Southwest Wings California Gulch Trip Report

As I have done for the past couple of years, I kicked off the Southwest Wings Festival with an overnight trip to California Gulch.  I was joined by birders from California, Kentucky, Washington, and Tennessee. We left Cochise College on a beautiful summer morning with high expectations and equally high spirits.

Our first stop was on Blue Haven Road in Patagonia.  Here we had Black and Turkey Vultures, Cassin’s Kingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, and some others.  From here it is a short walk to the Paton Birding Center, a famous birding spot in southeastern Arizona.  We quickly picked up Violet-crowned Hummingbird, the signature bird for the Center.  We also added Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, and other goodies.

We continued down Route 82 to the Patagonia Roadside Rest, where our target was Thick-billed Kingbird.  Success!  We had an adult and a recently fledged juvenile in the same binocular view!  We added Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Bell’s Vireo, and Varied Bunting here as well.

It was on to Kino Springs from Patagonia.  We quickly spotted a juvenile Gray Hawk that was whining constantly for food.  A nearby telephone pole produced an adult that was ignoring the cries of its offspring.  We also picked up Black Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Barn and Cliff Swallows, and Lazuli Bunting.

By then it was lunchtime, so we headed to Rio Rico and ate in the welcome shade provided by cottonwoods along the Santa Cruz.  While eating we added Abert’s Towhee.  With full bellies, we crossed the river and picked up Tropical Kingbird, which were very vocal.  We also picked up Black-bellied Whistling-Duck here.

Heading north, we checked into the Amado Inn B&B.  Wayne and Jeanene provide excellent accommodations and delicious food, so if you are ever in the area and need a place to stay, definitely check them out.  Plus we added Bronzed Cowbird at their feeders!

We then piled back into the van for the long trek into California Gulch for Five-striped Sparrow.  As we headed west, I noticed that some really dark clouds were building over the Atascosa and Pajarito Mountains.  This was not a positive development, as that was where we were headed.  As we got closer to the Gulch, conditions continued to deteriorate.  As the Pajaritos disappeared from view because of heavy rain, I told the group that we would have to turn back if we hit the storm (I was thinking that being stuck for hours (or days) for one bird was not worth the risk).  The wind picked up and lightning cracked the sky, as rain started to fall.  That was it.  We had to turn around.  In the process of which, I managed to get the van stuck in some deep mud.  Son of a biscuit!  After some hard digging, we managed to free the van and get out before things got really bad.

We retired for dinner to regroup.  As a consolation prize, I offered to take the group owling.  That was met with enthusiasm and we headed out again.  Only to be skunked by the nocturnal birds.  Drat!!

The next morning, before breakfast, we visited the Amado Pond.  Here we added Snowy Egret, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and Spotted Sandpiper.  We also got good views of several Black-bellied Whistling-Duck chicks following their parents around the margin of the pond.

After stopping in Montosa Canyon, which was fairly quiet, we went to Madera Canyon.  On the way in we added Botteri’s Sparrow.  At Madera Picnic Area we got Western Wood-Pewee and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.  From there it was up to do some feeder watching at Santa Rita Lodge.  Within about 20 minutes, we got good views of Plain-capped Starthroat, the star of the trip for some.

We returned to Sierra Vista via Box Canyon Road.  Along the way, a road-crossing Gila Monster provide a good photo-op! We added Hooded Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and others here.  The best bird was a juvenile Golden Eagle, crying from the top of a cliff before taking wing and majestically sailing over the ridge.

For the trip we ended up with 89 species.  It was a great group and it was great fun being out with them on this tour!

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