The AZ FEPO Search: Boots on the Ground

For some time it has been a goal of mine to see all 19 regular species of Owls that reside in the U.S.  Getting the Boreal Owl this past January was a dream come true in itself and put me within one Owl of reaching my goal, with the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl being the holdout. FEPO can be notched relatively easily if you’re willing to pay a hefty fee and travel to the King Ranch in south Texas. And I was. Our family had planned to take a very large cross-country road trip this summer, and my plan was to hit up King Ranch on the journey. Plans changed though. It’s funny how owning two houses for nearly a year with no end in sight will do that.

Eventually sweet relief came in the housing situation in March, but it was too late to resurrect any mega road trip plans. I did start talking to my buddy Tommy DeBardeleben, though, about trying to recreate his AZ FEPO magic from 2016. FEPOs are resident in small numbers at Organ Pipe National Monument along the U.S./Mexican border. They are very tough to come by there, but Tommy and others have proved it is indeed possible.  Success would be even sweeter in AZ considering I’d be with Tommy who’s helped me get so many other Owl lifers.  After discussing the decision with “Screw Texas” Tommy and cajoling my buddy Steve Gardner into making the trip with me, plans were set for a fast weekend trip in mid-April.

April unleashed some of the worst winter weather we’d seen with blizzard after blizzard pummeling us. The MN forecast for our AZ weekend was grim. Steve and I planned to leave Friday after work, and all day long we wondered if we’d make it out of the state. Getting to the airport was sketchy. The temp was hovering right at freezing, causing the road to quickly become ice-covered from the snow/rain which slowed us down. The main thrust of the storm would start that night after we were scheduled to take off. And it was forecast to be a doozy–lots of snow, lots of wind, lots of closures.  We finally made it to the airport and as we waited for the flight, Steve and I distracted ourselves from the possibility of a canceled flight by keeping up with the latest bird happenings on FB. One really caught our eye–a Fan-tailed Warbler was just reported in the Chiricahuas in SE AZ. Steve and I had never even heard of this Mexican Warbler before the posting. It was interesting, but we were focused on the Owl prize. Besides, a Warbler could quickly disappear…

Steve and I were relieved to actually get on the plane (the airport was predicted to be shut down sometime in the night and all the next day).  Getting the plane off the ground was another story. We sat on the tarmac for a long time.

airplane wing

Shortly after we de-iced, we got word that we couldn’t take off until the rain turned to snow, which was frustrating since the rain had been snow when we got on the plane. The possibility of this trip getting nixed was growing. There would be no flight out on Saturday.  Finally, though, the Captain gave the good word and we were in the sky only one hour behind schedule.

The Parents extended their snowbirding long enough (smartly) to not only avoid the lingering MN winter but to also be there to pick us up from the airport, be home base for the excursion, and lend us a vehicle. Thanks Mom and Dad!  Late that night we rendezvoused with Tommy at their house.  There was time for a 3-hour “nap” before our morning alarms would wake us for our 2-hour drive south.

Exhausted as we were, we made it to Organ Pipe. It was FEPO time. Alamo Canyon, Organ Pipe National MonumentOwls aside, I think Steve and I were just enjoying not being in a blizzard. Our sympathies for our families back home were quickly eclipsed by the beautiful weather we were enjoying. We picked a great weekend to be in southern Arizona.

Expectations for FEPO or any new lifers were low as we began the hike up Alamo Canyon. I mistakenly thought I might get one new non-FEPO lifer in Organ Pipe.  Shortly into the hike Tommy announced the presence of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Thankfully he did not announce the presence of a smuggler, though anyone smuggling in a load of Mexican FEPOs would have been met with open arms.

smuggle sign

As we continued our FEPOless, smugglerless hike up Alamo Canyon, we notched a heard only MacGillivray’s Warbler lifer. I totally forgot about the fact that we’d be in Arizona during migration. What else might we find? Well, a Gray Vireo was certainly not on my radar but was now on my life list. It was great to see one, but I was kinda saving that one for Janet Witzeman to show me–eventually I’ll blog about that backstory.

Gray VireoNot long after the Gray Vireo fun it was time to head back down canyon sans FEPO. A petty consolation came in the form of another Vireo lifer we missed on the way up, one of the Cassin’s variety.

Cassin's Vireo

Back at the trailhead for Alamo Canyon, we paused to figure out what was next. FEPO searching in the heat of the day is pretty useless, and the Organ Pipe area really held nothing for us (especially after the bonus lifers).  We’d have to travel a significant distance if we wanted to get in some more good birding. We landed on going to Madera Canyon to Owl at night. This was not a deviation from the original FEPO plans; one of the carrots to make the trip appealing to Steve was to do some other Owling as well. He could potentially rack up several Owl lifers in one night.  FEPO searching would resume Sunday night and Monday morning since we would spend Saturday night somewhere near Madera.

By the time we left Organ Pipe, the morning was still quite young, so we had plenty of time to do some daylight birding before the night Owling.  With mindset properly switched, I was ready for some great SE AZ action during the FEPO break. A couple notables on the drive, such as Prairie Falcons and a Crested Caracara, only amped up the excitement.  Our first stop was the famed Santa Gertrudis Lane. Several high-profile birds had been there of late, such as Sinaloa Wren and some Rufous-backed Robins.  As we walked to the Wren spot marked by a weird plastic tricycle from last century, we picked up another couple lifers, flyover Gray Hawks and a confiding pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers. I was struck by its petite size compared to other Myiarchus species and surprised at how much I enjoyed this lifer.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

We missed the Wren despite a solid effort, and we nearly missed the Robins too. As we were hiking out, we met a group of birders and traded intel. We had bad news for them; they had good news for us. They had seen three Robins where we had walked by! The nice guy even guided us right to them. I don’t think we ever would have found these Thrush statues without his help. This was a good moment, vindication for a failed attempt in January.

Rufous-backed RobinRufous-backed Robin

After Santa Gertrudis it was on to the De Anza Trail at Tubac to look for some Rose-throated Becards. We were all going in blind. We didn’t really know where to look in the towering Cottonwoods. Like the Wren, it was a bust. We did walk away with more Gray Hawk sightings, however brief due to the limited sky windows in the canopy. A juvenile did provide one quick photo op.

Gray HawkBy this point in the afternoon, it was time we made our way to Madera Canyon. Not wanting to waste any burning daylight, we squeezed out every minute stopping briefly at Florida Canyon for Rufous-capped Warbler for Steve and Black-capped Gnatcatcher for both of us. Nada on those, but the effort was minimal.  At least a Black-throated Gray Warbler was an nice lifer bonus for Steve. Next up was a stop at Proctor Road to try one more time for the Gnatcatcher. We did find a Gnatcatcher that was more Black-capped-like that Black-tailed, but the waning daylight and the bird’s fidgety behavior did not allow us to clinch the key field marks for an ID beyond a reasonable doubt. The regularity of this species makes it highly likely that it will eventually land on my list, just not this day.

With darkness settling in, it was time for the night show in Madera Canyon proper. Almost immediately we heard the barking of Elf Owls. It was a lifer for Steve and a sought-after Owl do-over for me. My lifer sighting a few years ago was brief and poor. I had wanted a better photo (that showed eyeballs) of this Owl for some time. Finally.

Elf OwlElf OwlElf OwlAfter enjoying the Elf show for some time, we Owled on for Steve. Lofty plans of looking for Whiskered Screech, Flam, and Spotted Owls collided with the reality of our extreme fatigue. We mustered enough energy to look for the easiest of those, the Whiskered Screech. Only one uncooperative bird was enough for us to be successful, but the brevity of the observation left a lot to be desired. But at this point, all we really desired was sleep. We drove on to Sierra Vista to spend the night so we could look for some reported Montezuma Quail at Ash Canyon B&B early the next morning.  Then it would be back to Organ Pipe to resume FEPO searching, or so we thought…

Arizona 2015: The Return to Madera Canyon — Elegant Trogon or Bust!

Getting back to my hotel in Green Valley that afternoon on the 31st after lifering hard at Mt. Lemmon, Florida Canyon, and Madera Canyon, I couldn’t take any more birding, mostly because my stomach bug was still raging hard. I got about an hour’s rest before Evan made a big birding discovery at the hotel that forced me into full-on birding mode again.  This discovery will be the focus of the next blog post. Once that excitement settled down, I finally collected my thoughts enough to remember that Tommy DeBardeleben and Gordon Karre were counting on me to check the internet for Trogon reports to decide what we should do in the morning.  According to eBird, no Trogons had been seen for over a week at Patagonia Lake State Park.  On the other hand, just the day before, Eric Ripma had eBirded two male Elegant Trogons 1/4 mile up the Super Trail at Madera Canyon.  The choice was now clear, especially since Madera was a short 15 minute drive away where Patagonia was closer to an hour.  I texted Gordon and we all mutually agreed that Madera it was.

After telling Evan about the cool birds I saw and after he had some good sightings at the hotel, he was in a birding mood and wanted to go on the Trogon hunt the next morning.  I felt our chances were decent after that eBird report, so I was glad he made that decision.  Adding to the excitement was that my health was back to 100% on April Fools morning.  It was feeling like a GREAT day to lifer on my grail bird.

sunrise

Tommy and Gordon picked us up at the hotel at 6:00 to bring us back to the mountain.  As we drove to the Super Trail parking lot, Evan lifered on Mexican Jay out the car window near the Santa Rita Lodge.  We weren’t stopping for those secondary lifers, though.  We were on a mission, and our crew-leader Tommy was shouldering all the weight and anxiety of the Trogon hunt.  Like Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, Tommy was putting the team on his back and was determined to bring us all to glory.  Before we got to hiking that morning, Tommy spoke to me in a hushed tone, “Now, I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but Gordon and I scouted the Super Trail last night and we…heard a Trogon.”

“Yeah, I won’t get my hopes up,” I lied between pounding heartbeats.

Almost immediately after we got on the Super Trail, Evan had his Painted Redstart lifer.  I was happy for him because I knew he also really wanted to see this bird too even though he didn’t go with me to Mt. Lemmon the day before. Gordon pointed out a Bushtit at one point which didn’t get me too excited since I had seen them and crushed them in Colorado.  Evan chimed in, though, and reminded me that that was a life bird for him! Oops.

Not long after that I spotted a crazy-looking creature barreling down the path toward us.  It turned out to be a single-striped morph of the Hooded Skunk.

Hooded Skunk

I’ve learned that birders, myself included, are an easily distracted lot, especially when it comes to cool animals.  The TROGONS-ONLY! mode was now set-aside for a wild-skunk chase, a venture that could have gone south in so many regards.

Gordon Tommy Evan

Front to Back: Gordon Karre, Evan, Tommy DeBardeleben

Thankfully it didn’t, though, and we were back on the Super Trail hunting for Trogons again.  A little bit later as we were walking along looking at every mid-level perch along the canyon wash for our target, an exotic bird sound boomed and brought us to an abrupt halt.

“That’s it!” Tommy exclaimed.  Tommy thought he heard it further up the wash, but as we all paused to listen, the sound was coming from behind us in an area we had already walked past!  Tommy had been leading our single-file procession up the wash and was actually the furthest from the bird.  Tommy immediately sprung into action and quickly walked by all of us to now take the lead in the opposite direction we had been traveling.  It was an extremely serious and tense moment–we were on the cusp of glory, and we could all taste it. The whole time we were hearing the cool sound of the calling Elegant Trogon and multiple heart beats were collectively being skipped.  In seconds Tommy had pinned the location of the calling Trogon from across the wash.  Then, magic happened– he saw it take flight, in all its splendor, and land on our side of the wash!  This was the moment when Tommy pointed it out to all of us and became a greater hero than Kirby Puckett. We got to see it in the early morning light briefly before it flew into an open area allowing incredible but brief looks.  It was staggering. We were really looking at an Elegant Trogon. I managed to get a couple photos before it flew further up the mountain slope.  Considering the early morning light and the bird’s unwillingness to sit still, I was beyond thrilled to get this shot which is the best souvenir I could hope for from the 2015 AZ trip.

Elegant Trogon

I never could get that classic shot of the bright orange belly and white neck band, though I saw those features whenever the bird would fly.  That forward look was the photo I really wanted, but the more I think about it, the more I like the photo above because it shows off the bird’s emerald sheen on its back as well as its coppery tail.  You don’t see that too often in photos.  And considering some birders dip completely on the Trogon or get crummy views at best, I count myself extremely lucky for the sighting alone.  This photo was the icing on the cake.

That said, I didn’t stop trying for the classic shot.  I never got it, but it’s a right of passage that I should post at least one blurry, bigfoot-esque photo of this massive prize.  At least you can get a sense of the bird’s orange belly.

Elegant Trogon Tommy and Gordon were excited with the find too, namely because they had gotten us this key lifer, but also because it is a fantastic year bird for them.  The only comparison I have is a Great Gray Owl to a Minnesota birder–it’s a bird we can never count on, is elusive and easily missed, and is always a thrill to see.  So as the bird kept calling and moving up the slope, Tommy asked me, “You want to go after it, Josh?”  Um, yeah!

Tommy, Evan, and I started racing up the slope for better looks at this bird.  It continued to call and move often, which Tommy believes is a sign that it was looking for a mate.  Evan was having trouble on the steep incline with his sandals, so he waited on the trail with Gordon while Tommy and I went uphill.  Eventually the bird had gone completely out of sight and earshot, and we gave up and headed back down the hill.  Once Evan and I were in sight of each other again, he called up the mountain with a huge grin on his face, “Hey dad, I just got my Arizona Woodpecker!”

“What?! You beat me to it?!”

This was the smug look that met me at the bottom of the hill.  Do you see the smug all over that face?

Evan

He and Gordon had gone behind my back, literally and figuratively, for this life bird which I was now desperate to see even though I had just come off a literal mountain-high from seeing the coolest bird of my life.  But it didn’t take long for Gordon to find the AZ specialty  for me too.  I got crummy looks, but a lifer is a lifer after all.

Arizona WoodpeckerAfter double-lifering, our party of four continued up the wash in hopes of refinding the Trogon or finding a new one altogether.

Gordon Tommy Evan

L-R: Tommy, Evan, Gordon

Sadly, we never did see or hear the Trogon again even though we walked the wash as far as we could.  The walk back was pleasant with lots of bounce in all our steps as we had secured the main treasure.  As we walked along, I could visibly tell that a weight had been lifted from Tommy’s shoulders.  He was relaxed; he had done his job that he took more seriously than anyone else.  The rest of us were all just on Cloud 9, now enjoying being in bonus-birding mode.  To kick things off, we had another lovely Painted Redstart, and Tommy found Evan his Townsend’s Solitaire lifer.

Townsend's SolitaireFinally the sun crested the mountain peaks, washing the valleys below with beautiful light.  Evan announced he had found a great photo-op of an abiding Mexican Jay while Gordon and Tommy simultaneously found him his Hutton’s Vireo lifer.  I opted for photographing the Jay while Evan got his Vireo.  Great photo-scouting, Evan.

Mexican JayAnd nearing the parking lot, we were also able to get Evan his Bridled Titmouse lifer.  I was finally able to get a photo of them.

Bridled Titmouse

Getting back to the car, we decided to make a stop at the spot in Madera Canyon where Gordon and Tommy crushed Whiskered Screech-Owls the night before.  I got to sleep in a hotel room the previous night instead of a tent. They got WHSOs.  I guess that’s a fair trade, or not. Definitely not. I’d sleep on a rock for those shots: Tommy’s photos and Gordon’s photos. Sadly, our brief owl search turned up nothing, other than a nice photo op of a lone Band-tailed Pigeon that Gordon found.

Band-tailed Pigeon

Evan and I then hung out at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders to get Evan caught up on some lifers while Tommy and Gordon went to work packing up their campsite.  Evan quickly lifered on Broad-billed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, and Red-naped Sapsucker.

Acorn Woodpecker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

We also had an Arizona Woodpecker fly over our heads, and Evan finally got good looks at numerous Lesser Goldfinches.  His lifering on LEGO was the same brief sighting as mine in Colorado.

Lesser Goldfinch

After enjoying these birds for a little while, Evan and I went into the gift shop at Santa Rita Lodge where we were greatly wooed by anything and everything Elegant.  There’s nothing as effective as victory for loosening the purse strings: Trogon hat for me, Trogon pin for Evan, Trogon postcard for Randy back home who’s always dipped on ELTR…  Thankfully, Tommy and Gordon came back before we were completely bedecked in Trogon bling/apparel.

It was a monumental morning that will go down in the Wallestad birding history books as one of the greatest birding adventures of all time. We got the big guy.  All the dreaming and planning culminated in success. Moreover, Evan added nine additional lifers, including the dazzling and much coveted Painted Redstart. A huge thanks goes out to Tommy and Gordon for making it all happen. The only fitting way to end this post is a group photo of the conquerors.  These men will never be the same; they belong to an elite club.  They stand a little taller.  They walk with confidence. These men have seen the Elegant Trogon.

Josh Gordon Tommy Evan

L-R: Yours Truly, Gordon, Evan, Tommy

The 2015 Arizona series has eight chapters: 1) Maricopa Birds, 2) Mt. Lemmon, 3) Florida Canyon, 4) Madera Canyon Part 1, 5) Madera Canyon Part 2, 6) Evan’s Big Discovery, 7) Owling at Coon Bluff on the Salt River, and 8) Evan’s Nemesis.

Arizona 2015: Welcome to Madera Canyon

Santa Rita Lodge Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon. Wow.  What a thrill it was to be on the hallowed birding ground of which I’ve only read about in books and blog posts.  Tommy DeBardeleben and Gordon Karre had brought me here after an already successful morning of 18 life birds accumulated at stops on Mt. Lemmon and at Florida Canyon.  Yet, my number one target was still not in the bag; the Elegant Trogon, or lack thereof, was now a pressing weight on us all.  Despite this, we had about an hour’s worth of time before Tommy and Gordon would bring me to my Green Valley hotel.  That time would be spent picking up miscellaneous lifers so that the next morning would strictly be all about the Trogon.

Again my stomach bug was preventing me from enjoying every second, but I kept dragging myself out of the car and taking pictures of birds, knowing that I’d be able to enjoy it all later.  The first place we stopped were the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge.  The first life bird was a Mexican Jay.

IMG_2772The Broad-billed Hummingbirds were as thick as flies around the feeding station. I am not sorry I am forcing you to look at another Broad-billed shot.  Drink it in.  It will be the last Broad-billed you see on this blog in 2015.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpeckers were a little more down to earth at the Santa Rita Lodge.  This guy and a buddy were clowning around, practicing their dismembered wing illusion for all the Santa Rita guests.  Well-fed birds must occupy their surplus of time somehow after all.

Acorn Woodpecker

The second lifer of Madera Canyon was a Red-naped Sapsucker.  I am impressed with this bird’s limited range and rarity, but I have to say our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker variety back home has it beat, mostly because its name has better potential for insulting someone.

Red-naped Sapsucker

The third Madera lifer that Tommy and Gordon found me was a pair of nesting Canyon Wrens hanging out on the Santa Rita Lodge owner’s personal house and fence.  As compensation for free lodging, the Canyon Wrens provide home security.

Canyon Wren

Tommy and Gordon were right–Canyon Wren is the best Wren.

Canyon Wren

Not long after this I was able to lifer on Bridled Titmouse.  It was frustrating that these birds didn’t give better looks because this was a bird I had really wanted to see well.  That brought the lifer total for Madera Canyon up to four, but Tommy and Gordon had gotten over that number since we shattered it at Florida Canyon.

After 20 minutes or so at the Santa Rita Lodge, we ventured further up Madera Canyon to the feeders at Kubo Bed&Breakfast.  There were a few Hummingbirds around.  One stuck out as it dwarfed the rest.  It was my magnificent Magnificent Hummingbird lifer.

Magnificent Hummingbird

By this point my strength and time were completely gone.  My stomach was churning and my head was spinning with a massive 23 life birds accumulated in about 7 hours.  I didn’t even know my number then, though Tommy always knew what my tally was.  Tommy and Gordon delivered me to my hotel at precisely 3:00, so I could join my family for vacation within a vacation in Green Valley.

The Elegant Trogon search would have to begin in earnest the next morning.  I parted company with these two fine birders that afternoon under a certain level of anxiety and indecision.  Their stress of finding the Trogon the next day for me was palpable despite my assurances that I’d already had a fantastic trip,Trogon or not.  They were taking this way more serious than me.  I know the risks in birding.  Dipping is a big part of it, and I was mentally prepared for it (mostly because I know there will be more AZ trips in my future).

Indecision for the next day’s plan of attack was also clouding everything.  Tommy was torn between Patagonia Lake State Park and Madera Canyon.  A very easy Trogon had been seen all winter at Patagonia, but now in late March/early April, that bird would likely move to higher elevations any day.  Madera Canyon, on the other hand, was the proper elevation, but its birds had not been as easy to locate.  Decisions, decisions….  What would we do?  At the moment, I couldn’t focus on the tough calls.  I just wanted to stop being aware of my stomach 100% of the time.  What would happen? How would this all end? Only the next day would hold the answers.

The 2015 Arizona series has eight chapters: 1) Maricopa Birds, 2) Mt. Lemmon, 3) Florida Canyon, 4) Madera Canyon Part 1, 5) Madera Canyon Part 2, 6) Evan’s Big Discovery, 7) Owling at Coon Bluff on the Salt River, and 8) Evan’s Nemesis.

Arizona 2015: The Hunt for Elegant Trogons and Rufous-capped Warblers at Florida Canyon

The post title inspires shivers. For me too, but not for the obvious reasons. Unbeknownst to my birding escorts, Tommy DeBardeleben and Gordon Karre, I had been battling a bad stomach bug for the past 24 hours. One only gets so many chances at SE AZ in life, so I wasn’t going to let a little misery hold me back from birding glory.  Still, at this point in the day, after Mt. Lemmon’s winding roads, never-ending stop-and-go traffic across Tucson, and the sweltering heat, my condition was becoming increasingly distracting. I say this not to win your pity or admiration for gutting it out (thankfully not literally), but to let you know that my enjoyment from Florida Canyon would have to come after-the-fact as in the writing of this post.  So let’s enjoy these great birds together!

Gordon and Tommy were obsessed with the number 4.  They got me four lifers at Cypress and four lifers at Rose Canyon.  Anything less at Florida Canyon would have greatly disappointed them.  They needn’t worry because the lifering was fast and furious in the parking area.  The birds were generally uncooperative for photos, but in minutes I had Broad-billed Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Hooded Oriole.  Also, to my delight was a bird I’ve been on good terms with–the Rufous Hummingbird.  This was now my 4th RUHU sighting from three different states in a one-year period. Here’s a shot of the Rufous and my lifer Broad-billed.

Rufous Hummingbird Broad-billed HummingbirdThere was too much going on–internally and externally–to worry about good photos, and we had to keep the main objective in front of us–finding an Elegant Trogon that had been reported in recent days in the shady, lower regions of Florida Canyon.  Things eventually slowed down as we scanned carefully for the Trogon.  The secondary lifering now came at a nice, steady pace.  Lucy’s Warbler clinched the coveted #4 spot for this third stop of the day.

Lucy's Warbler

No longer a lifer, this male Broad-billed Hummer was still stop-and-look worthy as it offered up some better photo-ops.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Here you can see why it is so named.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

A bland lifer that popped up next was the Dusky Flycatcher.  For this ID, I am totally relying on my birding companions. I have no pride when it comes to empid identification of either the eastern or western variety.

Dusky Flycatcher

As we ventured further up the canyon, the shady trees and our Trogon hopes were disappearing.  The only reason to push on through this now shrubby and hot valley was to look for the brush-loving, prized birds that have made Florida Canyon famous–the Rufous-capped Warblers.  Alas, it was not meant to be on this trip.  Tommy and Gordon shared how it often takes birders several attempts to get this prize.  I wasn’t disappointed; it’d already been a fantastic morning at Mt. Lemmon and now Florida Canyon.  Plus there were some more lifers and photo-ops to be had as we pursued the Warblers. The perky Ash-throated Flycatcher was surprisingly fun for being a bland-colored bird.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

The Canyon Towhee, on the other hand, was a bit haggard and answered the door in his 5 O’Clock shadow, tank-top, and boxing shorts.  At least it showed itself.  Thanks for nothing, Bell’s Vireos.

Canyon Towhee

IMG_2723

A much more accommodating Hooded Oriole posed for some photos.

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

Eventually we turned around and began hiking back down Florida Canyon, a quicker leg of the trip since the birds were now old-hat.  Except for Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  They demand your attention and look different at every turn.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Around this time I spotted a small, gray bird in a shrub.  Tommy quickly got on it right away and excitedly announced it was a bird whose name-length belies its size– the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. The Tyrannulet turned out to be two such birds and both gave fantastic views.  Tommy and Gordon were beside themselves with glee.  Though it’s small, though it’s gray, this bird is not often seen.  Their reaction made me appreciate this lifer and these views even more.  It was a neat, little bird for sure.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Venturing back through the taller trees we were now in Trogon-mode again.  Alas, it was not meant to be, but Gordon and Tommy found me another big target of mine for the trip, the Black-throated Gray Warbler!  In true warbler fashion, it did not offer up great views.  This was my only look and photo of this bird.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

I would have liked to try harder for a better look, but we had to keep our priorities straight.  Trogon-less at Florida, we had to make it over to Madera Canyon for another try.  I shall return for you Mr. Black-throated Gray!

Despite our to desire get back onto nausea-inducing roads and into more Trogon habitat, there was time for me to finally get a decent look at a Lesser Goldfinch, a bird I had seen briefly in Colorado last summer. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy LEGOs, whether that be the brick, waffle, or the bird, is crazy.  Greater Goldfinch sounds like a more appropriate name.

Lesser Goldfinch

As we were pulling out from Florida Canyon, Tommy heard another lifer out the car window–the Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  It wasn’t the red-headed bird we came for, but I’ll take it!

Rufous-crowned Sparrowwwww

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

We blew Tommy and Gordon’s hopes of four lifers out of the water as we left Florida Canyon with 10 new birds: Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Hooded Oriole, Lucy’s Warbler, Dusky Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Canyon Towhee, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  That brought the morning’s tally to 18 life birds.  Now it was on to Madera Canyon for an hour of birding before I would be joining my family at Green Valley.  And that wee little hour was enough for its own blog post–that’s how good Madera Canyon is.

The 2015 Arizona series has eight chapters: 1) Maricopa Birds, 2) Mt. Lemmon, 3) Florida Canyon, 4) Madera Canyon Part 1, 5) Madera Canyon Part 2, 6) Evan’s Big Discovery, 7) Owling at Coon Bluff on the Salt River, and 8) Evan’s Nemesis.