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,


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,


Trogon Trip: The beginning

Sometimes you just have to get the heck out of Dodge. Which is why when I had the opportunity to join my friends Sarah and Max for an early spring birding trip to SE Arizona I jumped on it. At the last minute we booked plane tickets, a rental car, and an Airbnb in Patagonia and before I knew it, we were surrounded by beautiful southern U.S. desert.

Our main target was an Elegant Trogon. A single male had been seen regularly in Madera Canyon. How hard could it be to find one bird in the canyon? (Pretty dang hard). But first we had to drive 2 1/2 hours from Phoenix to get there. Along the way we met Sarah and Max’s friend Jill at Kennedy Park for some Tucson urban birding. The target here was Bronzed Cowbird.

But those didn’t come before we spent quality time with Vermilion Flycatchers.

The best AZ greeting

And before Sarah met her lifer Cactus Wren.

And I met my lifer Gila Woodpecker.

And before we stopped to touch the Saguaro.

Watch out for spines!

We passed the pond with Ruddy Ducks, coots, and Neotropic Cormorants.

Mini version of DOCO

And Redheads that were so close they could (and probably would) eat out of our hands.

Finally, just before we were set to leave a huge flock of blackbirds flew in mixed with grackles and, yes! – Bronzed Cowbirds!

Sadly, the light was poor and as we moved closer for better looks of their beady red eyes a Cooper’s Hawk zoomed in and spooked the whole flock away.

So instead here’s a better photo of a Bronzed Cowboy.

We ran into a couple from Florida birding the area who gave us a tip about a Greater Pewee at another park just fifteen minutes away. This would be a lifer for all of us so we opted for the detour. We arrived and minutes after stepping out of the rental, and with the help of a friendly birder pointing up in the trees above us, there it was.

Our first tri-lifer! It’s hard to convey the size of that flycatcher but it is at least as big as Olive-sided. Looking around the park we noticed a Black-crowned Night Heron fly across the pond and then we saw why. A group of kids were feeding the herons! Luckily the kids got bored quickly leaving us to amuse ourselves.

Night Heron, Max, Sarah combo

There was a mallard at this pond that had potential for Mexican Mallard but in this location and with my limited knowledge, for now it’s just a good looking duck.

Giddy from looking at new birds we knew we had to pull ourselves away so we could get groceries, finish the hour long drive to the Patagonia Airbnb, and get some rest.

In the morning we were serenaded by a Greater Roadrunner on the hillside as we packed the car in excited anticipation for our first trogon attempt.

A good omen?

Tweets and chirps,