Madera Canyon Bonanza!

Everyone said visit Madera Canyon, which is a north facing gorgeous canyon / mountain area about 35 miles north of the Mexican border with Arizona. The fact that it is both north facing and at a higher elevation means the climate is much cooler than in nearby Tucson, and one finds “exotics” in terms of birds which cross over from Mexico. Many of these birds are not found anywhere else in the United States. In addition to the USFS web site previously linked in this post, check out the Friends of Madera Canyon organization web.

Our visit towards the end of February was not idea for birding, as most birds wait till Spring and life giving rains before they return to the canyon, but we still had a great time and saw some neat birds. The hiking was also gorgeous.

Acorn Woodpecker (lifer)

Arizona Woodpecker (lifer)

Bridled Titmouse (lifer)

Hepatic Tanager (lifer)

Mexican Jay

Yellow-Eyed Junco (lifer) (a bird with a serious attitude!)

Here are the details of our seven mile hike starting from the first picnic area … Proctor Road. Our elevation gain during the hike was about 1,600 feet.

Finally I have to include two photos I took this morning when I took a bike ride from Catalina State Park, another great location. Unlike yesterday’s hike, in 90 minutes of cycling this morning I only gained about 70 feet in elevation … definitely down in the flatlands, but with some nice vistas.

Early Morning Great Horned Owl

Bike Ride Vista

Roadrunner! (and more desert birds)

I drove back to Catalina State Park this morning and spent four hours hiking in the desert. I think the birds were not happy with the weather which was sunny and 38F at sunrise, but given the lack of wind I wore shorts and a wool sweater (later removed). Midweek meant I had the park almost to myself, and that fact made it much easier to find birds.

I had really hoped to find a Roadrunner while down in Phoenix. After being raised on cartoons of Wile E Coyote’s nemesis, I really wanted to see this bird! While hiking early on in the morning I saw a bird flash up from the path into the bush. For some reason even though I had never seen a road runner in my life, I thought it might be a roadrunner. Slowly working my way around some cactuses which took me further away from my target area, I eventually approached the area hiding behind a large saguaro cactus. I found the road runner atop a large rock. The photograph is not the best, but I WAS Thrilled. Lifer!

The reason for my circuitous route was to get the sun behind me, both for my own eye’s benefit and the camera. In addition road runners have been clocked at 20 mph which is faster than I run (nor do I fly)! Thus, I needed to avoid spooking the bird.

The morning continued on with amazing success. I found two Cooper’s Hawks (lifer) … one trying to stay warm, and one hunting.

Staying Warm


A trip to the group camping area yielded some more lifers and a blue bird …

Pyrrhuloxia (lifer)

Hutton’s Vireo (lifer)

Verdin (lifer)


Gilded Flicker (lifer)

Eventually I returned to a Great Horned Owl nest I had seen on Sunday. I left the nest and the female alone, but decided to try and find the male. After fifteen minutes of searching I struck paydirt. The male checked me over and went back to sleep …

Great Horned Owl

While hiking between the two locations, this Lesser Goldfinch decided to give me a serenade.

Oh yes … I should not forget about the Curve Billed Thrasher which greeted me immediately upon getting out of the car to start my hike. I did see a lot of other birds, but they did not make the cut for this post. Finally, I would  be remiss id I did not mention the great condo in which we are staying. It is listed on VRBO, owned by Jim, and is less than one mile from Sabino Canyon meaning we are away from the hustle and bustle of Tuscon. Worth checking out.

Curve Billed Thrasher

Hummingbirds of the Desert

This morning the desert felt a bit like Minnesota with the temperature dropping to near freezing. Molly and I decided to go over to the Tucson Sonora Desert Museum. A bit south of town, our in the desert (where else?!) is this unique museam where one may learn about the desert plants. After taking a 90 minute tour, I decided to go birding. Apparently, if you are able to find a large number of flower blossoms in the desert, hummingbirds will be a plenty. Better yet, I got lucky in that a rare Allen’s Hummingbird had been seen starting two days ago. Please understand all hummingbirds except Ruby-Throats are rare for me up in Minnesota!

Just like at Sax-Zim Bog and owls, if you find the birders with long glass, you will find the rate birds. I present you a photograph of the Allen’s Hummingbird! (took me 60 minutes to get two pictures). I was not able to capture an image where its neck showed fiery red / copper in the sunlight. Oh well … another day!

… and the much more common to the locals, Costa’s Hummingbird

Southwestern USA Desert Birding

Nope, this is definitely not Kansas, Dorothy! After weeks on end of waking up to sub zero temperatures in northern Minnesota, Molly and I packed up the car and drove south for a vacation. The birding habitat down here could not be more different from my Boreal Forest. Instead of watching owls in snow flocked pines, I am finding birds amongst the cactus! Even the names of the birds in this desert region are hard to pronounce! Here is a Phainopepla (lifer) I spied this morning in the USFS Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (worth a hike / visit).

It was fun to try and get images of birds that showed off the unique desert habitat.

Cactus Wren (lifer)

Male Ladder-Back Woodpecker (lifer)

Yesterday, my first morning in the region, I drove over to Catalina State Park and joined the Tuscon Audubon Society weekly birding hike. Our two hosts were fantastic, and helped this kid from northern Minnesota learn both bird song and ID’s of almost every bird (all but one or two were lifers for me!) Thanks Tucson Audubon! They have many birding hikes every week. Follow the link!

Birds from Catalina State Park …

Albert’s Towhee (lifer)

Black Throated Sparrow (lifer)


Canyon Towhee (lifer)

Northern Cardinal

Gila Woodpecker (lifer)

Great Horned Owl on Nest

Lesser Goldfinch (lifer)

Female Ladder-Back Woodpecker (lifer)

Vermilion Flycatcher (lifer)