Sunday, January 15, 2012

Painted Redstart, Winter Birding in Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ

Snow on the mountains in the middle of the dessert, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
I knew I was going to spend the week before Christmas in Arizona, and one of the places I wanted to visit is the Southeastern corner of the state near Sierra Vista which is supposed to be one of America's top birding hotspots - mostly from starting in March extending through October is spectacular birding. So before our trip, I researched the area to see what would be the best places for both scenery and birding. Well, of course, it's December, not the ideal month for birding in the area, but I read enough to be satisfied that there will still be enough wintering birds to make it worthwhile (remember I live in Northern Illinois). I made my list of places that sounded promising and set out my trusty Sibley Field Guide to Birds in Western North America to pack and then promptly left them sitting on the living room coffee table at home when we left for the airport. We arrived in Phoenix late on Dec. 18th, and left early the next morning to spend two days in the Sierra Vista area (Above). It wasn't until after we checked into our Hotel did I discover I left these items at home. So that night in the hotel, I frantically tried to recall all the places and directions. I narrowed the list down to three manageable day-trips near Sierra Vista, so we could get to Tucson to visit relatives by late afternoon on the 20th. The three places I picked were Ramsey Canyon Preserve,  San Pedro River Riparian National Conservation Area, and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area - all near Sierra Vsta and have good reputations for birding. Unfortunately, it is the winter and the birding isn't as great as its spring / summer/ fall seasons, but it's when I could be here, and I was hoping I could find something new to add to my Life List, which at the time was at #346 and I was hoping I could find at least four birds to bring my total to 350 before the end of 2011. So on the morning of Dec. 19, Ramsey Canyon was our first destination.
A Painted Redstart, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
On the way there, we passed a road called Ramsey Canyon Road - it was clearly well before the intersection that the directions told us the trail into the canyon would start. We decided to turn onto the road anyway. We drove a couple of miles and didn't see anything that looked like we were going the correct way, so we decided to turn around and follow the original directions. When we reached the intersection of Hwy 92 and Hereford Rd., we searched all over and didn't see anything that looked like a trail or an entrance into a canyon. We asked a few local people about a trail leading into the canyon, and were stared at like we were aliens, and when we explained we were looking to photograph birds made it worse. "It's winter, birds left a long time ago," was a response.  I remembered passing a Ranger Station along our route, so we turned around to "ask a Ranger." When we reached the Ranger Station we explained that the directions I had for the location of Ramsey Canyon wasn't quite accurate. Then we explained were looking for birds, the skeptical Ranger was nice but told us that it's winter and it's better to come back in another season. We thanked the nice ranger, and headed towards Ramsey Canyon and guess what? The entrance to the canyon is on Ramsey Canyon Road (of course). We just didn't go far enough the last time. While driving up the road nearing the National Conservatory where the trail into Ramsey Canyon begins, I saw a Northern Mockingbird, a flock of Chipping Sparrows, and a Western Scrub Jay. When we pulled into the parking lot and got out, I heard and saw an Acorn Woodpecker. I thought - this is a good sign - then as we were walking to the building there was a bird I've never seen before sitting on an outdoor feeder. It was all black with white on the wings and bright red breast - a Painted Redstart. Bird #347.  The problem was that it was so close my 500mm lens could not focus on it. Then it literally flew straight at me and landed on a wall even closer to me and I still couldn't focus on it. Eventually it flew far enough away for me to get a pic (Above), but it had its back to me and I couldn't get its beautiful red breast. Fortunately, Val was in a good position to get a couple of good shots (Below).
Val's photo of the beautiful Painted Redstart, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
Painted Redstarts are common in oak and pine forests along canyons, which is exactly the habitat we were in. They are found in the southern half and Southeastern corner of Arizona and southwestern New Mexico and into real Mexico.  It was fortunate that we saw this one as they spend their winters in Mexico and should have left the area several weeks ago.
Val's pic of another great look at the Painted Redstart sitting on the roof, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
Despite the very great beginning of this birding outing in Ramsey Canyon, we didn't see many other birds. But we had a great hike up the canyon and I did see another Painted Redstart, more Acorn Woodpeckers and Northern Mockingbirds, a Hermit Thrush, a Brown Creeper, a Red-tailed Hawk, and several Great-tailed Grackles and Common Ravens.
At the top of the trail up Ramsey Canyon on Hamburg Trail,  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.
The further up the trail; we went, the more snow there was on the trail. It didn't seem like we were in Southeastern Arizona at all. In fact, there was more snow here in this part of AZ than there was in northern Illinois.
Val on the trail surrounded by snow-laden trees, on the way back down from the overlook,  Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Sierra Vista, AZ; 12/19/2011.

1 comment:

~Val said...

I'm so happy to have seen that pretty little Redstart at the beginning of the hike. What's better is that he sat so still!