Rick had arranged for Melody Kehl of Melody’s Birding Adventures to guide us in the Tucson area.
This would be the first time I had ever been out with a guide in my 10 year Birdquest, so I was a little apprehensive. I had heard stories of people who had hired guides and they didn’t know a bird from a dragonfly. I must tell you though after spending 2 days with Melody, my apprehension was gone. She is extremely knowledgeable, gives 100% and the woman has uncanny hearing – she heard a bird from over 100 feet away and led us right to the spot but that is a story for the next thread.
Always looking for birds…bins never down
Rick and I both had given Melody our list of species we wanted to see. As birding goes there are times the birds just don’t oblige but we only missed 2 birds, the Buff-collared Nightjar and the Cassin’s Sparrow (but no one else had seen any either, they just hadn’t arrived)…could have been weather or just bad luck, the Nightjar just wasn’t calling.
The first day, Melody picked us up promptly at 4:30 am and we headed to Madera Canyon. On the drive along South Madera Canyon Road we stopped and listened for Bottari’s and Cassin’s Sparrows. It didn’t take long for our guide’s keen hearing to pick up a Bottari’s Sparrow and decent views were had by all. What struck me about these sparrow’s was the tail, very long when seen from the back. It seemed there were Botteri’s Sparrows every 20 feet along that road.
Most of the images were from fairly long distances, but later Rick and I found a bird sitting on a wire fence that was very close, giving us both great close up looks.
ABA Bird # 649 – Botteri’s Sparrow
We moved further up the canyon to the Santa Rita Lodge’s (www.santaritalodge.com) hummingbird feeder station where there had been a Plain-capped Starthroat visiting one of the feeders regularly. This spot is a must stop on anyone’s birding trip to Madera Canyon.
At the elevation of 5,000 feet, the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler than in Tucson. Over 200 species of birds can be seen in the canyon; the Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, and up to 15 species of Hummingbirds. It is also possible to see Elf, Pygmy and Whiskered Screech Owls in the area. There are covered sitting areas for visitors to view the bird feeders (Please remember if your visiting leave a little something in the seed money jar). There is a gift shop where you can buy beverages and snacks.
Dave and Rick waiting for the Starthroat….
One of the first birds to come to the feeders was a White-breasted Nuthatch, not new for me. I was told though that this bird may be split by the ABA in the future, similar to Clapper Rails. These nuthatches are of the subspecies nelsoni.
There was a constant coming and going of Arizona Woodpeckers, Blue Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinch, White-winged Doves, Bridled Titmice, Orioles and of course Costas, Black-chinned, Magnificent, Broad-tailed, Juvenile Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds. The star of the show on that day was the Plain-capped Starthroat, a casual stray from Mexico. It finally made a quick entrance and most of the people got to see it. My eyes helped me follow it to its rest area in a tree and I was able to help a few more late arrivals see this bird. The two white spots on the back are hard to miss.
A week later when Rick and I went back to the feeders, the Starthroat seemed to be more at home with people and was coming in even closer.
ABA Bird – #650 – Plain-capped Starthroat
Melody suggested we move on, so we got in the SUV and away we went about 660 yards up the road to the Madera Kubo B & B (www.maderakubo.com). They have four rustic, rentable cabins and numerous Hummingbirds coming to their feeders.
I picked up 4 life birds in 5 minutes at this location, there was something for everyone and it was a treasure trove for me.
ABA Bird – #651 – Greater Pewee
ABA Bird – #652 – Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
In a tree directly behind the benches for the feeders was this lovely owl, sitting at the mouth of his hole.
A big surprise was an Allen’s Hummingbird, usually found on the west coast at the Kubo feeders. Sorry for the blurry image but the feeders are in a heavily treed area and even using 3,000 ISO it’s tough to freeze the action. You can just make out the green back of this birds, that IDs this as an Allen’s. It was much easier to see through my binoculars.
ABA Bird – #654 – Allen’s Hummingbird
Just a great morning to be a bird watcher, 6 lifers and it wasn’t even 11 am.
There had been reports of a Rufous-backed Robin in the area and Rick need this for a lifer. Many people were searching for this bird but it was a no show. I had previously seen and photographed this bird in northern Arizona.
Moving on we headed to Mount Lemon, 50 miles NE of Madera, and on the way we managed to find another local subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis fuertesi. This subspecies lacks a belly band and has entirely light underparts.
View from road up going up to Mount Lemon….iPhone4S Panorama
On Mount Lemon we had a chance for a Red-faced Warbler, which I had heard many times but had only seen in silhouette, Virginia’s Warbler and Buff-breasted Flycatcher. These birds can be found in most areas at elevation but the weather was against us that day and the warblers were silent.
I did manage a life bird while looking but could not get a photo…two lovely Hutton’s Vireo’s were feeding on insects and were very close.
ABA Bird – #655 – Hutton’s Vireo
Melody had packed a lunch for us so we took a break, and out came the lawn chairs. We had a lovely lunch, the only thing missing was the wine. Thanks so much land oved the bean salad.
Most of the time Melody drives with her window open, listening. It really is uncanny how she heard this bird. It had just rained and everything was soggy but she heard the bird and pulled over the car. We climbed out and my spidey senses were tingling. I saw a bird fly away from me 50 feet, it had a dark body and yellow head. Call it dyslexia or excitement, I blurted out Townsends Warbler. My mistake as it turned out to be a very wet Buff-breasted Flycatcher. Rick and Melody had a good laugh at my expense but I did see and track that bird at a distance.
A short time later we located a very dry adult bird.
ABA – Bird – #656 – Buff-breasted Flycatcher
By this time, we had been out for 12 hours and we thought we would take a break back at the hotel and meet up later to go out for the Buff-collared Nightjar. The weather had different plans.
I couldn’t believe how hard it was raining and how much water came down in a short time. I don not associate Arizona with monsoons but trust me, when it rains you must be very aware of your surroundings. During our trip we experienced this first hand, the water comes hard and fast. You don’t want to be in any dry river bed or draw when the rains come. A road may be passable when dry but you can be stuck for a long while if it floods, even with a four by four.
Rick and I had a good dinner, we were fast asleep by 9 pm, dreaming of our trip to the famed California Gulch. We would have to get up at 4 am, we’d be ready and waiting for Melody at 4:40am.
Melody’s website and contact info can be found at: http://melodysbirding.com/
Ciao for now….