Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Miller Time: The Not So High Life...

Last year when I visited Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, it was an all-round fabulous trip. Alas, I dipped on the famous Spotted Owl, but came away with several new, closely photographed Hummingbird species, along with lots of the other southeastern AZ species.
A few weeks ago I swung by again, this time with more support both for the drive down and for some hard core birding throughout the day. My friend Tommy had tried for the Miller Canyon Owls before and dipped before too, in fact several times, but on this trip we were both feeling good about our prospects. Things started off well too, when he had some direct information from Tom Beatty Sr. of the Beatty Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon, on where the Spotted Owl had most recently been seen. After only ten minutes in the canyon, we even had a glimpse of an awe-inspiring Northern Goshawk making its way up the canyon--talk about a good omen!

Well, it actually was a bad omen. Maybe the Goshawk had the Owls keeping a low profile (good call there, Owls), but at any rate after several hours of frustrated searching, inclined hiking, and in my case one lovely half-turn spin pirouette backwards dive/fall into a ditch, we could produce no Owls, even amidst the sounds and sightings of many other great birds, including some firsts for the year like this Painted Redstart.

We heard the Goshawk calling off and on, though it too stayed elusive for the rest of our time, and had to contend ourselves with picking out Arizona Woodpeckers and House Wrens from the scrub oak and occasional pine. With many birds singing and less frequently seen, it was great exercise in audio birding, but otherwise there wasn't too much to show for our Miller Time, especially as the Goshawk was seen before there was any light for photography. I shall have to return once more.

While we were in the area, we briefly swung by Mary Jo Ballator's Ash Canyon B&B, just a few miles up the road from Miller Canyon. Her plentiful feeders often host a Lucifer hummingbird--one I still need for the ol' Life list--and are often a good spot to get local news on sightings and general bird goings on. We only tarried for a little while, and did not have the Lucifer's either, but did see some Coue's White-tailed Deer along the road.

Mexican Jays, one of the loudest and most abundant residents of the southeastern sky islands, were also predictably visible. While always fun to see, they were scant consolation.

We left the Huachucas and headed to Patagonia, where he had several hours of fantastic birding, too fantastic for me to mention here and still maintain the lugubrious nature of this post, so that all will be posted separately and later!
We ended the day in the lower reaches of Madera Canyon, first stopping by the Proctor Road turn off to look and listen for Northern Beardless-tyrannulet. We did succeed in the hearing portion, but failed in the seeing. We did see some other nice birds, including some handsome Black-throated Sparrows. We also heard what sounded like a cow giving birth to a small moon, but turned out to be merely a cow just sort of belching (no photos, out of respect).

Farther up Madera Canyon we spent the twilight hour by the Madera Kubo, adding Hepatic Tanager, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Yellow-eyed Junco to our list for the day. We also had some nice visuals and mediocre photos of Magnificent Hummingbirds, which we had seen and heard earlier in the Huachucas as well.

The Santa Rita mountains are fabulous birding and a visit there is never time poorly spent. Even our semi-bust of a trip to the Huachucas still had its highlights, and Patagonia gave us plenty as well. With the bookends to this recent trip down south now established, I can follow up with the substantial middle chunk of the day soon. Stay tuned!