Revisiting a birding destination with a few extra years of experience is always fun. There’s chasing more common birds you missed the first visit, as well as rarities and birds your less-experienced self didn’t know to look for. Sara and I enjoyed the familiarity of past-visited locations in southern Arizona, but new places, of course, were on the list, or added throughout the trip. My favorite new location from our June 2020 venture was the George Walker House.
Located in the Chiricahua Mountains, about 6 miles west of Portal, is the town of Paradise. Google describes Paradise as “a ghost town in Cochise County.” There are currently only 12 year-round residence, so that sounds about right. In it’s hay-day, it was a mining town. To be honest, we weren’t looking to be around many people, so this sounded perfect if there were birds. And a birder’s paradise, it was.
All drives in this area take a longtime due to the road conditions. For example, the 6 mile drive from Portal will take about 20 minutes, without stopping for birds along the way, so closer to 25. But, the drives around the region, are worth it!
Arriving at the George Walker House, we noticed the yard stockpiled with all types of feeders. A dozen of hummingbird feeders as well as pan feeders, finch feeders (all cleaned, filled and maintained daily) along with a few benches. A water feature completed the scene.
Well, lets not forget the pooch, Bojangles, a well-mannered keeper-of-the-yard; and also the wonderful caretaker, Jackie.
The George Walker House itself, has been in existence for more than 100 years. Lodging is available there and at the adjacent Heller House (a remodel 1970s home). As we approached the gate for the fenced-in-yard, Jackie welcomed us and assured us that Bo was a kind dog with a bit of bark and zero bite. Jackie has been managing the property for 21 years.
Feeling confident that we were going to get the hummingbird species we were hoping for, when Jackie asked what birds we were targeting, the first bird mentioned was Juniper Titmouse. In a calm confidence, she said she was about to fill a feeder that would bring them in soon.
We entered the yard and picked our a starting position – Sara on a bench and me on a sparse section of lawn. With so many feeders to watch, we didn’t want to sit too close to one or among the native plants where the birds would perch in between stops at the feeders. Since I was shooting (photos), I was trying to get-low, as they say.
Moving from one end of the compact yard to the other, you basically mingle with the hummingbirds. In near-constant motion, they feed, they chase, evade, repeat. Six different hummingbird species were visiting while we were there. The majority were Black-chinned. Sprinkled in with them were Broad-billed and a pair each of Broad-tailed and Lucifer, stopping for a quick bite before being displaced. And then there were the ‘colossal’ hummingbirds; the Rivoli’s (formerly Magnificent) and the Blue-throated Mountain-gem (formerly Blue-throated Hummingbird).
I use the word colossal because being from the midwest, I’m use to one hummingbird; the Ruby-throated. The Blue-throated Mountain-gem is three times heavier and are up to 5.5 inches long. So, basically they are like shimmering sparrow-size-daggers, darting to-and-fro.
Both the Rivoli’s and the Lucifer were lifers for both me and Sara – Rivoli’s being her #1 target for the entire trip. We enjoyed views of both the male and female of every species. The faint cream-color of the female Lucifer was beautiful and much more noticeable than I thought it would be, along with the slightly-curved bill. And the male Rivoli’s – *swoon* – I don’t think North American hummingbirds get any better than this guy. A twinkle of a purple crown and shine of the teal throat is captivating. The chest through the belly is a glossy emerald. And when they hover, they are vertical (see the header photo), as if the body size seems just too much to bring the bird to that horizontal pose I’m used to, with Ruby-throats.
While completely entranced in the sound of hummingbird wings and my shutter blasting away, I hear “Juniper Titmouse.” Lifer number 3! Jackie was on the porch and looking at the pan-feeder she filled up just about 5 minutes ago. There was a family of them!
We watched the youngling beg from the fence while the parent would pickup some seed and fly it back to the impatient little one. A few visits to the food and the water feature and they were on their way and we were back to the hummingbirds and other visitors. An adjacent pan-feeder was keeping the Mexican Jays content. Inca, Eurasian-collared and White-winged Doves perused the grounds snipping bites here and there. The ever-feeder-present Acorn Woodpecker would bounce to the feeder and away with a consistent pace.
The then there was Jackie, perched upon a bench on the porch, a bit further back from the feeders. She had a pair of bins with her, but she never used them. She didn’t need them with the familiarity 21 years on the property brings. Our lifer female Lucifer was called out by her from the porch and the bird was perched on one of the feeders furthest away. I’m sure they are like close friends. She knows their ‘walk’ and body language.
Although Paradise might be a ghost town, to me it’s a town of fond memories. Although, past its prime and with no more mines, there is still a wealth of riches that can be found for the right type of soul. I’m looking forward to my next afternoon outside in Paradise.
Speaking of outside, when looking for breweries of late, outdoor seating is at must. Day drinking doesn’t hurt either, if you want to beat the rush 🙂
My new favorite Indiana brewery to visit is Pax Verum Brewing Company, in Lapel, IN. The latin translation means “True Peace.” Who can’t get on board with that? Their beautiful and spacious outdoor seating has lots of options and so does their beer selection.
My drink for pairing with an afternoon of sitting outside watching hummingbirds is a refreshing one; Bitch Be Cool w/ Strawberry and Lemon (variant). The base beer is Pax’s Milkshake IPA, Bitch Be Cool, which features Citra and Mosaic hops. The brewery is giving an obvious nod to Mr. Tarantino, with their “$5 Milkshake” of a beer. This variant’s upfront dryness is complemented by an upfront lemony-tartness, reminiscent of lemonade. Not terribly hazy for a milkshake IPA, it’s super smooth and refreshing. A subtle flavor of strawberry follows in the aftertaste. A great drink after a hot afternoon of yard work (or birding) – I think the name says it all. Cheers!
Beer Info –
Brewery – Pax Verum Brewing Company
Location – Lapel, IN
Beer – Bitch Be Cool: Strawberry Lemon variant
Style – Milkshake IPA
ABV – 7%
Untappd Rating – 4.25/5
URL – https://www.paxverum.com
Bird Photo Info –
Species – Rivoli’s Male landing on a feeder
Nikon D850 / Nikon 200-500 lens
Photo Settings: 1/1600s @ F5.6; ISO 400 – 500mm – Manual Priority
Handheld – No Flash
Location – Paradise, AZ – The George Walker House
Date – June 7th, 2020