Trogon Trip: Paton House

The Paton House deserves its own post. It was started by generous homeowners, Wally and Marion Paton who loved birds and set up feeders, a chalk board for sightings, and invited birders to their yard beginning in 1973. After their passing, the property was picked up by Tucson Audubon to preserve the scenic location as a haven for birds and birders alike. It warms my heart that such a place like this exists.

We made three visits in our five days in Patagonia and we saw 45 species, including lifers for all of us. And we closed the place down each time we went. It was that good.

At the Hummingbird feeders were Anna’s, Broad-billed, and my lifer Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

On the suet in the trees were gobs of Yellow-rumped Warblers,White-breasted Nuthatch, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers. Sometimes all at once.

On the thistle was an out of season American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, and Lesser Goldfinch, including one of the “Texas” varieties with much more black on its back.

The seed feeders (surprisingly) attracted Lazuli Buntings.

And one evening, my lifer female Blue Grosbeak shyly came out for a visit.

In the brush piles below were White-crowned Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Chipping sparrows, and Rufous-winged Sparrows.

That totally didn’t look like Chipping Sparrows. Nope, not at all.

Gambel’s Quail would call “pup waay pop, pup waay pop” as they scratched around in the dirt and perched on brush piles.

Like clockwork in the evening a female Pyrrhuloxia would cautiously join the other ground feeders for a snack. We spent enough time here to get to know some of the regular birds and their habits.

One time Sarah spotted a pair of Inca Doves near a brush pile, they are so tiny, they made the White-winged Doves look like behemoths.

In the skies above Max spotted (his and Sarah’s lifer!) a Gray Hawk circling above. (I’d seen one once before in Texas).

And on our last day, with no other expected life birds on the horizon, Max left to get something out of the car then came running back to alert Sarah and I because he thought he’d seen a Zone-tailed Hawk mixed in with the Turkey Vultures in the sky! Sure enough!

Totally not a Turkey Vulture

Life bird for all of us! It was a very lucky sighting. And a very lovely time at Paton House.

Thank you Wally and Marion.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Trogon Trip: The Trogon!

We tried again for the trogon the next morning. This time we arrived earlier but it didn’t matter because it wasn’t there. Was it tired of the crowds? Did it move downstream permanently? There was no way of knowing. The only thing we could do was bird on. And so we did. There was more of SE Arizona to explore.

We went to a Green Valley residential neighborhood full of Saguaro cactus in hopes of finding a Gilded Flicker (a fancy flicker with yellow underwings and a brown head). These woodpeckers nest in Saguaros. It didn’t take us long to find the cactus and not far behind were ubiquitous Gila Woodpeckers who also nest in the cactus.

Peekaboo

They make smaller nesting holes than the flickers.

Then we heard a flicker calling and Max spotted it way across the neighborhood! Gilded Flicker!

We got out to scope the bird, when Max noticed hawks circling overhead. A kettle of Common Black Hawks! We had better scope views than photos of this unexpected lifer. The single white band is just barely visible in my photos.

Things were looking up and we were feeling great again. We headed to the De Anza Tubac Trail next, a popular birding trail that had recent sightings of an early Rose-throated Becard, extra incentive to check it out.

But we ended up on the wrong path and found warblers on bug-covered willows instead. We saw Yellow, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Gray, and Sarah spotted a new warbler, Lucy’s Warbler! My photos turned out terrible, so here’s one that I saw later in better light right outside our Airbnb. Note the red cap on its head.

We left De Anza becardless but in good spirits as we contemplated our next move. It was late afternoon, usually a slow time for birding, so (by routine now) I checked for any trogon sightings. There had been one! Right next to the Proctor Trail in the area we’d been in that morning. It would take us an hour to get there and the report was already 2-hours stale. We decided to go for it anyways.

The strategy for finding an Elegant Trogon, we were told, was to check eBird reports frequently and talk to everyone along the trail. We barely got out of the car in the parking lot this time when two teenagers in a jeep yelled asking if we were there for “the bird.” Yes, yes we were! It was still there along the trail! We ran fast and hard, Sarah and I gasped for air, while Max, who runs half marathons, felt great. We eventually caught our breath and opened our eyes. There it was!!! Elegant Trogon!!!

So unreal. The bird was big, between a robin and a crow size, with a splendidly long tail. It was curious and observant. It tilted its head left and right and slowly looked around observing its surroundings (we heard it ate a lizard earlier!).

Elegant lizard-destroyer

It glided to another branch and we watched it preen for 20 minutes.

Before it flew deeper into the shrubs and the crowd continued to gather around.

Trogon troopers

We said goodbye to the trogon feeling grateful for the views we had. Through trial and error, good and bad luck, we’d made it happen! We felt exhilarated, and yes, relief. It only took us two days! We were free for more birding, and we had two more birding days to go.

But that’s not where this part ends. Returning on the trail by a stream clearing we came across a bat flapping around in the daylight!

Probably Myotis sp. Probably not rabid.

Sarah and Max took off, while I laughed as I tried to get a photo, until the bat changed direction toward me and I took off running too. We decided it must have been spooked from its roost because we saw it land on a trunk and calm down later.

Good little bat

There’s not many places where you can run to a trogon and immediately after run away from a bat. And later that night? A pack of Javelina kept me awake rooting around the yard.

This place is wild.

Tweets and trogons,

Audrey

Trogon Trip: Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is one of the prettiest places I’ve been to. Maybe because it was spring and the sun was shining but temperatures were still cool and comfortable. And Madera Creek was running high thanks to the recent snow in the Santa Rita Mountains. Our search began at the Proctor Road Nature Trail.

We had a big mission: find an Elegant Trogon. It wasn’t going to be easy. We looked at the last place it was seen with no luck. Our instincts then led us to a Pyracantha bush near Whitehouse Picnic Area another place it frequented but there were no signs of a trogon here either. The “bush of despair” let us down, because later we learned the trogon was back at the original spot before it “flew far away downstream” to an inaccessible part of the canyon. Unbelievably we’d missed the bird by ten minutes. A trogon tragedy.

Thankfully, there were many other birds to look at. And some of them life birds. Santa Rita Lodge located in the canyon has cabins, a gift shop, and bird feeder stations set up outside. Whenever we needed a recharge we’d sit here and everything would be better.

See the turkeys?

How can you be disappointed when there’s two lifer hummingbirds buzzing around?

Rivoli’s Hummingbirds (formerly called Magnificent) are huge (relatively).

They’re over an inch longer (5″) than Anna’s Hummingbirds (3.8″) and the other lifer hummingbird seen here, Broad-billed Hummingbird (3.8″).

Foraging on the ground below were all the juncos. And by “all” I mean three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.

And my most anticipated new junco, a species all of its own, Yellow-eyed Junco!

I was really excited to see these guys and they did not disappoint. The best crazy-eyes.

Another fun new bird here was Bridled Titmouse! Their crest defies all logic.

In the treetops shier birds like the Arizona Woodpecker would sneak in for a snack.

And another time a brilliantly colored Hepatic Tanager paid a visit!

Hepatic” means liver-colored, in this case brownish-red. Gross but true. If these birds weren’t enough there were White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpeckers, and another noisy life bird, Mexican Jay.

They reminded us of Pinyon Jays in eastern Oregon.

Tienes un cacahuete?

After we checked for and missed the trogon a few more times we left for a break to look for a reported Rufous-capped Warbler along the Florida Trail (pronounced “Flo-ree’-da,” the Spanish word for flowered). This involved a gorgeous desert hike.

With several (tenuous) stream crossings.

You got this

The best part about this hike was not the warblers we couldn’t find, but a quick distant look at a lifer Painted Redstart! The views were so far, so here’s a another from the Santa Rita feeders that we saw later. So pretty.

Especially when you can see their red tummy.

By now you’re wondering where the heck is the trogon on this trip? So were we.

I can’t believe this is a real thing. “Almost!”

We’d had an entire birding day and hadn’t found it. Before the trip, we said we’d look for it every day if we had to, but then the reality of that statement sunk in. Would we forgo all other plans for one bird? Yes. No. Maybe.

Thankfully there was pizza and beer at Velvet Elvis Pizza in Patagonia where we could distract ourselves and celebrate all the birds we’d seen so far.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey