Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A One Day Escape to Madera

Most generally when I think of the term 'cabin fever', I tend to think of long months of cold winter weather keeping a person confined indoors for an extended period of time.  That thinking is probably due to the fact that I can recall many cold winters in Nebraska in the past.  However, this same term can be applied to Arizona's summers; the heat can make it miserable to be outdoors in the desert.  But the summer cabin fever in Arizona does have a fairly easy cure; head to higher elevations.  So this past Saturday, I joined forces with fellow birders, Tommy DeBardeleben, Mark Ochs, and Chris Rohrer.  Tommy and I left the Phoenix area about 4:00 am and picked up Mark at Picacho Peak and then the 3 of us picked up Chris in Tucson and we headed to Madera Canyon for the day.  We had a couple of target birds that we wanted to try and locate and get photos.  We dipped on the Whiskered Screech Owl, which is a bird that I have heard before, but never seen.  We visited the Whiskered Screech Owl's nest cavity several times but never got a glimpse of them or their fledglings which were seen and photographed the day before.

The second target bird was the Plain-capped Starthroat which is native to Mexico, but every year it seems that a couple of them show up in Arizona and this year was no exception.  In fact this year seems to be a banner year as a few more than normal have been discovered.  This is a bird that I have only seen once before about 2 years ago, so seeing it again was really quite wonderful.  This is one of the larger hummingbird species and once it makes its appearance, there is no confusion of what it is compared the rest of the hummers flitting about.  It is about an inch longer than the rest at the feeders this day and its long straight bill is quite remarkable.  (While I really prefer to capture photos of birds away from feeders, sometimes one has to endure and take what one can get!)

 Plain-capped Starthroat

 Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat (with a Black-chinned Hummingbird on the left)

Late in the afternoon the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge received a visit by a male Rufous Hummingbird, that added a dynamic to the Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds that were by far the most common species to be found at the feeders that day.

Rufous Hummingbird - on the left

We also had a couple of species of woodpeckers that returned frequently for our enjoyment.  The Acorn Woodpeckers were heard and seen quite frequently, but the most intriguing one for me was the Arizona Woodpecker.  This is another bird that I had seen on various occasions and at various locations, but have never really been able to obtain any decent photos of this species.  Well, my luck was a bit better on this day with several visits by a couple of these birds.  In the United States the range of this woodpecker is pretty much restricted to extreme southeastern Arizona and just a little bit into the southwest corner of New Mexico.  

 Acorn Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker

Some of the other birds that visited Santa Rita Lodge during our visit were the resident flock of Wild Turkey, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jay, Hepatic Tanager, and a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher playing with it's food, which provided a nice array of color and interest to our birds for the day at Santa Rita Lodge.

 Wild Turkey

 Black-headed Grosbeak - Male

Blue Grosbeak - Male

 Bridled Titmouse

 Hepatic Tanager

Mexican Jay

 Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher playing with prey

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher - with prey

Late morning we decided to make a short trip down to Florida Canyon to see if we could locate the Rufous-capped Warblers, another bird that is hard to find in the United States.  While we struck out on the warblers, our consolation prize turned out to be 3 Black-capped Gnatcatchers, another Mexican species that can only be found in the United States in Arizona.  I have seen one of these birds once (or maybe twice) before, but this time I got photos that leave a lot to be desired, but that is all the more reason to search for them again and maybe find a male in breeding plumage in the future.  A couple of the keys in identification of this species is the long bill and the white underside of the tail. 

 Black-capped Gnatcatcher

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

A couple of other fine birds to find in this location were the Indigo and the Varied Bunting.  Both were a bit far off and did not allow for the best of photos, but it is hard not to attempt to snap a couple of photos anyway.

Indigo Bunting

Varied Bunting

The day was not yet over as we had seen on the list that a juvenile Tricolored Heron had been found the day before in Tucson, so when we returned to Tucson, we stopped to try and locate it.  And at that time of the day, it was resting and was pretty well hidden in a tree, but this is another fairly rare bird in Arizona.  I had seen several on my trip to Texas in April, but this was a first for me to see in Arizona.  

Tricolored heron

In the same vicinity, we found a pair of Cooper's Hawks and they must be fairly used to people as they did not seem to be as wary as most that I encounter.

 Cooper's Hawk

Madera Canyon is always a great place to visit as there seems to be no end to the wonderful birds and other critters that can be found in this area.  


  1. Fantastic shots Gordon, sorry I missed it all!

  2. Gorgeous photos Gordon. It sounds like you all had a good time! What great finds!