Southeast Arizona: Photo Improvement Day

I finally did get a good night’s sleep at the Ramsey Canyon Inn B&B and after a short walk near the Inn, I was looking forward to a good breakfast. There were only three guests at the Inn on Monday night and I was the first to get to the table and as it turned out, the other guests came only as I was finished and leaving – just as well in these days of COVID-19. I had taken every precaution I could and felt safe at all times, but the fewer the contacts the better.

The breakfast was excellent and far larger than I usually have. Darrell prepared a main dish of sausage, cheese, vegetables and a scrumptious sauce on a crisp croissant base. There was a fruit, yogurt and granola compote and some yummy banana nut bread. Great Earl Grey tea and a fruit juice washed it down. This was another moment that I knew Cindy would enjoy and I hope we will return someday.

The Main Lodge
The Lodge Main Room

It was time to say goodbye and start working my way back to the Phoenix Airport but with an important stop on W. Ina Road just north of Tucson to try to improve my earlier photos of the Northern Jacana. I birded a bit in a residential area just outside of Ramsey Canyon and while there was nothing rare, there were certainly birds found nowhere close to my home turf in Edmonds, Washington. The first bird I saw was a very hoped for Greater Roadrunner. Not a great photo, but as it had run across the road in front of me and then seemingly disappeared in the brush I was happy to get one at all.

Greater Roadrunner

In a shrub not far from the Roadrunner I heard a rattling call that I soon confirmed was a Cactus Wren. On a wire further down the road a perched bird left to pursue an insect and then returned. I counted it as a Western Kingbird forgetting that in this location, it was far more likely a Cassin’s Kingbird so I made the change which made Ebird happy.

Cactus Wren

A pair of Gambel’s Quail were calling and briefly appeared down a side road and two Curve Billed Thrasher’s chattered at a house with a number of House and White Crowned Sparrows and the only Northern Cardinal I saw on the trip. I saw what I am pretty sure was a Crissal Thrasher, two Canyon Towhees, a Chihuahan Raven and a Phainopepla. The sparrows aside, I would not expect to see any of these species in Washington, although a Phainopepla showed up in Sequim last year. Heading back to the main highway, the last bird seen was a Loggerhead Shrike, a migrant that is now replaced in Washington by its close cousin Northern Shrike.

Curve Billed Thrasher
Loggerhead Shrike
Gambel’s Quail

I was not specifically trying to add birds to my trip list but I had lots of time and seeing these regular Arizona birds was fun. This is a great birding area and unless the pandemic ravage makes it impossible, I hope to get back in 2021. Now, though it was time to take care of business, to return to the Santa Cruz River and improve on my earlier photos of the Northern Jacana. The route was familiar and easy and this time I knew both where to park and where to look.

Just as I started out onto the bridge two more birders pulled into the parking area and were soon following me. I hoped I would see the Jacana and be able to point it out to them. Just as I reached the place on the bridge where the water was visible, the Jacana flew from the vegetation right under me and went down river travelling at least 80 yards. Was it gone? No, it thankfully did a U-turn and flew back towards me landing on vegetation to my left that was much closer to me than when I first came to this spot two days ago, a much improved photo op although not what it would have been if it had not flushed as I arrived. The light was almost straight overhead so not perfect and the bird was still distant but I started snapping photos and was able to catch the Jacana with its wings up as it settled in to begin its foraging.

Northern Jacana

Unfortunately when the other birders arrived, the wing show was over. But the Jacana spent the next 20 minutes feeding on that same bit of vegetation moving both somewhat closer and somewhat further always in sight and affording us chances for appreciative observations and photographs. I took many and include only one more which shows the enormous toes that allow the bird to distribute its weight so widely and thus be able to walk atop the vegetation. Now I had photos that were worthy of this wonderful rare bird.

Northern Jacana

Another birder showed up at the bridge. He never said a word; took a few photos and left. I hope that was not a lifer and he considered such a brief view good enough to count it as such. I savored what I expected would be my last ever view of a Jacana and then moved on. Just under 25 years ago on November 29, 1975 I saw a Brown Jay, another then Texas rarity/specialty at Falcon Dam State Park between Brownsville and Laredo on the Rio Grande River. It is another bird on my ABA Life list for which I have no photo. There have been sporadic sightings of this species in the same general since then with the most recent being in 2012. Maybe someday I will be able to scratch that species off my photo needed list. Someday…

Brown Jay 2010 – Not my photo

I had looked into catching an earlier flight but even without a change fee, it was just far too expensive. It was still early in the day and it was hot and getting hotter – over 90 degrees. It would have been great to go to Mount Lemmon outside of Tucson but there was not enough time for that. I opted to visit Encanto Park in Phoenix where I had added Rosy Faced Lovebirds to my ABA Life list in February 2018. They are a lovely little parrot like bird and would be a fitting way to end my trip. Despite the heat there were many people in the park. Also many waterfowl in the ponds and hundreds of both European Starlings and Rock Pigeons. There were also many Great Tailed Grackles which were also at the Northern Jacana stakeout spot. I finally had two Lovebirds fly overhead and figured that would do it. It was hours before my flight was scheduled to leave and the airport was close, but I decided to go to the terminal which at least would be air conditioned.

Great Tailed Grackle

I pulled out of the park and saw a large flock of what appeared to be doves feeding in the grass on a lawn. A few birds seemed smaller and I thought they might be some Common Ground Doves which I was surprised I had not seen on this trip. I pulled over to look and among many Mourning Doves were a half dozen Rosy Faced Lovebirds. That’s birding. You just never know. It was a great end to a great trip. My flight home left early and arrived early. Wish I had gone a month ago but sure glad I finally made the trip.

Rosy Faced Lovebird
Rosy Faced Lovebird

SE Arizona – Not Quite Too Late – Part 3

Two down and one to go…or so I hoped. Or how about something else. Plans for Monday were unclear. Originally Monday was to be the day to look for the Eared Quetzal in the morning. I had no reservation anywhere for that night but had confirmed that I could remain at Portal Peak Lodge for one more night in case I failed to find the Quetzals. Now all of that was moot. The Quetzals had cooperated on Sunday afternoon. One possibility was to work to remove one more species from my seen but not photographed list and try for a photo of a Sprague’s Pipit. That would mean a trip to the San Rafael Grasslands. The Pipits were there but it was a huge area and definitely no guaranty of a sighting let alone a picture.

Another option was to follow up on reports the previous day of a White Eared Hummingbird and a Plain Capped Starthroat in Ramsey Canyon in the Huachucas. Either would be an ABA Lifer. There were decent descriptions of the two birds by the same observer but no photos. Were they real? This was a couple of hours away. I could try that and leave a return try for the Ruddy Ground Dove that I had missed in Tucson for Tuesday morning as I headed back to my Phoenix flight home.

Once again my poor sleeping habits made my choice easy. I was up early and on the road well before 5:00 a.m. on Monday – heading northwest back to Tucson and to the place I thought most likely to find the Ruddy Ground Doves – Fort Lowell Park and Pantano Wash where I had missed the doves by an hour the day before. The important aspect of my early departure was that I would be able to get to the park by 7:00 a.m. at least theoretically before the dogs and casual users. That part worked perfectly as the only stop I made on the way was to capture a picture of a spectacular sunrise.

Arizona Sunset

I made it to the park around 7:00 a.m. and essentially had it to myself. I went immediately to the area between the two baseball fields where the doves had been seen. The first bird I saw was a Vermilion Flycatcher already perched on the fence and looking for bugs. These are truly spectacular birds. Spectacular is great but I would have greatly preferred a Ruddy Ground Dove…none there. I walked around the area including the private residential area behind the fence at the border of the park. A raptor flew directly over my head and perched briefly on a tree nearby before flying off. I had seen a Red Tailed Hawk there the previous day, but this was a little smaller buteo with a speckled back and rusty and white striping on its belly. I quickly identified it as a Red Shouldered Hawk and thought little of it. It turns out if was very rare for the area and now I wish I had gotten a photo.

As I had the day before, I found a Phainopepla, Western Bluebirds, Lark Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches. I also had a nice female Ladder Backed Woodpecker and a Gila Woodpecker. It was warming and the light was improving and I hoped this would bring out the doves.

Ladder Backed Woodpecker
Vermilion Flycatcher

I circled the target area again and finally saw some doves – only Mourning Doves but maybe they were an omen. The day before the birder who had seen the Ruddy Ground Doves an hour earlier said they had even perched for awhile on the fence. I had looked there often and saw nothing. On my third loop I saw yet another Vermilion Flycatcher on the top of the fence. Very near it was another somewhat small bird that at first I thought might be a second flycatcher…BUT WAIT and OMG…it was a small dove. And there it was my Lifer Ruddy Ground Dove. I got a quick distant photo and then worked my way closer. A second dove appeared out of nowhere and landed on the ground near the first one. This one was a little darker. Another photo. Then a better look and photo of the first one still on the fence.

Vermilion Flycatcher on the Fence
Ruddy Ground Dove on the Fence – Lifer Photo
Second and Ruddier Ground Dove

The doves then both flew up into the dense trees behind the fence. One disappeared and one posed for a picture before it too disappeared. It was easy to believe they had been in the same tree when I was there the day before but invisible to me.

Ruddy Ground Dove

I wish I was a better sleeper but at times like this, I recognize the benefits of early starts. It was not even 8 a.m. and I had traveled over 100 miles, added a lifer and fulfilled the third of the main goals of the trip. I celebrated with an overpriced but tasty doughnut and some fresh coffee…filled the gas tank and headed to Ramsey Canyon with visions of hummingbirds (and Ruddy Ground Doves) floating in my head. I called the Ramsey Canyon B&B from the road and confirmed a room was available. It was at the high end of my budget, but I was in a celebratory mood and planned to relax and spend most of my time watching their feeders hoping for a rare hummingbird.

It was only 90 miles to Ramsey Canyon, half of it at 80 mph on Interstate 10. I arrived before 10:00 a.m. and was able to check in right away choosing one of the beautiful rooms in the Lodge section. Needing sleep that night I asked for a “quiet room”. There was only one other guest that night so that seemed easy and it turned out to be that much needed quietude. The rooms at the Inn had been redone a couple of years ago and they truly are lovely. This was one place that Cindy would have enjoyed. The other places I had stayed on this trip, she would have tolerated.

My Lovely Room

There are several hummingbird and other feeders at the Inn. They are open to the public with some chairs and benches. I had noticed hummers coming to the feeder before I moved in and now this is where I would position myself for much of the rest of the day hoping for something unusual. Not long after I started my vigil, I was joined by another birder. It was Paul Chad from San Diego who I had met at Cave Creek Canyon where we watched the Eared Quetzals. He is an excellent birder and his younger eyes are sharper than mine, so the company was welcome. He was hoping for a lifer Plain Capped Starthroat. Sounded good to me but my somewhat more possible target was a White Eared Hummingbird. Both had been seen here the previous month and as written earlier both had been reported by a single observer the previous day, but without photos, I was not convinced.

Hummingbirds were around and visiting the feeders, but not great numbers and rarely more than one or two at a time. There were at least 4 Anna’s Hummingbirds and 3 Rivoli’s Hummingbirds. The latter are significantly larger and are immediately noticeable accordingly when they fly in. The Plain Capped Starthroat is about the same size as the Rivoli’s and the White Eared Hummingbird is just a tad smaller than the Anna’s so it was important to check each visitor carefully.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird

It would have been nice if each view of each hummingbird was as good as those in the two photos above, but such was not the case as often we got only views from the back with no ability to see facial patterns or even bill colors. Easy to tell an Anna’s from a Rivoli’s from any angle by the size alone but size alone would not distinguish between Rivoli’s and the Starthroat or the Anna’s and the White Eared. Compare the photos below.

Probably a Rivoli’s
Plain Capped Starthroat (not my photo)

The one on the top is of what I am almost certain was a Rivoli’s at the Inn and the one below is of a Starthroat (not my photo). In neither case is the color of the gorget visible and it is only somewhat feasible to make out the face pattern and belly color. Now look at these two photos. The Starthroat has a partially red gorget and the Rivoli’s is turquoise.

Plain Capped Starthroat Gorget
Rivoli’s Gorget

The latter is also generally distinguishable with its much darker chest and belly while the Starthroat is generally more clear. These differences are not so telling in poor light or when the angle does not show the iridescence of the gorget but for each of our observations they made it easy to identify each bird we saw as a Rivoli’s – except for one challenging observation. It was a quick view only from the back on the feeder. The hummer was large and seemed to have the facial pattern of the Starthroat. It flew off quickly and Paul, who was standing across the feeder from me, thought he caught some red in the throat. I was not going to call it one way or the other but especially as we never saw it again, I am not going to it call it the Starthroat. As much as he wanted it otherwise, I think Paul reached the same conclusion.

A somewhat easier but still tough call was a probable White Eared Hummingbird observation. On three occasions I saw a small green backed hummingbird visit one of the feeders. On the first occasion I got a quick look at the face and noted a facial pattern with a white “ear” stripe and some dark below, that seemed right for the White Eared Hummingbird (see photo below) and maybe a hint of color on the lower mandible. It was chased off by an Anna’s within a second. I tried to grab a photo but was far too slow.

White Eared Hummingbird (not my photo)

About 90 minutes later I had another quick view but only from the back at the same feeder. I had done some more reading about the White Eared Hummingbird in that interim period and this time paid specific attention to the tail when it flew off – which it did again almost immediately being chased off by two Anna’s. On each occasion, the White Eared Hummingbird seemed noticeably smaller than the Anna’s. The actual average size difference is only 1/4 to 1/2 inch but when the bird is less than 4 inches I guess that is meaningful – especially when seen together. This time armed with more info I noted that there was no white on the tail at all – completely dark – whereas an Anna’s has white on the outer tail feathers. It was only a very brief view, but I felt comfortable with that observation. I just wished that I could have gotten a picture, but there was no time.

The third time was almost exactly the same as the first two – again about 90 minutes after the previous visit. Except this time Paul Chad was present and had the briefest of looks and thought he saw the appropriate face pattern as the bird flew off instantly when again chased by an Anna’s. A White Eared Hummingbird is a life bird for me. If I piece together parts of the three observations and Paul’s details, I am comfortable that I saw what was most likely a female or young White Eared Hummingbird. Not the “lifer” experience I would [refer but I am at least provisionally keeping it on my list with hopes to improve it and get a picture in the future.

So much for hummingbirds. There were other nice birds seen at or near the feeders. Without details, here are some of the better photos.

Painted Redstart
Red Naped Sapsucker
Hepatic Tanager Female
Acorn Woodpecker
Yellow Eyed Junco
Bridled Titmouse
Arizona Woodpecker
White Breasted Nuthatch
Cassin’s Finches

I took a break to go into town for some lunch and a pick up for a very simple dinner and then returned for a couple of hours of feeder watch in the afternoon. Nothing new and no candidates for unusual hummingbirds although a Rufous Hummingbird was new for the day. The lack of sleep finally did catch up with me and as the shadows around 4:00 slowed bird activity, I dozed for a bit and then uploaded and worked on photos from what had been a very full and very fun day.

It was very quiet that night and since breakfast was not until 8:00 a.m. I mostly slept in before a short pre-breakfast walk hoping to see some Javelinas which I had seen on my first visit to Ramsey Canyon and the Mile-Hi Ranch over 40 years ago. The Canyon was deep in shadows and almost bird free except for the noisy Mexican Jays and Acorn Woodpeckers and some Wild Turkeys feeding on a hillside. Some deer but no Javelinas.

I have decided to end this post here and to start another one with the great breakfast made by host Darrell at the Ramsey Canyon B&B. It will include my attempt to get improved photos of the Northern Jacana and a few other observations.

SE Arizona – Not Quite Too Late – Part 2

As I drove south and mostly east on Interstate 10 I repeated a thought that I often have on bird chases that things rarely go exactly as planned. The original thinking had been that I would arrive at the Northern Jacana stakeout spot at around 9:00 a.m. and that it might take an hour or so for the Northern Jacana to make an appearance and to get first a view and then a photo. Then I had allowed another half hour to get to Himmel Park where I had allocated another hour to find and photograph the Ruddy Ground Dove. So with luck I would be on the road to Cave Creek Canyon before noon arriving there around 3:00 p.m.

Perhaps I had not paid sufficient attention to the many reports of the Eared Quetzal observations but it was my sense that the best chance to find the birds (there were two) was early in the morning. So I figured I would get to Portal Peak Lodge around 2:30 p.m., check in, get some food to eat later at the accompanying “store” and then scope out the area planning for the Quetzal search the next morning. The plan and the reality looked almost nothing alike. I had arrived at the Jacana bridge before 7:00 a.m. and had seen and photographed the Jacana within seconds. Even with a 20 minute stay hoping for better photos I was WAY ahead of schedule. As I drove to Himmel Park, I thought I might find the Ruddy Ground Dove as quickly and be able to get to Cave Creek in time to look for and maybe even find the Quetzals that day. As written in my previous blogs, those Ruddy Ground Doves did not cooperate and I spent about 3 hours traveling to and between three parks that failed to produce a single Ground DoveRuddy or not. Oh well, I still had the next day for the Quetzals and the following day to try again for the Ruddy Ground Doves.

One step forward, one step back and then another step forward. It being Sunday, traffic was very light heading south on I-10. The speed limit was generally 75 mph and what traffic there was seemed to be traveling at least 7 mph faster. That was fine by me. I had plotted out the route from Tucson to Portal as part of my pre-trip planning. I was to take I-10 for about 120 miles and then take exit 382 onto Noland Road. I had my Garmin GPS with me and as I approached exit 382, it called for a different route. Sometimes Garmin gets out of whack, so I opted to go where Google Maps told me and turned onto Noland road as suggested. The route was a surprise as soon I was on a dirt and gravel road. It was in good condition but not what I had expected and this continued for at least 25 miles. Still, I made good time and arrived at my lodging for the night by 1:30 p.m. What the heck maybe I would have time to find the Quetzals.

Cave Creek Canyon is in the Chiricahua Mountains which is the largest of the so-called Sky Mountains in Arizona. The elevation ranges from 4500 feet to just ender 10,000 feet. I first visited the area in June 1977 early in my birding career. Among the attractions then was the Elegant Trogon (sometimes called an Elegant Quetzal), a bird I photographed there on my only other visit in August 2017. The scenery is spectacular with cliffs visible behind and above the trees around every turn. There are lots of great birds in the Chiricahuas with the Trogon always being a prize and the many hummingbird species a major attraction.

Entrance to Cave Creek Canyon
Chiricahua Scenery

I arrived at the Portal Peak Lodge around 1:30 p.m. This was the same place I had styed for a couple of nights with a WINGS tour in August 2017. The Lodge rooms are “ok”. The store is “minimal” and the accompanying restaurant is “limited” but welcomed. The price and location are just right for my purposes. I checked in and then headed to Forest Road 42 to start my search at Sunny Flats Campground. The Eared Quetzals had mostly been seen feeding on hackberries in the area between the Campground and a private residence aptly named Trogon Roost. Parking was said to be limited.

My hope was to get to the area, do an exploratory test drive and hopefully find some birders with binoculars or cameras trained on a Quetzal. I found the campground, found Trogon Roost, but did not find a single birder and not a parking place that I was certain was legal. I elected to drive back to the campground, which was closed, park on the entrance road and then hike the area looking for a large green and red bird with a long tail. I quickly found some Acorn Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays and a single Arizona Woodpecker. The latter two are predominantly Mexican species that in the U.S. are found exclusively in Southeast Arizona and a small area in New Mexico (and in Big Bend in Texas for the Jay). I am not paying much attention to ABA listing during this travel restricted year but they are good birds any time.

Arizona Woodpecker
Mexican Jay

Just after getting a picture of the Arizona Woodpecker, a car approached. Odds are good that any car at this spot has a birder and possibly one looking for Eared Quetzals. This proved true on both accounts. It was Peg Abbott whose recent Ebird report of her observations of the Quetzals had been my best guide for my search. She told me that the Quetzals had moved and were more likely to be seen much farther up the road past Trogon Roost and close to the bridge. She offered me a ride rather than me going back to my car and then adding another car to the limited area for parking up ahead.

As we approached the bridge, we saw three birders with cameras and binoculars trained on something. Odds were good that it was the Quetzals. I got out while Peg parked further up. Adrenalin kicked in. Birders are almost always glad to share their sightings and as I approached they confirmed that they were seeing a Quetzal and pointed me in the right direction. Adrenalin increased. The Quetzal was buried in the brush something less than 100 feet off the road but I got a quick look and a miserable photo. Then it moved closer and somewhat into the clear for a few seconds. A little better but not a good photo but I was thrilled to see this very rare bird that had been attracting birders from all over the United States for two months now. It was the major motivation for this trip.

Over the next 30+ minutes we were treated to a number of vocalizations, the appearance of a second Quetzal and sporadic great views much closer to us. I took many photos and was very pleased. My only regret was that I could not get a clearly focused one of it in flight with its tail splayed showing large white spots. It was a wonderful experience.

Eared Quetzal
Eared Quetzal
Eared Quetzal Flight

Not expecting to stray far from where I had parked, I had left my backpack in the car. That unfortunately was where my spare camera batteries were located and sure enough I had taken so many photos that day that my battery was on its last gasp. It was about a mile back to my car. I was pleased with the photos I had and really enjoyed hearing and seeing these very rare birds. I decided to walk back to the car and then decide whether to return for more photos with the new battery in place. On the way back, a flock of Wild Turkeys crossed the road in front of me. I took pictures with my phone.

Wild Turkeys

Since it was Sunday, the Portal store and restaurant would be closing at 5:00 pm. It was after 3:30 pm when I got to the car and decided that it would be best to get back to the Lodge, unload my stuff and get some food for later. Seeing the Eared Quetzals was a great ending for the day and I was more than happy. I ordered a taco salad to go for dinner. It was excellent.

I believe these Eared Quetzals may be the first seen in the U.S. in 11 years. Prior to that these there were a few sightings in 2009 and some sporadic reports from the 1990’s. After the birds were found in the Chiricahuas in August this year, a pair was also found in New Mexico. Well more than 100 ABA listers have come from all over the U.S. to see this mega rarity in the past 3 months. Trogons/Quetzals are residents of tropical forests worldwide. The greatest diversity is in the Neotropics with 25 species. There are 3 species in Africa and another 12 species are found in southeast Asia. The Eared Quetzal and the Elegant Trogon are the only ones that have been recorded in the U.S. The Eared Quetzal was the 16th trogon/quetzal species that I have seen. All have been in the New World including ones in Peru, Brazil, Trinidad, Belize and Costa Rica. All of these birds are quite spectacular and colorful. Below is my photo of the Elegant Trogon from Cave Creek three years ago.

Elegant Trogon – Cave Creek August 2017

Yes, things do not always go according to plans and on trips like this there are usually highs and lows. A big high finding the Northern Jacana and then a big low missing the Ruddy Ground Dove. Then a really big high seeing the Eared Quetzals. Not too shabby for one day. I returned to the lodge and hoped for a good night sleep. I wasn’t sure what the next day would hold. I did not have a room reservation anywhere and there were many options. As it turned out I did not sleep all that well and was up very early. But that is a story for another day and another blog post.

SE Arizona – Not Quite Too Late – Part 1

In recent blogs, I have bemoaned missing all the wonderful rare birds being seen in the birder’s mecca of Southeast Arizona. After seeing reports from Washington birders and talking to people who had flown recently and felt they were safe, I finally booked a flight for a short visit targeting some of the remaining rarities. I really needed to get away as the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, a crazy election season and too many unsuccessful recent chases in Washington had me feeling pretty low. As has been the case from the first time we met, Cindy was understanding and supportive, assuaging my guilt for a first jump into the world of air travel since the pandemic had set in.

The bad news was that there had been no recent reports of the Plain Capped Starthroat, Berylline and White Eared Hummingbirds, Crescent Chested Warbler, Buff Breasted Nightjar and Flame Colored Tanager that had been present earlier. The good news and sufficient reason to go was that there were daily sightings of Ruddy Ground Dove and Eared Quetzal which would be ABA Lifers and Northern Jacana which would be an ABA Photo lifer. I thought the Ground Dove and Jacana would be sure things and easy and that the Quetzal, the highest priority, would be probable but might take some work.

The plan was to fly to Phoenix on the evening of October 31st, driving to Casa Grande for the night, and then continuing to the bridge over the Santa Cruz River early on November 1st for the Jacana and then on to Himmel Park in Tucson where the Ruddy Ground Doves were being reported daily. I left most of that day for those two species to be followed by the 3 hour drive to Cave Creek Canyon to look for the Eared Quetzal the following day. I left the third day open to clean up any misses before driving back to Phoenix for a night flight home. Things went only somewhat according to plan.

My worries about an absence of social distancing at the airport disappeared quickly as I was the ONLY person going though security when I arrived and then found plenty of room at the gate waiting area. The flight was about one-half full with all center seats unsold per the COVID-19 changes adopted by Alaska Airlines. The flight left on time and we were treated to an awesome close up view of Mount Rainier.

A good flight and then to my rental car at Phoenix. The rental car center is HUGE!!! I must have walked 1/4 mile to get to the car. An easy drive to the motel in Casa Grande where I was “upgraded” to a room with a king bed. Unfortunately the room was across from the ice machine and a soda machine. Their condensers ran all night and I doubt I got more than 3 hours sleep. So up early for the hour drive to the W. Ina Road stakeout for the Northern Jacana – hopefully.

All the reports said the bird was feeding on vegetation on the south side of the bicycle path on the bridge over the river. The pull out was not clearly “public” and a police car was parked adjacent to it. I decided it best to ask if it was okay to park there. The officer wondered about my camera and binoculars but said it was fine. I wondered if I had disturbed his morning nap.

I had seen a Northern Jacana at Manor Lake in Texas on April 25, 1978 but was not taking photos then. They were regular there then but long ago became very hard to find. I have been working to get photos of ABA birds seen in those early days and had gotten the missing list down to 15 species (with another 10 seen but not photographed in more recent years) so I needed a photo to go with an observation. As soon as I got to the right spot on the bridge I spotted a reddish brown bird with a bright yellow bill and knob on its forehead feeding on water plants. It was far away but no doubt I had my target. It took all of one second. The light was only so-so and the bird was distant, so I got only very crappy photos. Good enough for an ID and my ABA Photo List but not very satisfying. I waited for 20 minutes hoping the Jacana would move to patches closer to me, but it moved farther out instead. I decided to move on to go for the Ruddy Ground Dove at Himmel Park in Tucson about an hour away.

Northern Jacana – First ABA Photos – Awful Ones

All of the reports indicated that the Ground Doves (as many as 4) were seen in the company of House Finches feeding on the ground near the library at the southwest corner of the park. I quickly found the library and could see the probable grazing area. Looking good — well maybe not. There were lots of House Finches and Lark Sparrows and Yellow Rumped Warblers and Dark Eyed Juncoes but no doves at all. I thought it was going to be easy – silly me. I had traveled this road before trying for Ruddy Ground Doves at the Red Rock feedlots in Arizona a couple of years ago. They had been seen near the ranch house. When I got there, a crew of six men were cleaning or landscaping or whatever at the spot. No birds anywhere.

What I had not planned on was that it was Sunday morning and the park was full of people enjoying it for things other than birds, including MANY folks with their dogs off leash despite the signs requiring the contrary. And many times the owners and their dogs went right through the area where the doves had been seen. Was that the reason that I did not find my target? As I said earlier there were many House Finches and many Lark Sparrows but not a single dove. But as is often the case, there were consolation prizes including several Vermilion Flycatchers, a couple of Abert’s Towhees and a rare for the location Clay Colored Sparrow. And it wasn’t just me as there were several local birders there looking for the doves including one who had seen them there previously and was very familiar with the area. Just not to be this time. I spent over an hour searching and then moved to Plan B which was another nearby park where Ruddy Doves had been reported the day before.

Vermilion Flycatcher
Lark Sparrow
Abert’s Towhee

That next stop was Fort Lowell Park and Pantano Wash. Not quite as many people or dogs and several birders. I asked one if he had seen the Ruddy Ground Doves and was told that two had been seen maybe an hour ago in the same area they had been reported the day before. I found Verdin, two Phainopeplas, more Vermilion Flycatchers, Lesser Goldfinches, many House Finches, Dark Eyed Juncoes, Lark and Chipping Sparrows, a pair of Western Meadowlarks and 5 Western Bluebirds. The only doves were fly over Rock Pigeons. Another hour was spent mostly in the area where the doves had been reported. I was beginning to feel jinxed.

Western Meadowlarks
Lesser Goldfinch

Since I had gotten an early start it was now just past 9:30. There was one more park to try. Palo Verde Park was another 15 minutes away. The good news was that there were very few people. There were also many doves – 2 Mourning Doves and at least 40 Rock Pigeons. No Ground Doves – of any type. There were over 30 Lark Sparrows which was probably more than I had seen total in my life previously. I gave it a half hour and then conceded defeat. It was 11:00 a.m. and about 3 hours to Cave Creek Canyon where I hoped an Eared Quetzal was waiting for me.

Stay Tuned…