Early Sunday morning, we joined another bird walk led by Alan, the BLM volunteer. This time the venue was Sierra Vista's Environmental Operations Park (EOP) a glamorized epithet for the city's wastewater treatment area. Nevertheless, it was a birdy place. Just off the parking lot, we were already greeted by a Loggerhead Shrike, another skittish species in California but not so in Arizona. Continuing with the friendly-bird format, we also saw (and photographed) a Virginia Rail, a bird that is more often heard than seen as it skulks among the dense marsh vegetation it inhabits. We also had good looks at Yellow-headed Blackbirds, one of our target birds on this trip. The walk ended at 9:30 am giving us sufficient time to go back to the motel to change into our church clothes.
The service (and preaching) at Calvary Chapel Sierra Vista was very uplifting. The congregants, friendly. For lunch, we decided to live it up and had a sumptuous buffet at Grand Corral.
Inspired by lunch at the Corral, we took off our birding hats and put on our tourist caps as we proceeded to Tombstone. Yes, this is the site of the famous gunfight between Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and Doc Holliday against the notorious Clanton Gang. The center of the town was kept in its historic original, complete with dirt road, stagecoaches and, of course, gunslingers. Nothing historic about the prices of the merchandise, though, as the primary source of their economy are curious tourists such as this two. Of course, we didn't succumb to this highway robbery - we're smart dudes, ya know.
We followed Mel & Elaine's advice and decided to go along with the bird walk to be held at 7 am at the San Pedro Riparian Area. The motel offers free continental (read: cheap) breakfast, so we partook of their cold cereal and hot cocoa before embarking on our adventure.
We arrived at the SPRA and found a gathering of birders. As I was setting up my gear, Mel (the tall guy with a hat in the middle of the picture) approached me and asked, "Did you see it?" "See what?" was my curious reply. He pointed to the top of the tree right beside the parking lot and there perched a Red-tailed Hawk enjoying the early morning sun. Soon everybody started hitting the southbound trail. Not good, I whispered to Cynthia, most birds we will see will be against the light. Not discouraged by such prospects we ambled along with the group, stopping every now and then to watch the birds pointed out by Alan, a Bureau of Land Management(BLM) volunteer. Thr circuitous route covered about 3 miles and as we trudged towards the San Pedro House (the visitor center), my left shoulder was already bruised from the more than 10-lb load hefted onto it. The walk added Vesper and Brewer's Sparrows to our life list. Blue Grosbeaks which we found to be very skittish in California are much more friendly here. At the San Pedro House, while everybody was discussing the birds they saw, we lingered a while near the feeders close by. David, another BLM volunteer, suddenly shouted, "White-breasted Nuthatch!", as he pointed to a black and white bird foraging near the base of a tree. Strangely enough, nobody paid attention to David. I, on the other hand, kept clicking away.
It was about 11 am when we left SPRA. We had lunch at Arby's where Cynthia finished off a Chicken Salad sandwich before I could even say "sandwich". Blame it on the 3-mile walk she explained. After lunch we went to the Huachuca Canyon. According to my reference books there are four canyons that are great places to bird. The first, Ramsey Canyon, we learned, was pretty dead as far as birding was concerned. The 8 mile unpaved road to Carr Canyon is precipitous with numerous hairpin turns so Cynthia and I, acrophobics that we are, agreed not to take that route. We chose Miller Canyon first. It was a 2.5 mile drive of rocky road (not the ice cream) without any zigzag. At the end of the road was Beatty's Ranch and B & B. This place is famous for its hummingbirds (14 species were found in one day!). The hummingbird feeders around the Beatty store did not show much promise but we were told by a couple of birders who were on the way out, that there are more feeders, and consequentially, more birds, further up the trail.
Ignoring the pain on my shoulder, I once again carried my camera gear up a steep slope and finally ended at a relatively flat, albeit small area with chairs and a roof. There we met Lisa Williams, a local, who is also into bird photography (see her work at arizonabirder.com). The place was soothingly quiet that we can hear the whirr of hummingbird wings as if only inches away from our ears. The three of us spent about 2 hours enjoying and photographing the tiny winged wonders of the avian world. (Trivia: Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards). Here we met the Magnificent Hummingbird, arguably the largest hummer found in the United States.
Having had our fill of Beatty's hummingbird corner, we decided to check out the last canyon in our list. Ash Canyon is about 4 miles south of Miller and has a better (and even shorter) road. The road ended at the front gate of Mary Jo Ballator's B & B and like Beatty's she also had feeders in her yard. Lisa joined us here as well and we had a great time once again with hummingbirds. Our life list was now augmented by Broad-billed and Lucifer Hummingbirds and Mexican Jays. In between shots, we just sat on the patio chairs and took in the beauty of the multi-colored feathered jewels and the serenade of whirring wings that only the Huachuca Canyons can offer.
Now that Cynthia had been hooked to bird photography, it behooved us to go to a place where there are lots of birds. Sierra Vista, Arizona, is such a place. Nestled in the mountainous area of the southeastern section of that state, it is dubbed as a birder's paradise, boasting of species seldom, if ever, seen in other parts of the United States. We left home at exactly 6 am Friday, Sept. 22. By 9:06 am we crossed into Arizona territory and by 3 pm we are checking-in at Best Western in Sierra Vista. It was a long drive, but we had several stops along the way. For lunch, we ate at the Burger King in Tucson, a break from the traditional breakfast at McDonalds. It has become a routine for us whenever we go birding, that our morning should start with a breakfast at the famous fast food place (regardless of where we were ultimately headed). But this was lunch, we rationalized, so it was OK. There was still enough light to go birding, so after dumping our luggage into our room (thank God it was on the ground floor) we proceeded to the San Pedro Riparian Area about 7 miles away and a well-known birding place. We decided not to bring our cameras as we hit the trail from the parking lot to the edge of the San Pedro creek. We just planned to "case the joint" and see what the place has to offer bird-wise. None of the birds we saw were unusual in the sense that they can be seen in California, too. However, the birds here seem to be more colorful; the Vermillion Flycatcher more strikingly vermillion, the Blue Grosbeak, in deep blue shades. Close to the creek we met a local birding couple, Mel & Elaine, who gave us suggestions on where to bird at what particular time. Mel was in a middle of a sentence when I saw a raptor suddenly fly into view. I grabbed my binoculars and Mel did the same. "Swainson's Hawk", he said almost nonchalantly. Cynthia and I viewed the bird with the enthusiasm of a child just handed a new toy. It was our first lifer of the trip. Flushed with our success, we decided to celebrate by having dinner at a Korean Restaurant. We had a perfect bul-go-gi to end a perfect day.