There are three birding meccas in North America that nearly every birder puts on their "someday I'll go there" list: the Pribilof Islands of Alaska, the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, and the "Sky Islands" of Southeastern Arizona. This weekend Sonja and I visited one of these for a birding experience that few other places on the continent can rival. Madera Canyon is tucked away in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, easily accessible to anyone who knows both where it is and why it's such a treasure, and for anyone interested in seeing cool birds it offers eye-candy that you can't find anywhere else north of the Mexican border. This is such an amazing place for birds that I was willing to make the 200+ mile trip down there twice in the last two weeks, just to give Sonja the opportunity to see what I saw. 64 species and many lifers later (4 for me and 13 for Sonja) both Sonja and I agreed that it was well worth it.
Remember how I had forgotten my camera battery last time I visited Madera Canyon? Well, I made no such mistake this time. The following photos depict the highlights from our morning exploring one of Arizona's most spectacular Sky Islands.
An early morning glimpse of a Magnificent Hummingbird (you really need to click on that photo to get a decent look at the bird).
A typical view of the Flame-colored Tanager that has been one of the highlights for many birders visiting Madera Canyon this spring.
This Hepatic Tanager was another lifer for Sonja. One of my goals for the day was to experience a "Four Tanager Day", something not possible anywhere else within the ABA boundaries of North America. We got three pretty quickly (these two and some Western Tanagers at our first stop), but the Summer Tanager eluded us...until we were on our way out of the canyon. I was a happy camper!
This turned into the day of the vireos for us. This Bell's Vireo was one of five species we saw today. The others we saw were Gray, Plumbeous, Hutton's and Warbling Vireos.
Mexican Jays could be found all over the place.
Same with the Acorn Woodpeckers, which were probably the most numerous species we saw today.
This was the only Arizona Woodpecker we spotted, though.
We scored four tyrant flycatchers today, too, including this Dusky-capped Flycatcher.
We almost missed the Northern Pygmy Owl that put on the show for me last time (eating a lizard and copulating in front of a crowd of onlookers). We were about to give up when someone spotted it. I didn't crop the picture to give you a better idea of the size of this tiny owl.
While we've got tons of Bridled Titmice around our place, this was the first time one of the buggers cooperated enough to get some decent photos of it.
Without a doubt, however, the highlight of the entire day was seeing Madera Canyon's most famous resident: the Elegant Trogon.
We chased this bird's dog-like bark up (go here and click on "Elegant Trogon Voice" to hear the bird) and down the canyon, spotting him several times throughout the hike. I was even able to draw him closer by mimicking a mutant saw-whet/pygmy owl hybrid. Seeing one of these obviously tropical birds in the wild is indescribable. Everything about them just screams "I don't belong here!" It's a testament to the importance of protecting Arizona's fragile Sky Islands that these birds of the tropics can still be found in the States.
We finished out the day by stopping by the Sonoran Desert Museum, a non-profit "zoo" that takes in non-releasable rehab animals, focusing on the unique species that inhabit the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona. Their bird aviaries were nothing short of spectacular:
We spotted five species of hummers in Madera Canyon this morning (including Broad-billed Hummingbirds like this one), but they proved to be much easier to photograph in the aviaries.
Another shot of the beautiful Broad-billed Hummingbird. I was disappointed that they didn't have a Magnificent Hummingbird on display. I guess I'll just have to go back to Madera Canyon to get a decent photo of one of them.