2023-07-10 Cave Creek, Portal, AZ

Mexican Jay - Aphelocoma wollweberi
Arizona has several streams called “Cave Creek”. But for my money, the one in the Chiricahuas near Portal is the only one that has captured my attention.

Last year, I passed through Portal, but storms were drenching the upper slopes of the Chiricahuas, and I didn’t feel much like lingering. If it feels right this year, I hope to stick around longer. At the top of my list of birds I hoped to meet, was the Mexican Chickadee. I have had eyes on them on past visits, but have collected no images. I thought perhaps I could catch them on this trip. Portal and the Chiricahuas are my best hope for such a meeting. From where I had breakfast in Socorro, east of El Paso, it is about a 3½ hour drive to Portal. Last year I didn’t have Starlink, and my generator could not support my air conditioner, so my options for ‘lingering’ were limited. This year, neither of these restrictions would apply. Plus, I knew where to refuel and where I could park overnight. 

Sunday I drove through El Paso as far as Animas, New Mexico. The triple digit temperatures that plagued me all day, did not relent significantly during the night. After my night camped in a wide spot beside the road and running the generator all night, I refueled and continued to Portal and Cave Creek. 

The canyon carved by Cave Creek is spectacular, and rivals many more famous canyons of the American Southwest. Even if chasing birds is not your ‘thing’, the beauty here would be worth the trip. I have not visited this place at the height of spring, but I’ve heard rave reviews about the birds that pass through, or spend the spring and summer raising babies. 

Southeastern Arizona is notable for its ‘Sky Island’ sanctuaries. For those unfamiliar with this term, these are mountains rising to great heights from the desert floor. But they are not directly part of the longer mountain ranges, so common in the western USA. The Chiricahua sky island peaks ascent to nearly 10,000 feet, towering almost a mile above the surrounding plains. I have heard it said that a thousand feet of elevation is comparable to a thousand miles of latitude. If true, such islands can provide habitat ranging from the Mexican border into Canada. The variety of wildlife found in such places bears this out, especially with birds. Experienced birders are often rewarded with meeting birds here that rarely leave Mexico.

I spent several hours Monday morning with the birds in the canyon. My nicest surprise was a Blue-Throated Mountain-Gem (formerly called Blue-Throated Hummingbird). Sulphur-Bellied Flycatchers, Northern Flickers, Plumbous Vireos, Painted Redstarts, Black-Throated Gray Warblers, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Hermit Thrushes, Mexican Jays, Spotted Towhees, and Black-Headed Grosbeaks, each in their own way, stopped by to say ‘Hello”.

When my time with the birds was done, I ascended to 8500 feet at Rustler Park, where I spent the night.

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