Camp Chiricahua Jul 11—22, 2017

Posted by Michael O'Brien


Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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Early summer of 2017 saw a stronger-than-usual fire season in Southeast Arizona, the result of unusually hot, dry conditions in May and June, coupled with an abundance of fuel following winter and spring storms. The 27,000-acre Burro fire northeast of Tucson forced the closure of Mt. Lemmon, so we had to make quick alternate plans for the first two days of our VENT youth birding camp. Luckily, there was just enough room for our group at Santa Rita Lodge, so we jumped at the opportunity to spend more time than usual at Madera Canyon, one of the most famous birding sites in the country. As lucky as we were to find a place to stay for the first two nights, we were just as lucky that this year’s late monsoons finally arrived in force just as camp began, breaking an intense heat wave and igniting “second spring,” a flurry of re-nesting activity among many bird species.

Tufted Flycatcher

Tufted Flycatcher— Photo: Michael O’Brien


The diversity of habitats around the Madera Canyon area is simply outstanding, so we began with quite a diverse sampling of species. A quick stop in the desert lowlands at Continental produced Harris’s Hawk, Gilded Flicker, Rufous-winged Sparrow, and a number of other desert species. Upon arrival at Santa Rita Lodge, it was difficult to unpack and settle in because we were surrounded by Southeast Arizona specialties: Magnificent, Broad-billed, and Violet-crowned hummingbirds; Arizona Woodpecker; Dusky-capped and Sulphur-bellied flycatchers; Mexican Jay; Bridled Titmouse; and Varied Bunting, just to name a few! Based at Santa Rita Lodge, we ventured uphill to Carrie Nation Trail, where a pair of Elegant Trogons gave us tantalizing views, and the rare Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake posed nicely for a lucky few at the back of the line. We also went downhill to Proctor Road, a very rich transition zone between riparian, grassland, and lower canyon habitats. Here we found the very local Black-capped Gnatcatcher, along with an understandably long list of other species representative of several habitat zones. An afternoon outing to the Santa Cruz River near Tumacacori was particularly exciting, because we successfully located the only pair of Rose-throated Becards in the United States! We enjoyed watching these birds travel to and from their huge nest while also enjoying many other species typical of the riparian zone, such as Common Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black Phoebe, Lucy’s Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Although not where we had planned to stay, Santa Rita Lodge was an absolute delight, from the pleasant staff at the lodge to the wonderful feeding station; to the enchanting nighttime chorus of Elf Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor-will; and to an amazing diversity of moths, beetles, and other critters attracted to our porch lights.

Read Michael’s full report in his Field List.