2023-07-11 Over The Chiricahua Mountains

Western Tanager - Piranga ludoviciana
I spent my morning with the lower elevation birds at Cave Creek. Then I drove to the higher elevations of the Chiricahuas, hoping to find Mexican Chickadees. I struck out with the chickadees, but made do with the birds more willing to spend time with me.

Yellow-Eyed Junco - Junco phaeonotus

When my time with the Cave Creek birds concluded, I ascended the Chiricahua Mountains. It seemed to me most of the up-slope birds were smart enough to hide from the heat. I stopped to look and listen for birds and sniff the air. I kept hoping I’d find Mexican Chickadees, but it was not to be.

I followed the winding gravel road to the 8700 foot level at Rustler Park. The last time I stayed there was October 2015 (See that story <HERE>). That was three and a half years after the June 2011 Horseshoe Fire that devastated Rustler Park, and the higher slopes of the mountain. The flames denuded the camping area, and most of the slopes above. Yet, I remember Yellow-Eyed Juncos and at least one Dark-Eyed Junco at the time. On this day’s visit, I was impressed at the density of ferns over this once scorched earth. The fields appeared covered in a carpet nearly two feet thick. They were so dense, it would have been tough to walk through them.

I paid my $7 fee to camp and then parked and leveled the RV. When the sun began to approach the western horizon, I gathered my camera gear and ventured out to meet whatever birds might be in the area. Yellow-Eyed Juncos were prevalent. But Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees, House Wrens, and Pygmy Nuthatches met me as well.

As the day was coming to an end, a thunder cell collided with the mountain top. Seeing the dark clouds approaching, I carried my gear back to the RV. As I was loading my gear into the van, a deafening clap of thunder with a simultaneous flash of lightning struck so close it raised the hair on the back of my neck. I was happy to get back inside the shelter of the van.

When Monday morning came, I broke my Rustler Park camp and drove two and a half miles to investigate bird-life at Barfoot Park. Unlike the wide-open nature of Rustler, Bar Foot sits under a high and densely wooded canopy. It seems the 2011 Horseshoe fire danced around this section of the mountain. But my visit did not stir up much in the way of bird activity. And I was so hoping to meet chickadees. I spoke with a birder camped at the end of the road, and she assured me ‘I should have been there yesterday!’ But my feet were itching, so I left the ridges and began my descent down the western slope of the mountain. I continued to probe for chickadees as I drove, but they continued to evade my efforts to find them.

I followed my Bar Foot Park tour with a slow crawl down the mountain’s western slope. I had felt the wear and tear of the road of late. But I planned to take some time to explore some of southeastern Arizona’s treasured birding venues. I found Sandy’s Cafe and RV Park near Sunsites AZ and reached it in time for breakfast. From there, I continued on to Sierra Vista, about a 70 minute drive from Sunsites. The route took me by Tombstone and the famed Charleston Bridge. I hoped I could muster the gumption to spend time at Fort Huachuca’s famed canyons.

As I drove away from the mountain, I abandoned the concept of keeping current with the image preparations and story-telling. There were still several past adventures yet to describe, and a few more that would surely develop before I turned for my final push to San Diego. There just wasn’t sufficient time to meet with the birds and still spin my yarns. I knew the stories would have to wait until I finished traveling, to properly describe my adventures.

There were two or three more potential destinations on the road ahead. I stopped at Patagonia on the outbound leg of this trip. A return visit could be worthwhile. Madera Canyon was another location I considered visiting. But the soaring temperatures might convince me to bypass some of these locations, and put the hammer down, to head for home. I convinced myself that Fort Huachuca would be the next location to visit on my itinerary. I will save that story for the next episode of my 2023 North American expedition.

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