We took off with our umbrellas, since it looked like rain. We walked and walked, over the second stream-crossing, as directed, and found the tree and hole, but there were no birds tending it. We began to hear reports from people of Elegant Trogons on ahead also, but we already had them. We walked on a little to see them, picking up a nice Painted Redstart, but decided to go back and spend more time looking for our missing birds. We did this, and waited in the rain for perhaps fifteen minutes, then decided to go back to the car, since we had a lot of driving still to do in search of some warblers. We gave ourselves five more minutes, but the alarm went off, so to speak, and we headed back. As we were walking, Sharon noticed movement out of the corner of her eye and stopped to examine. After a few moments, she said, "I got a SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (67/405) - no two of them." It took me a while, but I finally got our target birds too. In the drizzle. We were so happy. Then we drove up to the Onion Saddle, on to Barfoot Junction, and on to Barfoot Park. No Red faces. We then drove back to Barfoot Junction, where we asked a Brit what he was looking at. He basically said whatever's here. We asked if he had seen any Red-faced Warblers, and he said that he had seen some that morning, down the west side at Pinery Campground. We skipped going to Rustler Park, and went to Pinery instead. No warblers. We returned to camp wondering if we'd ever get the little warbler.
I went to the truck to get our gear, and Sharon sat down in a chair to watch the hummingbird feeders while she waited for me. Suddenly she noticed a commotion and was astonished to see two hummingbirds right on the ground. A big male Blue-throated Hummer was sitting on top of a smaller, but never identified hummer, and was ferociously pecking it over and over with its beak. She estimates that this went on for about fifteen seconds, and then they both flew off, as hummingbirds inevitably do. Now the big question is, was that a fight or mating? Our guess is that it was a fight, but we have never heard of such behavior. She couldn't see whether the underneath hummer was a Blue-throated or not, nor whether it was a male or female. And if THAT was mating, Sharon wants to know how come any hummingbirds are ever born?
Sharon told me about this incident as we took off on our long walk, which we both had formerly thought we couldn't do. But the attraction of the warblers was too strong, and we made the trek. No warblers, no joy. Except that we know we can do more difficult walking than we figured. Plus we heard a Whip-poor-will call a few times. And heard the wonderful falling song of the Canyon Wren. We made the return walk, then drove back to Huachuca City.
There is a nice covered stand with an entry book, to write what you saw when you come down out of the canyon. Somebody had seen an owl at the 5/8ths mile point that very morning! We were so excited. Then we met several people coming down already, who had seen no owls. When we reached the spot where there was almost a guarantee, we met two brothers from San Francisco also looking for the target bird. They had had no luck, but had a quick look at a Virginia's Warbler, which we needed too. They started back down, and after a bit of warbler-searching, we followed them. Suddenly they stopped ahead of us, and you could tell they had found something. "What is it?" I yelled. "Shh," they whispered back. We made our way and they pointed out a big round ball of a SPOTTED OWL (68/406). There were three people below the owl on the trail who had been looking up at the owl, and the two San Francisco birders had seen THEM looking at the owl.
I put the scope on the owl, and watched him wake up, rotate his head to be looking forward and open his eyes. He stretched one of his legs out and spread his toes, revealing white feet, but with orangish-red coloring between his toes. He groomed his toes a little, and went back to sleep. "Wow," I thought, "I'll bet not many people know the color between the Spotted Owl's toes!"
When we finished looking, we walked under the owl, who was perched exactly above the trail in a large tree, and spoke with two of the three original spotters of the owl. They had had the honor of the assistance of one Robert T. "Smitty" Smith, who has been the famous protector of the owls for many years, and constructor-designer of much of the trail up to the owls.
We continued down, heard a Whip-poor-will, and then overtook Smitty himself. He leaned against a tree, leaned his walking stick against the tree also, pulled out a small notepad and a lead pencil and asked our names and where we were from. He was about 75 years old, and we couldn't believe he was still making this walk. "I've been up this trail 55 times so far this year," he said. I calculated that that was once every two or three days - closer to two. We got him to autograph the Spotted Owl pages of our bird books. We swapped stories about walking sticks (he admired Sharon's twisty New Zealand stick), listened to him tell a few interesting stories of the owls and the trail, and then the two San Francisco brothers came down to where we were. He whipped out his paper and pencil, "What are your names?" he asked.
We continued on to the bottom, got in our truck and began the drive back to Sierra Vista. But there was a car parked on the dirt road, and a handicapped lady was looking in the tree with her binoculars. "What are you seeing?" we asked. It turned out to be a wonderful Hepatic Tanager, with its orange-brick red color. She had been afraid that we would scare it off before she could put the old ID on it. We drove on.
When we got to the closest picnic area, there were some people looking up in an oak tree. They pointed out a nesting pair of Solitary Vireos. The nest looked like a little white ball. They also directed us to another couple of birds, one of which was new to us and one which was spectacular. After looking a bit, Sharon and I got the NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (69/407). Then we began to hear the distinctive call of the other bird, and quickly found him. A gorgeous Elegant Trogan was perched in a sycamore right in the picnic area! We watched for a long time, then drove back off of the fort, into Sierra Vista. We ate at Burger King, and called Santa Rita Lodge, in Madera Canyon, where the two San Francisco brothers had reported seeing a White-eared Hummingbird the day before. They had apparently mistaken a female Blue-Throated Hummer for the White-eared, because the people at Santa Rita Lodge said that there hadn't been any yet.
After having lunch, and reviewing our books, we decided to go back up Garden Canyon, to Sawmill Canyon. There was supposed to be a sure flycatcher if you could make the drive up the terrible road. We drove back up Garden Canyon, and at the third picnic area, we got another great long look at the male Elegant Trogon, who hadn't moved. He was fabulous.
We made the terrible drive, and when we got out at our destination, we almost immediately saw the BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (70/408). After a while, we saw a flash of brown, yellow, black and white, and tracked down a beautiful male Evening Grosbeak counterpart to the females we had seen earlier at the Spoffords.
We continued on up the gated road, and bumped into a man who had a parabolic microphone and was recording bird songs of four particular birds. He had seen a Red-faced Warbler, but it had flown over the ridge a half-hour or so earlier. We continued our walk, in hopes of seeing that very bird. We met another birder, on his return trip. He directed us to a pair of Red-faced Warblers he had just seen. We went there and waited, but had no luck. Back down the trail. Back to the truck. Back down the terrible rutted-road. Back past the three picnic areas. Back out Ft. Huachuca. Back through Sierra Vista. Back to Huachuca City and back to our home away from home. Great day.
We went back to Huachuca City, packed up and drove to Tucson, where we registered for two nights (Whispering Palms RV Park). We had stayed here last September for our Arizona trip. They said a pair of Cardinals we had seen in September had nested, and they were gone but the juvenile was around now. We were tired, but made an afternoon trip up to Bear Canyon on Mt. Lemmon. We didn't see any new birds, and returned to our RV. Should have just rested.
Would he join the list of unseen birds, which included the Mexican Crow, Aplomado Falcon, Least Grebe, Purple Gallinule, Lucifer Hummingbird, Common Blackhawk, Green Kingfisher, American Oystercatcher, Elf Owl, Tropical Parula, Red-billed Pigeon, Red-crowned Parrot, Yellow-headed Parrot, King Rail, White-collared Seedeater, Seaside Sparrow, Red-naped Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Black-capped Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, Sedge Wren and the Virginia Warbler (Be not dismayed at how overwhelming this list seems. We got 224 total birds on this trip)? Or would we get him?
We got up at 4:30 am, Sharon fixed our lunch, and we headed up the Catalina Highway for Mt. Lemmon. We stopped at Bear Canyon, and shivered as the sun finally rose enough to warm us. The book said, "warblers love Bear Canyon." We were able to identify a DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (71/409), with his mournful call high up in the pine tree. We saw Black-throated Gray Warblers, Solitary Vireos and other birds. We finally got around to reviewing the altitude figures. Or more specifically, I finally listened to what Sharon was trying to tell me. We were too low for our warbler. We were about 5500 feet and his lowest altitude is 6000. We moved higher to Rose Lake Canyon. There were many people camping here, but the green "A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona" actually said that the desired warblers were "common" along the creek leading to Rose Lake. Common? I would believe that when we racked up Trip Lifer No. 72!
We started walking the creek. I began to hear an extra-high-pitched bird call or song which fit into the "possible" category, with respect to whether it could be our bird. We chased it, and I kept thinking, "Sharon's gotta get him." I listened for those magic words from Sharon as we investigated every bird movement, but at the same time, I wanted to see it first. After staring into one particular bush with her binoculars for a long time, she finally said quickly, "Red-faced Warbler! And his red face is JUMPING right out at me. Come quick. HURRY" I followed the line of her binoculars, and joined her. And I too saw him, the unbelievable RED-FACED WARBLER (72/410) (picture). We listened to his song as he bounced around, eating his bugs. I tried to memorize the song. We followed him through several bushes and trees and finally lost him. We looked at each other and traded a huge hug. "Red-faced Warbler!" we yelled. We looked at all the campers, just now eating their tasty breakfasts. And most of them didn't know there's such a thing as a Red-faced Warbler, let alone that they're around there. Well, they used to be invisible to me too, before Mothers Day 1995.
We saw perhaps four more on our way back to the truck.
We continued up Mt. Lemmon and stopped at the Iron Door, hoping to get a White-eared Hummingbird or a Lucifer. No such luck. We continued on up to the end of the road. We got our gear and headed down the Mt. Lemmon Lookout trail. We saw a few more Red-faced Warblers. They were almost as beautiful as the first one. We finally found the lookout building, and talked a little with the guy who was manning it. He was looking for fires.
We saw a Peregrine Falcon and lots of ravens, but no more new birds.
We walked back up the trail to our pickup, drove down Catalina Highway to Molino Basin, where we saw a couple of more Peregrines feuding with a couple of Red-tail Hawks. We saw a Cactus Wren tending to a nest and a few more birds, including a nice Scott's Oriole, but no new ones.
And basically, you can wrap up this trip. We drove back to our RV, reviewing the birds of our trip, especially savoring the - well you know which one by now. We drove to Barstow, and stayed there for the night (Shady Lane RV Camp). The wind blew so hard that night, we might have been blown away, except that we were neatly tucked in between the office (a permanent trailer) and a thick line of trees and shrubs.
Then, since it had to come to an end, we drove home the next day, stopping at the Apricot Tree on Highway 5 for their fudge. "Buy a pound, get a half-pound free." "A pound of chocolate and a half-pound of chocolate with nuts please," we said.
Then on our way out of the area, I had to pick up a root beer freeze across the road, at the Foster Freeze. Dairy Queen doesn't taste like it did when I was growing up in Missouri. I think they changed the formula. To me, it tastes very plain, like cardboard or something. Today, in California, Foster Freeze comes the closest to the 1960 Dairy Queen taste. I especially like their chocolate-dipped soft vanilla cones.