2017-04-26~28 Mount Lemmon: Sky Island Heaven

Olive Warbler - Peucedramus taeniatus

Early Wednesday morning I set off to visit Mount Lemmon using instructions for locating birds on the mountain, from local birder, Liz Harrison. Her instructions were invaluable and gave me landmarks to look for in finding these birding locations. My first stop was at Molino Basin Campground. I enjoyed some nice birds there, though these were all old friends of my camera. I heard the Montezuma Quail call. I’d enjoy visiting this place again to see if I can’t get lucky and get some face time with this bird.

There were several more stops this gorgeous morning on my way up the mountain, but I was very much looking forward to a place called Incinerator Ridge, where the promise of meeting several new warblers intrigued me. I found the turn off the main highway at 19.3 miles from the bottom of the mountain, just as Liz had promised. Though her notes suggested parking at the bottom gate, I could see it was a rough, though well used dirt road. I’d traversed worse and set off to see what lay ahead.

Red-Faced Warbler - Cardellina rubrifronsI was pleased to find primitive campsites on the ridge and pulled into one that seemed well suited to my van. I met Tim Helentjaris, another local birder with connections to the Audubon Society. He was scouting for a “Big Day”, as he called it, that was being planned for the coming days. I told him of the instructions that Liz had provided and he quickly explained that he knew Liz well.

I shot pictures all afternoon, even to the point of exhaustion. I decided to spend the night at this campsite in my little silver cocoon. Red-Faced, Olive, and Yellow-Rumped warblers did not disappoint. There were even Hermit Thrushes that nearly jumped in my lap. I shot way too many pictures, but that’s what I do. I spent that evening and much of the next day getting caught up with the image preparations (culling, file naming, GeoTagging, adding an array of metadata descriptions), and finally, I prepared a selection for web presentation.

I must say, the surroundings at Incinerator Ridge are most agreeable. I finally took my camera out in the afternoon on Thursday. By now the wind had picked up, making the birds less inclined to put themselves in front of my camera. The spot where I sat yesterday and gathered so many bird images, was dead this afternoon. I opted to move my setup downslope from my campsite. I found the edge of a sheer drop that overlooked the main road up the mountain, now called North General Hitchcock Highway. The cliff was covered with some kind of hardwood trees that shielded the view of the road, and the shelf on which I was perched was dominated by pine (Ponderosa?). I was still hoping to meet the Virginia’s Warbler, but it was not to be this day. All was not lost though, I had visits from Grace’s Warblers (my first) and a Black-Throated Gray Warbler. It was an abbreviated day of birding and I settled in for another night’s stay on Incinerator Ridge.

Friday morning I got up early and showered, then drove to the end of the Incinerator Ridge Road, where an overlook offers views of Tucson to the south and breathtaking views of Mount Lemmon’s eastern flanks to the north. This was a brisk and blustery morning on the mountain. I was hoping to meet a Zone-Tailed Hawk at this location, but it was not to be on this morning.

I had wanted to find breakfast on the mountain in the nearby community of Summerhaven. Interesting little town this is. There is a grand total of three eateries here and none serve breakfast at this time of year, and none are open until after 10-10:30am. As I was early, I used the time to explore Sabino Canyon Park, just downslope from town. While searching birds at a small pullout, I met an outgoing birder/photographer Andy, and we swapped stories. He mentioned an interest in birding in San Diego, so I put him in touch with a biologist friend who works with the tern nesting colonies there and explained some of the criteria expected when gaining permission to walk the dikes at the Saltworks. He seemed appreciative of the information and did his best to point me to some of his favorite bird spots in this area.

The strong winds that started out this morning were not to relent all day, but the cold at 8000 feet lost its grip going down the mountain. At the highest elevations, it was in the high forties, but by the time I reached Hitchcock Campground, I no longer needed my mittens that were so necessary at Incinerator Ridge.

The Virginia’s Warbler was my nemesis bird this trip. Though I shopped at several recommended locations, this bird resisted my best efforts and none were for sale. Beginning my stay on the mountain, I contented myself with the birds that readily gave themselves to my camera, but by Friday the wind showed up with a vengeance. I blame the weather for my failure on Friday, and myself for the previous two days. In spite of the missing Virginia’s Warbler, I’d have to call the trip up the mountain a rousing success. I met Tim and Andy, and five new birds: Red-Faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, and I heard the Greater Pewee and the Montezuma Quail. I also renewed my acquaintances with several other nice birds.

A big thanks to Liz for putting me on the path.

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