Day 128 – Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

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My count in the ABA region now stands at 574 species for 2017!!

I’ve come to Arizona a lot this year. It’s always a treat because it’s one of my favorite places on earth to go birding. A few weeks ago, my friend Brian C. Johnson told me that he had a 3-day weekend off from work, did I want to come out?

I was hesitant to come to AZ without my camera. My Naples friends, Ed and Liane, came to the rescue. They lent me a camera to use til I could buy something else. I have great friends.

As you may recall, my camera met pavement in Florida. Ironically, I had a new Swarovski scope in the car that I hadn’t even used!

I drove straight from the airport to Ramsey Canyon to look for Flame-colored Tanager. It was 3 p.m., 100 degrees and that hike was brutal. The park closes at 5 so I practically had to run back down. I was not successful, again.

That’s where the sad tale ends. The next day as I was hiking Hunter Canyon, Brian texted me that there was a Common Crane in Flagstaff. I raced down, got in my car and drove six hours to meet him at Mormon Lake.

As I pulled in, I saw many happy birders looking through their scopes and Brian waiting on me with the bird in hand!! We had bad lighting and faraway views, but we were elated.

The ride back to civilization was a bit hairy with groups of Elk trying to dart across a dark road. I needed a beer.

We made a tentative plan to go after my targets and the rest is history. We looted the state like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. I drove the getaway car while Brian cracked the safe.

The days were grueling (per usual) but the rewards were many.

The next day, our first stop at 5:45 a.m., was Mt. Ord. I hoped to get Gray Vireo. Instead, we submitted an eBird list that looked fake. It doesn’t happen often that you see every bird that you want, but when it does, it’s surreal.

We met Susan Brooks Fishburn for lunch and strategizing, and then headed
to a few more stops near Phoenix for local specialties such as Rosy-faced Lovebirds.

We were seeing everything we wanted, and it wasn’t even 3 p.m. I said “hey, maybe Phoenix has a good camera shop” and voila! there it was, 2 miles away.

I am not making this up.

An hour later, I was sporting my new Nikon heading back to Sierra Vista to try for Slate-colored Redstart the next day. Soon after, a report came in that a new Flame-colored Tanager had been found by Jennie MacFarland at Fort Huachuca. A new plan was hatched.

The temperature dropped about 25 degrees overnight and it was beautiful. We had to get passes to get into the base. The location of where the bird had been seen by Jenny was flagged with tape which helped tremendously. Birders can be so generous that way!

I was chasing an Elegant Trogon uphill when Brian yelled that he had the Tanager. BAM!

What an incredibly beautiful creature! Brian was able to get other birders on it and we were even able to show it to a small child.

The only thing better than getting a life bird is having an opportunity to show it to somebody else.

We spent a good bit of time enjoying this bird before heading to San Pedro House and then, Miller Canyon. We had a full day but I was determined to see Spotted Owls. We met up with a group of nice Swedish birders on the same quest.

We made it to “splitrock” where everyone supposedly sees the Owls. I was getting a sense of deja vu when no one could find them. At the last minute, I decided to look in an opposite direction. There they were! Right above our heads.

Flame-colored Tanager and Spotted Owl, 2 birds I had chased for years, were now mine.

As if this wasn’t enough, we headed to Cochise Lake to look at shorebirds. A very full day that ended in a full rainbow.

We were exhausted. This is the schedule that I keep most days but I feel bad when I subject others to this crazy pace. Brian knew the drill. He’s a veteran of the chasing game.

Our last day together we headed to the Chiricahua Mountains. Love, love, love this place. The Slate-throated Redstart was the last rarity we were chasing. It seemed we had run out of luck.

We were trying to find this tiny bird and it became apparent that we were going to have to work for it. There were 2 other birders there, Mark and Taylor. We struck up a conversation and joined forces. After an hour or so, they decided to leave but not before telling me that they had flushed Montezuma Quails!

I ran up the 30 degree slope like a billy goat! Everyone else followed to help.

It’s true what they say. The Quail were calling and the female was 2′ from me when I finally saw her. Meanwhile, Brian finds the Redstart. This all happened in about 5 minutes. I’m so torn between photographing the Quail and paying attention to Brian, that I almost miss the Redstart. One slip and we all go rolling down to the ravine. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Brian was instrumental in helping me add many birds to my list this weekend, including many life birds! He spent his first 3-day weekend in a long time helping me. I’m overwhelmed by the kindness of others.

It was a bittersweet goodbye.

 

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