Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yellow-eyed Junco, Cave Creek Canyon, AZ

While hiking 9 miles on the Cave Creek Canyon Trail in the Chiricahua Mt. National Monument, Arizona, during my Spring Break from Northern Illinois, I was hoping to see some birds I don't get the chance to see in the Midwest and perhaps a slew of migrants making their way through the area on their way to more northern destinations.  I was somewhat disappointed by the numbers and variety I was able to ID, but was still able to add a few new additions to my Life List (Marked with an ** below):
A Yellow-eyed Junco, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mts., AZ; 4/11/2012.
Birds Identified (includes my drive from Sierra Vista to the Monument): American Crow, American Kestral, American Robin (I was hoping for a Rufous-backed Robin - no dice),  Black Vulture, Black-throated Gray Warbler **,  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brewers Blackbird, Brewers Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Brown-headed Cowbird, Cactus Wren, Common Raven, Hermit Thrush, House Sparrow, Mexican Jays**, Mourning Dove,  Northern Red-shafted Flicker, Steller's Jay, Swainson's Hawk**, Turkey Vulture, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Yellow-eyed Junco (Above), Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and a multitude of unidentified PBBs (Plain Brown Birds) along the road on the drive.
A Yellow-eyed Junco preening itself after a cold bath in Cave Creek, Chiricahua Mt. NM, AZ; 4/11/2012.
I was making one of the many crossings of Cave Creek ( I believe I had to cross the creek over 50 times out and back), I saw a bird in the shadows taking a bath in the water. Initially I thought it was an American dipper. It had the shape of a Dipper, was all dark and just hopped out of the water onto a rock. But as soon as it stepped into a ray of sunlight I knew it wasn't a Dipper. It was smaller and not at all as dark as it looked in the shadows. Once I focused my viewfinder on the bird and saw the piercing bright yellow eyes, I knew I had found a Yellow-eyed Junco (Above). So eventhough, this would be ideal habitat for this Junco, I was surprised to see it since the only other time I have seen this species was on the top of Mt. Lemmon in the middle of winter ('09).  This guy wouldn't sit still for a second. He was so busy shaking himself off and preening after his dip in the creek.
The same Yellow-eyed Junco on Cave Creek Canyon Trail, Chiricahua Mt. NM, AZ; 4/11/2012.
I actually feel fortunate to have spotted this Junco as they only enter the US borders in the very southeastern corner of Arizona, and are more likely to be seen south of the border in the Mexican Mountains. They have a very contrasting color scheme: mostly light gray with a rufous back and coverts and tertials. They wear a small black mask, which make their bright yellow eyes and a bicolored bill stand out nicely (dark maxilla and yellow mandible).

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