August in Arizona – Part II: Mountains, Canyons and Birds

The loaned camera from John Harris really was a life saver, but it was hard to put the loss of my own camera out of mind.  I could not stop blaming myself for failing to pack the back up.  I worried about the repair cost and time but moreso photos and particularly good photos had been such an important reason for this trip and my good camera was a big part of those hopes.  It had already become clear that the approach of this tour was not going to make getting good photos easy, and now it was going to get harder.

Now there was another problem.  The original plan had been to visit California Gulch that night to search for Buff Collared Nightjar.  We had heard horror stories about vehicles getting stuck in flooded roads on the way there, so travelling that challenging road in the dark was out.  This was a big disappointment as the Nightjar is found nowhere else and would have been an ABA Life bird.  It was also a potential problem for another important bird for the trip, Five Striped Sparrow.  I had seen one 40 years ago, but it would be an important life bird for Frank Caruso (and most of the others on the trip) and definitely a new ABA Life Photo for me (now also complicated by the camera issue).  Losing both the Nightjar and this sparrow would have been a big loss.  Our leader came up with another way to get to California Gulch – at least in the daytime.

Early the next morning we headed for California Gulch via Arivaca and Warsaw Canyon. Along the way we had Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows and then our first and only views of the much sought after Montezuma Quail.  A tough photo through the van’s windshield (especially as I was four rows back), but still a welcomed addition to my ABA Photo (and year but not Life) lists. (Note that all pictures going forward are with the much appreciated loaned SX50).

Botteri’s Sparrow

Botteri's Sparrow

Montezuma Quail

Montezuma's Quail1

There is simply no way to be sure to find these quail.  We were in good habitat many times during our travels and they just did not cooperate (the same would be true later for Scaled Quail).  I have several friends who have spent many hours looking for/hoping for this bird in Arizona and were unsuccessful. So these were a good find.

We continued on via Ruby Road and reached the beginning of California Gulch and could go no further as there was a torrent raging down a usually dry wash.  In keeping with those aforementioned horror stories, there was a Chevy Suburban stuck in what was now a stream.  We heard of one group that spent a whole night trapped before being rescued.

Abandoned Stuck Chevy Suburban

Stuck Suburban

The road in had been terrible – a big jolt every few feet magnified by the van’s poor suspension and springs – but at least we had made it this far.  Was it going to be far enough?  Would we find the Five Striped Sparrow?  There was a bit of confusion at the start and we were told we would wade across the stream to search for the Sparrow.  One other person from the group and I did so only to learn that plans were changed and the try for the Five Striped Sparrow would be done downstream first.  Wet shoes are not my first choice, but I had had enough foresight to remove socks so not a big deal as we waded back across and went downstream.  I think it was Frank and his great birding ears that first heard the call of what turned out to be a Five Striped Sparrow – a much wanted new Life bird for him.  We got fairly good looks at it across the stream.  Were I on my own, I would have worked closer for a good photo, but that was not in the cards with the group.  (And yes, I know I am whining, but it is my blog and I am also being honest.  Especially after the long ride in the back of the uncomfortable van and the unnecessary wade across the stream, the initial good feeling of at least finding the bird (not hard in the Gulch) was moderated by wanting a better photo – and yes with MY camera setup. )

Five Striped Sparrow

Five Striped Sparrow


On our return towards Nogales, we saw some Pronghorns in the Grasslands and added Rufous Crowned and Grasshopper Sparrows to our sparrow list for the day.  We also had some Rock Wrens, another Yellow Billed Cuckoo and more Black Tailed Gnatcatchers. 

Rufous Crowned Sparrow

Rufous Sparrow

Complaining aside, any day that includes both Five Striped Sparrow and Montezuma Quail should be considered a good birding day.  But it just did not feel like it.  The poor photos of the Sparrow and Quail only reinforced the feeling of loss of my own camera.  They also reminded me how the approach of this tour was not what I would have preferred or how I would have (should have?) approached things and gone on my own – and that was surely brought home with the long and hard ride at the back of the van.  And truth in blogging, a big challenge in my relationship had developed a few days before I departed home and was almost constantly on my mind.   All of this continued to weigh heavily on me.  If John had not been so kind in lending me his camera, it really would have been very tough to continue the trip.  I may well have chosen not to.

But then a really good thing happened.  It was our arrival at the Casa de San Pedro Bed and Breakfast.  The Casa de San Pedro is in Hereford, Arizona not far from Sierra Vista (sometimes called “Sorry Vista”) and pretty close to the Mexican Border.  It is a perfect home base for exploration of the many bird filled canyons of the Huachuca Mountains.  It is a place that I would love to visit – even without the birds.  Owners Karl Schmitt and Patrick Dome bought the property in 2002, relocating from the Northwest.  Their love for the place and for its guests is evident in every detail and in every word and action.  It is also evident in their extraordinary breakfasts – reason enough to stay with them.  Do not go if you are on a diet – as the quantity is second only to the quality.  We were going to be there three nights and it could not have come at a better time.  The only problem would be not having enough time to actually enjoy the place itself as we would be off to those Huachuca Canyons and environs every day.

Casa de San Pedro (the photo does not do it justice)

Casa de San Pedro

Breakfast at the Casa de San Pedro (this photo does do the food justice!)


Pool at Casa de San Pedro


Yes I would have enjoyed just being at this beautiful serene place, but there were birds to see.  Indeed some were seen right there at the Casa.  Great Horned Owls greeted us each morning and beautiful Vermillion Flycatchers were readily found.


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Vermillion Flycatcher

Vermillion FC2

After a lovely night at the Casa and a superb breakfast, we left the next morning to go to Fort Huachuca to get security clearance so that we could look for Elegant Trogons in Huachuca Canyon.  The processing was not too bad and we readily found the trogons in the Canyon – hearing their almost bark like call first.  We found a pair at a nest and then two more.  We also had Dusky Capped Flycatchers and more Sulphur Bellied Flycatchers.

Elegant Trogon

Elegant Trogon1  Elegant Trogon 2

Elegant Trogon at Nest

Elegant Trogon2

Trogons may well be the most sought after and representative bird of Southeast Arizona – great to find them so readily.  Afterwards we moved on to Garden Canyon still on the Fort property.  A large Western Diamond Backed Rattlesnake was a highlight along the way.

Western Diamond Backed Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake  Rattlesnake Tail

Rattlesnake Head (2)

In Garden Canyon our best birds were several Buff Breasted Flycatchers.  I had seen them before 40 years ago and frankly had forgotten about them when thinking about this trip.  Plain but beautiful.  After a too-short respite back at Casa de San Pedro, we visited Mary Jo Ballator’s Ash Canyon B & B with its many hummingbird feeders and the delightful Mary Jo.  There were many Anna’s Hummingbirds but the great treat was a male Lucifer’s Hummingbird.  This had been high up on my want list for the trip – a new ABA Life Bird.  I could not get the perfect photo but was thrilled with the ones I did. Mary Jo was a wonderful and knowledgeable hostess.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird3

Lucifer Hummingbird2

On the way to and from Mary Jo’s there seemed to be Lark Sparrows everywhere – but not easy to get good photos of this species that I see regularly in Washington.

Great Horned Owls greeted us again the next morning at the Casa where breakfast included the best pancakes I have ever had.  Following breakfast I got a good photo of a Gila Woodpecker (seen frequently during our trip and a new ABA Life photo for me.)

Gila Woodpecker (This photo is earlier in the trip and I forgot to use it in the first part of this post.  I may go back and edit later.)

Gila Woodpecker2

We were now off to Reef Campground near the top of Carr Canyon.  A Tufted Flycatcher had been seen there regularly and was a prized bird.  On the way up we had our first Scott’s Oriole of the trip.  It was frustrating not to be able to get this ABA Life photo from the van and I probably committed a faux pas by opening the side door to at least try for a shot and it flew off.  Later a second one was seen elsewhere on the trip – but again I was blocked by the van and never even got a look.  It is just the nature of things traveling in a van and why I do not think I will go on this kind of trip again.  EVERYONE was cooperative and we rotated seats but there are just too many severe visibility (and photography) limitations.

The search for the Tufted Flycatcher was frustrating.  We got to the campground about 5 minutes after one had been seen well by the many birders already there.  We remained for at least 60 minutes and relocated it only to have it fly off – before many in the group got any look at all.  Seemingly it would go quiet and then go on a feeding frenzy with quick movements from place to place – covering far more territory than I would have expected.  The group split up and kept looking.  Catherine Bland and I were further afield than the others and we had very good looks in the open in a couple of spots as it kept moving.  I grabbed a quick photo (the best I would get) and then went to tell the others.  [If I had focused only on a photo for me, I probably would have done better, but that is not the etiquette for the group – and everyone really was good about helping everyone get on birds and I had certainly benefited from others earlier and would again.]  Of course it flew off.  Eventually after persistence everyone got to see this very rare bird.

Tufted Flycatcher (If only I could magically remove the branch…)\

Tufted Flycatcher 2

Tufted Flycatcher-r

There were also some Buff Breasted Flycatchers in the area and this time there was no interfering branch and there was excellent light – bingo a very nice photo.  The two birds are similar but also very different.  Note the two very different bills for example.  Also in some views the tuft of the Tufted Flycatcher was very noticeable.

Buff Breasted Flycatcher

Buff Breasted Flycatcher (2)

Some of us also found a couple of Brown Creepers of the distinctive Mexican albescens subspecies.  These may be split off as a separate species someday.  We saw others later in the tour.

Brown Creeper (definitely not my best work…)

Brown Creeper

We bounced our way back down yet another challenging road and then visited the Beatty’s feeders in Miller Canyon.  A number of great hummingbirds have been seen here in the past including my much sought after White Eared Hummingbird (last seen here in June).  We had a single male Broad Tailed Hummer and I missed a Costa’s but otherwise nothing different.

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

We got back in time for me to do some laundry at the Casa in their top line machines (everything about this place was really superb).  Then the following morning after yet another wonderful breakfast, we met Ron Beck and Dorian Anderson for the steep hike up Hunter Canyon to look for Rufous Capped Warblers.  This was Ron’s home turf and he was terrific.  Some other birders staying at the Casa had tried for and missed the warblers the preceding day.  Ron made sure that we didn’t.  We heard their very quiet calls and got a look not quite at the top.  A few of us continued up with Ron and got even better if fleeting looks and then came back down again for a last look.  This was an ABA Life bird for everyone and was one I had not counted on (but hoped for).  It is a Mexican specialty that is found primarily in this canyon.

Rufous Capped Warbler

Rufous Capped Warbler

We never got a real look but this was the only place on the tour where we had Woodhouse’s Scrubjay – their calls distinctive upslope and just barely seen as they flew away.  I had added this recently split species to my life list on my Colorado trip last year and got a photo then (shown here).

Woodhouse’s Scrubjay (from Colorado trip in 2016)

52-Western Scrubjay Woodhouse Form

We headed back to the Casa de San Pedro sadly to check out.  It gave us another gift as John Harris spotted our only Bronzed Cowbird of the trip on a feeder.  We said our goodbyes and headed off towards the Chricahuas.

Bronzed Cowbird (ABA Life Photo)

Bronzed Cowbird

Leaving for the Chiricahuas we passed through a wetland that added a number of species to our trip list.  In the grasslands we also found an adult Lark Bunting and I was able to get a photo from the back.  Not a particularly charismatic bird, but it was important to me as the only ones I had ever seen were in Presho, S.D. in 1970 on my drive out to California – before I had become a birder but it was distinctly remembered.

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting .jpg

We also had a pair of Chihuahan Ravens.  They were once called White Necked Ravens and as the wind blew some of their feathers, my photo captured some of that white – something I had never seen before.

Chihuahan Ravens

Chihuahan Raven

Our new “home” was the Portal Lodge – a far cry from the Casa de San Pedro.  Barely a two star motel, but safe and well located and probably the only place available for us to stay.  Food was available at the Cafe next door, so convenience ruled the day.  The next morning, before breakfast we visited grasslands in both New Mexico and Arizona and found Curve Billed, Crissal, and Bendire’s Thrashers.  The latter two were ABA Life Photos.

Portal Lodge

Portal Peak Lodge

Curve Billed Thrasher

Curve Billed Thrasher2

Crissal Thrasher

Crissal Thrasher

Bendire’s Thrasher

Bendire's THrasher2

We also heard some Scaled Quail – our only ones of the trip – but diligent searching (repeated the next day) failed to produce a visual.  Fortunately I had good looks and photos of them from my 2016 Colorado trip.

After breakfast and seeing the only Javelina of the trip, we headed up into the Chiricahuas with our main target being Mexican Chickadees – another Life bird for Frank.

Into the Chiricahuas – A Beautiful Place

Portal into the Chiricahuas



There had been some question as to whether we could get to the right habitat because the main road had washed out at Turkey Creek.  Just as we arrived at the trouble spot we saw a road grader – which conveniently had just finished regrading the road and we passed through without any trouble. Just above Onion Saddle we found some Mexican Chickadees – not great views or photo ops (at least compared to the usual experience with the very similar Black Capped Chickadees back home) – but very welcomed.

Mexican Chickadee

Mexican Chickadee

Returning to Portal we visited Maya’s feeders and had our first Blue Throated Hummingbirds of the trip including a female on a nest.  This picture is from the next day at the Southwest Research Station which was a bit of a disappointing experience for me.  Throughout the trip we were told we would find the Blue Throated Hummingbird at the station’s feeders.  I expected a lengthy stay.  Instead the group focused on butterflies (nothing against them but not really interested).  I had finally gone on ahead and grabbed a quick photo of a hummer on a feeder thinking there would be a chance to improve on it, but instead we were going to move on without any visit to the feeders.  Hmmmm?  Glad I took the one shot.

Blue Throated Hummingbird

Blue Throated Hummingbird 3

It was time to move on – heading back to Tucson for a final dinner and then a departure the following day.  On the way we stopped at Twin Lakes in Wilcox where we had a number of shorebirds including my first Baird’s Sandpipers for the year.  A real treat followed with a stop at St. David’s where our leader knew it might be possible to find a Mississippi Kite.  Frank was the first to see it on a fly by.  I missed that one.  We then did a U-turn and we got out of the van just in time to see the Kite disappear.  No photo and I debated whether I could even count it.  We waited hoping it would fly by again.  It did not.  I walked down the road a couple hundred yards and found one perched in the open.  Everyone got great looks as it flew out and then returned to the perch several times.  This time there was a photo – another ABA Life photo for me.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite1r

This would be the last new bird for the trip, the year and for my Life Photo List – a wonderful way to end.  We had a fine dinner at the Four Points Restaurant at the Sheraton across from the Hampton Inn next to the Tucson Airport.

Despite some disappointments and some mismatches for me in terms of how I most like to bird, it had been a very successful trip in most ways.  All told we had seen 180 species.  Of these 6 were new ABA Life Birds, 52 were ABA Life Photos and 72 were new ABA birds for the year.  The Life Birds were Black Capped Gnatcatcher, Lucifer Hummingbird, Rose Throated Becard, Tufted Flycatcher, Rufous Capped Warbler and Mexican Whippoorwill.  They brought me to 690 ABA life birds.  I probably cannot reach the magical 700 mark this year.  But the Arizona photos did put me over 620 ABA Life Photos getting me well past my goal of 600.  I had expected (hoped for?) more new year birds and now stand at 488 ABA birds for the year.  500 should be reachable for the year but with more work than I thought would be necessary after the trip.  I may have to take another trip I guess.

When I got home I took my camera in to see what was wrong.  I got the bad news a couple of days later.  The contacts were corroded and I was told it would cost more to repair it than to get a new one.  Ouch!!  I have ordered one from Amazon.  Maybe I won’t take another trip after all.  Sigh…

Some Scenery Shots

Moon over the Chiricahuas


Chiricahua Scene2


August in Arizona – Part I: The Up before the Down

Similar to my trip to South Florida earlier this year, Southeast Arizona was a repeat of visits long ago – forty years ago in fact.  The two earlier visits, one in December 1976 and one in June 1977 had been early in my birding life (and life in general I guess) and were full of great birds and excitement as visits to one of the great North American birding Meccas should be.  With friends and with some locals but without guides, I had been fortunate to find most of the Arizona specialties.  In those days, however, photography was not even a dream and I had no pictures of any of the great birds.  This trip was intended to hopefully add some new ABA Life birds, lots of new ABA photos and even more new ABA birds for 2017.

Although the vast majority of my birding has been on my own or with friends, I have been fortunate to have been on several tours with well known birding tour companies, and this was the case on this trip joining friend Frank Caruso as I had done in South Florida and participating in the “Second Spring” tour offered by WINGS Birding Tours.  The timing seemed right – August 1 through August 10 – as did the itinerary visiting such iconic places as Mount Lemmon, Madera Canyon, the Huachucas and the Chiricahuas.  The bird lists from previous trips were impressive and suggested that I would find many birds needed to add to all of those aforementioned lists.  Even though most of those birds were seen, it was probably not the best trip for me to take given my specific wants, needs, approaches and quirks – not the best fit for the tour realities and approach – especially as related to photography.  That does not take away from the success of the tour and its quality in most ways at least on the surface and from the perspective of other’s and there were many great moments.  The rest of this post will  be about those good moments without time spent on the mismatching elements.

I have talked about or hinted at some goals for 2017 in earlier posts. Major progress towards three important ones was hoped for on this trip.  Based on Ebird reports and reports of this WINGS trip in previous years, my early analysis for the trip suggested that there was the possibility of adding up to 13 ABA Life birds (some pretty remote), as many as 62 ABA Life photos and as many as 92 new ABA Birds for 2017.  Some species simply did not cooperate this year, as Sinaloa Wren, Plain Capped Starthroat and Aztec Thrush did not reappear in 2017 and the last White Eared Hummingbird sighting was 6 weeks before we arrived.  Road conditions precluded us trying for Buff Collared Nightjar. So that really left only seven new “Lifers” and we were able to find six of them: Mexican Whippoorwill, Tufted Flycatcher, Rufous Capped Warbler, Rose Throated Becard, Black Capped Gnatcatcher and Lucifer Hummingbird – missing the Berylline Hummingbird and Flame Colored Tanager which were both seen by others while we were in the area.  As it turned out another lifer – a Yellow Green Vireo – was also seen while we were in Arizona – the day after we had been in the same spot finding (with great difficulty) the Rose Throated Becards. The looks or photo ops for some of these birds were not terrific, at least in this group setting, but life birds are getting hard to come by and I was happy for those that we had, especially the Rufous Capped Warbler which was expertly found by a local excellent birder, Ron Beck, who joined us specifically to find this rarity in Hunter Canyon.  I had not expected to get the Warbler although I had expected seeing the Tanager, and not doing so was a major disappointment offset by finding the warbler – so it goes.

Rufous Capped Warbler – Hunter Canyon – August 7

Rufous Capped Warbler

Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains was a wonderful way to start our trip as the species changed as we climbed in elevation and the habitats and birdlife changed as we did.  Included in the more than 50 species we saw on our visit were Arizona specialties like Grace’s, Red Faced, Olive and Virginia’s Warblers, Yellow Eyed Junco, Painted Redstart, Mexican Jay, Greater Pewee, Bell’s and Plumbeous Vireo and Zone Tailed Hawk. We also saw Canyon Towhee’s and both Broad Tailed and Broad Billed Hummingbirds in the lowland area.  All were new for the year and new ABA photos – although in a theme to be repeated often during the trip, views were often too fleeting or distant for much quality.  I had seen all of these species here on my earlier visit.

Grace’s Warbler (ABA Life Photo)

Grace's Warbler

Olive Warbler (ABA Life Photo)

Olive Warbler2

Yellow Eyed Junco (ABA Life Photo)

Yellow Eyed Junco4

Red Faced Warbler (ABA Life Photo)

Red Faced Warbler3

Virginia’s Warbler (ABA Life Photo)

Virginia's Warbler4

Zone Tailed Hawk (ABA Life Photo)

Zone Tailed Hawk3

Painted Redstarts (ABA Life Photo)

Painted Redstarts1

Painted Redstart 3

It was cool in the mountains and no rain fell on us.  One of the oddities of the trip was that while I was gone, the Seattle area experienced a real hot spell and there were days in Arizona where temperatures were actually lower than back home.  In August yet – go figure.

After Mount Lemmon we returned to the Hampton Inn in Tucson (comfortable, convenient and very nice folks) and went on to Madera Canyon after dinner for some early night birding.  At dusk we heard and then called in a Mexican Whippoorwill – my first life bird of the trip.  Quick visuals as it flew very close to us but no chance for a photo.  A bit later we had a response from a pair of Whiskered Screech Owls which obliged us by flying to an overhanging branch right over us.  A third was heard and briefly seen.  We also had at least one Common Poorwill calling in the distance (apparently a surprise).

Whiskered Screech Owls (ABA Life Photo)

Whiskered Screech Owl (2)

Whiskered Screech Owls (3)

Whiskered Screech Owls 1 (2)

The following morning started with a visit to see a pair of Burrowing Owls we had not located the day before and then continued in the lowlands and Green Valley before returning to Madera Canyon.  Along the way we found a female Costa’s Hummingbird, Black Throated and Rufous Winged Sparrows, and an Antelope Jackrabbit.  I had been frustrated the previous day hearing but not finding any Bell’s Vireos.  Today was better as I found a Bell’s Vireo on a nest.  We had great looks at some Black Tailed Gnatcatchers and a less than great look at a female or juvenile Black Capped Gnatcatcher – but good enough to see the tail pattern that allowed the identification of Life bird #2.

Costa’s Hummingbird

Costa ' s Hummingbird Female 1

Black Throated Sparrow

Black Throated Sparrow3

Antelope Jackrabbit

Antelope Jackrabbit

Bell’s Vireo on Nest (ABA Life Photo)

Bell's Vireo at Nest (2)

Black Tailed Gnatcatcher (ABA Life Photo)

Black Tailed Gnatcatcher 1 (2)

Black Capped Gnatcatcher (ABA Life Photo)

Black Capped Gnatcatcher

We found some Cassin’s Sparrows and also at Florida Canyon we had a pair of Northern Beardless Tyrannulets – cooperating for photos and a Varied Bunting, a brief look at Yellow Billed Cuckoo and our first Lucy’s Warblers.

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (ABA Life Photo)

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet 2

Varied Bunting (ABA Life Photo)

Varied Bunting

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

Yellow Billed Cuckoo2

Lucy’s Warbler (ABA Life Photo)

Lucy's Warbler1 (2)

Then we were back in Madera Canyon watching the many hummingbird feeders.  Nothing super exotic – lots of Black Chinned and Broad Billed Hummers and a couple of Anna’s and then we had our first Rivoli’s (formerly Magnificent) Hummingbirds.  We also had our only Arizona Woodpecker for the trip.

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Broad Billed Hummingbird (ABA Life Photo)

Broad Billed Hummingbird4

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (ABA Life Photo)

Rivoli's Hummingbird

Arizona Woodpecker (ABA Life Photo)

Arizona Woodpecker

Full disclosure has to include that I bird better and enjoy it more when I am birding alone or in a very small group.  But the many added eyes and ears with a bigger group is often helpful and all of the participants in this group contributed in that and other ways throughout the tour.  I was especially grateful for the good eyes and ears of many in finding some tough birds – in addition to good spirits.  But the resources in this birding paradise are not limited to members of one’s own tour group.  Especially in places like Madera Canyon, there are many others around – drawn by its great birds.  I followed one of these folks across the street from the Madera feeders and we quickly found some Sulphur Bellied Flycatchers, another SE Arizona specialty and this time I was able to alert the rest of our group and they joined in.

Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher (ABA Life Photo)

Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher

Especially since our Comfort Inn accommodations in Green Valley were just “okay”, it would have been nice to have stayed at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon (where I had stayed on that trip so many years ago).  While there we had really good looks at a number of Mexican Jays and also learned that the Elf Owls that had nested in the area were still being seen – a fact that would prove valuable that evening.

Mexican Jay (ABA Life Photo)

Mexican Jay

After another good dinner, we headed back to Madera Canyon finding several Lesser Nighthawks enroute.  At Santa Rita Lodge, our guide played the Elf Owl call and perhaps because I wanted the photo so bad, this was a rare time when I first spied a bird – as the owl came into the open just ahead of us.  Not a great photo but no mistaking this little guy.  It was a new ABA photo for me and made up for a major disappointment in my South Texas trip in 2013.  Our guide had saved a visit to a known Elf Owl nest in a cactus for the end of the day – but it was a no-show.  I think the guide had felt almost worse than we did.

Lesser Nighthawks (ABA Life Photo)

Elf Owl (ABA Life Photo)

Elf Owl

The next morning took us to Tumacacori National Historic Park where we met Will Russell and Matt Brooks from the WINGS office in Tucson.  We were also joined by Dorian Anderson , a very interesting guy who in 2015 had done a “Bicycle Big Year”.  Dorian was critical in finding Rose Throated Becards along the Santa Cruz River.  Our views were distant and fleeting and it took a couple of hours, but we did see this species – Lifer #3 for me.  I got a terrible photo but was happy for anything.  (I later learned that a group that came the next day found the Becard’s nest and not only got good photos but also found a Yellow Green Vireo which would have been a lifer as well.

Rose Throated Becard

[Nope – too poor to really include my photo.  🙂 ]

Afterwards we headed towards Nogales and Patagonia.  We found our first Gray Hawk and at the famous Roadside Rest near Patagonia, we found a family of three Thick Billed Kingbirds which we viewed after one of our picnic lunches.

Gray Hawk (ABA Life Photo)

Gray Hawk Perched

Gray Hawk Flight

Thick Billed Kingbirds (Adult and Juvenile) (ABA Life Photo)

Thick Billed Kingbird1

Thick Billed Kingbird Juvenile

Before arriving at our fabulous next place to stay, the Casa de San Pedro B and B, we stopped at the Paton’s Hummingbird feeders and among others had our only Violet Crowned Hummingbirds.  We also had our only Inca Dove in the Paton’s yard.

Violet Crowned Hummingbird (ABA Life Photo)

Violet Crowned Hummingbird 2

Inca Dove (ABA Life Photo)

Inca Dove-r

Just as it had been cooler in Arizona than at home in Seattle, it had also been wetter as Seattle was continuing a record dry spell.  There had been rain a couple of times during our trip and at the Paton’s yard there was more.  Maybe it was because of this or maybe it was already in the works, but disaster struck for me as my camera went – DEAD!!!  The Canon 7D is supposed to be essentially almost waterproof – certainly highly resistant.  The last thing I had decided not to take as I packed for this trip was a back up camera.  Given the broken binoculars experience on the Florida trip I had packed a spare pair of bins but I already had too much stuff and just decided that there was no way the camera would fail.  Not so.  95% of the reason for the trip was to get photos, so this was a very very low moment.  We were only 3 birding days into the trip and I had no camera.  Depression was an understatement.

Deep Breath – Pause – Consider Alternate Plans A, B, C and D.  Maybe a few tears.  Definitely a few swear words.

Alternate Plan A was to order a new camera from Amazon and have it expressed to me.  At best this would take three days and it would be yet another spare camera at home.

Alternate Plan B was to ask Lynette to go to my condo and get the camera that was sitting out – the one I had decided not to take – and have her express mail it to me.  That would probably take two days and I was not real sure where the battery charger was etc.  (Besides the condo was not exactly spiffy clean…)

Alternate Plan C was to see if I might at least take a few photos with another trip members camera – fall far short of my trip goals but get some photos (I already had 33 ABA Life Photos – but was hoping for almost that many more ahead.)  At best this would be awkward.

Alternate Plan D grew out of Alternate Plan C and was one of those beautiful life moments/happenings.  All of the tour participants were really good folks – varying priorities and skill levels and backgrounds and experiences.  Many in the group took some photos, but nobody was really into the photography and three of the others were in fact using the same camera that I would have brought as my backup – the Canon SX50.  John Harris, a now retired professor from Mills College was one of the three.  He was great at finding birds (and mammals and reptiles and plants) and definitely was taking photos, but he came to my rescue and allowed me to use his camera – taking pictures for both of us.  Not what I had planned or expected but very much a saving act of kindness.

John Harris – later at the Portal Lodge

John Harris at Portal Store1

There are lots of good folks in the world – and I would bet a higher than usual percentage in the birding community.

There was now light in the tunnel and we were off to the wonderful Casa de San Pedro Bed and Breakfast for three nights – our base of operations for forays into the Huachuca Mountains.  We had seen 100 species on the trip – 3 ABA Life Birds and the 33 ABA Life Photos and 40 new ABA Year Birds.  This is a good place to close Part I and the Casa de San Pedro will be a good place to start Part II.