April 2, 2015 Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona

Chiricahuas
Chiricahuas

Exploring the Chiricahuas

After an afternoon and night of being not so gently rocked in the motorhome ( my impression of this area is that it tends to get a little breezy ), I loaded up the Prius and headed west towards Portal to see how far up in the mountains my no clearance vehicle could climb.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Chiricahua Dawn
Chiricahua Dawn

Just a beautiful blue sky morning as I drove west on Route 533 ( Portal Road ) towards the small town of Portal, Arizona, reported to be a birding hotspot.

Chiricahuas Afternoon
Chiricahuas Afternoon

( Just throwing in this image taken on my way home in the afternoon, from pretty much the exact same spot, to show the atmospheric changes over 7 hours of climbing around in the mountains. Very different sky, still an absolutely gorgeous day ! )

Chiricahuas
Chiricahuas

Turns out the town of Portal is really just an assortment of small buildings scattered over several miles along Portal Road. A few lodges here and there, a small Post Office and Library located at the end of a short dead end street. I as yet have not discovered where folks around here shop for groceries or even fill their gas tanks. I seem to be a long ways from anywhere out here.

Heading Into the Chiricahuas
Heading Into the Chiricahuas

Stunningly dramatic scenery as you drive along this road and start heading up into the Chiricahua Mountains.

Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Country
Rugged Country

The terrain suddenly gets quite vertical on both sides of the road as you start the climb.

Rugged Country
Rugged Country

The road slowly passes through a canyon following the edge of a stream with a lot of evidence of some pretty serious flood damage. The canyon walls are steep and one side is bathed in the morning sunlight …

Fallen "rocks"
Fallen “rocks”

… while the other is in deep shade. These interesting “rocks”, obviously fallen from above for they don’t resemble anything in their immediate surroundings, are gigantic. Just look at the trees behind them probably 80 – 100 feet tall. This is some very dramatic country ! The flood damage has actually closed a couple of the side roads and campgrounds here.

Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Chiricahuas
Rugged Country
Rugged Country

You have to notice the oaks and pines in these images to begin to grasp the sheer verticallity and height of these canyon walls.

After exiting the narrow canyon, I stopped at the Southwest Research Station and checked out their hummingbird feeding area and saw my first Blue Throat, one of the largest of the North American hummingbirds. For some reason, all the nectar feeders here are protected by what all but looks like sheep fence cages making photography impossible.

Since the gravel road to this point was in pretty good shape I decided to continue on up the Mountain Road and see how far I could make it towards Rustler Park, located at 9000′ elevation. Though the road got a little rough in places, and you do have to ford a couple streams, the Prius had little trouble handing the road all the way to Rustler Park. A forest fire blew through the campground at Rustler park, and what once must have been a very pretty campground nestled in tall pines, now looks like a barren, charred war zone. While the burned pines remain standing on the slopes above the campground, all the trees have been chopped down within the campground for obvious safey concerns, leaving  only chewed up blackened earth throughout the grounds.

9000' Turkeys
9000′ Turkeys
9000' Turkey
9000′ Turkey

On my way back down the road from the campground, I was a little surprised to see two foraging wild turkeys picking their way through the woods at 9000′ elevation, must be a pretty hardy race of turkeys.

The View from 8000 Feet
The View from 8000 Feet

As I headed back down the mountain, I took this one shot to show the potential grand vistas that would be seen from this road if only there wasn’t so much air pollution killing such distant views, something I have noticed seems to be prevalent everywhere I have been in Arizona. What a shame.

Arizona Cloudscape
Arizona Cloudscape

Back on a much lower elevation, there was a very different look to the skies as I headed back to my campsite at Rusty’s RV Park. I took the dogs with me today to give them a change of scenery and tomorrow I plan to head back into the mountains without them so I can hike a few of the trails and perhaps get some bird shots.

Thank you for shopping Amazon from my site!

When you click through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !


 

April 1, 2015 Rodeo, New Mexico

Route 80 Heading for New Mexico
Route 80 Heading for New Mexico

Turning North

Left the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and headed south to Douglas, AZ. to pick up Route 80 east, that actually mostly travels north to New Mexico. Once through Douglas the scenery takes a dramatic turn and the bleak dry desert becomes a little greener as you approach the Chiricahua Mountains.

Spring Color
Spring Color

I wish there had been room along the road to stop on this leg of the journey, as there were several spots with some nice patches of wildflowers.

Airzona Open Range
Airzona Open Range

All I could capture were some vague shots out the window of the moving motorhome, but there is a definite indication of spring having finally arrived.

Spring Color
Spring Color
Chiricahuas Come into View
Chiricahuas Come into View

This is a shot of the Chiricahua Mountains just before entering New Mexico. My plan is to spend a few days here and drive into the mountains around Portal, Arizona and check out some of the birding hot spots before continuing north.

Rusty's RV Park
Rusty’s RV Park

I arrived at Rusty’s RV Park in the early afternoon, and although the temperature was up in the low 80’s, this was nothing like the heat that forced me out of Whitewater Draw. Mainly because there was a nice “breeze” of about 25 mph keeping a lid on the heat.

Rusty’s is a pretty nice spot to stay. They are a Passport America Park and my 3 night stay cost me $ 48 or $16/night for a full hookup with 50 amp electric. They have very long double pull through sites, one rig facing one direction, the other facing the opposite way. Turns out the sites are sufficiently long that my neighbor and I really don’t intrude on each another’s privacy. The double sites are separated from the adjoining sites by 30 or more feet of desert landscape with some young trees interspersed. My site has a nice distant view of the mountains to the west. Don’t ask me why, but with the park essentially empty, I was placed in a double site with just about the only other person here.

The woman who checked me in could not possibly have been any more helpful, providing me with tips on birding and sites to explore. I would definitely have to give Rusty’s a thumbs up.

Thank you for shopping Amazon from my site!

When you click through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !


 

March 31, 2015 Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, Arizona

San Pedro Riparian Area
San Pedro Riparian Area

On the Road Again

Well, after a month of sitting in a full hookup campsite in the small city of Sierra Vista, yesterday I hit the road again heading east on Route 90 planning on spending a few days at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. A welcome change back to boon docking, or dry camping. Having an electric hookup really is convenient, able to use the oven and microwave without thinking twice about it, leaving the satellite receiver on 24 hours a day certainly makes recording programs easier, not having to think if you can spare the electrons like I do when boon docking.

But, sleeping under street lamps, unable to see the stars, listening to neighborhood dogs bark rather than coyotes howl, having your neighbors walking under your windows as opposed to splendid isolation, I am not sure the convenience of RV parks is worth the loss of the peace and quiet of boon docking. But I enjoyed my month in Sierra Vista, although next time I will arrive later, like mid-April, coordinating my arrival with that of the birds.

The image at the top of the post is a shot of Route 90 heading east from Sierra Vista as the San Pedro Riparian Area comes into view. I all but lost control of the motorhome right here as there is a series of ” waves ” in the pavement here that anyone driving this route must be aware of as there is a very real possibility of losing control of your rig if you hit it at the posted speed of 55 mph. I had slowed down a little since I wanted to take this shot and there was no one behind me … and I still all but ended up airborne, scared the $#&%# out of me !

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

San Pedro Riparian Area
San Pedro Riparian Area

The bright yellow green of the cottonwoods along the banks of this small stream ( calling it a river seems like a bit of overkill ) really stand out in it’s desert surroundings. This area is very popular with birders.

Jenny Doing Well Again
Jenny Doing Well Again

Some kind folks inquired as to how my 15 year old Maltese, Jenny, was doing after her recent leg, or hip, injury. I am glad to report that she seems to have made a complete recovery and is back to hopping up anywhere she wants in the motorhome, including the front dashboard shelf ( where both dogs enjoy sunbathing and watching the world go by ) which is where she probably injured herself in the first place. Still a very active old timer, just incredibly hard to think of her as 15 years old.

Sunrise at Whitewater Draw
Sunrise at Whitewater Draw

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area

Arrived here around noon and it started getting warm. One thing I forgot in the above statement on boon docking versus RV parks … AIR CONDITIONING ! By three o’clock, it must have been approaching 90 with no shade and no breeze, just too warm to be boon docking. A small pail of water, a washcloth , and my 12 volt Endless Breeze fan were all the AC I could command with no electric hookup.

Sunrise at Whitewater Draw
Sunrise at Whitewater Draw
Sunrise at Whitewater Draw
Sunrise at Whitewater Draw

The heat and the lack of any birdlife here means this will only be an overnight stop for me this time. The above shots give you an idea of what this place looks like, but, other than a few coots, you will not see any birds in these images. I took a walk around the dikes here and did spot a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret a few Sandhill Crane stragglers, a couple Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers, along with some Ruddy ducks, but the vast majority of water birds have most likely moved on for this winter. This is an area better visited in the winter months.

Roadrunner
Roadrunner

I did have this Roadrunner accompany me down to the hay barn very early this morning.

Whitewater Draw
Whitewater Draw

This is a shot of the small camping area taken as I walked back home from a stroll around the dikes this morning, and the open structure on the right is what I call the hay barn, and it is where a pair of Great Horned Owls have resided and nested for several years.

Female Great Horned Owl on nest
Female Great Horned Owl on nest

This is the female sitting on eggs as she was a week ago when I was here. This is a box attached to one of the roof trusses 15 feet above the ground.

Male Great Horned Owl
Male Great Horned Owl

And this would be the male, perched on one of the truss members at the end of the barn, as far away from the nest box as he can get.

Male Great Horned Owl
Male Great Horned Owl

And this is him probably wanting me to leave, which I did.

Campsite at Whitewater Draw
Campsite at Whitewater Draw

This is the small camping area, looks like 5 sites, each with a picnic table. No water or dump station, but there is a trash dumpster here. There is a three night limit and there is no camping fee. The sites are level gravel. There was only one other rig here the night I stayed and it looks like it would become a little cramped if there were actually 5 rigs in here. But it would be a nice spot to stop during the winter when the birds are here and it is a bit cooler. The heat has me moving on to explore the Portal area, and the cooler temps at a little higher elevation.

Thank you for shopping Amazon from my site!

When you click through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !


 

March 24, 2015 Sierra Vista, Arizona

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker

Drawn Back to the Birds at Ash Canyon B & B

Rising early, once again I headed south to the Ash Canyon B & B to see if any new birds had yet arrived. I arrived around 7:30 AM on yet another beautiful, warm, blue sky Arizona day.

Ash Canyon B & B Driveway
Ash Canyon B & B Driveway

Don’t let the driveway scare you, the B & B is located just a short distance off Route 92. You turn west on Turkey Track Road off 92 and follow it out until it ends about a quarter mile in at this simply incredible bird viewing venue.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Ash Canyon B & B
Ash Canyon B & B

You will see the sign as you come to the gated end of the gravel drive.

Ash Canyon B & B Gateway to the birds
Ash Canyon B & B Gateway to the birds

Parking spaces for birders are clearly delineated and a collection jar hangs on the back side of the wrought iron gate. Be sure to drop your $5 in the jar, although there is nothing to stop you from adding a donation of any size to your price of admission, I’m sure you will agree it is well worth the price.

Ash Canyon B & B Hummingbird Garden
Ash Canyon B & B Hummingbird Garden

Just inside the gate there is a hummingbird garden with flowers and feeders to attract the many different species of hummingbirds found here as well as butterflies. Unfortunately for me on this trip, since it turns out that I am a little early for the big show, Mary Jo hasn’t yet hung all the nectar feeders ( since the hummers aren’t here just yet and the nectar feeders have to be changed and cleaned very few days ).

Ash Canyon B & B The Veranda
Ash Canyon B & B The Veranda

Mary Jo keeps a library of books for identifying birds and more, as well as a small refrigerator with drinks, on the shaded veranda. This area gives viewers a chance to get  out of the sun and I am sure is quite welcome a little later on in the season.

Ash Canyon B & B Morning Birdwatchers
Ash Canyon B & B Morning Birdwatchers

When I usually arrive, early around 8 AM, I generally have had this area to myself, but by late morning, it tends to fill up a little. On this particular day, there happened to be a delightful group from England here admiring North American birds. I have always been a sucker for the British accents and got a kick out of chatting with these friendly bird watchers.

Ash Canyon B & B The Veranda Afternoon Shade
Ash Canyon B & B The Veranda Afternoon Shade

Some of these folks shifted over to the veranda in the afternoon. As you can see from these two images there are plenty of chairs around, all with a great view of the many feeders Mary Jo keeps filled with food. On all three occasions I have been here this spring, Mary Jo has been out with her guests, providing identifications of the many species of birds and animals drawn in here. She is incredibly knowledgeable, as well as friendly and accommodating to all. If you look closely at the first image, you will notice a woman who just happens to have a parrot perched on her shoulder, and that woman would, of course, be Mary Jo.

She tells me that the best time to be here is mid-April through mid-May, as the yard fills with the arrivals of birds that nest in the area as well as all kinds of migrants that stop here on their way farther north to take advantage of the bounty that Mary Jo provides. She stocks this feeding area year round and has been doing so for twenty years. In late August, after the monsoons, and through September is also a peak viewing period, when the surrounding area is lush with new green growth and many of the migrants are heading back south. Now I have missed both of these prime time periods and am still blown away with the number and variety of birds here, as well as with the comfortable and friendly atmosphere of the Ash Canyon B & B.  There is a wealth of information on her website, so please go and check it out.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

There was a new arrival here today, a male wild turkey ( Gould’s subspecies ). He wasn’t the least bit shy and wandered in only 20 or 30 feet from a crowd of admirers.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

Quite neat to be able to see such a colorful beautiful/ugly bird at such a close range.

Scott's Oriole
Scott’s Oriole

There seemed to be more Scott’s Orioles here today, although the Hooded and Audubon Orioles still haven’t made an appearance.

Scott's Oriole
Scott’s Oriole
Immature Scott's Oriole
Immature Scott’s Oriole

A few immature Scott’s were mixed in with several mature males.

Immature Scott's Oriole
Immature Scott’s Oriole
Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

Though not very colorful, this tiny Bewick’s Wren was one of my personal favorites …

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

… lots of attitude for a small guy, and very active.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Red-shafted Northern Flicker
Red-shafted Northern Flicker

The outstanding Red-shafted Northern Flicker made another appearance.

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acorn Woodpeckers were constantly flying in and out, along with Gila and Ladderback Woodpeckers.

Mexican Jay
Mexican Jay

The large Mexican Jays were once again present in large numbers.

Gambel's Quail
Gambel’s Quail

Gambel’s Quail were here along with other ground feeders such as several species of sparrows  ( Lincoln, Rufous Crowned, Chipping, and others ) ….

Dark eyed Junco
Dark eyed Junco

…Dark-eyed Juncos ..

Canyon Towhee
Canyon Towhee

… and Canyon Towhees.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher,

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warblers were present.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird

And lastly, although the crowd has yet to arrive, there were Broad-billed, as well as Magnificent, Black-chinned, and Rufous Hummingbirds here today. I truly wish I did not have to start heading north so soon, I would love to stay for the arrival of all the spring birds, but Oregon and Alaska await !

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird

 

Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird

Thank you for shopping Amazon from my site!

When you click through to shop Amazon from here, I get a tiny commission, one that does not in any way impact what you pay, and all those tiny commissions eventually add up and that helps me keep this blog going !