Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Revisiting Old Friends

Montezuma Quail
This past week, after the onslaught of birders searching for the Eared Quetzal without any luck, they abandoned their hopeful searches and turned their eyes to our other specialties. It was mayhem.  They still continue to search.  And a few birders have reported a female now.  So it's possible the Eared Quetzals are nesting somewhere on the mountain. Whatever the case, birders need to be aware that covid has spread among the community AND birders need to follow ethical protocols. There are times when some things should be kept secret, especially during their breeding season. Playback is terrible during this time of year and people should refrain from using it. 

I was back in those old birding routes that every new hopeful birder visits.  It was rather strange.  With covid abound everywhere, I was forced to stay home during this very nasty time in Arizona.  Many of us locals leave Arizona to go birding in cooler temps.  Guides, generally, don't offer their services during this month due to nesting conditions and of course, that sweltering heat.  Everything picks up again in July when our monsoon gets into full swing and bird life is ALIVE!  

Painted Redstart
There are still windows of opportunity to bird.  Early mornings are best.  Evenings are second best. Afternoons are a no no unless you are at higher elevations but one of my favorite places to take people is currently on fire.  And it's a tragedy. So many nesting birds gone, many of them warblers.  Between crazy birders chasing that quetzal, covid closures and covid in general, the heat and the fires, it is a bit too much to take.  I regulated my outings with my friend because I can't do those extreme chases anymore for an entire day.  One of the days, I felt heat exhaustion coming on in the 104 degree temps.  Yes, I wore sun screen, a hat and drank plenty of water, but there comes a point when your body just shuts down.  Words get blurry, that little headache begins and birds become a second thought.  

Lucifer Hummingbird
There were also flashbacks during our treks.  A sadness that only one would know had they grown up as a birder with the people they once knew.  Take for example the Lucifer's Hummingbird.  Nearly every birder has gone to Mary Jo's Bed and Breakfast for their lifer Lucifer's Hummingbird.  Mary Jo passed away a little over a year now.  I haven't gone back because there are a lot of fond memories with that lady.  But we went because it's the one reliable place for birders who like photography, such as myself, to observe the secretive Montezuma Quail and of course that very special hummingbird.  Her place is now a sanctuary and it's still very special.  But I sat and looked at her home where the volunteers stay now. And it was a different experience.  The volunteers were wonderful, but Mary Jo wasn't there.  Or her African Gray Parrot. 

Least Tern
I took a day off to just work on house stuff and hang out with my neighbors.  On that day, a Least Tern showed up at Canoa Ranch.  It was a fun and fast trek to see the bird fly over the waters there. The following day, we went to search for some difficult birds.  You have to prioritize your birds.  So you chose your targets carefully.  Sometimes you spend an entire morning on ONE bird.  And that's what we did.  Anything after that window is a gift.  We achieved our targeted goals.  We stopped at another great birdy area, the Holy Trinity Monastery.  Another formerly owned Catholic property and magnet for incredible birds like the Gray Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Tropical Kingbirds and other special birds. But on the day we went there, the place looked unkept.  The shop was closed.  The pond was overgrown with algae. Broke my heart.  I sat in the meditation garden and noticed several of the wonderful shady trees were gone.  

Lesser Nighthawk

During our travels, we noticed Lesser Nighthawks hunting in broad daylight.  'Tis the season for feeding babies.  Normally these birds are only seen at dawn or dusk and at night around lights catching bugs. 

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
There are several birds in Arizona that are well protected and kept secret.  However, those secrets get leaked and then coordinates appear.  Such is the case with the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a very sensitive species in AZ.  The species is another Holy Grail for birders, ABA'ers, state listers, county listers, etc.  There are few spots in the US that you can see them.  Texas is the best place for them.  Arizona has many but they are located in VERY difficult access places far away from civilization. The best place for these owls is still Organ Pipe National Monument in a VERY accessible place.  And that's all I will say:)

Scaled Quail
I think the most exciting part of our journeys came from observing all three quail species.  It was a lot of fun revisiting these old sites for some great birds.  Currently my plans are on hold.  As we see a spike in covid around the country, it has once again messed with travel plans.  Testing in this country is a joke. I'll leave it at that.  

juvenile Gambel's Quail

Stay cool everyone. And stay safe! Until next time....


  1. Wonderful images, Chris. My only encounter with the Montezuma Quail was years ago in the Davis Mountains of SW Texas. Unforgettable! I share your concerns about the dangers of heat exhaustion. I remember when RT Peterson wrote a column in which he expressed sadness about not being able to spend as much time as he wanted in SE Arizona because of his intolerance to the heat. I think his final illness was a stroke which may have been related to heat stress.

  2. A terrific series of shots! Love that hummer.


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