Sunday, July 18, 2010

Waiting for the Short-tails

A wait can be most engrossing. Today I returned to the Barfoot ridges in the Chiricahuas with Cathie Sandell, Christopher Rustay, and Noel and Helen Snyder, again watching for those two young Short-tailed Hawks and their parents. (Incorrigible, you say?)

At the very start of our vigil, Christopher spotted a fledgling Short-tail flying to a snag on a nearby ridge, prey clutched in its left talons. The buffy youngster perched for awhile, gazing around at the wide world, with no attempt to eat the prey it was carrying. Eventually the young hawk flew, and that was the last we saw of Short-tails for the day.

Pine Satyr, in the U.S. only found in the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains (Photos by Narca)

However, it was only the start of an interesting wait, high on the ridge. Hilltopping butterflies––Colorado Hairstreaks, Pine Satyrs, duskywings, cloudywings, sulphurs, blues, Weidemeyer's Admirals––lit in the Gambel's Oak and nectared at Penstemon.

In the U.S. Mexican Chickadees only inhabit Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains and New Mexico's Animas Mountains.

Eventually I wandered farther up the trail (although "trail" may be overstating it!) and found a good vantage point for a closer view of a ridge where the Short-tails like to perch. Several large, lichen-draped snags below my feet were home to a bustling family of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a pair of House Wrens, a family of Yellow-eyed Juncos, and the occasional Mexican Chickadee.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Young Yellow-eyed Junco

As I hiked back, a sudden insect-like buzz announced the presence of a Twin-spotted Rattlesnake. The species is very rare in the US, and the Barfoot region is known for harboring one of the finest populations. Indeed, we hope that the Coronado National Forest plan will grant their habitat here some additional level of protection.

Twin-spotted Rattlesnake

And still we wait for the Short-tails...


  1. What a gorgeous snake! We've yet to see one but thought that we heard one near Barfoot once. Maybe during our August visit.

  2. Interesting rattlesnake - I was unfamiliar with this species. Thanks for posting - but from the look of the photo, you got awfully close . . .

  3. Best of luck seeing one!

    Another friend, Pete, just emailed about it. Here's the gist of my reply to him: Twin-spots are harder to find than Black Rails. Last year we were lucky when one crossed the main road from Portal a ways below Onion Saddle, but otherwise I've only found them in Mexico--once in the Thick-billed Parrot reserve near Madera; once heaven-knows-where in the Sierra Madre of Chihuahua, when Noel took us on a wild ride looking for parrots (6 days of fording rivers and only driving the 4-Runner in 4WD!).

  4. Hi Renata! I wasn't as close as it appears––that's the joy of an 18x zoom. It was also much smaller than the close crop makes it appear, maybe 15-18" long. Twin-spots are a very small species, so as small as this one was, it was still a giant among its fellows.