Arizona and Colorado in August

I woke up right around sunrise (8/11) the time change made a bit harder to get out of bed, but somewhere out there was a Plain-capped Starthroat. I drove straight to Montosa Canyon, a spot I hadn’t visited before, and it was quiet amazing. On the drive in I picked up a singing Rufous-winged Sparrow and from the sound of it there were plenty out there. Birds were plentiful in the canyon with Varied Buntings, Warbling and Bell’s Vireos, and Nashville Warblers. Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds kept me on my toes. Throughout the morning I wandered around the area where the bird had been seen previously a dozen times and over the course of several hours at least 30 people, including a Field Guides group turned up nothing unusual. By 11am I admitted defeat and left, I was the last person out of the canyon.

A starthroat had been reported a Mary Jo’s feeder in Ash Canyon and I made my way there as quickly as possible, it was kind of in the direction of Colorado anyway. I four hour wait with many of the same people from the morning left all of us a bit sunburned, dehydrated, and starthroat-less (apparently now the bird visits regularly, ah the vagrancy of birding). Two male Lucifer Hummingbirds, plus a Magnificent made up for it just a bit. I said good-bye to my companions around 5pm and headed towards Carr Canyon.

Lucifer Hummingbird Arizona Photo Stephan Lorenz

The Huachuca Mountains are a magical place for landscapes, birds and other life and especially Carr Canyon with its treacherous road and isolated campground is one of my favorite places in southeast Arizona. I slowly tackled the infamous reef, a serious of steep switchbacks that even solid 4WD cannot handle after rain. Fortunately the road had just been worked on and my over-sized 2WD slowly scraped up the gravel. Near the top I came across a Black Bear that lumbered across the road and then quickly disappeared down slope. I delayed setting up camp to leave some time to hike to the springs. Needless to say it was quiet, but I did come across a Greater Pewee and a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers.

the road up to Carr Canyon Photo Stephan Lorenz

I woke up (8/12) to the sound of a Spotted Owl calling near camp. The sky was turning from black to purple and I packed up camp quickly, wanting to hit the trail as early as possible. I love hiking in the Huachucas as I am slightly obsessed with the Eared Quetzal and this is probably one of the best places to find one in the US, of course I wasn’t expecting it, but just the possibility makes hiking here exciting. I walked the Carr trail, connected with the Hamburg Meadow trail and on to the ridge trail, thanks to the advice from a local hikers. I looped back through another canyon for a spectacular ten miles of mountain vistas and exciting feeding flocks. Most surprising to me was the abundance of Hermit Warblers compared to Townsend’s, I found at least 10 of the first and just 1 of the latter. I saw plenty of Black-throated Gray Warblers, Grace’s, Red-faced, single Wilson’s and Nashville. Painted Redstart were common as usual and the strange Olive Warbler, a pair which I encountered high up rounded out the list. I also saw at least three Magnificent Hummingbirds in shadowy openings, the first I have ever seen away from feeders.

Magnificent Hummingbird Arizona Photo Stephan Lorenz

The day was heating up and I felt pretty tired, but feeding flocks hindered my progress. Sitting in the shade and watching warblers drift past, I even saw a Bridled Titmouse, which seemed a bit high for the species. A pair of Arizona Woodpeckers trailed one of the feeding flocks and I watched the pair forage for fifteen minutes. Around 3pm I set off on the drive down, taking the hairpin turns slowly, steering carefully around the sharp rocks. Back on pavement I steered towards I10, flew past Wilcox, and turned north onto 191 towards Springerville. The fatigue from the day, the winding mountain road with speed limits down to 20mph, and the number of inviting campgrounds in the Apache National Forest had me stopping much earlier than planned. I hastily set up the tent around 10pm and slept well.

Red-faced Warbler Arizona Photo Stephan Lorenz

The forest was eerily quiet in the morning (8/13). I heard a few Pygmy Nuthatches, but otherwise the enormous pines stood silent. I continued north on 191, but couldn’t resist a few stop. The most productive was at Hulsey Lake, the lake turned out to be a wildflower choked meadow, literally buzzing with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. American Robins were everywhere and I came across a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers. Further on a quieter tapping caught my attention and a gorgeous male Williamson’s Sapsucker came into focus, a species of which I have only seen the very different females.

I didn’t really have a plan of how far I would drive so just kept heading north, eventually swinging east along I40 back into New Mexico before going straight north. A colony of Gunnison Prairie Dogs was a nice surprise along the way.

Gunnison Prairie Dog New Mexico Photo Stephan Lorenz

When I reached northern New Mexico I finally looked at a map of Colorado during a stop for gas and realized the Ouray wasn’t far anymore, maybe an hour. I decided to push on and visit the famous Box Canyon Falls hoping to see Black Swift. I asked the guy at the entrance station, and yes, of course the swifts were in. He gave me detailed directions to view one nest (see chick below), but in my excitement I didn’t listen at all and had to return after not finding anything. I staked out the nest, which was six feet from the metal catwalk near the falls. I waited for nearly one hour, with the chick shuffling around for awhile before sitting completely still. I saw one adult swift shoot out from the waterfall and disappear in the stratosphere. I waited, until my patience caved (due to the long drive I claim) and I wandered towards a different portion of the catwalk to look for other nest. Luckily I located four more and one contained an adult brooding a tiny naked chick, I got great looks at the bird clinging to its mossy nest across the stream. I hiked the trail to the top of the gorge and added Evening Grosbeak among many Cassin’s Finches. Scoping the sky, I picked out one Black Swift among dozens of Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts.

Black Swift chick in nest, adult brooding, and habitat Box Canyon Falls Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz

Just before sunset I decided to drive on to Grand Mesa and spend the night in the mountains. The route was straight forward and by ten I found myself in Boreal Owl habitat. I made one or two stops to listen and play a tape for the owl, not with much hope, more just to practice. I continued along the main road, heading for one of the forest service campgrounds. I made a stop at a large pull-out where the forest contained mature large trees. I waited and listened, eventually wandering down a wide path leading past a maintenance shed and further into the forest. The night was fairly warm without the slightest breeze and no moon, black trees under a black sky, perfect conditions. I walked further into the forest and gave it another try. Suddenly there was a response and within seconds I watched a Boreal Owl sitting five feet of the ground, staring at me. Overall I followed the bird for over an hour, trying to keep disturbance to a minimum. The bird even hunted on the ground. I heard and saw a second bird fly over.

Boreal Owl Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz

I slept in the next morning (8/14) after crashing barely at 1 am after seeing the owl. I hiked several trails near camp and higher up hoping for Dusky Grouse, but had no luck. In the afternoon I drove to Grand Junction and visited Colorado National Monument, where I had a huge Pinyon Jay flock within minutes. My only previous experience with the species were two birds seen briefly after a six hour search near Mono Lake CA. Here the bird came streaming down the canyon right past me, I first rushed up and then down the trail to keep up with the moving party. The birds landed on the ground and flipped rocks, landed in trees calling, and flew across the road. The entire flock disappeared without a trace a quick as it had appeared.

Pinyon Jay Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz

Back in the mountains is used the last hours of light to hike around a lake where I got close views of at least three American Three-toad Woodpeckers and photographed some other wildlife.

American Three-toed Woodpecker Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz

In the evening I wandered along some quiet forest roads, still hoping for Dusky Grouse. I did come across two bull moose, luckily not on foot, right at dusk. I heard a Boreal Owl call once in the campground after dark.

Moose Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz

Today (8/15) I put in an all out effort for Dusky Grouse. I hiked a great trail near camp and came across many exciting mountain species, including several Gray Jays, at least eight American Three-toed Woodpeckers, a small flock of Red Crossbill and one Pine Grosbeak, but no whiff of any grouse. I decided it was time to pack up and head to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a famous grouse spot. I took several hours, during which I came across a cinnamon colored Black Bear, many other birds, and eventually in the evening, well see for yourself….

Dusky Grouse Colorado Photo Stephan Lorenz






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