Monday, May 6, 2013

Sierra Vista: A Break in the Grass

Last Weekend I made a trip down to Miller Canyon and the Huachuca Mountains for Crescent-chested Warblers, a pair of which were seen and heard there for two days, only days after a separate report of a CCWA (I have no idea if that's the code) in the Chiricahuas. That Saturday evening ended with a stake out at Ash Canyon B&B, where we waited for a Lucifer Hummingbird, the other potential lifer (along with the CCWAs) on which I dipped for the trip. 

Between 4:00pm and 5:30pm though, there was not a lot of activity in Ash Canyon nor was the Hummingbird expected, so we were faced with a dilemma. We had some time--not a lot--to move to another location and try to buff up our list for the day, or we could just stay put in case it showed early. The Sierra Vista grasslands, lying adjacent to the Huachuca mountains, held the potential for a few more birds and were close enough that we could be there and back by 6:00pm, so we decided to leave our Ash Canyon post and try this new habitat.

There was not a particular site for the grasslands. Nice-looking and not-so-nice-looking neighborhoods spread out in Sierra Vista, and we drove around until we found a promising turn off, one that would put us far enough out into the tall grass and away from any grumpy porch-dwellers who were giving us the evil-eye as we slowly drove by their domiciles. 
Almost immediately upon our foray we were rewarded with a Swainson's Hawk, at that point a new bird for the day and one that's always a pleasure to see.

The real target for the site was Scaled Quail, a tricky bird to turn up and one that would be a state bird for me, as I had only before seen them in Colorado. While driving around Sierra Vista we found a dozen Gambel's Quail, but the Scaled were proving elusive.
At the more promising pull off, next to an industrial warehouse and with plenty of space, three other birders and I spread out and advanced through the grasses, with eyes, ears, cameras, and binoculars at the ready. After about ten minutes, and two Brewer's Sparrow, one of the scaly little plumpers flushed up onto some mesquite snags. What a satisfying sight!

The whole plan to pursue this bird had materialized pretty quickly and spontaneously. With little planning or work, we had turned up a state bird a gotten very nice views. On top of that, Scaled Quail is a handsome subject, big enough and distinct enough to leave a unique impression. Since the ornery Lucifer's Hummingbird never did show that evening anyway, I'm very glad we made this detour.

When the Quail first flushed it seemed pretty anxious, but after a minute to regain its composure, the bird perched comfortably and even called a bit, though nobody answered back. 

On our way back to Ash Canyon, we were then treated to improved views of Swainson's Hawk, with the earlier tree bird now bettered by another, closer specimen brazenly perching on a utility wire. 
We were expecting this bird to flush as we drove back towards the highway, as it was posed right next to the dusty dirt road and we couldn't detour around it. Contrary to our expectations and normal behavior, it stayed put, posing with great confidence. 

Everyone in our party of four was able to get great close-up views of this Swainson's light morph.

After satisfying our needs for close up raptor time, the bird then flew off to satisfy a need of its own. It made a beeline for the other Swainson's, which was still perched in its cottonwood. Without hesitation, the two began copulating in the tree, and we figured it was time to go.

The Scaled Quail was not a lifer, and the day's outing to Miller Canyon, along with a night up on Mt. Lemmon had produced plenty of lifers, but the Scaled Quail was still one of the highlights of the trip. It was a tricky/uncommon enough bird to make the find feel special, we had great views, and the bird itself is super adorable. With all that brigandine, this stout bird is really a Battle Quail, and it will definitely charge you with that Q-tip horn. Great bird.