Monday, August 22, 2011

Huachuca Canyon with WFO

Our immersion in Huachuca Canyon, emerald-green and moist in this monsoon season, was a balm. One of the morning field trips at the Western Field Ornithologists' annual meeting explored this beautiful canyon, which is less often visited than neighboring Garden and Sawmill Canyons. Tony Battiste and Adam Searcy ably led the group.

At the mouth of Huachuca Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains
(All photos by Narca)

Some of the out-of-state folks had never seen an Elegant Trogon, so that species was a big highlight, as were a couple of juvenile Gray Hawks begging frequently and chasing after harried parents.

Immature Gray Hawk in Huachuca Canyon

Mary Gustafson pointed out a field mark on the young Gray Hawk that I hadn't been aware of: look at the tail bands. Those bands become increasingly thicker toward the end of the tail. This mark, Mary says, is reliable for separating young Grays from young Broad-wings.

Elegant Trogon male in Huachuca Canyon

A charming Canyon Tree Frog swam across the stream where it crossed the road. I don't see this amphibian very often. Its eyelids gleamed with glints of gold and copper.

Canyon Tree Frog in Huachuca Canyon

Overall the migrants still seemed low in number, but we did see a number of the resident "trophy" species of southeast Arizona: Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Hepatic Tanager. I saw a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, which appeared to be mobbing something at the back of an oak tree. They will mob Northern Pygmy-Owls, but if an owl was present, it didn't show.

A fair-sized Black Bear in Huachuca Canyon

The decision of how far to walk upcanyon was made for us: a big cinnamon-shaded Black Bear was lapping up berries at the side of the road and was loathe to abandon his feasting spot.

Out on the grasslands, singing Cassin's and Botteri's Sparrows gave everyone great views; a Greater Roadrunner was sunning in a clump of yuccas; and a gorgeous Painted Grasshopper added a burst of color to the scene.

A sunning roadrunner exposes the black bases of its back feathers to soak up more sun.

A spectacularly-marked Painted Grasshopper

As always, the WFO meeting was great fun. About 180 people attended, and both field trips and the science sessions were excellent. The annual meetings are renowned for the appearances of great rarities, with so many skilled field biologists scouring an area, and this was no exception. An Aztec Thrush wowed Homer Hansen's group in Garden Canyon.

Next meeting: Petaluma, California. Go! You'll love it.

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