You have driven 2,000 miles on a road trip to Arizona.
The trip is extensively planned and scheduled to maximize birds and minimize contact with people. Halfway through the trip, an Eared Quetzal is reported at a location you were at 48 hours ago. It is a six hour round-trip drive to revisit that location. What do you do?
Correct! You wake up at 2:15 a.m. the next morning and leave by 3 a.m.
You may have heard about an Eared Quetzal showing up in southern Arizona in early June. On Tuesday evening, June 9th, the bird put on quite a show at a campground in the Chiricahua Mountains. Knowing there would be a number of people combing for the Quetzal the next morning, as we got closer to the location and the sun rose, we started to scan the sounding landscape for quail. Why not pick up some birds on the way to a chase, right?
Flat, arid lands with shrubs and native grass spanned both sides of the road as we headed into Portal. “STOP” (which is a key word while birding in a car). Quail, nine-o’clock. Scaled Quail! Not a lifer for Sara or me, but by far the best view we’ve had of this shifty chicken. Within another mile we picked up our lifer Rufous-winged Sparrow. Hell of a start to a chase day. Now back to the chase!
Arriving near the Crystal Cave Trail #382 trailhead, we began seeing birders busy observing the landscape and trading information. We found a parking spot near the sighting location from the night before and gathered our gear (and masks). The information we collected boiled down to lots of birders and no Quetzal.
We spent the next couple of hours walking the road, enjoying Painted Redstarts and Red-faced Warblers. Mexican Jays darting back and forth kept us on our toes. All enjoyable, but not the bird we were searching for. After another hour we decided to head out for some other birds and keep an eye on the rare bird alerts.
In a different section of Coronado National Forest, we were listening to the rubber-ducky-like sounds of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. Probably my favorite new call I learned on this trip. I then noticed another birder further down the road was waving my direction, indicating he had something good. Whiskered Screech-Owls. Day roost?! A pair of owls sitting within just a few feet of each other. Obviously aware of our presence but not seeming to mind. We snapped a few photos and enjoyed the moment.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the screech owls to continue birding. While driving some of the infamous rough and slow roads of the area, we picked up a few other awesome lifers. Buff-breasted Flycatcher, which was like a scoop of Neapolitan with wings and a beak. Greater Pewee, who’s call is cartoonishly melodic. Then, an Oliver Warbler! Sure, it was more than 50 feet up in tall trees, but there it was! Two even. That orange head with the wide and dark eye-line. What a showstopper.
There was still no word on Quetzal sightings. A brief stop at the Portal Peak Lodge Store & Cafe gave us some time to debate what to do with the remaining daylight hours. We had one more target in the area (more on that next month). While stretching our legs, I noticed the store had some beer from Arizona breweries. I grabbed a six-pack and we hit the road to chase one more bird…
While normally, on any out-of-state birding trip, we enjoy visiting local breweries, with the pandemic, we stayed away from those venues – but still tracked down a few new Arizona beers. In Portal, I snagged ‘Hipsterville – Hazy IPA,’ from Barrio Brewing Co. It’s a soft citrusy IPA. Smooth and refreshing on a hot day or while editing photos. It was nice to end some long birding days in Arizona with one or two.
Beer Info –
Brewery – Barrio Brewing Co.
Location – Tucson, AZ
Beer – Hipsterville
Style – Hazy IPA
ABV – 6.4%
Untappd Rating – 4/5
URL – http://www.barriobrewing.com
Bird Photo Info –
Species – Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Nikon D850 / Nikon 200-500 lens
Photo Settings: 1/200s @ F5.6. ISO 400 – 500mm – Aperture Priority
Handheld – No Flash
Location – Onion Saddle – Cochise County, Arizona
Date – June 10th, 2020