In 1955, a primal urge got the best of my uncle, the need
to drive across the country.It is, I
think, is one of those “man things”.He
drove across the country from North Carolina
to Whittier, California
to visit his sister, taking his family and my grandmother.Back in the days before interstates, they
drove US 70, Route 66, and other “non-super” highways, traveling through some
of the most wonderful scenery in America,
My grandmother subscribed to Arizona Highways for a couple of years after the trip and would
save the back issues for me.I truly
treasured those magazines, as I did my baseball card collection and other
collections, and wish I had them today.When
you go off to college, mothers tend to throw out things of value without asking,
psychologically scaring young men for life.
Highways left a lasting impression on me.Now I visit in person and find, other that the suburban sprawl around Phoenix
and Tucson, the beauty is still
there.It would be very difficult for
humans to ruin the sun setting behind those sky islands.
My love for Arizona
explains why I would dare go birding in Southeastern Arizona
in late October.I had a business
meeting in Dallas on Wednesday,
October 23, and since that pretty much wrecked the work week, I decided to cash
in an American Airlines free ticket and fly from Dallas
to Tucson for three days of birding,
before returning to Dallas on
Saturday and then North Carolina
The trip also served as a reconnaissance exploration to
gather information for next spring or August.Our birding club is planning a trip to Arizona
in May.If that falls through, I will go
by myself and may return in August anyway.August is great for the start of the fall migration, especially for
hummingbirds.The heat is not so bad
because of the monsoonal rains.
How was my flight?Thanks for asking.It was typical
of today’s jam-packed flights.I was in
a center seat in row 30, with sneezer/hacker types on both sides and a crying
baby just behind me that cried most of the flight.There was no easy way to get the ear plugs from
my briefcase in the overhead compartment, so I improvised and tore pieces of my
pillow cover and stuffed them in my ears.
I am writing an essay on categories of air travelers.For example, there are several Hackers on
each plane.There is always one within a
seat or two of me.Ditto, crying babies,
even if I ask for the no-baby section.As
a teaser for the next story, let me just name a few more:the Ballroom Guy, the Clampets, the Disney family,
and Cornrow Kelli.You have seen and
experienced them.I will leave you
hanging for now.
An inbound plane from South American made up our
flight.How do I know?The person next to me had a Spanish-labeled
Coke and I had a wonderful bottle of Moravdé Piovero Chardonnay, a product of Chile
according to the label.That and the
improvised ear plugs made the flight bearable.
That night I drove
from the airport to Sierra Vista.On Thursday morning, I took on CarrCanyon, primarily because I was out early and RamseyCanyon does not open until . It was
18 miles to the top of the road at the Ramsey View campground from my hotel, a
good site for the high altitude birds. For the last eight miles of switchback/washboard
road, I highly recommend a 4X4, especially during rains.At the top, I found:Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-napped
Sapsucker, Steller’s Jay, Mexican Jay, Common Raven, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted
Nuthatch, Bewick’s Wren, and Western Bluebird.
afternoon, I headed to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area
(SPRNCA). The trail from the San Pedro House (spend some
time at the hummingbird and other feeders), along the river, past the Green Kingfisher
pond and back to the house, leads you through the different habitats.The Friends of the SanPedroRiver trail map does not include a little side trip to Phoebe Pond that I
recommend.The map in the guide noted
below shows this pond.
The river is a
tremendous migrant trap.I recommend
sitting at location six on the bank of the river, early in the morning, to find
warblers and other migrants.I was there
a little late in the season but I can just imagine that it is hopping during
At SPRNCA, I
observed:Mallard, Lesser Scaup, Red-tailed
Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gilded
Flicker, Black Phoebe, Eastern Phoebe, Cassin’s Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, House
Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Rufous-crowned
Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged
Black Bird, and Lesser Goldfinch.
Friday morning I planned to cover RamseyCanyon, so I bided my time by
stopping at the Sierra Vista Waste
Treatment Ponds.I added:American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern
Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon (eating a duck for breakfast), and Western
Meadowlark.This site requires at
least a scope; better yet, call and try to arrange a tour.
road is paved to the visitor center and then you take the trail.The elevation at the visitor center is 5,500
feet.I took the Hamburg Trail to the
overlook at about 6,500 feet.The trail
is switchback heaven for you hikers.Personally, I stopped many times under the ruse of scanning for birds.
I met a couple of hiker/birders, John and Joann from Santa
Cruz, California, who headed
out before me.Not long after I headed
up the trail, John was coming back to get anyone he could to take them to the
point his wife was holding an Elegant
Trogon.Just kidding.She had kept it in sight for us.They found the bird by watching an Acorn Woodpecker in a dead tree, soon
realizing that there was a Trogon in the foreground, in line with the Woodpecker.
We continued up the trail, not really together, because
they were in better shape that me; however, when they stopped to look at a
bird, I usually caught up.Good people;
I enjoyed their company.
Other species added at Ramsey included:American
Kestrel, Plumbeous Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and Canyon Wren.
I visited the Beatty’s Guest Ranch & Orchard at the top of Miller
Canyon Road (520-379-2728, http://personal.riverusers.com~beattybb).I had a great visit with the proprietors
Tom and Edith, partook of one of their golden delicious apples, and bought a
jar of honey to take home with me.Unfortunately, I may have taken one of his honey bees with me.I had to stop and let one out of my Blazer on
my way down the mountain.
On the way back to
the hotel, I took Hereford Road, to the SPRNCA Hereford bridge access point.I walked down to the river and a short
distance in each direction from the bridge.This area looks a little scary for a lone birder, so I did not stray too
far from the bridge.It is close to the
border with Mexico and subject to drug and people smuggling. The only species I added on
this side trip was a Say’s Phoebe along the road.
I headed out on early Saturday morning for MaderaCanyon.It can be reached from the Sierra
90 and AZ 82 to Sonoita, then AZ 83 until turning left on FR 62.This turn is about 37 miles from the Super 8
and there is a sign for MaderaCanyon, just no FR signs coming from East to
West.At the fork in the road at 41
miles, with Greaterville to left and Madera to right, take the right.From here to Madera Canyon Road, the gravel road is passable by car, with
not much change in elevation.The
distance from the hotel to the Canyon was 56 miles.
I checked out three
places to stay for future trips to MaderaCanyon:Santa Rita Lodge (520-625-8746), Madera Kubo (520-625-2908), and
Chuparosa Inn (520-393-7370).I did not
spend the night; however, the Chuparosa looks like the best place to me.
The Chuparosa was
full, so the proprietor could not show me a room; however, she suggested that I
watch the birds out back.Against the
woods and across the now-dry creek, there is a wooden deck with several sets of
wrought iron furniture, feeders on one end and a small waterfall in the
middle.I sat only a few feet from the
waterfall, with my back to it, and enjoying watching the seedeaters and Hummingbirds.
After awhile, I
realized that there was a lot of activity going on behind me.In the dry season, this waterfall may be the
only source of flowing water in the canyon.I repositioned myself about four feet from the waterfall and watched Juncos,
a Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet,Anna’s Hummingbird,and a
Townsend’s Warbler drink and bathe.The other owner came out to talk and, after I told him how much I
enjoyed the waterfall, told me how every bird in the canyon makes a stop for
water during a given day and that they had even had a bear sipping from the
Other birds added in
MaderaCanyon were:Blue-throated Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Arizona
Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed race), and
I swung by ChinoCanyon on Saturday after MaderaCanyon.Trust me, no cars!The road to
the state preserve is very rough, requiring a 4X4 with high clearance.There is no reason to make this trip because
you probably have most of desert birds, unless you want to go for the Black-capped
and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Five-stripped Sparrow.I did not see them; however, I added:Cactus Wren, Phainopepla, and Brewer’s
On my way to the
airport, I stopped by the Green Valley Sewage Treatment Ponds.Unfortunately, this site is closed due to
Also on the way to the airport, I passed several Ostrich in apen off Business I19.I did
not count this species because I was not counting.Not that it was an ethical dilemma. In the past, I have had no qualms about
counting the Brant decoy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the duck
decoys in that store on Cape Cod.
This trip I stayed at the Super 8 Motel in Sierra
Vista (520-459-5380 or 800-800-8000) two blocks east
of intersection of Buffalo Soldier Trail and Fry
Boulevard. It is just behind the Beef Baron (An
Italian Steakhouse) on Fry, which is a decent restaurant.
The hotel was clean, adequate, had ESPN, had a safe in the
room for my laptop, and was relatively inexpensive ($50-60 per night).ESPN?This time of the year, football shares the pedestal with birding.
I have made three trips to Southeastern Arizona
in the past fifteen months.You can
consult the guide noted below or others that are available from the American
Birding Association for planning a trip.My limited knowledge, however, does not prevent me from offering my
unsolicited advice.I have enough data
points for me, even though I have barely scratched the surface.
My suggested trip would be: fly in to Tucson
and spend the night and bird around Tucson
for a day, traveling to Portal that night.Spend two nights in Portal covering the desert scrub areas, CaveCreekCanyon,
Paradise, RustlerPark, and other sites.Even with two days in the Portal area, you
will not cover all of the good sites.Work
the lower elevations in the early morning and climb in altitude with the heat
of the day.
After the second night in Portal, bird those same areas
and cross the Chiricahuas, stopping at the ChiricahuaNational Monument (just for
sightseeing) and the Fairbank access point to the SPRNCA on the way to Sierra
Vista for two nights.
From Sierra Vista
early the first morning and then proceed to the SPNCA San Pedro House access
and bird the loop.Next day, cover the
Sierra Vista Sewage Treatment ponds (call for the tour) and then return to the
SPRNCA San Pedro House prior to going to RamseyCanyon.A
stay at Beatty’s looks good to me for the second night is this area.It will be one of the best Hummingbird stops
of your trip.Bird the area around
Beatty’s the next morning before striking out for MaderaCanyon.
The Ramsey Canyon Bed & Breakfast (520-378-3010),
managed by the Nature Conservancy, as well as the Super 8, would be good places
to stay for other nights in the Sierra Vista area.
That night travel
to MaderaCanyon and stay at the Chuparosa Inn and bird the various
sites around MaderaCanyon
the next morning.Before returning to
the airport, visit the ChinoCanyon
site if you have time and a 4X4.Also, an
additional day in the Tucson area
on either end of the trip is recommended because of the numerous good sites.
As a public service to my fellow birders who read these
articles (yes, all three of you) I unofficially field test and report on useful
outdoor and birding products.This trip
I field tested my new Swarovski EL 10X42 binoculars.Wow!That is all I need to say.
Most of the hotels and lodges mention above have Web sites.Before the trip check the Tucson Audubon
Society’s (TAS) Website and monitor their Rare Bird Alert number (520-798-1005)
during your trip.The RBA line will
also alert you to transient dangers such as the location of Africanized Honey
I used Finding Birds
in Southeast Arizona by Davis and Russell published by the Tucson Audubon
Society.I have found this to be the
best guide for the region.I have left
many details concerning directions and distance to sites, danger alerts, and
expected birds for you to read in this book.You can find ordering information on the TAS Website and be sure to also
order a few TAS checklists and the Southeastern Arizona Birding trail map.The map is a great “birding-at-a-glance”
Yes, I purchased the
current copy of Arizona Highways.The article “The Violent Chiricahuas” is a
“must read” for anyone who loves Southeastern Arizona.
Speaking of childhood memories,
one of my favorite books then and now is Travelswith Charley, In Search of America by
John Steinbeck.From the last chapter of
that book:“Who has not known a journey to be over and dead
before the traveler returns?The reverse
is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have
ceased.”I suspect that my grandmother’s
trip lived on.So do my trips to Arizona.
The author, John Ennis, is a full time healthcare
consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other way
around.He lives in the Wilmington,
North Carolina area.