Good-bye Southern Arizona

I could happily stay here in Southeastern Arizona for another week, but there are new places and new birds to see, so tomorrow we are driving up to Sedona, for more mountains, more canyons, more birds, and more Arizona.  We’ll be in Sedona for a couple days, the Grand Canyon for three, and then one last night in Flagstaff before our flight.  But the fun isn’t even close to being over.

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I am just so happy with everything about this class.  The students in general and their enthusiasm is so great.  In only a week, they’ve become great birders, which is more than I could have asked or hoped for.  And the early mornings aren’t easy, yet I’ve heard little complaining.  

Yesterday, the plan was to go to the canyons south of town.  There are about 5 of them, with similar habitats, but very different road and hiking conditions.  Having read profusely and repeatedly about all of them, I’d chosen the best ones to go to, and we started at Carr Canyon.  In comparison the other mornings we’ve had, it was downright cold and movement was slow – ours and the birds’.

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The road starts out paved, but then becomes gravel and quickly deteriorates into rutted gravel with large rocks and small boulders.  Needless to say, I don’t recall reading that or I would have picked a different canyon.  There weren’t many places to pull off the road, so we did the majority of the birding from the car.  Given that, it was still pretty productive and we managed to see more than I expected with the weather and the road conditions.

My goal of finding the nemesis Montezuma Quail was successful, and we even saw a second nemesis bird – the Spotted Towhee.  

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So, about the road we drove on.  I’ve driven on worse roads, but not in a 12 passenger van with young lives in my hands.  I was VERY nervous the further we went up the road, and questioned weather to continue on each switchback.  For the first couple, my need to know what was around the corner won, but after a few bigger rocks and two switchbacks that I needed to make a y-turn to get through, I decided to turn around.  

I’m sure you can imagine how easy turning around on a mountainside switchback in a 12-passenger van is.  After suffering a minor heart attack, Katrina took over driving for me so my heart rate could return to normal.  It was an experience that I never hope to live again, but I hope makes a good story.

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By the time we got down, it was getting late (for birding, so it was about 9 am).  We made a pit stop to use the facilities at a gas station, and of course birded from there, and saw a Prairie Falcon!  

The next stop was a bed and breakfast that turned out to be closed, so I called another one, which was also closed.  Mary Jo, the owner of Ash Canyon B&B, famous for its feeders, was nice enough to let us in early and we sat in the comfortable chairs set up in her shaded yard, watching birds in comfort.  There were so many birds that it was overwhelming at first, but we all got used to the pace and I only left grudgingly, mostly because my stomach was getting louder than the birds.

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The talent these students have is incredible!  

Today we started at San Pedro National Conservation Area, walking the trail around the San Pedro House, through the San Pedro River riparian corridor  We’d seen the corridor from up above, on Carr Canyon, so it was neat to be walking in it.  

The weather was not ideal at all though – windy and, again, very cold, though most of us had at least dressed more appropriately.  We saw about 26 species regardless, so I can’t imagine how many we’d have seen in better conditions.  The Gambel’s Quail pair were my favorites of the day.  We also got to practice identifying birds by call, since they weren’t moving but were being quite vocal.

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We couldn’t find the next stop, so we tried Ramsey Canyon B&B, the place from the day before, which was open but the parking lot was full.  These days down here have been pretty rough!   There was at least one car waiting for one of the spaces to empty, but it was only 9 am, so I didn’t expect that any cars would be leaving soon, so we headed back down (again).

We did see some great wildlife – Cous’ White-Tailed Deer, which I’d mistakenly IDed as Mule Deer a few days earlier.  For a car full of people from Wisconsin, land of the deer, we were really excited!

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Luckily, I’d done so much research on places to go before leaving on this trip, that there were a few places that I really wanted to get to but weren’t fitting into the schedule.  Since it was still early and we were packed for the day, we made the hour long drive to Patons’ feeder house in Patagonia, where we saw, again, so many birds!  The Violet-Croned Hummingbird was great, but I got my first LIFER of the trip – the Bridled Titmouse, so I was GIDDY.  Still am, in fact.

Since we were so close to the border, we drove down to Nogales and saw the point of entry from the road and the fence extending on either side.  It wasn’t at all what I remembered it being like the last time I was there, though that was before the fence was built, and when you could leave and come back with only an ID, no passport needed.


That’s what I was expecting – this photo was from when I was near the border crossing in 2006.  I’m guessing this road no longer even exists.  

Now, several itinerary changes, hotel changes, and 108 bird species later, we’re leaving the south and driving north tomorrow. We’ll be stopping in Phoenix to bird and eat lunch and then hopefully getting to Sedona with some time to spare and to enjoy all the touristy wonder that Sedona can throw our way.  

And of course, the birds!


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