Sunday, June 16, 2013

Southeast Arizona Day 5: San Pedro River NCA, Ash Canyon B&B, and Battiste B&B

This is part 6 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: San Pedro River NCA

After two days of pre-sunrise birding, we decided to finally catch up on sleep in preparation for a night of owling. We had not yet seen any owls on our trip, and this being our final night, we were determined to rectify the situation. We had a lazy morning, sleeping in, going out for a sit-down breakfast, and double checking our plans for the rest of the trip. In the afternoon, we took off for our first destination of the day: San Pedro River NCA.

We had originally planned to spend a whole day on the San Pedro River, but had so much success finding our Arizona birds that there wasn’t actually a lot left to hope for out there. We focused our efforts on one stretch of the river where Inca and Common Ground-dove had been seen. We didn’t have any luck on either of those, but did find a very photogenic Loggerhead Shrike, and a much less photogenic White-tailed Kite. The kite was the more exciting bird, but the shrike was the more exciting photo. Here are both.


Loggerhead Shrike on the San Pedro River NCA, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.


White-tailed Kite on the San Pedro River NCA, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

Second stop: Ash Canyon B&B

Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast is famous for being the best (and perhaps only) place to reliably find Lucifer Hummingbird in the U.S. It’s another one of those birds I’ve heard stories about and always hoped to see. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by birds that are so hard to find, but I get some kind of a rush seeing a bird that is rarely seen anywhere else in the country. Unfortunately on this trip we were a little too early in the season for the Lucifer Hummingbird. It had been seen once a day or two before we had arrived, but only when it starts nesting a couple weeks later in the season does it reliably visit the feeders each day. We still enjoyed the great hospitality of the owner, Mary Jo Ballator, who caters to the birding crowd at her property.

Ash Canyon parking

Parking at Ash Canyon B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

Mary Jo maintains a wonderful garden filled with bird feeders that provides great bird viewing whether or not the Lucifer Hummingbird is around.

Ash Canyon garden

Ash Canyon B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

We enjoyed great views of an Acorn Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and an African Grey Parrot (Mary Jo’s pet), to name just a few.


Acorn Woodpecker at Ash Canyon B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.


White-breasted Nuthatch at Ash Canyon B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.


Mary Jo’s pet African Grey Parrot at Ash Canyon B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

Towards the end of the evening after the other guests had left, Mary Jo came out and visited with us. What a kind person she is! When she heard that we were leaving the next day and had not yet seen an Elf Owl, she called in a special favor for us with one of her friends that runs another nearby B&B that has an Elf Owl nesting on its property. She scribbled a map on paper for us, and sent us on our way. We were amazed that she would go out of her way to help a couple of strangers find a new bird. Its people like her that really make Southeast Arizona a great place to visit.

Third stop: Battiste B&B

Tony and Julie Battiste run Battiste Bed & Birds, and for several years have had an Elf Owl nesting in the telephone pole in their front lawn. They had not yet shared publicly that the Elf Owls had arrived this year. They typically give them a couple of weeks to get established before letting others come and see them, to avoid disturbing them and possibly making them nest somewhere else instead. Since Mary Jo had asked Tony if he would let us come over, we were lucky enough to have Tony share his owls with us as the sun was setting.

Battiste pole

Telephone pole / Elf Owl condo at Battiste Bed & Birds, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

Tony was great company to chat with while we waited for the owls to make an appearance. He told us about a few great places to look for Whiskered Screech Owl and Spotted Owl, and all about the great services his B&B offers to birders. He does some guiding as well, mostly just for his B&B guests. We are definitely thinking of staying here on a return trip and getting his help to find a Spotted Owl, one of the species we missed on this trip.

Elf Owls have an interesting ritual early in the mating season. Females will move into the area and occupy potential nest sites. Each evening, just after sunset, the male will come to the nest hole with some large insect it has captured, and offer it to the female. If she accepts, she will take the insect and then fly off out of the hole to hunt together through the night. It was so exciting to sit with Tony and chat while listening for the male to call before approaching the nest. It wasn’t long before we started to hear it call, and we grew even more excited to get a chance to see it.

As the name might imply, Elf Owls are tiny. In fact they’re the smallest owl in North America. These tiny little terrors measure just five inches from beak to tail, making them a solid inch smaller than many common sparrows. It was tough to get a decent capture with the low lighting, but we did get one usable image of the female poking its head out of the nest hole.


Elf Owl at Battiste B&B, Cochise County. March 19, 2013.

The Elf Owl was exciting, but it really just made me want to find other owls. Since this was our last night, we decided to head up into the neighboring canyons to listen for Whiskered Screech Owls or more Elf Owls. We didn’t get any more pictures, but we did hear Elf Owls calling from two other locations, and both saw and heard a Whiskered Screech Owl at one location. Cliff-edge crumbling dirt roads are not Ellen’s favorite in the dark, but she hung in there and we were both satisfied with our finds.

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