It’s all about the birds – Patagonia, AZ

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Northern Cardinal

Well, hello there, Steve and MonaLiza, welcome

My interest in birds started in January 2013, when we first camped at Patagonia Lake State Park.  During that visit, I joined a guided bird walk and soon became a bird enthusiast.  Now I search for new birds on my own, an activity I find very relaxing.  It’s often a challenge to identify them, but I enjoy trying after photographing them in their environment.

The small town of Patagonia is home to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and just a few miles from Patagonia Lake State Park.  The area is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, so I was full of anticipation when we decided to revisit the area.

Birding is a major draw for visitors at Patagonia Lake, which also attracts lovers of water sports, fishing, hiking and more.  We had reserved a site for a week and a half, but we cut it short due to noise and dust coming from a construction project directly across the street from our site.  Also, the place is just too crowded and noisy these days, nothing like we remember it being on our first visit.

Our dining area window gave us a front-row seat for the construction project

But before we bailed out we explored the area, hiked at the Sonoita Creek National Preserve and of course I enjoyed some birding time.  I was hoping to see the elusive Elegant Trogon, but was disappointed to learn that the last sighting of it was over a year ago.  Seeing the bird would have been the highlight of our stay.  I was initially bummed, but happy that I was fortunate enough to see it during our first visit (here is a photo).

Patagonia Lake

Steel and wood pedestrian bridge over Patagonia Lake

During a stop at the visitor center I heard a twittering outside and hurried out to see two Rufous Hummingbirds chasing each other around.  This tiny brilliant orange bird is extremely territorial, attacking any other hummingbirds approaching “his” feeder.  He makes one of the longest migratory journeys known for a bird his size, from Alaska to Mexico!

Rufous Hummingbird

Isn’t he handsome!

After that excitement and getting our permit to hike at Sonoita Creek Preserve, we drove to the trailhead.  The highlight of our hike was a 360º view of the surrounding mountains during a 2-mile trek along the permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream.  It was a quiet and scenic hike interspersed with many chirping birds – our kind of outing!

 Patagonia Lake

Overlooking Patagonia Lake

Looking southwest toward Nogales

Mesquite Bosque prevailed along this part of the hike

Sonoita Creek

Permanently flowing Sonoita Creek

Betsy’s site was near the park’s birding trail, and every day we saw dozens of birders with their binoculars and photographers with their long and huge cameras walking by.  I had easy access to the trail and went during quiet times.

These guys were used to all of the birders and mostly ignored them

The birding trail at Patagonia Lake SP

A good spot to wait and see which birds will appear

One of the things I love about birding is the surprise factor – I never know what’s around the next bend or hiding in nearby bushes.  I always get excited and grab my camera when I hear a tweet, a chirp, a whistle or a song.  And correctly identifying my “target” is an added bonus.  Although I don’t keep a “bird list”, I do have a collection of photos from all of the states we’ve visited.  This post contains just a few of the small birds I sighted in this area; my complete bird photo collection is here.

Black-throated Warbler

Black-throated Warbler

Mexican Jay

Mexican Jay

I heard a tap-tap-tap and almost overlooked this Brown-backed Arizona Woodpecker

Another place in this area to enjoy a wonderland of birds is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.  A camera, binoculars and patience are all you need to experience many birds unique to southern Arizona, both locals and migrants.  It was here that I sighted several new and beautiful hummers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

This tiny handsome guy, a Broad-billed Hummingbird, was eyeing me intently

Distinguished by its violet-colored cap, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the center of attraction at the Paton Center

After a week of enjoying all of these beautiful little birds, we moved on to De Anza RV Park in Amado.  That made it easy to revisit Madera Canyon and the artsy town of Tubac (here is my post on our previous visit).

Madera Canyon is another well-known birding spot, and the Elegant Trogon had been sighted here recently.  Once again my hopes were high as we headed out early one morning for a good 6+ mile hike and the chance to see this beautiful birdie.

Revisiting another trail on a chilly morning

Steve and I kept our ears and eyes open as we hiked, but although we saw several birds we did not spot the Elegant Trogon.  After the hike we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, another birding hotspot in the canyon.  There were many birds entertaining the crowd there, but not the one we were hoping to see.  Instead, another hummer zoomed up to me and stopped for a quick pose before zipping away.

Magnificent Hummingbird

A not-so-good photo of a big hummer – a Magnificent Hummingbird – also known as the Rivoli Hummingbird

Yellow-eyed Junco

The fierce look of a Yellow-eyed Junco

Overall I was a happy photographer, with lots of treasured shots of native and migrating species of birds in Patagonia and Madera Canyon!

As we prepared to head back to Tucson, a brief winter storm dumped snow in the nearby mountains, and also some sleet and snow flurries at our campground.  It was beautiful to see, but not no safe to drive in so we requested and got permission to stay a couple of extra hours until it moved on.

We woke up to sleet and snow flurries

Driving along Hwy 19 we could see surrounding mountains covered in snow, what a beautiful morning it was!

The Santa Cruz mountains where we had hiked the day before


Next up:  Last days with the Saguaros


Wrapping up our month-long stay in Tucson, AZ

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Crested Duck

Our month-long winter break in Tucson whizzed by as we went about completing maintenance on Betsy, socializing, hiking, birding and checking out local attractions.  And we thought we might be bored here!  Be forewarned that this post is a little lengthy, as we did a lot while concluding our sojourn in the Sonoran desert 🙂

2016-02-04-AZ-1380169Although our home base was in an urban setting, Tucson has a lot to offer in terms of our outdoor interests – hiking, birding and socializing.  As mentioned in my previous post, the city is surrounded by five mountain ranges, and except for the rolling Rincon Mountains to the east we managed to follow at least one trail on each range.  Much of these mountains is protected as parkland and rich with excellent hiking trails.


Romero Pools – Santa Catalina Mountains

The trailhead to this popular trail is accessed from within Catalina State Park, one of my favorite state parks in Arizona.  It was an out and back trek of about 5.6 miles along rugged and rocky terrain.  As we climbed to higher elevations we noted not only a large diversity of cacti but also several pine and juniper covered peaks near Cathedral Rock and Romero Canyon.

Santa Catalina Mountains

The first mile was relatively flat as we approached the canyon


Sotol (also known as Desert Spoons) with towering bloom stalks were abundant on this trail

With the recent rains we frequently heard and saw flowing waterfalls and streams.  Several folks had already staked out spots for photos and lunch as we approached the pools, and we had our lunch on a boulder overlooking the pools.  The Romeo Pools are shallow catchments for canyon streams and a good stopover for weary hikers and folks who want to take a swim during the summer months.

Romero Pools

The trail is scenic with several panoramic views of area mountains.

Romero Pools Trail

Views of mountains and Oro valley on our way back

We were excited to complete our hike, as we had been invited to an early happy hour at Jodee and Bill’s site in the park.  It was our first time meeting them and also Cindy, Walter and Geneva.  Also at the gathering were John and Pam and Dave and Sue (who had moved to the state park a few days earlier).

Relaxing, eating good food and shooting the breeze with these folks while gazing up at the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Santa Catalina Mountains

Happy hour in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains

Old Baldy Trail/Super Trail loop  –  Santa Rita Mountains

The Santa Rita Mountains lie some forty miles south of Tucson, and although they’re not as large as the Catalinas they boast the area’s highest peak, Mt. Wrightson at 9,456′.  But the main reason I persuaded Steve to make the drive was to check out Madera Canyon – a world-famous spot for birding.  Happily, extensive hiking trails also cover the mountains, making this a good place to get a change of pace from our recent desert hikes.

Mt Wrightson

Mt. Wrightson viewed from the Super Trail

We chose to follow the Old Baldy Trail, intending to go all the way to Mt. Wrightson peak. The trail began at 5,400′ of elevation and because it’s situated on a northerly aspect, deep snow from recent storms still covered the higher elevations.  As we climbed higher I began losing the spring in my step, as patches of snow and ice on the trail became a real hazard. It was time to consider a change of plans.

Old Baldy Trail

When we reached Josephine Saddle at 7,080′ we made a decision to forego summiting Mt. Wrightson and head back via the Super Trail.  At the top of the saddle was a clearing with an old wooden memorial.  It marks the spot near where three young boy scouts died during a sudden blizzard in 1958.  The storm ended up being the largest on record in Arizona, and it caught the young and inexperienced scouts by surprise.  Steve downloaded the book Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy by Cathy Hufault which he really enjoyed (and which I have yet to read).

Old Baldy Trail Memorial

We followed the south-facing Super Trail back to the car, enjoying great views down the valley and completing a 6.2 mile loop.

Green Valley, AZ

View of Green Valley, AZ

As for the birds, I didn’t have to go far.  The Santa Rita Lodge has numerous feeders at their wildlife viewing area and I had three new bird sightings – a Yellow-eyed Junco, a Hepatic Tanager and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  What a great day it was!

Roadrunner/Panther Peak/Cam Doh Loop – Tucson Mountains

We had already hiked at the Tucson Mountains with John and Pam, trekking up to the peak of Mt. Wasson, the highest in that mountain range.  This time we followed a moderate, flat loop trail – meandering through washes and Saguaro and Cholla forests for 4.4 miles.


As you may know our friend Pam has been labeled the Queen of the Crested Saguaro, and her enthusiasm for them has rubbed off on us.  Now we not only have to watch our step while looking for birds and unusual landscape, we also have to add a scan for Crested Saguaro.  On this hike we sighted two, a crested top and a rare crested arm.  But no birds!

Wild Burro/Wild Mustang Loop Trail – Tortolita Mountains

At the Tortolitas we chose to combine the Wild Burro/Wild Mustang/Upper Javelina trails for an 8.2 mile workout.  The Wild Burro Trail weaved in and out of a dry riverbed before getting a bit more rugged as we started a steep climb.  But we barely got onto the trail when eagle-eyed Steve spotted a Javelina engrossed in chomping on some Prickly Pear for breakfast.  We still don’t know how they can eat that stuff!


Lone Javelina crunching on some Prickly Pear – ouch!

Wild Burro Trail

Looking back at the river bed we just trekked through

After a couple of miles we picked up the Wild Mustang Trail, which climbed about 1,400′ to an elevation of 4,100′ on a subsequent ridge.

Wild Mustang Trail

The trail was very scenic, as the path crossed several saddles that opened to new views, including a look at Mt. Lemmon and the Catalinas to the east.  Further along we could see other mountain ranges near and far.

Wild Mustang Trail

Mt. Lemmon peeking out in the distance

I would say this trail brought together classic prickly desert and other more colorful landscapes very nicely.


The wonderful hike was capped off by a surprise birthday cake brought by John and Pam, and a round of drinks purchased by Joe and Gay at the Dragoon Brewing Company that evening.  This was our first get-together with Joe and Gay, whom I’ve been following since 2013.

It’s always exciting to meet a fellow blogger that you feel you already know, even before actually meeting them.  My wonderful friends made me blush a little bit that evening, and they really made my birthday celebration special.  Thank you all!

A posse bringing cake!

A posse bringing cake!

Wildlife of the desert

You all know of my fascination with birds, big and small.  Our visit to Patagonia in 2013 started it all when I saw the elusive and colorful Elegant Trogon, and then thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw.  Since then I’m constantly on the lookout for my feathers friends.

During this Tucson stop I limited myself to urban birding at areas designated as places to watch birds by the Tucson Audubon Society.


After working on this frog for a while, the duck gave up.  He simply bit off more than he could swallow!

Crested Duck

Look Pam, a Crested Quack-quack!

I was thrilled to see not only birds, but also some other not-often-seen animals along the trail.

Round -tailed Squirel

This Round-tailed Squirrel looks adorable with those big almond shaped eyes


This guy walked quietly behind until a lady pointed him out to me. Wow!

Finally, Brenda and Hector rolled into town for a quick visit, and we met them for dinner in downtown Tucson.

John too can be a Valet

Here’s an easy car to spot!


Another fine meal at El Charro was enjoyed by all: Pam, Brenda, Steve, Hector, I and John

Steve remembered having good tapas at Casa Vicente with his pilot buddies several years ago.  We decided to give it another try on our final night in Tucson and enjoyed yet another meal with friends before moving on.


Cheers to good friendships! We’ll be seeing these folks, and others, in Moab, UT soon!


Next up:  An exciting detour for Betsy