Friday, January 3, 2014

Madera Canyon Again and Florida Canyon, December 14

I started early again on the trail to Bog Springs across from the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I was trying to reverse the Zen of the Montezuma Quail by actually looking and listening for them.  I hiked up the trail slowly, looking, scanning up the slopes and listening.  Partway up the 0.6 mile trail to the trail to Bog Springs Campground is a short trail to the right that allows one to look up slope.  I had taken this short trail yesterday and looked and listened without any luck.  Today I did it again, and again without any luck but with a heart stopping moment or two after I scanned up slope and saw an object that looked like a Montezuma Quail with the distinctive black and white face pattern.  I carefully walked up slope to get a closer look and discovered a piece of dead vegetation that sure looked like a Montezuma Quail from a distance but only a dead piece of vegetation at close range.  Once again proving the Zen of Montezuma Quail.  I walked back down to the main trail and walked up to the intersection of this trail with the trail to Bog Springs Campground.  No luck yet.  I was determined to walk slower and look and listen more carefully as I walked down the trail.  As I got almost halfway down, approaching a curve to the right, with excellent rocky and grassy slopes up-slope and down-slope at the curve, and a more distant promising area with a rocky slope and grassy area, I heard it, a female Montezuma Quail calling giving multiple whistles on the same pitch and only dropping slightly.  It was downhill to the right toward the promising area with rocky slope and grassy area.  Almost immediately, a male Montezuma Quail answered up slope and to my left, a single loud quavering descending whistle.  I had studied these calls repeatedly and recognized them immediately.  The upslope male was closer to my location and I peered and scanned with binoculars upslope hoping to catch a glimpse of this ghost-like creature and moving as silently as possible along the trail for different viewing perspective.  However, it was hopeless.  These whistled calls could have been from a greater distance than I expected.  The female calls were far enough away that it would take me about five minutes to get close to the location.  I listened for a while but there was no repeat performance.

I continued down the trail and at the promising location scanned up slope looking at every lump, rock and hump trying to turn them into a Montezuma Quail, but it was not to be.  The Zen of Montezuma Quail was too strong.  I never saw one.  But apparently, this Zen does not apply to hearing them calling.  I continued down to the Amphitheater Parking Area, satisfied that I had heard Montezuma Quail female and male calling.  I checked on iBird Pro to verify the calls. 

I made a quick stop at Whitehouse Picnic Area to check on the sapsucker at the sap tree.  Not there again.  No pictures. 

I returned up the canyon and parked at the Mt. Wrightson Parking Area, gathered my backpack with some food and water and started hiking up Carrie Nation Trail.  I worked my way up Carrie Nation Trail slowly, stopping to listen and look for trees with berries and for slow moving birds.  I was looking and listening for Elegant Trogon.  They are slow moving birds and have a distinctive call described as a series of croaking "co-ah" notes.  Since arriving in Madera Canyon several days ago, I had been reacquainting my self with the various sounds that Common Ravens make.   I had done the same thing in August when I was in Madera Canyon.   Ravens make so many different noises that one could perhaps confuse distant raven noises as an Elegant Trogon if one was not careful, and trogons are relatively quiet in the winter.  If I heard one, I might have only one chance.  I passed the split in the trail where the Old Baldy Trail goes up to the left and then passed the split where the Vault Mine Trail goes to the right.  It was about 1.2 miles up to the mine from the trailhead.  I was a short distance, perhaps a few tenths of a mile, above the Vault Mine Trail split, when I heard a short series of croaking "co-ah" call notes.  This was very different than the croaks and various other noises that the Common Ravens were making.  It was up-slope and maybe a bit to the left of the trail, a brief encounter with an Elegant Trogon.  Neil Hayward had told me that he had also heard Elegant Trogon calling last month when he was searching with other birders for the elusive Eared Quetzal.  I quickened my pace hoping to find and see this bird.  Birds were few and quite scarce this morning on the trail.  Late yesterday afternoon, I had started up the Carrie Nation Trail and had also got above the Vault Mine Trail split, until I turned around because it was getting late and sunset would soon cause it to be too dark.  I forgot to mention this in yesterday's post.  Today, it was still early in the day, and I kept going.  Eventually the trail started to follow the creek bed instead of being to the side of the creek bed.  I got to the point where the canyon narrowed, there was water flowing in the creek bed and trail, the rocks on the trail were wet and slippery and the canyon was so shaded that there was snow in the canyon and on the trail.  In addition, I was seeing frequent reminders that this was bear country.  The piles of bear skat/poo were becoming more frequent and appeared fresh.  I had to make a decision.  Do I continue on this increasingly treacherous trail in hope of seeing an Elegant Trogon or do I value safety over seeing this bird?  It was Saturday morning, but I had not seen any other hikers on the trail.  I was not seeing any fruiting madrone trees, a food source for birds in the mountains, and very few birds.  I scanned up slope in the canyon to see if I could see any madrone trees with their shiny green leaves and red berries, but could not see any.  I estimated that I was within about 0.5 miles of the mine.  There were other places to see Elegant Trogon, particularly, Florida Canyon where I hope to look for Rufous-capped Warbler in the afternoon.  An Elegant Trogon had been reported there recently in e bird.  I turned around and headed back down the trail.  I had seen a few widely scattered American Robins, a few Mexican Jays, heard an Arizona Woodpecker, saw a few Yellow-eyed Juncos, and saw a single Hermit Thrush, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and heard Common Ravens and the one time Elegant Trogon calling.  I was satisfied that I heard Elegant Trogon, but wished that I could see one.  They are so beautiful.

When I got back to the trailhead, I headed north out of the canyon stopping at Whitehouse Picnic Area again hoping for a photo of the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I met a local lady birder on the Nature Trail in the valley below the sap tree.  She had also not seen the Red-breasted Sapsucker, but asked me if I had seen the Golden Eagle that came through only a few minutes ago being harassed by ravens.  I had not.  She told me that if I had continued up the Carrie Nation Trail, taking a trail leg to the right I would have reached a flatter area with madrone trees and berries where other had seen trogons in the recent past.  Oh well, that's birding!  I didn't stay long at Whitehouse Picnic Area, because I wanted to get to nearby Florida Canyon before the late afternoon shade reduced bird activity.  Just as I was about to get in my car, a woodpecker flew low across the road from north of the sap tree into the central part of the picnic area.  I pursued it, but it was only an Arizona Woodpecker.  My how times have changed, as I remembered my elation in August when I found my first Arizona Woodpecker for the year here in Madera Canyon at the Mt. Wrightson Parking Area.  Now it is only another Arizona Woodpecker, a great bird in its own right, because I am looking for a photo of the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I really am getting jayded!  :>)  :>)   See photo below.
Arizona Woodpecker
I drove out of Madera Canyon and kept my eyes peeled for a Golden Eagle.  As I got to the grasslands, a large raptor with a slight dihedral flew across the road and started soaring and circling to the right of the road.  Golden Eagle!  When you are from the east and do not see Golden Eagle very often, you stop to enjoy them.  I grabbed my camera and got the photos below.
Golden Eagle, with gorgeous golden nape and shoulders

Golden Eagle from below
I continued to Florida Canyon to look for Rufous-capped Warbler.  There are also Black-chinned Sparrows, another bird I still needed for the year, not far from the trail head in Florida Canyon.  As I entered the canyon the sun was dropping rapidly and the shade was advancing into the canyon.  I followed the west trail south up-canyon to the point where the stream turns east above the dam.  I followed the rock cairns which help to show the way and by accident took the trail that skirts the dam to the east, an easy way to get over and beyond the dam.  Above the dam, I crossed the stream to the west side and continued up the canyon until I found another rock cairn and crossed the stream to the east side.   I arrived at a tall tree stump with a "Y" shape just north of the point where the stream curves east.   See photo below.
"Y" shaped stump at Rufous-crowned Warbler spot
The grass was trampled in a large area so I knew that I was in the right spot.  The Rufous-capped Warblers appeared very quickly despite the advancing shade.  I was fortunate that I got here early enough.  This was the best view that I have ever had of Rufous-capped Warbler.  I first saw Rufous-capped Warbler from a distance in French Joe Canyon in September 1999 just before 9-11 and later saw a Rufous-capped Warbler again here in Florida Canyon on a trip to Arizona to see the Blue Mockingbird in 2009 near Douglas, AZ.  My previous sighting of Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon was just above the dam and not as far south on the west trail as this sighting.  There were two Rufous-capped Warblers this time.  I got these photos below, because I had my camera ready at the instant the bird perched briefly in the open on a dead snag.  Some luck, but proper preparation to be lucky!  The photos are lightened by one half stop, due to the deepening shade in the canyon.
Rufous-capped Warbler
Pretty good pose!

Rufous-capped Warbler
That's better!
Rufous-capped Warbler
Wow, what an experience and what a cool bird to see and hear singing briefly and chipping!  And photos too!  Fantastic!  With elation, I headed back north on the trail toward entry, following the rock cairns.  See photos below.
Rock cairn on west side of creek indicating creek crossing to west side
right near Rufous-capped Warbler spot near "Y" shaped stump 
Distant rock cairn indicating creek crossing back to east side,
a diagonal creek crossing.  I added a reddish rock in foreground to help
point the way.
The rock cairns really helped me find my way back to the entry.  It is easy to forget the way, especially when your mind gets filled with the excitement of stunning views of this great bird.  However, it really is hard to get lost here.  Follow the creek downhill, and you will get to the dam and the large water tank.  Then it is easy.  Also, the instructions to this site, are on the Arizona RBA.  On my way back to the entry, I crossed the dam on the west side, which is a little more difficult, because one must negotiate a rocky cliff.  It is definitely easier on the east side, but to be honest, I did not remember the trail and how I had taken the east side trail on my way up canyon.

I was hoping to also see Black-chinned Sparrow on my way out of the canyon.  I didn't risk taking the time to try on the way in, due to the advancing shade and potential decrease in bird activity.  As I approached the squeaky iron gate, I could see a group of birders up hill just beyond the crest at the best spot to find Black-chinned Sparrow.  As I walked up the hill, I heard a singing Black-chinned Sparrow, singing an incomplete song.  At the top of the hill, I met Richard Fray, a local bird tour leader, with a group from England.  We did not introduce ourselves on this meeting, and just exchanged the critical bird information.  (That evening, I discovered who he was using the sign on his vehicle and his web site.)  Did I get the Rufous-capped Warbler?  Yes, and I showed them photos on my camera.  Yes, this was the best spot for Black-chinned Sparrow.  They also heard but did not see Montezuma Quail (really as expected) that morning uphill to the west above Madera Picnic Area.  I had seen a potential area above the Madera Picnic Area from my position on the trail this morning and had scanned the rock, grassy slope with binoculars hoping to see a Montezuma Quail.  While I was scanning, they were hearing Montezuma Quail from that very area!  So close but so far!  They were off quickly to try for the Rufous-capped Warbler, because it was getting late and the afternoon shade was deepening.  I stayed to try for a sighting of Black-chinned Sparrow.   Soon they came back down the trail.  They had not found the Rufous-capped Warbler, but had a Northern Pygmy Owl.  I had not been successful, in my search for a sighting of Black-chinned Sparrow, and planned to return tomorrow morning to try for photos.  In addition, a Hammond's Flycatcher had been reported on e bird in Florida Canyon and that was a bird I still needed for the year.  An Elegant Trogon was also sighted several times in the canyon, and I wanted to see that.  There were good reasons for me to return tomorrow.  Richard and his group would also be there to seek the Rufous-capped Warbler.  We would meet again, I was sure.

I returned to my motel in Green Valley with elation.  What a great day for a Big Year!  Four new species for the year and all Arizona specialties.  Three of them heard birds only, but with two of them potential tomorrow for a sighting, Black-chinned Sparrow and Elegant Trogon.   Montezuma Quail, Elegant trogon, both heard, Rufous-capped Warbler (seen, photographed and heard), and Black-chinned Sparrow (heard only) are new birds for the year and raise the total to 718 + 3 provisional species (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart, and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).  Tomorrow, I will return to Florida Canyon to look for Hammond's Flycatcher, try to see and photograph Black-chinned Sparrow and Elegant Trogon.  I can sleep later in the morning.  The canyon will not warm up until about 9:00 am when the sun breaks over the peaks to the east.            

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