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Memories of the Chiricahua Mountains

Yellow-Eyed Junco - Junco phaeonotusUnited States;Arizona;Chiracahua Mountains;Rustler ParkI’m quite certain I’ve yet to tap into all the treasures the Chiricahua sky island has to offer. Rustler Park and Cave Creek, where my visits have been limited, were a treat during the times I spent there. Among the gifts the mountain shared with me were first meetings with several species: Yellow-Eyed Junco, Swainson’s Hawk, Elegant Trogon, and even my first Chipping Sparrow.

My first trip here was in August 2003. I had only recently begun exploring birding and bird photography. There’s a certain joy to meeting birds for the first time, and there were so many birds new to me in 2003. First meetings were rather frequent then, as evidenced by the Chipping Sparrow mentioned above.

In hindsight, my inexperience in 2003 was revealed by the small number of species I captured. I’d read about the trogons at Cave Creek near the town of Portal Arizona, and I think I had tunnel vision. I was successful in finding this interesting species and collecting a few images, but few other birds were captured at Cave Creek. This location may be best explored on foot or on bike, where stopping to chase a fleeting figure or calling bird isn’t hampered by trying to find a place to park that is off the roadway.

While Cave Creek and Portal are situated at the foot of the mountain, Rustler Park is in a high valley on the upper slopes, and the avian community differs from down below. My second trip in October 2015 was limited to this destination. Fires in 2011 decimated the camping area at Rustler and I found the hillsides and campsites overgrown with tall weeds. I wanted to renew my acquaintance with the Yellow-Eyed Juncos I’d met in 2003, and get better images than those on my first meeting. On that count I found satisfaction.

Perhaps I can time my next visit to this region in spring to take better advantage of this amazing area. The gallery below shows the birds I met on these excursions.

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