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Monday, April 21, 2014

How to NOT hike a Canyon & Still Reach the Top

The entrance &HQ at the bottom of Ramsey Canyon

I was as excited as a ten year old with a belly full of Hagan Daz this morning when at 8 sharp I stood at the front door of the Ramsey Canyon Preserve. The preserve is probably the most popular birding spot in all of Southeast Arizona. Truthfully though,loads of people who don't know a sparrow from a titmouse enjoy hiking Ramsey Canyon. It has a cool creek running peacefully along it's hiking trail meaning it is probably the least hellish canyon in Southeast Arizona. Can you tell by my description, I don't much care for hiking or canyons?

After paying the paltry $10 that covers a full week of entrance privileges at Ramsey Canyon and its sister preserve, Patagonia/Sonoita, I went out back of the visitor center, and plopped myself down on a wooden bench. There I entertained myself watching hummingbirds. In 1999 I saw my lifer  Berylline Hummingbird here.

The first feeder at Ramsey at the foot of the canyon trail
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not into walking so had every intention of staying put. So as I watched Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbirds buzzing the feeders, I watched other birders trekking uphill. I began to feel maybe I could at least walk to the next set of hummingbird feeders. Sure - why not? So off I went. Slowly. Settled there for a bit, then was up, moseying further up the trail... then before you knew it I was hiking. The trail was largely shady, with cool breezes wafting through so I was in no way suffering.

A look back at HQ which I would not see again for four hours

Yay! I was hiking! I dilly dallied along the trail, stopping periodically to stare at the numerous annoyingly cryptic flycatchers and LBJs (little brown jobbers) birds that flit through the treetops. It was amazing how many Painted Redstarts buzz about. You may recall I posted a while back about one that made it all the way from Arizona to Berkeley. Well here, is where it & its cousins really belong.

Achieved my best Painted Redstart pic E-vah!
And yes, such photos are total accidents of serendipity
Then I spotted two grayish birds, literally slinking through the treetops overhead, and quickly, I and several other birders were staring at the sneaky birds. I knew they were 'solitary vireos', but which of the three freakn' ones were they?  I made up my mind what they were, but decided to let the group make the decision for me... unless they were dead wrong.  After the longest 20 seconds of my life, one pair of birders proclaimed, 'Those are Plumbeous Vireos... you think?'


The pair of Plumbeous (gray) Vireos, slunk through the foliage like thieves
Curious Mexican Jay

My first lifer birds for the trip were in the bag. Hauling my bum uphill had paid off. Hurrah! Pleased, I headed further uphill. I saw some Mexican Jays, which look rather like our California Western Scrub Jays, but were split out as a separate species some years ago.

I noticed there were deer on the hillside, the gentle does, unperturbed by the noisy humans tromping uphill. Once again these were not my usual California species, Mule Deer, but deer more commonly found in the east, White-tails, and in this particular case they are a unique subspecies of Whitetailed Deer, Coues Whitetails. The Coues are dinky as deer go, being smaller than Mule Deer.

The Coues Whitetail doe pretending she hadn't almost run over a hiker
The does were so tame that I watched one trot across the trail uphill, danged near knocking over an innocent lady birder in its path. We both cracked up, that we were all in danger of being trampled to death by these miniature Bambis.

I must have been slinking uphill for an hour or so when I settled lazily for a bit, by a small grove of Arizona Sycamores beneath which a small pond with horsetail ferns lay. Another doe grazed in the rushes and I decided I wasn't going any further, dang it!

Hepatic Tanager

I stared at the birdie activity in the trees across from me, and spotted a pair of red something-or-the-others, shooting through the limbs, giving each other birdie hell. I watched them, then shouted, "HOLY CRAP" as I realized I was watching my another lifer: Hepatic Tanagers.

I watched the pair of scarlet & grey hued Tanagers for quite a while, and just as I was about to consider wandering back down hill, a lady birder came up to me.

"There is a Whiskered Screech Owl up the hill. If you hurry, there are birders there that can point it out to you."
Don't have to tell me that sort of thing twice. I was uphill like a shot. Sure enough, some other quite happy birders pointed out a sleepy gray owl that sat in its knot hole doorway in a tall Sycamore tree. I got Whiskered Screech Owl as a lifer on my 1999 trip, so this was my second viewing, with the bonus, this time I was able to get photos.

Snoozing Whiskered Screech Owl
By now I was thinking my ban on walking uphill was for naught, so I faced up hill, and the feet started to move again. Did not get any more lifers on my renewed trek up, but I did see some nice birds and some lovely scenery.

The view up Ramsey Canyon
Quite happy I had actually put in some exercise for the day, I headed back downhill. When I re-arrived at the Owl site, the other birders had already gone. When a few more birders wandered in from up hill, it was my turn to point out the slumbering Owl and they too were thrilled & grateful to see the little creature.

Ruins of an old Cabin along the Canyon trail
Male Magnificent Hummingbird

When I approached one of the sets of feeders along the trail, I made myself comfy in a large Adirondack chair and to watch the Magnificent and Broad-billed Hummingbirds feed. The male Magnificent Hummingbirds are just HUGE compared to the little Anna's Hummingbirds I see in my own California back yard.

A friendly group of birders joined me in my watch and we chatted a bit. Then to interesting things happened. The first was they mentioned they saw Elegant Trogons this morning. Talk about a Holy Grail bird! I grew quite agitated and begged for details on how they managed to see the birds. They said they saw them at Fort Huachuca, a canyon located in this same mountain range as Ramsey Canyon. Note to self: It's a quest for Trogons ASAP.

The second note of interest was one of the sharp eyed ladies pointed out a little maternal scene that was right in the open, hidden in plain site: a Broad-billed Hummingbird on her nest. What a cutie!

Darling little Broad-billed Hummingbird
on her nest of lichens and spider webs
The nest was about the size of a ping pong ball and 'Mama' sat happily ignoring us. I think she was clever in situating her nest no more than about 15 feet from the nearest hummingbird feeder.

The other birders took off before I did ( they left with my undying thanks). When I finally got up and meandered back to my car it was around 12:30 and I was starving. There is no picnicking allowed at Ramsey Canyon so there were lots of people in the parking area, tailgating lunch or using the few available picnic tables. For myself I wolfed down my lunch and headed for Fort Huachuca. I did not expect to see Elegant Trogons so late in the day, but I did want to scope out the place so I would be able to get there speedily in the morning.

I was surprised to find out my motel was only a couple of blocks from the main entrance to Fort Huachuca. To get in, you line up with the other cars and hand over your passport to military guards. I was so nervous you'd of thought I was smuggling Trogons onto the site. It took no time at all for the guard to hand me a totally useless and wildly complex map of the facility, and wave me in.  Took me a half hour and my iPhone GPS to locate Fort Huachuca Canyon Road and another 20 minutes to slowly drive to the very end of the road where I was told I would probably find parked cars of other birders and hikers. Compared to Ramsey Canyon, this canyon looked foreboding and I had zero desire to even get out of the car. Frankly, what I did there was take a short nap of about five or ten minutes. While I sat there, I heard some weird jungle like noises, and when the noises stopped, out of curiousity I used my iPhone to pull up the sound of Elegant Trogons. Sure enough - I'd been hearing Elegant Trogons barking on the hillside! Maybe tomorrow is going to be a very good day for Trogons.
One of Ramsey Canyon's little nondescript Epidonax (type of flycatcher)
I believe this is a Hammond's Flycatcher - that's my story & I'm sticking to it.

1 comment:

  1. "people who don't know a sparrow from a titmouse"...............