Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Southeast Arizona Day 2: Mount Lemmon and Agua Caliente Park

This is part 3 of a series of posts about our trip to Southeast Arizona. Click here to go to part 1 for an introduction to our trip.

First stop: Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon reminded me of a southwest desert version of Mount Evans in Colorado – in either location you can start your day with 90 degree weather in town and with just an hour or so drive you can enjoy a snowball fight at the summit. This location included a dozen or so stops on the way up, and produced great birds the whole time we were there. I was amazed at how often the birds appeared before us exactly as described in our books. During the 6,500 foot ascent from Tucson to the summit, it was fascinating to watch the landscape transition from Saguaro cactus to Ponderosa pine, and to observe the differences in species that were present at each different environment between the two.

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Mount Lemmon – Babad Do’ag Vista, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

One of our targets for this location was Gilded Flicker. These guys are quite similar to Northern Flickers, but with “gilded” or yellow underwings.

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Gilded Flicker at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

Other birds common of this environment, including Black-throated Sparrow and Canyon Towhee were out in good numbers.

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Black-throated Sparrow at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

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Canyon Towhee at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

Further up the mountain we started to get into some oak. At Molina Basin one of our good finds was Mexican Jay. These guys are very similar to Western Scrub-Jays which we are quite familiar with from Colorado. We ended up seeing Mexican Jays at quite a few locations during our trip.

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Mexican Jay at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

Still further up as we started to get into the Ponderosa, we found this Yellow-eyed Junco at General Hitchcock Campground. Judging by the number of leg-bands this little guy is wearing, I’d say he’s pretty bad at not getting caught.

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Yellow-eyed Junco at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

Not a bird, but had to include an image of the amazing vantage point where we stopped to scan for Zone-tailed Hawks.

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Overlook at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

One interesting bird here was a Rock Wren that was not shy of people at all. We have seen these guys quite a few times in Colorado and Idaho, but I’ve never seen one so comfortable around people.

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Rock Wren at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

As we neared the summit the birds actually became quite a bit more familiar. Turns out that high elevation Ponderosa forests in Arizona host mostly the same species as high elevation Ponderosa forests in Idaho or Colorado.

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Western Bluebird at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

We did get great looks at this Acorn Woodpecker, which is not a bird that’s easy to find in Idaho or Colorado. These guys are quite clown-like, and are fun to watch. This particular individual was busy retrieving an acorn it had likely stashed last fall from the hole in the tree it’s clinging to.

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Acorn Woodpecker at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

On the trip back down we got a couple of great looks at raptors we were already very familiar with, Red-tailed Hawks and Coopers Hawks. After only ever seeing these birds in habitats much further north, they looked a little out of place in the desert southwest. In reality they’re not out of place at all, and it was interesting to see how adaptable they are in different environments.

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Red-tailed Hawk (possible Krider’s morph) at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

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Cooper’s Hawk at Mount Lemmon, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

Second stop: Agua Caliente Park

We didn’t spend too long at Agua Caliente as we were tired from spending all day on Mount Lemmon, and it was the hottest part of the afternoon. We still scored some great birds though, including our lifer Phainopepla and Vermillion Flycatcher.

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Phainopepla at Agua Caliente Park, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

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Vermillion Flycatcher at Agua Caliente Park, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

We also spotted a couple of birds we see fairly regularly in Idaho as well, including Lesser Goldfinch (close relatives of the American Goldfinches that are familiar feeder birds to many people), and a Great Egret.

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Lesser Goldfinch at Agua Caliente Park, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

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Great Egret at Agua Caliente Park, Pima County. March 16, 2013.

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