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

Cave Creek

June 1st, 2013 · No Comments

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I only stayed four nights in Cave Creek Canyon, but it was why I went back to Arizona for the three-week trip that I just completed. I had enjoyed Cave Creek Ranch so much when I stayed there 13 months earlier that I told the owner, Reed Peters, that I would be back this year. One of my big reasons for returning was to see a spectacularly beautiful bird, an Elegant Trogon, that makes an annual migration to the United States, but only to a very small area around Cave Creek.

The Cave Creek that I love is in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeastern Arizona. This means south and east of Tucson. Confusingly, Arizona has another Cave Creek that more Arizonans know. It flows through the town of Cave Creek and into Phoenix.

The Real Cave Creek Canyon in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains

The Real Cave Creek Canyon in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains

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I wanted to photograph an Elegant Trogon so much that I hired a guide to find me one. I had seen other attractive species of trogons in Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica, but none are as beautiful as the one that comes to this small area of Southeastern Arizona. The first morning that I went to Cave Creek this time I went with Peg Abbott who leads birding tours all around the world through her company, Naturalist Journeys. We found an Elegant Trogon right away and got really close to one — so close that a couple of times he flew within six feet toward me. I was happy with the photos I got with my external flash and Better Beamer that I had to use because the sky was overcast.

Thinking that I had achieved my first priority on this visit to Cave Creek Canyon, I relaxed. I posted to my Facebook timeline one of the shots of an Elegant Trogon that I got and the next day went for a hike. Priority number 2 was to hike the Cave Creek Trail for 1.5 miles each way to where the trail split. I remembered hiking this trail 13 months earlier and thinking then that it was one of my favorite trails, along with the Fall Creek Trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Felton, California, and a trail through the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Cave Creek Trail starts at the campground at the end of South Fork Road, which is about a 10 minute drive from Cave Creek Ranch. About a mile after entering the Chiricahua Wilderness, I heard an Elegant Trogon calling. Soon, I found it and took 365 shots. This trogon was in full sun much of the time. The only problem came later when I had to decide which photo I like best. Since I keep changing my mind, here are two of them.

A Male Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) Rests Between Calling for a Mate

A Male Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) Rests Between Calling for a Mate

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Another View of this Handsome Devil

Another View of this Handsome Devil

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Since I was able to find this guy only by listening to him call out for a mate, I made sure to make a short film clip with audio. You can see and hear it at http://vimeo.com/67346726

Later, on the trip back down the trail I stopped at a tiny pool to rest where I could listen to the intermittent wind, the constantly falling water, and the frequently calling birds. I found a comfortable rock where I could sit and meditate. The opportunity to meditate in such beautiful natural surrounds was a special privilege.

Still later, after working hard for my Elegant Trogon pictures, I balanced out with an easy afternoon at the most productive bird feeders I know. They are a few miles out of the mountains down into the foothills of the desert and are known as the Big Thicket. Maintained by Bob Rodrigues, who I met last year and recognized as a fellow countryman (like mine, his ancestors came from the Azores), they are open to the public behind his house.

Among the many species of desert birds I found there, one of the brightest is has a difficult “common” name that I can’t even pronounce. This is a Pyrrhuloxia, a bird found only in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and along the Rio Grande in Texas. Since it’s closely related to the Northern Cardinal, like a lot of people, I take the easy way out and call it a Desert Cardinal.

A Pyrrhuloxia or Desert Cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus) in a Tree

A Pyrrhuloxia or Desert Cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus) in a Tree

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The Desert Cardinal's Close Relative, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the Ground

The Desert Cardinal's Close Relative, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) on the Ground

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We call the beautiful bird below a Western Tanager. But we no longer include it in the tanager family. Like the two birds immediately above, it is a member of the cardinal family.

A Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) Perches on a Branch

A Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) Perches on a Branch

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The sun was going down as I left the Big Thicket one evening. But it still had enough rays left to light up this desert flower.

A Desert Flower Glows in the Last Light of a Sunny Day

A Desert Flower Glows in the Last Light of a Sunny Day

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