The Great Arizona Encore: When Life Gives You a Lemmon…and a Tangerine

I can hardly believe it myself–a bonus trip to AZ in 2015 is now on the books and coming to you on the blog.  It turns out that fall break is a much more convenient time for our family (NOT for birders) to go on our annual peregrination to visit my snowbird parents in Maricopa. Sadly, spring trips will be no more. It seemed strange to trade our lovely fall weather for the desert heat.  Also strange was the fact that we, my parents, and this Golden-crowned Kinglet were competing in a race to the south.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Thankfully my parents won (barely) and were able to welcome us all to their home. The Kinglet, rudely, did not show.  Of course, my parents who were traveling by car were greatly aided by an airline that had devious plans for messing with my perfectly picked schedule and meticulous birding plans that would have given the old life list a couple bumps within an hour of landing.  Yep, a mechanical problem grounded the plane and delayed us 5 HOURS while we waited for an empty plane to fly up from Phoenix to pick up our moping, angry selves.  Then again, this is a much preferred state of being than say, dead in a crash because of a mechanical failure. But still.  Now we would be getting into Phoenix just as the sun was setting–an inconvenience to your average traveler but a complete devastation to a birder.  I guess the Brown Pelicans and Rosy-faced Lovebirds in Tempe would just have to wait.

Or would they? Relatively speaking, we got to Phoenix faster than expected with an hour left of the day!  I thought the rental car process would be speedier.  I also thought the rental car would be considerably less orangey.

orange carThe sun was sinking but things were still glaringly aglow around us as we Dodge Darted ourselves across town to Tempe Town Lake where Gordon Karre was waiting for us to hopefully helps us salvage the Brown Pelican lifer on the first day.  Maybe the car blinded his vision, but Gordon just couldn’t find the target in the now twilight of the evening. Arrghh!

Fast forward to the next day when my parents and my family headed out on a big, two-night expedition to SE AZ.  The first agenda item was a trip up to the top of Mt. Lemmon just northeast of Tucson.  Ever since I traveled that road with Gordon Karre and Tommy DeBardeleben last March, I wanted to bring my family back here.  The scenery is amazing as you travel the twisting mountain road from the Saguaro-studded hillsides in the lower elevations to the majestic Pine-forests in the higher elevations all while looking out over stunning vistas.

Looking SW from Mt. Lemmon; Tucson is the flat area below.

Looking SW from Mt. Lemmon; Tucson is the flat area below. Photo from March 2015.

There was also a bird of interest for me.  Steller’s Jays are quite reliable near the summit of Mt. Lemmon on which rests a tiny village called Summerhaven. Despite two trips to the Colorado Rockies and a previous trip up Mt. Lemmon in recent years, I still had never seen one.  I reckoned I would finally fix that.

What I could not fix was the weather. Gloomy skies and steady drizzle diminished the beauty of the drive up the mountain, so it was now just an A+ instead of the normal A+++. And it was chilly, 52º.

Evan MarinOnce we completed the hour-long, 26 mile drive up to Summerhaven, I immediately started scanning for my target bird, a bird that Chris Rohrer assured me would be super easy to get.  I kind of expected them to just be everywhere, so depression was starting to set in when we drove through the town and I wasn’t seeing any birdlife.  We got out of the van and Melissa asked me what that weird noise was.  Then she said, “Oh, here’s your bird.” Twenty feet in front of the car–Chris was right.  Ah, the Steller’s Jay, at long last.

Steller's Jay

While the fam scoped out a trinket shop, I went on the hunt for a better photo of the target and to see what else I might turn up.

Numerous Yellow-eyed Juncos were foraging all over one of the streets.  Evan was later able to add this bird to his life list as well as Pygmy Nuthatch, birds I first saw on Mt. Lemmon last March.

Yellow-eyed Junco

I also discovered the Frankenstein of the Junco world.


Eventually I caught up with a Steller’s Jay again and got what I was after despite the drizzle and clouds. What a great-looking bird and a long-awaited addition to the list!

Steller's Jay

Steller's JayAt least day two was going according to plan.  Now, could we say the same for day three in the Huachuca Mountains where there was not only a Slate-throated Redstart but also SEVERAL Rufous-capped Warblers?

6 thoughts on “The Great Arizona Encore: When Life Gives You a Lemmon…and a Tangerine

  1. Congrats! Glad you and your family had a nice time up on Mt. Lemmon! That is a fun place to explore. I’m glad they were up there and cooperative. I look forward to hearing about your fun around Southern Arizona!

    • Thanks! And thanks for the great tip! The birds didn’t like my peanuts though. You feeding them some top-shelf cashews or something?!

  2. Welcome back to AZ! Congrats on the lifer STJA, and the super weird YEJU! That junco that you photographed has got to be one of the coolest but weirdest birds I’ve seen!

    • Thanks! Maybe one of these trips I’ll have a CAST sighting. I was glued to that listserv when I was down there…I was hoping you’d dig up a nice bird!

      Yeah, that bird was a freak. I was initially clued in that something wasn’t right when it hover-flew in front of a moving truck. Weird.

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