Friday, April 4, 2014

Arizona: Blown Away

Today I wanted to check out several new areas in the vicinity of Sierra Vista. Three of the locations were along the San Pedro River Conservation Areas (SPRCA), and the other area was Carr Canyon. In anticipation of a great day, I was up at 5:30am and on the road by 5:55am. My first destination was Carr Canyon. When I left the hotel it was quite breezy, but I hoped it was temporary or local and not going to impact the days birding; I couldn’t have been more mistaken. As I climbed the rough and unmaintained road up Carr Canyon the winds gained intensity. Dust was swirling, trees were bending, and the whooshing noise of the air as it passed over every surface made it impossible to hear anything. Near the summit of Carr Canyon I realized it was a lost cause, and so decided to head back down into the valley, where I had hoped the winds would be gentler. The only bird I did get up Carr Canyon was Mexican Jay.

I arrived at Hereford House in the SPRCA and the wind was blowing very strongly. Nonetheless, I decided to head out onto the trails and see what I could pick up before whatever it was got blown to the next state. In the grassy fields adjacent to the riparian area I picked up dozens of sparrows, mostly Brewer’s, White-crowned, Vesper, and Chipping. An occasional Le Conte’s Sparrow was also seen. Along a small hedgerow were an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers, and a Northern Mockingbird. Closer to the riparian zone I picked up Abert’s Towhee, Canyon Towhee, several Green-tailed Towhees, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The remainder of the birds seen in this area were standard fair, so I moved on.
My next stop was at San Pedro House, also along the SPRCA. Here it was extremely windy, and next to impossible to see anything flitting amongst the trees. Around the nature house were common feeder birds, which had trouble landing as the feeder swung violently in the wind. I proceeded down the main trail hoping to take shelter among the trees where I had hoped birds would be a bit easier to see; sadly that was not the case. To make matters worse, there was a caterpillar outbreak, similar to the tent caterpillars we get in the north. It quite literally was raining caterpillars as they were blow from their nests high up in the cottonwoods. Once on the ground, the wind blew them along the trail, making any effort of them crawling appear painfully futile. There were no real bird highlights along the entire walk, other than a Cassin's Kingbird; the area looked like it had great potential were it not for the wind.
At this point I mentally switched off the birding motor and decided it was a waste of effort. To pass the time, and to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never have, I paid a visit to Tombstone, AZ. Tombstone, just by its name, conjures up a picture in the mind of what the Old Wild West must have been like. Tombstone was known for such people as the Earp’s (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil), Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, and Big Nose Kate. Two relatively contemporary movies have been made just on the town or on the people who lived there (Wyatt Earp and Tombstone). True to most current-day historical sites, it had lost its allure and turned into a hand-over-fist cash machine for tourists. For a fee you could do just about anything: go on a stagecoach ride, dress up in 1880s attire, or watch a gunfight. If modern-day Tombstone has embodied anything from its past, it’s that those who came to live there and make a fortune sadly appear to have not.
It was now mid-afternoon and the wind was still howling. However, as desperate birders do, I did not fully give up on the day. On the way back to Sierra Vista I stopped at the third birding location in the SPRCA: Fairbank. I went for about a 1.5 hour walk, and in all that time I located only seven species. The only highlight was two Gray Flycatchers. Disappointed, I headed back to Sierra Vista, hoping that by tomorrow the winds will have subsided. The species count for the day illustrates just how bad it was.
Total Species for the Day: 39
Total Species for the Trip: 139
Total Lifers for the Day: 0
Total Lifers for the Trip: 2

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