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Southeast Arizona - Part II
April 2022

| Synopsis | Pictures | Bird/Critter Lists |


Santa Rita Mountains, Coronado National Forest

We decided to head to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. With campsites being as in high demand as they were now and with camping being limited there, we tried our luck at getting a spot at the first-come-first-serve Bog Springs Campground.

Bog Springs Campground, Madera Canyon
After another relatively short drive (everything seems really close in the corner of SE Arizona), we pulled into the campground with fingers crossed. It looked doubtful at first, as we noticed a camper ahead of us stopping to look at the reservation tags at the campsites. Clearly they were looking as well and they were first in line. We lucked out though, as we spotted someone packing up their tent only site. After kindly asking if they were leaving, we swooped in with our tags to claim the site. It turned out to be a fairly nice site with a level tent spot tucked away from the other campers. The only thing wrong with the site or rather the campground were the restrooms. The vault toilets were only serviced once a week, which turned out, wasn’t frequent enough in this busy of a location. It was probably one of the worst toilets (especially for a $20/night fee) that I’ve seen at a national forest (and I’ve been in a lot of port-o-potties). We’re talking - hold your breath and worry about splashback - kind of disgusting.

We hiked the trails near the campground that followed Madera Creek through oak, juniper, and sycamores down the canyon to thickets of bunchgrass, barrel cactus, and mesquite. It’s easy to see why birders enjoy the canyon so much - the trials are easy and the bird diversity and density is high. Warblers, vireos, hummingbirds, tanagers, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, and flycatchers were all along the Madera Creek trail. They were more easily seen at the lodge with a fantastic array of seed and hummingbird feeders. The lodge featured a seating area for birders to sit and watch. It had a zoo-like feel with the open pit of Wild Turkeys milling below the feeders while the Lesser Goldfinch, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and House Finches shoveled food into their mouths. Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds frequented the many sugar water feeders near the parking area.

While taking an evening stroll through the trails, we passed the lodge where we saw a large group of birders looking up. It was past dusk and we initially thought they were watching a Lesser Nighthawk fly overhead. But when the nighthawk left, they were still looking up - at a phone pole we realized. The guide saw us, waved us over, and we joined the large group of birders - most with big lenses on tripods. In a whispered voice, the guide pointed out a nest cavity of an Elf Owl in the telephone pole. Using soft light, he spotlighted the owl briefly so everyone could get a look and snap a few photos. After he turned off the light, the tiny owl flew from its nest and called softly nearby. It was leaving the nest for her nightly hunt. The owl was pretty thrilling to see as we’ve heard them before but never seen one.
The second evening as we walked along the creek, we heard two Elf Owls making a ruckus from another telephone pole. In the growing darkness, we saw movement of the owls flying into and out of the nest cavity. It seems the Elf Owl population is pretty high in Madera Canyon as we also heard them calling near our campsite at night. In the evening, we spotted the silhouette of a Whiskered Screech-owl hunting along the riparian creek side and later heard it calling from the oak thickets. Walking up the road to the campground at night, we heard two Mexican Whip-poor-wills calling nearby. We were able to see the eyeshine of one of the whip-poor-wills as it sat in a tree then occasionally sallied up to catch its prey.

The majority of the people we saw on the trails (at least the easier ones) were birders. There were a few locals that regularly hike the trails. And there were more serious hikers that were drawn to the trails up to Mount Wrightson. But the majority of hikers along Madera Creek were birders. And sadly I witnessed a lot of shameful behavior by some of them. Birders and photographers unabandonly used playback to call in birds for their viewing pleasure. They freely and knowingly disrupted and stressed out birds during their breeding season just to get a picture or tick off their lifelist. I saw and heard people playing the Elegant Trogon call in the parking lot (lazy F***ers), a group of birders playing Elf Owl calls at its nesting cavity, and even a photographer trying to call in a White-breast Nuthatch. Their behavior was disgusting and made me embarrassed to be lumped in with them. Every call I heard made me doubt that I was actually hearing a bird call and not a birder playing their iPhone. Signage to discourage this behavior was lacking at Madera Canyon. Maybe it shouldn’t have to be said that overuse of playback is detrimental to the birds and is definitely not in their best interest. But there are plenty of signs along the road stating the speed limit, no littering, etc. I think I saw one sign mentioning to not use playback, but it was buried in text on a sign in one of the parking areas.

Carrie Nation - Fault Mine - Josephine Saddle Trails

For a full day’s hike, we headed up the Carrie Nation trail, as it was there that we had seen our first Elegant Trogon 10 years ago. Back then our hike was during a cold snap and the trail was dusted in snow. This time, however, we enjoyed milder and sunnier weather. We climbed the trail past other photographers and birders who were Elegant Trogon “hunting.” We hiked up to the ruins of the old mining operation and turned around to head back down the trail. Off the trail, we heard the distinctive call of a trogon, but by this point we had witnessed plenty of birders using playback, so we were hesitant to believe it was the actual bird. However, we continued to listen and the bird song seemed to be off trail in the dense oak across a small gully and it moved somewhat quickly (without hearing signs of humans). Tor spotted the distinctive red, green and white flashes, before it flew up the trail we had just gone down. Pressing our luck, we followed the bird back up the trail and heard it singing from a perch. We got decent views of the trogon as it sallied from the branch and landed back in the same spot before it flew back into the forest. We were lucky to see another male Elegant Trogon in pretty much the same place as we had seen one 10 years ago.

Back on the Carrie Nation Trail, we decided to try making a loop up toward the mountain and back to the trailhead. It was an arduous climb up the Fault Mine Trail - definitely a lot steeper than I had imagined as it climbed up the mountainside through oak and juniper. The loose rocks on the trail didn’t make the ascent any easier. Off on the distant hillside, we heard the call of another Elegant Trogon - this one was definitely bird originated as it was located well away from any trails. We finally made it up to where the trail met the Agua Caliente Trail, which was blessedly much flatter. It hugged the mountainside - trailing through manzanita, tall oaks, marshy seeps, and finally into Apache pine. The trail afforded great views of Mt Wrightson (aka Mt Baldy) and the Madera Canyon below. We encountered many mixed flocks of Hermit, Townsend’s, Yellow-rumped, and Grace’s Warblers as well as small groups of Hepatic Tanagers. Farther off trail, we heard another Elegant Trogon sing. The place was lousy with them!

At Josephine’s Saddle, we took a side trail to a small spring that was captured in a concrete trough. After looking through a mixed flock of warblers, vireos and Arizona Woodpecker, we returned to the saddle and took the Old Baldy trail back down the mountain. Old Baldy trail was a steady and gentle descent - probably the better way to climb up the loop, but if we had gone this way, we might not have seen an Elegant Trogon on the Carrie Nation Trail.

After 2 nights in Madera Canyon dealing with inconsiderate birders and spending a day on our long hike up the mountain, we headed south to the Huachuca Mountains - another location we had visited during our first trip and were happy to return to.

Huachuca Mountains
It was a short drive from Madera Canyon down through the busy metropolis (it’s all relative down there - the difference between desert to city is dramatic) of Sierra Vista. Almost immediately after the city, we turned up the road to Carr Canyon, which I remembered vividly this time - recalling it to be very steep and windy and not the road I’d wanted to encounter oncoming traffic on. Perhaps the memory of the stressful drive up to Carr Canyon pushed out my memory of the narrow windy pass through the Chiricahuas, which in comparison is pretty tame. The dirt road climbs 2,000 ft in just 3 miles, up many switchbacks with sweeping views of Sierra Vista sprawl below. Thankfully no cars were coming down as we were making the crawl up the gravelly road.

Reef Townsite Campground, Carr Canyon

At the end of the road, we parked at the Ramsey Vista Campground with the intention of camping there for the night. The wind was blowing up at the top, but at least the sun was out so it was a good mix of cool and warm. During our first visit, which was also very windy, we hiked one of the trails from the campground and stayed at one of the sites.

This time we decided to hike back to the nearby Reef Townsite Campground, which had been recently burnt by a wildfire during our first trip 10 years ago. The trail traversed loose red shale, through dense copse of manzanita and grassy meadows lined with Apache pine. A pair of Yellow-eyed Juncos foraged in a wet meadow and a pair of Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays sat surprisingly quiet in the brush. The trees and undergrowth at the Reef Townsite Campground had recovered from the fire with only signs of the wildfire being charred bark and a few snags. After looking around the campground, we decided to camp here for the night instead. The campground was tucked away from the ridge and surrounded by mature trees, all of which provided more protection from the constant wind. We hiked back along the road to the Ramsey Vista campground to move the truck.

In the evening, we took the short loop trail around the historical site of Reef, which was a gold mining town starting in the early 1900s. A few relics from the mining operations remained, but the trail gave beautiful views of tree-lined Carr Canyon.

Despite moving to the more protected campground, the winds picked up in the evening and we were buffeted with large gusts of wind throughout the night. However, I think we would have been worse off at the more exposed Ramsey Vista Campground.

While we had the campground to ourselves overnight, a couple of carloads of birders had made the steep ascent before dawn to bird the campground in the morning. In the morning, the campground was hopping with bird life (especially compared to how quiet it was the previous afternoon and evening). A solitary Greater Pewee was calling from a high perch, and a Buff-breasted Flycatcher sallied from the tops of trees all the way down to the manzanita shrub. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds foraged low and often landed on the ground. Every tree seemed to have a warbler flitting in the branches. Most numerous were Yellow-rumped Warblers, followed by Grace’s Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, Hermit, Wilson’s and Painted Redstart.

As the morning warmed up, so did bird life and it was difficult leaving the campground to head to our next destination just 3,000 ft below.

Ramsey Canyon, Nature Conservancy

I had wanted to visit world-renowned Ramsey Canyon during our last visit, but it was closed when we happened to be in the area. After another hair-raising drive down the mountain and without encountering any other cars, we turned up the street to the nearby preserve (literally a block away). In the half-full parking lot, birders gathered their optics and cameras (and we quickly joined their ranks). I can’t say Ramsey Canyon was much different than Madera Canyon - perhaps it was a slightly more condensed and user-friendly version. The birds we saw those 2 hours in the morning weren’t any different than the ones we had already seen on this trip (not to discount them as trash birds). Ramsey Canyon was a beautiful place with impressively large sycamore trees, a running creek, plenty of oaks, and worth the protection. Painted Redstart and Cassin’s Vireo graced the treetops. From the oak-covered hillside, a distant Elegant Trogon gave its throaty song. The hummingbird feeders were a great place to study Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Black-throated and Rivioli’s Hummingbirds. Two Broad-billed Hummingbird nests (one with 2 nestlings that were near fledging) were on open display near the feeders. A couple of ponds hosted the Chiricahua Leopard Frog breeding program, which seemed pretty successful seeing how many of these large frogs lined the small ponds.

For birders short on time, Ramsey Canyon is a good way to see a lot of the birds in an easily accessible place.

Coronado National Monument

After another productive morning of birding, we decided to head on to our next destination. We decided to try the nearby Parker Lake on the west side of the Huachuca Mountains as our last camping spot of the trip. Driving around the southern end of the mountains, we passed through the Coronado National Monument and came within only a few miles of the border with Mexico. Pulling into the small visitor center, we couldn’t help but notice the multiple border patrol vehicles parked and a small flurry of activity. Trying not to stare too much, we learned from the ranger in the visitor center that someone tried to outrun the border patrol. Not a good road to pick since it turned to a very windy steep dirt road within a mile from the visitor center.

At the national monument, we stopped at Coronado Peak and hiked to the top of the small hill during the heat of the day. A border patrol camera mounted on a pole seemed to follow our movement as we hiked up the hill. From the vantage point, we had a hazy view of the flat desert below and more sky island mountains rising in the distance. A dark straight line cut through the desert - Trump’s unfinished border wall stretched eastward and an anti tank fence stretched out to the west. Large swatches of ruined and bare ground ran adjacent to the fencing.

Parker Lake, Coronado National Forest
After taking in the views of our neighbors to the south, learning that Coronado didn’t even march through this area, and having lunch with a pair of Cassin’s Kingbirds, we continued on to Parker Lake. The drive through the flats of desert scrub and mesquite wasn’t much to remember. The Huachuas stood out at a distance to the north and east. As we approached the lake, we began to have misgivings about camping there. The campground was a lot larger and busier than I expected. There were many RVs and families set up in the campground, and the lake itself lacked any natural qualities. I was imagining something close to Lake Pena Blanca to the west, which we stayed at last time (and got harassed by some border patrol and a drone). While I doubted we’d experience any illegal trafficking activity at this busy lake, I also doubted we’d experience much nature.

Continuing on, we set our sights on Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, where we had previously camped and was not too far from Parker Lake.

Las Ciénegas National Conservation Area

Oak Tree Canyon
Pulling into the kiosk at Las Cienegas, we were greeted with the sounds of Eastern Meadowlark and Horned Lark singing from the waves of gold grass. We decided to head for Oak Tree Canyon, probably the most popular place for primitive camping given its close proximity to the entrance. We passed two other campers on the way into the canyon and set up camp beneath two large spreading oaks in the main gravelly wash.

Lucy’s and Orange-crowned Warblers fed in the canopy of the oak trees and a pair of Summer Tanager flitted around the branches. A Gila Woodpecker squeaked loudly from the nearby mesquite. We hiked around Oak Tree - through the washes and ATV trails that were used to maintain waterers and minerals for the grazing cattle. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes perched above the rolling hills of dry grass and scrub. As the prickly poppies began to close for the evening, a Northern Mockingbird rattled out its repetitive calls and Mourning Doves cooed.

When night settled in and the stars began to appear, an Elf owl called from the thickets next to the wash. A Western Screech Owl hooted from the sprawling oak above us. It was a perfect evening for the last night in Arizona.

Empire Gulch
In the morning, we did our best to pack up camp with cold hands. Night was cooler than we had thought it would be given how warm it was the day before and our lower elevation. We drove over to Empire Gulch - the creek that ran behind the historic Empire Ranch and visitor center/headquarters.

Large stands of cottonwoods lined the small running creek. This oasis in the middle of the dry grasslands was a hotspot for birds. Flashy Vermilion Flycatchers sallied from branch to branch. Curve-billed Thrashers and Abert’s Towhee tossed aside dry cottonwood leaves in search of prey. Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat sang loudly from the dense brush. A Great Horned Owl stood sentinel over its two downy chicks who peered down from a burnt cottonwood hollow. Northern Flickers and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers made good use of the cottonwood snags. While sitting on a log and absorbing all that was around me, I noticed the distinctive call of a Northern Bobwhite in the distance. We tried to pinpoint the origins of the call, but it fell quiet after a while. I played its call once and was surprised when a small rufous football shape flew by us. Though it wasn’t a very satisfying look at the bobwhite, the characteristics we were able to gather were distinct.

Before leaving the conservation area, we took a short drive farther in. We came across a Western Rattlesnake basking in the warming day and a Wild Turkey wandering the grasslands by itself. At last, our trip to the desert had come to an end. It was so nice to have a proper vacation and to get a glimmer of the new “normal” trip. Southeastern Arizona was a great way to get back into the practice of traveling, hiking, birding, and general adventuring. I’m looking forward to the next far away venture!


Back to Part I of Southeast Arizona Trip



Back to Part I of Southeast Arizona Trip


Northern Bobwhite LC
Gambel's Quail C,P
Wild Turkey C,RP,BP,MC,LC
Band-tailed Pigeon MC
Eurasian Collared-Dove C,P
Inca Dove P
Common Ground Dove C,LC
White-winged Dove C,P,MC,LC
Mourning Dove C,P,MC,RC,LC
Lesser Nighthawk MC
Common Poorwill C
Mexican Whip-poor-will MC
White-throated Swift C,RP,BP,MC,RC
Rivoli's Hummingbird RP,MC,RC
Blue-throated Mountain-gem C
Black-chinned Hummingbird C,MC,RC,LC
Rufous Hummingbird MC
Broad-tailed Hummingbird C,RP,BP,P,MC,RC,LC
Broad-billed Hummingbird MC,RC
Killdeer LC
Turkey Vulture C,RP,BP,CC,RC,LC
Cooper's Hawk C
Red-tailed Hawk C,RP,BP,LC
Swanson's Hawk Roadside
Whiskered Screech-Owl C,MC
Western Screech-Owl LC
Great Horned Owl C,LC
Elf Owl MC,LC
Elegant Trogon MC,RC
Williamson's Sapsucker BP
Red-naped Sapsucker C
Acorn Woodpecker C,BP,MC,RC
Gila Woodpecker LC
Ladder-backed Woodpecker C,LC
Hairy Woodpecker C,RP
Arizona Woodpecker C,MC,RC
Northern Flicker C,RP,BP,MC,LC
American Kestrel C,RP,LC
Olive-sided Flycatcher C
Greater Pewee RP,BP,CC
Western Wood-Pewee RP,MC,RC
Hammond's Flycatcher C
Gray Flycatcher C,MC,LC
Dusky Flycatcher CC
Pacific-slope Flycatcher C,MC,RC,LC
Buff-breasted Flycatcher CC
Say's Phoebe C,LC
Vermilion Flycatcher LC
Dusky-capped Flycatcher C,MC
Ash-throated Flycatcher C,P,RC,LC
Brown-crested Flycatcher MC
Cassin's Kingbird C,RP,BP,LC
Western Kingbird LC
Bell's Vireo LC
Hutton's Vireo C,MC,RC
Cassin's Vireo C,BP,MC,RC,LC
Plumbeous Vireo C,RP,BP,MC
Warbling Vireo MC,RC
Loggerhead Shrike LC
Steller's Jay C,RP,BP,MC,RC
Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay CC
Mexican Jay C,MC,RC
Common Raven C,MC,RC,LC
Mexican Chickadee RP,BP
Bridled Titmouse C,MC,RC
Horned Lark LC
Northern Rough-winged Swallow LC
Violet-green Swallow C,RP,BP,MC,LC
Barn Swallow LC
Bushtit C,MC,RC
Ruby-crowned Kinglet C,RP,BP,MC
Red-breasted Nuthatch RP
White-breasted Nuthatch C,RP,BP,MC,RC,LC
Pygmy Nuthatch RP,BP
Brown Creeper C,RP,BP,MC
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher MC,LC
Rock Wren C
Canyon Wren C
House Wren C,RP,BP,MC
Bewick's Wren C,RP,BP,MC,LC
Cactus Wren C,P
Curve-billed Thrasher P,LC
Northern Mockingbird LC
Eastern Bluebird CC
Western Bluebird RP,BP
Swainson's Thrush C,MC
Hermit Thrush RP,RC
American Robin C,RP,BP,CC,RC,LC
House Sparrow P
House Finch C,P,MC,LC
Pine Siskin C,RP
Lesser Goldfinch P,MC,LC
Chipping Sparrow C,LC
Lark Sparrow C
Yellow-eyed Junco C,RP,BP,MC
White-crowned Sparrow C,P,MC,LC
White-throated Sparrow C
Lincoln's Sparrow MC
Canyon Towhee C,P,LC
Abert's Towhee LC
Rufous-crowned Sparrow C
Green-tailed Towhee C
Spotted Towhee C,RP,BP,MC
Yellow-breasted Chat LC
Eastern Meadowlark LC
Bullock's Oriole LC
Scott's Oriole C,MC
Brown-headed Cowbird LC
Great-tailed Grackle P
Orange-crowned Warbler C,RP,MC,RC,LC
Lucy's Warbler C,MC,LC
Nashville Warbler C
Virginia's Warbler RP,LC
Common Yellowthroat LC
Yellow Warbler LC
Yellow-rumped Warbler C,RP,BP,MC,RC,LC
Grace's Warbler BP,MC
Black-throated Gray Warbler C,MC,RC
Townsend's Warbler C,RP,BP,MC,RC,LC
Hermit Warbler RP,MC,RC
Wilson's Warbler C,RP,BP,MC,RC,LC
Red-faced Warbler C,RP
Painted Redstart C,RP,MC,RC
Hepatic Tanager C,MC,RC
Summer Tanager C,MC,LC
Western Tanager RP,BP
Northern Cardinal P,LC
Pyrrhuloxia P
Black-headed Grosbeak C,RP,MC,RC,LC
Lazuli Bunting CC
Coues' white-tailed deer C,RP,BP,MC,LC
Red Fox MC
Coyote LC (heard)
Coatimundi C
Raccoon MC (camera trap)
Ringtail CC (camera trap)
Black-tailed Jackrabbit P
Desert Cottontail P, LC
Rock Squirrel C
Arizona Gray Squirrel MC, RC
Chiricahua Fox Squirrel RP
Bat sp C, MC
Banded rock rattlesnake C
Western diamond rattlesnake LC
Western patch-nosed snake C
Yarrow's spiny lizard C, MC
Clark's spiny lizard C, MC
Striped plateau lizard C
Eastern fence lizard C, LC
Sonoran spotted whiptail C
Desert grassland whiptail MC
Canyon treefrog MC
Chiricahua leopard frog RC
Marine blue
Dotted blue
Arizona sister
Checkerspot sp.
Cloudywing sp.
American lady
Orange skipperling
Pipevine swallowtail
Black swallowtail
Canyonland Satyr
Pearl crescent
In bloom:
Canada violet
Shortstem lupine
Yellow monkeyflower
Arizonia valerian
Redfuzz saxifrage
Fragrant snakeroot
Linearleaf four-o'clock
Silver-leafed nightshade
Adonis blazingstar
Bigelow's bristlehead
New Mexico thistle
Cliff fenderbush
Palo verde


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page updated: 5/28/22