Trogon Trip: The end

Our spur-of-the-moment Arizona trip was a great success. We saw 135 species in five days. I saw 23 life birds, Sarah saw 24, and Max saw 3 (he’s spent time working in the area before, which is part of what inspired the trip). And this was the slow time of year. I even managed to see every bird on my top ten(+) list I’d made before the trip.

Who can just pick ten?

My LBL (Little Brown Lifer) Canyon Towhee snuck in at the thickets in Madera Canyon, but I got better looks later at the Airbnb.

Nothing tops Arizona gold light.

The morning after seeing the Trogon, we were free to take a trip to Patagonia Lake.

Just like in the movie!

The best birds were a super cooperative Plumbeous Vireo (Plumbeous = “dull gray color of lead”).

I’d call that “brilliant” gray rather than dull

A Hooded Oriole at a (very smart) camper’s orange feeder.

The only oriole of the trip

And a Rufous-winged Sparrow that has a song that sounds amazingly reminiscent of a Wrentit’s bouncy-ball song. We never saw the bird but the song had a lot of personality.

Later we took a nice drive in the Coronado National Forest and further up to the grasslands of the San Rafael State Natural Area.

Rare grassland species

We hoped to flush up a sparrow or two which didn’t happen, but we did side-glance at a Horned Lark perched on the Vaca Ranch Corral fence (viewed from public road).

Don’t even think about making eye contact.

This is the infamous “Baird’s Sparrow Hill” area that is now closed to the public due to the actions of a few thoughtless birders (DO NOT PARK BY THE VACA CORRAL or within 1/4 mile of it). So, so sad. Though we didn’t see any “no birding” signs currently posted.

Practical pronghorn says everything’s going to be okay.

On our last day we went to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). This is a special area, not just because it is an ecological transition zone between the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan Deserts and because it is precious BLM (public) land, but also because Max worked here almost 2 decades prior.

Not much changed except the place was boarded up. There are new buildings (and a bathroom!) associated with the Empire Ranch Foundation who works with the BLM maintaining the property. We birded the grounds and found Vesper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark, and this is where we finally laid eyes on our first Green-tailed Towhee of Arizona. None of these birds cared to have their photo taken.

After, we left to go to San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA). Just another amazing Arizona birding location around the corner.

I have to say, all the parks in Arizona we visited seemed nice and well maintained. We looked at the sightings register here and were surprised to read someone had seen a Green Kingfisher along the San Pedro River that morning! I’ve only had quick looks in Texas and this would be a lifer for Sarah so we tried real hard. Sadly, though we couldn’t relocate the kingfisher. Instead we had several good consolation birds.

Thanks to a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes we were allotted pretty good (although backlit) views of a lifer Cassin’s Sparrow.

Other great birds included a Green-tailed Towhee that finally allowed us a look.

Totally Mexican Ducks.

A fantastic flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

A Great Horned Owl.

And a Grand “Fin-owl-e” a Western Screech Owl (!) comfortable in a tree just behind the visitor center. It was the perfect place for us to stop and have some lunch.

Such good times birding in Arizona!!! I’m thankful I could spend the trip with good friends who share the love for exploration, nature, and birding.

I’m drunk on birds.

Happy Birthday Sarah!

Tweets and chirps,


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,


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.


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,