When I left Rustler Park I continued down the east side of the mountain to Portal. Hunting season being in place, there were numerous unsavory characters running on the same roads as I. Some of them were driving too fast, some too slow, and some would block the road while they ogled the surrounding woods, only to speed off on my approach so they could be the first to the next stop. When I reached Portal it was busy, filled with birders and hikers. I opted to push on and circle the mountain around the southern flank and on to Sierra Vista. I considered travelling past the southern flanks of the Huachuca mountains, but ultimately I headed into the thick of Sierra Vista and visit the canyons on the Fort Huachuca base.
As planned, I negotiated the security at the main gate and muddled my way to Garden Canyon. When I found my way through the maze of unmarked paved and dirt roads and started up the canyon, I met with an obstacle! My order of the base commander, the gate at the start of the good stuff was closed. Fortunately my bicycle was with me and I could get myself and my camera gear well up into the canyon.
Right at the gate I was ‘greeted’ by a mob of Mexican Jays, then further up the road a Painted Redstart showed itself. I’m not sure if these birds are resident or if they are a ‘come-early-stay-late’ migrant. Early summer can reward the intrepid birder with a rich variety of avifauna in this canyon. Elegant Trogons, Sulphur-Bellied Flycatchers, Sinaloa Wrens, along with a myriad of warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, and other feathered wonders might be present in season. Butterfly hunters also seek these canyons, as even now there were quite a few lepids present, though the population seemed predominantly “Sisters”. I say “sisters” because in this state they are called “Arizona Sisters”, but the same butterfly at my home is called a “California Sister”. If they differ, I’m not aware ‘how’ they differ.
I still had my eye out for the Arizona Woodpecker in this canyon. There was a good supply of oak trees here that should satisfy some of its habitat requirements, but on this day I found only Acorn Woodpeckers and some cooperative Red-Naped Sapsuckers. One bird I was happy to meet for the first time was the Bridled Titmouse, a much showier bird than the Oak Titmouse so common around my home. Birds I heard or saw too fleetingly to capture images were Rufous-Crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Sharp-Shinned Hawks. I declined to climb the steep side canyons to look for Spotted Owls.
When I exited the canyon I noticed four species of birds not seen up-canyon; Curve-Billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren, and Canyon Towhee. Stopping to gather images, I hadn’t realized that there were restrictions against photography this near the base compound. I was approached by base police and questioned. When I showed them the images in my camera, they were satisfied I was not a spy and I was let off with a warning. It was lucky for me that digital cameras reveal their targets without the need to destroy the film, and that the Gendarmerie were so understanding.
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