Thursday, January 2, 2014

Madera Canyon for Red-breasted Sapsucker, December 13

On December 13, I planned to spend a lot of time looking for the Red-breasted Sapsucker that was a no show yesterday afternoon.  I knew that Madera Canyon would be in shade until about 9:00 am.  I still needed Montezuma Quail; therefore, I decided to try for the quail early and then look for the sapsucker after the canyon warmed up due to the sun rising above the peaks to the east.  I had checked e bird and found that there were reports for Montezuma Quail calling from the Carrie Nation Trail and vicinity above the Mt. Wrightson Parking and Picnic Area while birders were looking for the elusive Eared Quetzal last month.  Also, Neil Hayward had found Montezuma Quail in the spring along the trail to Bog Springs that starts opposite the Amphitheater Parking Lot just north of the Kubo along the Madera Canyon entry road.  This trail was recommended to Neil Hayward by Laurens Halsey, an excellent bird guide based in Green Valley Arizona, who finds Montezuma Quail along this trail regularly.  Neil did find his Montezuma Quail along this trail in May.  This trail is not far below the upper Mt. Wrightson Parking and Picnic Area in Madera Canyon and the start of the Carrie Nation Trail, where there were e bird reports.

I made a quick stop at the Whitehouse Picnic Area at the sapsucker tree on my way to the Amphitheater Parking Lot to see if the Red-breasted Sapsucker was there for an early breakfast.  No luck.  I continued to the Amphitheater Parking Lot and started up the trail towards Bog Springs.  Montezuma Quail can be found on the rocky grassy slopes along this trail.  However, I searched carefully, listening for the whistled calls, and looking carefully and found no quail on the way up, and continued to  the trail juncture where I turned left and walked down to and through the Bog Springs Campground.  I found Mexican Jays and Acorn Woodpeckers, juncos and Chipping Sparrows in the campground and one Red-naped Sapsucker just outside the campground on my way back to the original trail from the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I returned down the trail to the Amphitheater and neither saw nor heard a Montezuma Quail confirming the Zen of Montezuma Quail, "To find them, you must first not look for them."  It was about 9:00 or 9:30 am when I got back to the Amphitheater Parking Lot.  I drove to the Whitehouse Picnic Area and checked the sapsucker tree.  No luck.  Then, I drove to the Santa Rita Lodge to check the feeders there.  A Lawrence's Goldfinch had been seen at the Kubo. and could be hanging around with the goldfinch flock at the lodge.  Eventually, there was a good flock of about 30 goldfinches at the lodge, all Lesser Goldfinches.  Lawrence's Goldfinch would be quite unusual at this elevation, but I had to check anyway.  I drove back to the Amphitheater Parking Lot and walked up to the Kubo feeders.  When I first arrived at the Kubo, I saw a winter plumage male Hepatic Tanager at the Kubo.  The Hepatic Tanager flew across the road to a tree loaded with berries and hovered while taking a berry and then promptly disappeared.    

I returned to the sapsucker tree at Whitehouse Picnic Area to look for, wait and watch for the sapsucker.  I met a local man walking his dog, who told me that he had seen the sapsucker about 15 times since it reappeared this year.  It had been there for at least a month.  I believe that this is the third winter for the Red-breasted Sapsucker at Whitehouse Picnic Area and apparently at the same tree.  I carefully checked the sap tree, nearby trees with sapsucker drill holes and the nearby conifer tree where it might be roosting.  Sapsuckers often sit quietly on the branches and trunk without moving; therefore, careful checking is necessary.  I noticed several additional trees in the area that had bark removed and sapsucker drill holes.  Still no luck on the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  At about 10:00 am, I decided to sit on the curb in the parking area at the  picnic table right across from the sap tree and watch.  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Painted Redstart actively visited the tree rather frequently.  In addition, a Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler came in to feed, but no sapsucker.  At about 11:15 am, I heard a sapsucker mewing behind me, but I could not find the bird before it stopped calling.  It seemed to have flown slightly up-canyon from my location.  I checked that up-canyon area along the Nature Trail, but did not find the sapsucker, and returned to watch from the parking spot across from the tree.

At 11:45 am, I decided to walk around the area, but visited the restroom at the north end of the picnic area first.  Then, I decided to walk the Nature Trail starting from the restroom and heading south.  As I got closer to the sap tree, I though that I saw a medium sized bird fly out of a nearby tree and head north into another tree.  Soon, a sapsucker appeared out of this tree and headed south in general toward the sap tree.  It was the Red-breasted Sapsucker!  What a gorgeous bird with its totally red head without black markings and lighter under-parts, otherwise looking like a sapsucker on the back and wings with white wing patches and white rump.  The Red-breasted Sapsucker flew rather quickly from tree to tree until it landed on the tree right in front of my parked car at the top of the hill, while I watched from the relative valley of the Nature Trail.  I tried to get a photograph, but the Red-breasted Sapsucker was moving too quickly, and eventually flew down out of sight apparently flying across the road from where my car was parked.  I quickly climbed out of the valley of the Nature Trail and looked for the bird across from my parking area in the center of the picnic area.  I could see the Red-breasted Sapsucker moving from tree trunk to tree trunk through the central part of the picnic area.  I pursued it until it reached the edge of the picnic area along the entry road, and got several good looks at the bird.  It disappeared from a tree along the entry road and appeared to fly across the entry road to the trees on the east hillside of the canyon.  The rest of the afternoon, I continued searching for the Red-breasted Sapsucker hoping for a photograph around the vicinity of the Whitehouse Picnic Area, but without success.  Occasionally, I visited the Santa Rita Lodge and Kubo feeders looking for other birds.  It appeared that the Red-breasted Sapsucker had abandoned the traditional sap tree that it had used for at least two previous winters.  Perhaps, it was looking for a new sap tree or had found one at a new location.

I stayed in Madera Canyon until about 4:00 to 4:30 pm, continuing to search for the Red-breasted Sapsucker and other new birds.  Late in the afternoon while I was on the Nature Trail, below the traditional sap tree, I heard a sapsucker mewing across the creek bed and partially up the west side of Madera Canyon.  I tried to find the mewing sapsucker and attract it to me, but without success. 

At about 4:30 pm, I gave up for the day and headed to my motel in Green Valley.  Sunset was at 5:21 pm, and I enjoyed watching the sun set as drove from Madera Canyon to Green Valley.  It was a beautiful sight.  Tomorrow, I will try for Montezuma Quail again and then walk up Carrie Nation Trail and or Vault Mine Trail hoping to find some madrone trees with fruit to watch for trogons or to hear an Elegant Trogon.  Neil Hayward told me that he heard Elegant Trogon on the Carrie National Trail when he searched for the Eared Quetzal last month in Madera Canyon.

Red-breasted Sapsucker is new for the year and raises the total to 714 + 3 provisional species (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).                           

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