Jinxed on the Mountain

You can see the forest reflected in the squirrel’s eye.

Arizona Gray Squirrels (endemic to eastern AZ and northern Mexico)

Last Thursday, September 13, we headed back up to Willow Springs Lake on the Mogollon Rim. Last time we went, which happened to be on July 13, it rained a lot and Tony fell into a creek, necessitating a trip to the Payson ER. This was going to be a do-over. As we drove north, our new-to-us SUV’s a/c quit functioning and, as we were still in low elevations, it was pretty uncomfortable. We were coming up on the Mt. Ord turnoff and decided to just go there instead. Last time we were there, we took our car and I had vowed to not go up the winding, rutted 6 mile road again until we had a SUV. No problem, right?

Well, we went a little over 4 miles up and an ominous warning appeared on the dash, “Transmission Failure. Service Now.” That kinda spooked us since it would be really bad to break down up there with no cell service and no easy access for a tow. So we stopped and walked around for a while. When we started the SUV again, the warning light wasn’t on anymore so we headed back down to an area referred to as the “saddle” with a corral and a cistern with running water where there should have been a lot of birds.

Lesser Goldfinch

Acorn Woodpecker

Bridled Titmouse

We met this guy, coming for a drink:

There are several up there. There were also many butterflies! A few held still long enough for photos.

Arizona Sister

Mournful Duskywing

Bauer’s Giant-Skipper

I also got a lifer bird, called a Hutton’s Vireo, but the photo is pretty bad. After spending a couple hours roaming around the saddle, we decided we should head back home since we were still concerned about the a/c and transmission.

Much of the forest road is not this nice.

As we were leaving, a man in a pickup truck stopped and came and talked to us. He was very friendly and chatty. Turns out, he has lived on Mt. Ord since 1992 (as there is private property in amongst the forest land) and he regaled us with colorful mountain tales of bears, lions, rattlesnakes, and other critters. We learned that hunting is legal up there and it is now hunting season (I had guessed that from seeing a couple guys in camouflage with bows). We learned there are plenty of black bears, that mountain lion meat is tasty, that there is all sorts of interesting history on the mountain, involving Spaniards and miners and more.

Okay, he didn’t quite look like that (I wish) and it’s still a little hot to dress that way but you get the idea. He had removed the “F” from the back of his Ford pickup so that it read ORD. Meeting him made me realize, again, that as much as we like going to all these places and hiking around and thinking of ourselves as outdoorsy nature buffs, there’s city folk and there’s country folk, and they’re not the same.

Turkey Vultures

Next best surprise of the day was that our a/c worked just fine and the transmission light never came on again. Nevertheless, the SUV (not Ford-tough) is going in for a checkup Monday and we are not going to attempt any more trips on the 13th of any month, any day.

 

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Montezuma Well

Variegated Fritillary

Montezuma Well is part of Montezuma Castle National Monument in Rimrock, AZ (even though it’s in a location several miles away). It is a natural limestone sinkhole that has been home to many ancient cultures, spanning more than 1,000 years, including the Sinagua, Hohokam, and Salado peoples. By 1425, the people had migrated to other areas but the Well is still a sacred place for the Hopi, Zuni, Yavapai, Western Apache, and other Native American cultures.

The Well itself is 386 feet in diameter and holds over 15 million gallons of water. It is fed by Beaver Creek through a long, narrow cave (called the swallet) to reapppear on the other side at the outlet. The water contains arsenic and high quantities of carbon dioxide so fish cannot live in it but five endemic species have evolved here that exist nowhere else on the planet: amphipods, predatory leeches (not blood-suckers), water scorpions, spring snails, and a unique, single-celled diatom.

The people of the Sinagua culture began building the dwellings in the cliffs around the Well seen here.

These 125 steps, above, lead to the swallet. We went, instead, to the outlet which was only 45 steps down.

The largest sycamore tree in Arizona is down at the outlet.

Creekside

Along the creek at the outlet

I’m pleased that I finally broke my losing streak of ZERO lifers lately by finding one down by the outlet.

Summer Tanager, male (lifer)

We also saw the female but she was shyer and much less colorful. We also spotted a few other birds that we don’t see too often.

Bridled Titmouse

Brewer’s Sparrow

Western Wood-Pewee

There are ruins of other cultures scattered over the whole area.

Sinagua Dwelling

The ranger told us that we could probably see a Great Horned Owl if we went over to the picnic area. After much searching through the big cottonwoods and sycamores, Tony spotted him!

Okay, not really, but it had us fooled for a minute. We never did find the real owl.

Here is a short, minute-and-a-half video that the National Park Service did about the Well. This really is a strange and fascinating place.

 

 

Madera Canyon

Mexican Jay (lifer)

Although I’ve lived in Arizona for over 40 years, I’ve never been to Madera Canyon before and only really became aware of it a couple of years ago from other birders. So, finally, I’ve experienced it and, like most of the other places in AZ that Tony and I have visited, it was beautiful!

Wikipedia says, “Madera Canyon is located in the Santa Rita Mountains, which is one of the largest of the Madrean Sky Islands. The canyon and its immediate surroundings are therefore home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, ranging from cactus covered desert in the lower reaches of the canyon to aspen and pine forest on Mount Wrightson.

With fifteen species of hummingbirds, elegant trogon, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, black-capped gnatcatcher, flame-colored tanager, thirty-six species of wood warblers, and over 256 species of birds documented in total, Madera Canyon is rated the third best birding destination in the United States. Other animals that can be found in Madera Canyon include black bear, mountain lion, bobcats, white-tailed and mule deer, foxes, coatis, ring-tailed cats, raccoons, wild turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits. Sixteen species of bats have also been recorded in the canyon.”

Unfortunately, we were only there for a few hours as we got a late start and, although it was several degrees cooler than Phoenix, we didn’t hike much because of the heat and time constraints. If you hike around, you can get some rare and unusual birds. We’ll go back in the fall and hike but, meanwhile, I did get 5 lifers and had a great time.

What we mostly did was hang out at the birdwatching area at Santa Rita Lodge. They are kind enough to let people who are not guests in their cabins also have access to this site for a donation to their bird food fund.

If you click on this photo (above), you can see the benches and chairs overlooking the feeding areas. We sat in the shade, a gentle breeze blowing, and watched the birds fly in to eat below…with cameras ready. It wasn’t even crowded since it was a weekday.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds, male and female (lifers)

Magnificent Hummingbird (lifer)

Magnificents are much larger than other hummingbirds but this guy stayed far away in a dark tree so I was lucky to get any photos at all of him. Someday I hope to get a good shot.

Hepatic Tanager (lifer)

Wild Turkey (lifer)

And I was able to get shots of some birds that were not lifers but ones I had never gotten decent shots of before.

Black-headed Grosbeaks, male and female

Bridled Titmouse

And a couple more:

Acorn Woodpecker

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Coues White-tailed Deer

As we were leaving in the late afternoon, we saw 3 deer together and another by itself. It had been many years since I came across a deer and was able to get a photo…the perfect end to a fun day.

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