Sunday, June 26, 2011

South Fork, with Trogons

Today the annual census of Elegant Trogons in Cave Creek Canyon was allowed to happen, under an exemption to the Forest closure issued by District Ranger Bill Edwards. (Thank you, Bill!)

Rick Taylor will be releasing the final tally when he has pored over the data, but it appears to be quite low this year (not surprising). Roughly 8 trogons were found––all of them in South Fork, and none in the main canyon. That is surprising! In a more normal year, the tally would be twice that, and in one year, Dave Jasper found 21 nests.

After the fire (Photos by Narca)

Several of us were stair-stepped up South Fork, beginning with Terry Morgan and Karen Walz along the road and up to the bridge, then including Maya Decker, Heidi Fischer, John Yerger, Morgan Jackson, Alan Craig, Peg Abbott, me, and Richard Webster at the highest elevation above Maple Camp.

My territory ran from about 1/3 mile below Maple Camp, up to that much loved site, and it happened to be the most intensively burned part of South Fork that any of us saw. Even there, however, the burn was mostly moderate, and several of the big maple trees look as if they will survive, even though many other trees growing on that same terrace have been reduced to charcoal.

A surviving maple, with Maple Camp behind it

Maple Camp vignette: a maple leaf caught in Arizona Pine bark

A hazard tree at Maple Camp

These photos represent the most intense burn that I saw, so take heart! The overwhelming sentiment among the others in our small group was that the burn wasn't as bad as they had expected. (It was pretty much exactly what I expected.)

Only a few patches of green relieve this more intense burn, approaching Maple Camp. Fire also ran up the peak behind.

Another fairly intense patch in the South Fork bottom, but even here some of the sycamores retain green leaves.

This Sotol, with its root mass, rolled down from the cliffs when Horseshoe Two burned through South Fork Canyon.

Very striking was the new growth on many of the burned trees. A few root masses were burned out, but most of the trees will likely survive (if they survive the continuing drought). Burnt mounds of Deer Grass were sending up new shoots. Scorched Rocky Mountain Maple, Arizona Walnut, Velvet Ash, Arizona Sycamore, Arizona Madrone, Sandbar Willow, and several species of oaks were all sprouting tender new leaves. One clump of Golden Columbine bloomed. Grape vines were emerging. False Indigo was sprouting abundantly––when that flowers, it will be a big bonus for butterflies in search of nectar.

An Apache Pine regenerates needles

This charred Arizona Walnut wears an anklet of green.

Butterflies themselves were very scarce. I saw a single small satyr, a single Red-spotted Purple, a single Two-tailed Swallowtail.

Red-spotted Purple, photographed in a more clement year

The center of my territory was the trailhead for the Burro Spring Trail. A small but good chain of pools attracted butterflies, dragonflies, birds, foraging Yarrow's Spiny Lizards, and one Cliff Chipmunk. Miraculously, Speckled Dace survive there. In the last 6 months, these tiny fish have endured severe freezing, extreme drought, and now the fire.

Speckled Dace in a small pool at the Burro Spring Trailhead

Although the canyon seemed quieter than wont in my area, a pair of Painted Redstarts and a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers both gathered food for nestlings. An American Robin was gathering nest material, perhaps for a second attempt. A Northern Pygmy Owl called upslope, and a Zone-tailed Hawk sailed past. A young male Arizona Woodpecker was near adults. All these signs of new life were heartening.

When the trogon flew in, he came silently. For a few moments he paused in a scorched maple, then continued silently downstream, to be seen by Peg in the adjoining territory. Farther down, Alan saw a pair of trogons just above the Bathtub; those were both calling.

The only Elegant Trogon I saw today, a male with a soot-stained tail

Peg and I both felt like witnesses to a friend's travail. There seemed little we could actually do, beyond acknowledging the canyon's wounding, its survival with challenges still to come, its great importance as a place in our lives. I once met a group of Chiricahua Apaches as they emerged from the South Fork Trail, having just gone up canyon to drum for their ancestors in that sacred landscape. Many people, having hiked even once in South Fork, feel the place's indelible mark on their spirits.

South Fork is resilient. It survives, with trogons.

Amid the desolation, a yucca blooms.


  1. Excellent photographs, one question though, is the Trogon data from previous years available? It would be nice to see how this years count compares with previous years, raw and corrected data. I note that the May Huachuca Trogon count
    found an average of 2 Trogons/canyon, 14 total and reported earlier counts of 28 in 1979 and 33 in 1981.

  2. Hi there, Rick Taylor has the data from previous years. You can contact him at rtaylor@BORDERLAND-TOURS.COM. I'm heading out again and will be gone most of the next month (friends will be here), so communications will become sporadic!