Trip Summary (43 bird species):