Sora, San Pedro River, February 19, 2022.
In late February we went back to the San Pedro River, and the San Pedro House, east of Sierra Vista, and not far from Tony and Julie Battiste's Bed, Breakfast, and Birds in Hereford. On the 19th we joined Julie Michael's Audubon morning tour which started at the historic house. We walked south through the adjacent fields on a portion of the San Pedro Trail, then east through a bosque to the San Pedro River and several adjacent ponds. Most of the birds were waaaay faaar awaaay, and not great subjects for photography. However, there were some up close and more amenable to capture, and here they are!
Below is a map of the area and the two spots featured in this post, the San Pedro House and then Madera Canyon.
Interstate 19 is to the far left of this map, with Green Valley in the upper left corner, and Madera Canyon just southeast. The San Pedro River shown on the far right of this map runs south to north, beginning in Mexico. The San Pedro House is just east of Sierra Vista, on the river. The orange dots are the location of images in this post. Map from LR Classic CC.
San Pedro River
The San Pedro River facing south, winter 2022. There was not such water running on this day. This part of the river is good for flycatchers, more-so in the spring and summer. Note that the San Pedro is a vital river in Arizona, flowing north from Mexico into the U.S., creating a riparian corridor that is essential for the healthy ecology of the region and the lives of many species.
One of the ponds adjacent to the river where we saw the Sora, below.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1000 sec, ISO 2000
The Sora is a rail in the order Gruiformes, along with other rails, Cranes, the trumpeters of South America, the finfoots and the Limpkin. Within that order, the Sora is in the family Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules and Coots). This family grouping is the one you will likely find in texts and field guides. (References: Kenn Kaufman, Lives of North American Birds, David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Birds, Roger Tory Peterson, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America).
In these images we see the characteristic yellow bill and short cocked tail as our subject looks for food.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600
The Sora is widespread and common across North America, wintering in SE Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and south into Mexico and South America. Distribution maps put their breeding north of Tucson from northern Arizona into Canada.
Soras generally stay out of sight among the reeds, often calling with characteristic whistles and whinnies. Often heard, rarely seen.
We were fortunate to catch this bird as he foraged for food, in and out of the reeds.
Great Horned Owl
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1250
The Great Horned Owl is a year round resident of SE Arizona. They sleep during the day and hunt at night. The males and females look alike, except that the females often have brood patches on the chest/abdomen.
We spotted this owl high in one of the trees near the river, and I caught it from two angles. In the image below there is a faint line down the chest indicating a possible brood patch, making this a female. For more on their nesting habits including brood patches, see my post from summer of 2020, The Owl and the Hummingbird . . .
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600
Western Screech Owl: Where's Waldo?
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1600 sec, ISO 1250
Just south of the San Pedro House there is a tall tree with a resident Western Screech Owl. Can you see him in the photo above? Yup, lower right corner of the heart shaped opening in the tree, better detail in the photograph below.
The Western Screech Owl is very well camouflaged; ideally dressed for hiding in this tree. Like the Great Horned Owl, the Western Screech hunts at night and sleeps during the day. They like their residence near the San Pedro House because of the ample supply of mice and small ground mammals which in turn are attracted by the feeder fare that gets scattered on the ground during the course of the day.
The color and texture of the feathers really blends in with the tree bark. In the image below the owl is just barely opening his eyes.
The Western Screech Owl lives in the west all the way from southern Alaska into central Mexico. It is similar in appearance to the Whiskered Screech Owl, which lives in Mexico and and just into SE Arizona, where their territories overlap. They can be distinguished by size, with the Western being larger, and some differences in coloration of the bill and iris, as well as their calls.
On the February 25th I ventured to Madera Canyon with a group from Audubon led by Mary Ellen Flynn. We parked at the Proctor Road Parking Lot and walked up to the Santa Rita Lodge. As with the San Pedro River, our winter birds were very intermittent and far away, but here is a sample of what we saw.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/2000 sec, ISO 10,000
The Hepatic Tanager is a songbird (Order: Passeriformes) in the Cardinalidae family, along with Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Buntings, the Grosbeaks, and the Dickcissel. For more on the taxonomy, see the Cornell Lab website.
Hepatic Tanagers live throughout the year in Mexico and Central America and all the way south to South America, and will breed in the SW United States in Arizona, New Mexico and portions of Texas. This male is likely "the first Tanager of spring" here in Arizona.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/1000 sec, ISO 8000
The Hepatic Tanager shares its summer range in Arizona with the Summer Tanager. The two males look similar, except that the Hepatic Tanager has gray cheek patches (seen in these images) and a grayish back, whereas the Summer Tanager is entirely red, with the exception of dark markings on the wings.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/2000 sec, ISO 3200
The Bridled Titmouse is in the same family as Chickadees (Chickadees and Titmice).
Bridled Titmice (yes, the plural of Titmouse is Titmice!) live year round in northern Mexico, SE Arizona and western New Mexico. They are common in the lower canyons of the Arizona Mountains, moving in small flocks and chattering in the oaks as they search for insects. They are regulars in Madera Canyon. They will come to feeders, where they are good photographic subjects, but they are tougher to capture in the understory where they move quickly.
These are small birds with a distinctive crest and face markings that are easier to illustrate with photographs than describe.
Last image, below, in flight. Not sharp, but I could not resist; it is great to see birds in flight.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/2000 sec, ISO 8000
The Arizona Woodpecker lives year round in pine-oak mountain woodlands of Mexico, with a northern range that just makes it into SE Arizona and western New Mexico. Males and females look similar except the male has a red patch on the back of the head, seen here. They are very well camouflaged, in these photos blending in nicely with the tree bark.
Arizona Woodpeckers eat insects and forage off of bark or the ground. Here we see a typical position with feet spread out and the tail used as a support, for comfortable foraging up a tree trunk. They don't mind hanging upside down to go after food.
Canon R6, RF 800mm f/11, 1/2000 sec, ISO 2500
The Townsend's Solitaire is a songbird (Order Passeriformes) in the family Turdidae, Thrushes and Allies, including Thrushes, Bluebirds, and Robins. Their range is the western half of North America, from central Mexico all the way up to Alaska, where they breed. They do live year round in Colorado and Utah and sections of northern New Mexico and Arizona, but are winter visitors here in SE Arizona. They are considered rare for Madera Canyon; this spotting was considered a find!
The Townsend Solitaire has a long tail, a short bill, and a small rounded head. They are gray overall with a clear white eye-ring and buffy patches on the wings, a hint of which may be visible in the photograph above.
Unlike other thrushes, they will perch upright atop trees and bushes to declare their territory.
That all for now! Spring is here, and nesting is beginning. Stay tuned!
Madera Canyon, Early Spring 2018
Painted Redstart, Madera Canyon, March 15, 2018
If you have been following my blog, you will have noticed that the majority of posts are about Southeast Arizona, which for me means everything east and south of the Tucson metropolitan area and Mt. Lemmon, roughly bounded by Interstate 19 to the west, the I-10 corridor to the north, and the state line with New Mexico to the east. Last week we traveled south of Tucson to the Santa Rita mountains and Madera Canyon, then east to the Huachuca Mountains and Sierra Vista Southeast. This post is on the Santa Ritas and Madera Canyon, part 2 will be our exploration of the Huachucas and Ramsey Canyon.
The entrance to Madera Canyon is in the northern foothills of the Santa Ritas, at 4500 feet elevation. It is 14 miles, 27 minutes by car from Green Valley, right in their backyard.
From Tucson, the usual route is south on I-19 to Green Valley, then Continental Road to White House/Madera Canyon Road to the entrance. However, we decided to stick to the "blue highways" and took Kolb south to Valencia west, then south on Wilmot, west on W. Sahuarita Road to S. Nogales Highway to Continental Road. It is a smooth and uncrowded route through beautiful Sonoran desert. And, you get to drive by several federal prisons! One way the trip is 50 miles, and about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Madera Canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest. This link is a great resource. There is hiking and picnicking, and of course, birding, but no overnight camping. However, there are several lodges, including our choice on this trip, The Chuparosa Inn, Bed and Breakfast. Our host was Luis Calvo, who you can see giving a video tour of the canyon at Visit Tucson, Santa Rita Mountains. Many thanks to Luis, his wife and staff for a wonderful spot to enjoy the canyon.
Chuparosa Inn, Bed and Breakfast
The Chuparosa Inn is right on the main road (above) but also straddles the creek (below). Luis and his wife have done a wonderful job of designing the house and yard to take full advantage of the location. We found some of our best birding was right on their decks and patios at sunrise, close to their feeders and a hot cup of coffee! I set up my tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head and waited for the show to begin.
The Broad-billed Hummingbird is a small colorful bird with a red bill, dark at the tip, and a notched tail. Males have a blue throat and bluish green belly. We can see the distinctive field marks in the bird above, perched above the creek in the afternoon sun. They live year round in Mexico, and come as far north as SE Arizona and New Mexico to breed.
All bird's feathers have small muscles where they implant into the skin, which allows them to move the feather, allowing them to "fluff up" for warmth. We can see the difference between the bulky fluffed look of the first frame, and the leaner look of the second frame, above.
Below, the bird has raised and then lowered the feathers on the crown, something we will see later in this post in the Rivoli's.
Rivoli's Hummingbird was formerly known as the Magnificent from the 1980's until 2017, when the northern subspecies of the genus Eugenes was split from the larger southern subspecies of Costa Rica and Panama. The northerners were renamed Rivoli's Hummingbird, and the southern species names the Talamanca Hummingbird. The bird was named in honor of the Duke of Rivoli, an amateur French ornithologist. Anna's Hummingbird was named after his wife, Anna, the Duchess of Rivoli.
Rivoli's are large hummingbirds, which is evident when they share feeders with other hummingbirds. The males are dark green above, with an iridescent yellow-green throat and a purple crown. They may appear dark in poor light. They have a white dot behind the eye.
These first three images, one above, two below, were captured at the Chuparosa Inn above the creek as the bird fed on flesh blooms from their fruit trees.
The color of the feathers varies strikingly with the angle to the light, as we can see in the images below.
Above and below, we can see how the bird can change the height of his crown, and how the change in angle changes the color.
Below, a late afternoon view of the back, with some fill-flash added.
Mexican Jays are in the family Corvidae, also known as Corvids. This family includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. They live in social groups in the Mexican mountains, and as far north as SE Arizona and Western New Mexico. Above we see three jays together, although there were more in the grouping. All images captured at the Chuparosa Inn.
Above, a possible breeding pair. Below, one of a pair gathers coconut shavings from a planter for a nest.
All set for home improvement !
Short break for a quadruped . . .
The inn has multiple feeders set up, and as one might expect, they attract anything that eats seeds, including hungry squirrels. This critter has taken up residence in the feeder, eye just visible on the right. Wild turkeys also stroll the property, grabbing what they can from low slung feeders.
Bath time !
Water runs over rocks on the uphill side of the terrace and acts as both a drinking and bathing source. Above Pine Siskins enjoy the bath, and below, get a drink.
Two images below, a Bridled Titmouse gets a late afternoon bath.
We see a lot of Yellow-eyed Juncos on Mt Lemmon, up at ~7500 feet, but here we find at ~5000 feet a Dark-eyed Junco, with a red back, similar to the Yellow-eyed brethren. Dark-eyed Juncos breed in Canada and Alaska, winter as far south as SE Arizona and Mexico, and can be seen year round from Northern Arizona and New Mexico up into the Rockies, northern California coast, and western Canada. There is a lot of variation in markings and coloration for these birds, with the Red-backed variety more common in SE Arizona. The Cornell website show the variations by region.
More on the canyon . . . .
We had two days in the canyon, and as you can see, we spotted a lot of birds in a great setting at the Chuparosa Inn. We also hung out at the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge (see map below) and walked around the Whitehouse Picnic Area. But some of our best birding was on the path south (uphill) of Proctor Road up along Madera Creek. This area is easy to walk, with beautiful views of the mountains to the south.
Note that the top of the map below is South, the bottom North.
Above, the trailhead at the Proctor Parking area.
Our major "find" on our walk was a very active Painted Redstart. He was jumping from branch to branch in a large tree right on the pathway. Getting him to "stay still" in good light was a challenge. The image above was captured along with a series of images that featured mostly leaves and an occasionally blurry flash of feathers. For this image I got lucky, he stayed still for a second in a beam of sunlight and was in the camera's focal plane.
Painted Redstarts are warblers with bright red bellies, white wing patches, and a white crescent below the eye. All field markings are evident in the lead image above.
Above and below, our subject has caught an insect, and begun to munch it down.
Image above shows markings of the back and tail, and below the belly and tail, with the tail fanned out showing the white feathers laterally. The Painted Redstart will fan its tail, as below, and move back and forth, to flush out insects from the leaves. A bit like shaking a vending machine to see what comes out!
Images below, good views of the breast and tail, and the distinctive white half-eye ring.
Painted Redstarts like riparian and arid woodland areas especially in mountains. They eat mostly insects as well as some tree sap, sugar water from feeders, as well as peanut butter and suet. Painted Redstarts live year round in the Mexican and Central American interior, breeding north into Arizona, New Mexico and portions of Texas.
That's it for Madera Canyon !
"Are you sure you know what you are doing? "
Stay tuned for the next installment, the Huachuca Mountains, Sierra Vista Southeast, and Ramsey Canyon.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About