Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Private Tour in SE Arizona – Four Sky Islands, 159 birds, and Nearly 1000 Miles

This past week I led a private tour for 4 ½ days here in SE Arizona for a client-friend who has been on a couple other tours with me in past years, in Brazil and Costa Rica. Like me, Skyler is interested in all aspects of natural history, so it was a treat for me to be able to stop and look at flowers, insects, and other animals as we looked for his target birds. Here is Skyler photographing a Phrynosoma hernandesi, Greater Short-horned Lizard that was along the Nature Trail in Madera Canyon.

Phrynosoma hernandesi, Greater Short-horned Lizard

Skyler actually had a short wish-list of several SE Arizona specialties, and we cleaned up on all his primary targets, missing only a couple species that he had actually seen with me in Costa Rica and wanted to try for his US list. One of the top targets was this Five-striped Sparrow, which we saw in the early evening in lower Warsaw Canyon. We camped at the same place I used this past early January with my friends Nina (click for Nina's blog) and Galen, about ¼ mile upstream from where the Nutting’s Flycatcher wintered.
Five-striped Sparrow

We found four Buff-collared Nightjars on our walk after dark (another of Skyler’s targets), including one that sang very briefly right by our campsite. But after the moon rose above the hills to the east, at about 11:00 p.m., the same bird began singing from elevated perches all around our campsite, waking us up and continuing loudly all night long. This is where I first heard a single bird sing on March 31, 2015, and a few territories have been occupied here ever since. No one knows if they go silent and hibernate in the winter or if they are truly migratory here.

On our night walk I spotted this Eleodes sp., desert stink beetle. I had never seen one with a projection like this (which is not an ovipositor). My submission to Bugguide revealed that there are two species in Arizona like this, and this one looks most like E. caudiferus, although the photos there are all from northern Arizona.
Eleodes sp., desert stink beetle

Skyler spotted this beetle, which I first assumed was a stag beetle in the family Lucanidae. But a much closer match is the genus Pasimachus, in the ground beetle family Carabidae.
Pasimachus sp., Carabidae

This large wolf spider is a Hogna sp., quite possibly the very widespread H. carolinensis, Carolina Wolf Spider, though in remote, under-surveyed regions like this I know there are many taxa yet undiscovered for the US and not pictured in any of the books or on Bugguide.
Hogna sp., wolf spider

Skyler spotted this Vaejovis spinigerus, Stripe-tailed Scorpion in the middle of the road without the aid of a UV light. I’ve seen it almost every time I’ve camped here, but I usually have my light to spot them.
Vaejovis spinigerus, Stripe-tailed Scorpion

The next morning we birded through the old winter territory of the Nutting’s Flycatcher, which hasn’t been reported since early February, but I was hopeful it might still be around and calling. No such luck. But it was very birdy, and we saw several more Five-striped Sparrows. This is a very recently fledged Rufous-winged Sparrow, which I identified from the parents feeding it.
Rufous-winged Sparrow fledgling

I had to look up this Amblyscirtes nysa, Nysa Roadside-Skipper; I’m very rusty on my Arizona butterflies.
Amblyscirtes nysa, Nysa Roadside-Skipper

Here’s the border fence to Mexico right where California Gulch crosses it. It would be a travesty to have a wall built in this gorgeous wilderness, and it’s incomprehensibly idiotic for anyone to propose such an idea.

The rest of our trip took us from the Santa Catalina Mountains to the Santa Ritas, to the Huachucas, and on to the Chiricahuas before we completed a huge loop back to Tucson via Safford and Globe; we drove nearly 1000 miles. Here’s a view from Incinerator Ridge in the Catalinas.

We saw nearly all of the birds typical of the Madrean Pine-Owl woodlands, including some very local specialties such as this Buff-breasted Flycatcher.
Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Dusky-capped Flycatcher is also a regional specialty, but they like all kinds of woodland and are surprisingly common here (especially given how rare they are in the rest of the country).
Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Olive Warbler is little more widespread but always a target given its taxonomic status as a monotypic family (no, it’s actually not a warbler of any kind).
Olive Warbler

More widespread birds here were this Painted Redstart…
Painted Redstart

…this Acorn Woodpecker…
Acorn Woodpecker

…and this Black-throated Gray Warbler.
Black-throated Gray Warbler

This was Skyler’s most wanted bird, and his final North American owl species: Spotted Owl. I posted photos of either this same bird or its mate from Sycamore Canyon in the Patagonia Mountains in other blogs over the past year and a half.
Spotted Owl

We got lucky that this Whiskered Screech-Owl was sitting on an open branch. It whistled back in the daytime, revealing its presence, but more often they do this from within a cavity, and once they spy you approaching they stop calling back and slink down into the tree before you can see them. We sat down to enjoy this bird for some time, and after we were well down the trail I discovered I had sat on an old prickly pear cactus pad and a few hundred glochids had worked their way through two layers of clothing to reach my buttocks. It was only about 14 hours later before I was finally completely rid of them.
Whiskered Screech-Owl

Whiskered Screech-Owl

Olive-sided Flycatcher is always a lucky find in Arizona, only briefly stopping over during migration in any patch of trees. Their wintering and breeding ranges are far from here.
Olive-sided Flycatcher

Typical Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed is bright orange, but the variety native to SE Arizona is golden yellow.
Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed

One of my favorite flowers here is Erythrina flabelliformis, Coralbean, in a large genus of what are nearly all large tropical trees, many being a terrific food plant for many birds and insects.
Erythrina flabelliformis, Coralbean

We had this Erynnis tristis, Mournful Duskywing in its typical oak woodland habitat.
Erynnis tristis, Mournful Duskywing

Cyllopsis pyracmon, Nabokov's Satyr is found in the same area. It’s very similar to Canyonland Satyr, and I always have to look up the difference in the postmedian line on the hindwing.
Cyllopsis pyracmon, Nabokov's Satyr

These nymph Thasus neocalifornicus, Giant Mesquite Bug, are everywhere right now, much prettier in this stage than later in life.
Thasus neocalifornicus, Giant Mesquite Bug

We saw several of these Tomonotus ferruginosus, Oak-leaf Grasshopper, on our hike to and from the Spotted Owl.
Tomonotus ferruginosus, Oak-leaf Grasshopper

These two lizards were sunning on the same rock side by side, high in the Chiricahauas where we chased a Slate-throated Redstart that is summering there for the second year in a row. This is Sceloporus jarrovii, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard.
Sceloporus jarrovii, Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

This is Sceloporus virgatus, Striped Plateau Lizard.
Sceloporus virgatus, Striped Plateau Lizard

We spied a few cacti still blooming, simply gorgeous species. At lower elevations in the oaks is Echinocereus pectinatus, Rainbow Cactus.
Echinocereus pectinatus, Rainbow Cactus

Higher in the mountains amongst pine and Douglas-fir, in fact next to the two lizards above, was this Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret-cup Hedgehog Cactus.
Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret-cup Hedgehog Cactus

On our way back to Tucson on the last day we were stopped for road construction right where we had a perfect view of the Pinal Peak fire, which is apparently burning only ground debris as a low-intensity fire and was lightning-caused on May 8th (a rare event in early May). It’s still burning as I write this: see

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