Monday, August 27, 2007

A Buggy Day (2nd installment of our Arizona trip journal)

We waited until the heat was more tolerable before we hit the birding trail at Sierra Vista. They were experiencing 3-digit temperatures the past few days and today was no exception.

As had been the case last year, we checked out the San Pedro Riparian area due to its proximity to the hotel. The moment we stepped out of the car, we were assaulted by bugs! And because of the muggy weather, we decided to wear shorts for our first birding sortie at Sierra Vista. Big mistake! The bug attack on our legs resulted in us doing an impromptu jig. But we were not going to allow some pesky flying insects to mar our ornithological foray. We proceeded to take the trail to the river, flushing a pair of Lazuli Buntings along the way. The expected species were there: Papa and Mama Vermillion Flycatchers teaching their brood the fine art of catching flies; Blue Grosbeaks would occasionally flash their deep indigo feathers..but never close enough for a photo op. The grassland along the way was punctuated every now and then by tall bushes and the tops of these bushes would inevitably be festooned by a Western Kingbird.

No longer able to endure the incessant onslaught of gnats, mosquitoes and their equally dreadful ilk, and dark clouds suddenly forming, foreboding a wet afternoon, we decided to call it day. We headed straight to the nearest Target store and purchased a large-sized bottle of insect repellant.

Bright and early the next day we returned to the San Pedro, this time fully covered in liquid armor. Freed from the winged pestilence, we were able to enjoy our birding more. Again we were not seeing anything unusual. The river did not yield the kingfishers that were supposed to inhabit its banks. As we were about to turn back, we heard the unmistakable chattering of a Yellow-breasted Chat. This species had been a bane for us, always being heard but very seldom seen, and when seen, always just a glimpse of some movement high up among the dense foliage. It was therefore quite a surprise when we came almost face to face with this individual. For almost half an hour, he just sat there, preening, in between singing his repertoire of whistles, chatters and chirps. 

Happy with this serendipitous encounter, we proceeded to Miller Canyon for a hoped for encounter with a lifer – the White-eared Hummingbird. There was already a couple – Austin and Ann - seated at the controlled-access-area provided by the Beatty’s where the rarity had been making its appearance. We plopped next to them and for the next hour or so, watched about 9 different kinds of hummingbirds enjoy the feeders hung by the hospitable owners. Then Austin suddenly shouted..”There it is!” Those are always sweet words to a birder. We pulled up our cameras and shot away. No fantastic flight shots nor full body shots of a perched bird, but we satisfied ourselves with pictures of a colorful hummer, tell-tale white stripes on the side of the head prominently showing. 

Having gotten our 3rd lifer of the trip, we bade goodbye to our new friends and headed down to Mary Jo Ballator’s yard. It was about noon and not surprisingly, there weren’t many birds at Ash Canyon. The resident Lucifer Hummingbird usually appears late in the day, we were informed. And we just missed a fly-by of a Gray Hawk (another would-be lifer), the couple who was just leaving told us. After talking with Graeme Lowe, a gentleman-photographer who was still patiently sitting behind his 500mm set-up, we heeded the call of our grumbling stomachs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping for supplies as our next destination would be far from the amenities of a regular town. We also took stock of what we have accomplished thus far. Realizing we are quite short of our expectations, we hoped that the Chiricahuas would be kinder and gentler to us.

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