2004 - Arizona in September

Arroyo DarnerThis trip resulted in some lousy football but a good time looking for birds and bugs with old friends and new.  On September 12 I flew into Phoenix, rented a vehicle, and dead-headed to the Tucson airport to pick up friend Kate who was on her way from Chicago.  By 2:00 we were in Sierra Vista meeting new friends Doug Danforth and Sandy Upson.  Doug and Sandy are two of the three guys who have supplied me with the bulk of photos and data for the Arizona Odonates website.

Doug and Sandy took us onto Fort Huachuca and into Huachuca and Garden Canyons where I added some great new odonates to my life list.  After seeing several damselflies, including introducing Kate to the outrageous Painted Damsel, we wandered up Garden Canyon to the cabin.  On the way down the darners had begun flying and we had a ball.  The Arroyo Darner at left was one high on my list of bugs I wanted to see.

Monday, September 13th

For once I had a vehicle capable of traversing some of the rocky and rutted trails of the back country.  Kate and I started the day early and headed up into French Joe Canyon.  We knew that finding the Rufous-capped Warbler this time of year was a long shot but it is a neat canyon anyway.  The trees were loaded with both Summer and migrating Western Tanagers.  After birding there for awhile we headed east to Willcox and Cochise Lake for a quick stop.  It was fun to find numerous Wilson's Phalaropes, Ruddy Ducks, and other water-related birds.  Every damselfly I caught morphed into a Familiar Bluet.  So much for finding something unusual at the alkaline edges.

Malachite DarnerFrom there it was on to spend a bit of time at Muleshoe Ranch.  This Nature Conservancy property is definitely a place for next time and worth an entire day.  Bass Canyon was loaded with pockets of dancers but the only ones I identified were Sooty and Springwater.  A walk along the nature trail netted Kate her first Neon Skimmer and gave her a good comparison with Flame Skimmer.  Although we got lost trying to find the right trail a time or two, the target species suddenly appeared and hung up in an opportune place just long enough for me to snap a couple of shots.  Malachite Darner was probably the target for the day and there was one just a few feet in front of me!  Other critters giving Kate lifer looks included the Pale-faced Clubskimmer.

Tuesday, September 14th

Having spent the night in Tucson so that we could get an early start with friend Rich Hoyer, Kate and I made a quick stop for petrol and water.  I knew I was living right when my tire was flat at a gas station that could actually repair it.  The tire had a rock in it - go figure.

We finally made it to Rich's house and were on our way to a new place to explore - Cott Tank in the San Raphael Grasslands.  For those of you who have been to Southeast Arizona and driven Harshaw Road from the town of Patagonia, you will understand how breathtaking it is to go over the rise and see miles and miles of lush grasslands.  The sparrows were beginning to appear for the winter and we saw a number of Vesper, Lark, and Grasshoppers.

Spot-winged MeadowhawkAfter driving through several miles of this habitat we came to the end of the road and began walking along the nearly dry stream bed through the oak canyon.  Rich remarked on how dry things were already.  Before long we saw a yellow sympetrum and we had our first Spot-winged Meadowhawk.  Then there was another and another and another...Most were young bugs but we did see a few adult males.  It is kind of ironic that few people in the US have even seen this critter but I am now two for two on trips with Rich.

Around some of the pools we found Great Spreadwing, Springwater and Spine-tipped Dancers, Arroyo Bluet, Painted Damsel, Mexican Forktail, and Desert Firetail.  Like a real air-head, I let go of my lifer Spine-tipped Dancer that Rich handed to me before even getting off a photo.

One of the biggest surprises happened when Rich went fishing with my net for a small snake in one pool.  The snake escaped but a Persephone's Darner appeared.  It had a deformed wing and overall looked like it had been through a very tough emergence.

Rich's top-notch skills as bird tour leader were in evidence whenever we stopped for a rest in the shade of a nice oak tree.  His pishing and owl hoots brought in little groups of birds to entertain us.  Who can't get fired up about Bridled Titmice?

The next destination was the road along the Sonoita Creek Sanctuary but we made a stop along Harshaw Creek along the way.  Here we had several Lavender Dancers, another new bug for my life list.  Mexican Forktails were everywhere and of course there are always those that look a little different but get away.  Rich caught a Black-necked Garter Snake for us to take a look at.

The target at Sonoita Creek was the Yellow-throated Vireo for my Arizona list - yes, I now chase eastern vagrants - but it was most uncooperative.  I had to settle for Thick-billed Kingbirds and Varied Buntings <grin>.  Flying along the road were Spot-winged Gliders and Pale-faced Clubskimmers.  Probably the highlight was the two Gray Hawks calling and flying around in the woods.  Kate got perhaps her best look ever at one of these guys.

After a great Mexican dinner in Nogales it was time to call it a day but what a fun one it was.

Wednesday, September 15th

Today Kate had to return to Chicago so we picked up Rich and headed for some last minute bird and bug watching at Sweetwater Wetlands.  One life bird she could still get was Vaux's Swift so we kept one eye to the sky.  I was holding out hope that the elusive Least Grebe might make an appearance.  Neither of those events came to fruition but the birding was good with Soras and Virginia Rails calling from the marsh.  Willow Flycatcher and Nashville Warbler were both birds that had eluded me on previous trips.  Harris' Hawk is always fun and a Prairie Falcon flew by.  Dragonflies consisted of common species such as Blue-eyed Darner and Mexican Amberwing (left).

After dropping Kate at the airport, Rich and I headed to Sam Lena Park where the best birds were Cattle Egret, Baird's Sandpiper, and wouldn't you know it, Vaux's Swift.  Kate still had over an hour before her flight and we were watching her life bird.  Grrrr...

Rich had to get home so I decided to see what I might find on Mt. Lemmon.  Construction made the going slow but a Blue-eyed Darner buzzed around the car as I waited.  At Rose Canyon it was the Arroyo sweep - Darner and Bluet.  A Zone-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree just across the lake made my day.  The fire damage at Summerhaven was pretty overwhelming.  Near the top I found a small group of warblers, mostly Townsend's, as well as pulling the hat trick on nuthatches.

Thursday, September 16th

Working my way north to Phoenix was the goal.  The San Pedro River at Dudleyville was a disappointment since it was dry.  The best I could do was find numerous Abert's and Green-tailed Towhees.  A stop at the Gila River in Winkleman changed it all however.  There was water and there were bugs!  The bug of the day was Straw-colored Sylph but other cool critters included Gray Sanddragon, White-belted Ringtail, Pale-faced Clubskimmer actually flying between my legs, Amethyst Dancer, and Desert Firetail.  A Common Whitetail was the only one of the trip.

On the way into the city I made a short stop at the Phon Sutton R.A. along the Salt River and found the regular suspects like White-belted Ringtail and Plateau Dragonlet.  New for me in Arizona was a cooperative Russet-tipped Clubtail.

Monday, September 20th

A cold front had passed through on Saturday and torrential downpours had occurred as the result of the tail end of Hurricane Javier.  Last night's news had footage of the Verde River inundating the town of Cottonwood so my original plan of exploring up around Prescott no longer made any sense.  Instead I headed north toward Payson and, with my trusty DeLorme in hand, looked for accesses to Sycamore Creek.  The first access point was miles from anything but at least the sun was shining.  However, there was not one bug!  I had the distinct feeling that this stream bed was normally dry.  Further north the stream looked promising but it was obviously higher than normal.  Between the flooding, the cool temperatures, and the clouds it was obviously not going to be a good ode day.  I did enjoy a few birds and marveled at how many Bushtits can be in one juniper!

The sun was shining to the south so it was back to the Salt River Recreation Areas for a perfectly enjoyable afternoon.  This female Common Green Darner flew up and entertained a number of people at Phon Sutton.  I always enjoy watching folks make the discovery that dragonflies are pretty cool and it gives me a chance to do a little informal teaching.  Just as I was leaving, a female Straw-colored Sylph for the second location it was recorded on this trip.

Tuesday, September 21st

The last day for some Arizona fun began in the Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix.  First stop was to be Seven Springs RA but the early morning drive was delightful as well.  An early Townsend's Solitaire was a surprise and it was interesting watching this tarantula crossing the road.  The storm had done some damage here as there were sycamore branches all over and water across the road at every stream crossing.  Most of the dragonflies were Variegated Meadowhawks but I also had Pale-faced Clubskimmer, Common Green Darner, Blue-eyed Darner, and Russet-tipped Clubtail around one flooded stream crossing.  The place was devoid of human activity and even the birds were generally lacking save a few Abert's Towhees and Western Tanagers.

From there it was on to the Verde River and the usually dry Horseshoe Reservoir.  The flooding upstream was having an impact as the river was high and the reservoir was filling.  At the water's edge were Mexican Amberwings, Flame Skimmers, Arroyo Bluets, American Rubyspots, and Dusky Dancers.  Both Black and Red Saddlebags cruised overhead. I was puzzled by the numerous Blue Dashers because the thorax just didn't look right.  A little reading taught me that southwestern critters become a lot more pruinose on the thorax thus hiding the thoracic stripes. Wilson's and Yellow Warblers were in the willows lining the edge and a number of Double-crested Cormorants were seen.  I managed to also find the only Vermilion Flycatcher of the trip.

The last stop of the day was back in the city at the Gilbert Water Ranch, one of my favorite places to visit on trips to Phoenix.  Here I could get a Burrowing Owl fix, see some common dragonflies, and sort out some of the forktails.  The three species of forktail were Rambur's, Desert, and Black-fronted.  I saw a couple of Red-tailed Pennants as well as many Blue Dashers, Western Pondhawks, Flame Skimmers, Wandering Gliders, Black Saddlebags, and Blue-eyed and Common Green Darners.  There were several shorebirds and the number of ducks was a good indication that fall was on the way.