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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'Arizona'

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Southeast Arizona’s Cave Creek Canyon

April 26th, 2012 · No Comments

Cave Creek Canyon, high in the Chiricahua Mountains on the east side of the Coronado National Forest, is so isolated that unless you love birds and wildlife you will never go there. Reed Peters, the owner of Cave Creek Ranch, where we stayed, had warned us to get food and gas in the border town of Douglas, more than 60 miles away. We made sure to follow his advice, but the remoteness of the ranch still caused us problems.

We arrived at 11 p.m. after a long drive from Madera Canyon with several stops en route. Our rooms were ready for us and all seemed well.

But the next morning our rental car had a flat tire. Fortunately, my membership of AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association, provides free roadside assistance through an 800 number. The usually respond quickly, but I knew this would take a while. In fact, the driver had to come from Willcox, about 95 miles away.

While we waited, instead of pouting or twiddling our thumbs, we explored the ranch and birded.

Feeders in the Foreground, Cave Creek Canyon in the Background

Feeders in the Foreground, Cave Creek Canyon in the Background

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Southeast Arizona’s Carr Canyon

April 26th, 2012 · 2 Comments

We took a chance on Friday the 13th. Sharon drove our rental car up Southeast Arizona’s Carr Canyon on a winding, steep, rocky, and narrow road to its end at 7,400 feet. We made it.

From the campground at the end of the road we hiked down. We took the delightful Comfort Spring Trail into the Coronado National Forest’s Miller Peak Wilderness and reached the spring. Across the canyon we spotted a raptor as it landed in a wonderland of rock.

Looking for a Raptor, I Noticed Some Rocks

Looking for a Raptor, I Noticed Some Rocks

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When the raptor flew, it glided right above us. I told Sharon to lie down so that it would come closer, but for some reason she refused. Nonetheless, the raptor came close enough for us to identify it as a Red-tailed Hawk. This is our most common hawk, and this shot clearly shows that it deserves the name.

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Southeast Arizona’s Patagonia Sonoita Nature Preserve

April 25th, 2012 · No Comments

My favorite conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy, probably does more to preserve and protect nature than any other organization. I support it with my membership. The Nature Conservancy works in all 50 states and in more than 30 countries to preserve the animals, the plants, and the natural communities that comprise the diversity of life. It works with local governments, communities, and other organizations.

Often TNC raises funds to buy endangered land and protects it until a government agency is willing and able to manage it. But sometimes it establishes nature preserves that it continues to manage. Its Patagonia Sonoita Nature Preserve, which it purchased jointly with the Tucson Audubon Society, was The Nature Conservancy’s first of its six preserves in Arizona. This preserve protects some of the richest streamside habitat in the Southwest, including a magnificent example of the now rare Fremont cottonwood-Goodding willow riparian forest. Some of these cottonwoods are more than 100 feet tall and more than 130 years old.

Sharon and I were so determined to visit the Patagonia Sonoita Nature Preserve that we went there twice. The first time we arrived just as someone closed the gate. The next day we made sure to get there in the morning.

We hiked the idyllic Loop Trail, expecting to see birds. We didn’t expect to see mammals. Worldwide, birds are much more plentiful, about 10,000 species of birds and anywhere from 200 billion to 400 billion individual birds exist today. About 5,500 species of mammals exist today. Nobody seems to be willing to guess how many individual mammals now inhabit our planet, but we do know that 7 billion of them are humans.

One mammal that I hoped to see even though I had no expectations was a javelina, technically known as a collared peccary. When I returned to the West in 1977 after years of living in the DC area and in Africa, I got a glimpse of one as I passed through southern Arizona. This time I not only got clear views of javelinas but also had much better camera equipment.

This Javelina May Look Cute, but I Made Sure Not to Get Too Close

This Javelina May Look Cute, but I Made Sure Not to Get Too Close

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Southeast Arizona’s Las Cienegas

April 25th, 2012 · No Comments

After leaving Patagonia, we had some light left near the end of our second full day in Southeast Arizona. So Sharon and I studied our field guides to find another interesting place to explore.

One of our best trip resources, the “Southeastern Birding Trail” map, highlighted one place near the route from Patagonia to Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, where we were staying. Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is “one of the best grasslands left in southeastern Arizona,” it told us. This area has five of the rarest habitats in the Southwest: cienegas, or marshlands, cottonwood-willow riparian forests, mesquite bosques, and sacaton, or dropseed, and semi-desert grasslands.

The other indispensable birding resource for the area, Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, told us about the Heritage Discovery Trail, which winds through a cottonwood-lined section of Upper Empire Gulch there. That’s where we had a pleasant hike near the end of the day.

But the gulch was well-shaded by huge cottonwoods and not until we drove away did I get any good photographs. The light was almost gone when I half-seriously asked Sharon to find me a bird to match the beauty of last light.

Just then she did. “There, on that pole!” she exclaimed.

Sure enough she had spotted an American Kestrel just minutes before the sun dropped below the horizon. This is our smallest falcon and the most beautiful of all raptors. It was eating a lizard.

A Male American Kestrel Enjoys a Raw Lizard for Dinner

A Male American Kestrel Enjoys a Raw Lizard for Dinner

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The Kestrel Calls

The Kestrel Calls

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What was the kestrel saying? “It’s my lizard; stay away!” Or “I saved some lizard for you, my dear!” Only the kestrel knows.

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Southeast Arizona’s Backyard Birding at Paton’s Feeders

April 24th, 2012 · No Comments

In Southeast Arizona some of the best birding is right in the town of Patagonia. It’s the backyard of 477 Pennsylvania Avenue, where Wally and Marion Paton lived.

In the early 1990s they opened their yard to the world after several rare hummingbirds built nests there. At least 15 of the 23 species of hummingbirds anywhere in North America live in or migrate to Southeast Arizona, most of them to the Paton backyard. Wally died in 2001 and Marion in 2009, but the Paton family still keeps the feeders stocked as well as providing a comfortable place for birders from all over the world to sit or stand.

“The place owned by Marion Paton and her late husband, Wally, is unprepossessing, but for many birders it’s the best place in Arizona,” Luke Dempsey wrote in his delightful 2008 book, A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All. “She keeps many feeders hanging from the eaves of the low-slung house, and birders are invited to stop in and see what’s there at any time of the day. She and her husband had not only established all these feeders across the years, but also provided some chairs to sit on, a bunch of birding guides, and eventually even a canopy to save birders from the hot Arizona sun. I read somewhere that because of the storms that come through here, she’s on her seventh tent, which seems almost biblical.”

Sharon and I saw more species of hummingbirds at Paton’s feeders than we could possibly identify even after searching all of our field guides. Here are a couple of photos that I took of them there.

I especially like this male Rufous Hummingbird, even though it is the only species of hummingbird that we see around Boulder. This little bird, which is only about 3 inches long, migrates here every summer. “If migration distance is divided by body length,” says Richard Cachor Taylor in his Birds of Southeastern Arizona, “the 2,000-mile migration of Rufous Hummingbirds is among the longest in the animal kingdom.”

A Male Rufous Hummingbird Feeds

A Male Rufous Hummingbird Feeds

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Southeast Arizona’s Patagonia Lake

April 23rd, 2012 · No Comments

Sharon and I started our second full day in Southeast Arizona near Patagonia. This is a town of about 900 people, famous among birders out of proportion for the size of its human population. I haven’t been able to find any connection between Patagonia, Arizona, and the region of that name at the southern end of South America or with the outdoor clothing company that rock climber and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard founded.

Unless you are a bird you can hardly get from Santa Rita Lodge where we stayed in Madera Canyon to Patagonia, Arizonia. A bird could make the trip in minutes with an 18-mile flight straight south. But the lodge is in the Santa Rita Mountains in the nearly-roadless Coronado National Forest, so we had to drive 65 miles through the border town of Nogales to get to Patagonia Lake State Park. The trip was worth the effort.

We hiked on a sunny and calm morning first along the shore of the lake. But even better was hiking the Sonoita Creek Trail at the upstream end of the lake. We hiked this little trail through open forest with a marsh and stream to our left (north) and mesquite trees to our right (south).

We watched a Great Blue Heron on the lake. As we watched, it took off.

A Great Blue Heron Takes Off

A Great Blue Heron Takes Off

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Southeast Arizona’s Madera Canyon

April 20th, 2012 · 1 Comment

When we reached Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon on April 10, we arrived at the first of the three places that had attracted us to Southeast Arizona. But we arrived well after dark, so we didn’t see any of the canyon until the next day. We stayed in one of its eight efficiency apartment or “casitas” for three nights, using it as a base to visit birding hotspots in Madera Canyon as well as in and around the town of Patagonia.

Madera is a canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains within the Coronado National Forest. The lodge is midway up the canyon at 5,000 feet. Because of its elevation and the shade of cottonwood and oak trees, the canyon is much cooler than the Sonoran Desert down below where Tucson lies. This “sky island” is one of the best birding areas of the American West. More than 250 bird species are here for all or part of the year, including 15 species of hummingbirds.

The feeders at the lodge attract a variety of hummingbirds and other birds. This offered us an easy introduction.

But first I had a guide show me around the canyon. Laurens Halsey took me and three other people on a four-hour tour of the Proctor Loop of the Madera Canyon Nature Trail and two or three miles up the Carrie Nation Trail. We heard and saw several birds of one of the most sought after species in Southeast Arizona, the Elegant Trogon, but I didn’t get any good shots of them. We did find a Painted Redstart nest, where we stopped to take lots of photos of these birds coming and going.

A Painted Redstart Near its Nest by the Carrie Nation Trail

A Painted Redstart Near its Nest by the Carrie Nation Trail

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Southeast Arizona’s Saguaro National Park

April 19th, 2012 · No Comments

The saguaro is an iconic symbol of the Southwest. The largest cacti we have, they can reach 50 feet and weight 16,000 pounds or more, dwarfing every other living thing in the desert.

At the beginning of our visit to Southeast Arizona, Sharon and I returned half way to Tucson from our first stop at La Posta Quemada Ranch in Colossal Cave Mountain Park to Saguaro National Park. We started our visit to the park’s east district on the Cactus Forest Loop Drive.

Abundant Saguaro in Saguaro National Park

Abundant Saguaro in Saguaro National Park

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A Different Cactus in Bloom

A Different Cactus in Bloom

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Southeast Arizona’s La Posta Quemada Ranch

April 19th, 2012 · No Comments

Southeast Arizona offered everything we expected — except for hot weather.

On April 10 my friend Sharon and I flew from Denver to Tucson, rented a car that she drove, and went birding at one of the world’s top hotspots. Here is where the Rocky Mountains meet the Sierra Madre, where the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts come together, and where the Great Basin touches the Great Plains. Here in less than one percent of the land area of North America birders have recorded about 500 species of birds, more than half of all those ever seen in the contiguous United States, Alaska, and Canada.

We heard, saw, and photographed so many new bird species that we had never seen before that we couldn’t keep track. In this and following photo essays I will share some of my bird photographs as well as images of other wildlife, flora, and landscape.

The Tucson area at the northwest corner of Southeast Arizona was the only place we visited that anyone could call warm. We started our trip there at La Posta Quemada Ranch in Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Some 30 miles southeast of Tucson, this ranch includes a narrow corridor of mesquite bosque and a moist riparian area of dense cottonwood and willow surrounded by typical Sonoran desert scrub.

As we arrived at the ranch the first bird that we saw had such a thin shape that we knew we had never seen it before. Paging through Birds of Southeastern Arizona, I found a match, although I had never heard of it before and still can’t pronounce it properly.

A Male Phainopepla

A Male Phainopepla

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Petrified Forest

March 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment

During the previous two days I got my best shots at the Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona. But I also visited three national monuments, the best preserved meteor impact site on Earth, and the neat town of Winslow, Arizona. I started yesterday in Flagstaff, Arizona, and ended it very late at night in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As I drove down from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff I took a little detour through Wupakti and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Around the year 1100 the Sinagua people, who probably were assimilated into the Hopi culture, begin building pueblos:
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Posted in: Arizona, Hiking