Just before sunrise we awoke to the sounds of Mexican Jays moving around the canyon and within a few minutes we were up and ready to go. We made our way down to the Santa Rita Lodge, about midway up the canyon where there is a nice feeder station. We decided just to wait there while the birds woke up and warmed up (it was hovering around freezing at this point). In attendance at the feeders and surrounding trees were Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, three subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco, Acorn Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Chipping Sparrow and a bright male Hepatic Tanager that made a quick pitstop.
We then decided to head down to the mouth of the canyon where it would be warmer in the early sunlight. There we stumbled across a mixed flock of sparrows containing White-crowned, Vesper, Sage, Brewer’s, Savannah, Song, and Lark Sparrows, Canyon and Green-tailed Towhees and a few Lark Buntings for a solid ten sparrow species in about fifteen minutes! Also around were Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Cactus Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Pyrrhuloxia.
Our next stop was at Peña Blanca Lake to look for the Least Grebes that were spending the winter there. In this venture we had some luck, eventually finding all six of them! Some other birds around the lake were Black Vulture, three species of swallows, Pied-billed Grebe, Bewick’s Wren, Lincoln’s and Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Winter and Rock Wrens, Sora, Gray Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler and six species of ducks including Greater Scaup and a flock of “Mexican” Mallards.
On I-19 to Pena Blanca - notice the sign is metric!
Least Grebe in bad light
After this rather quick stop we drove over to the Patagonia area via Nogales. Our first stop was at Patagonia Lake State Park where we had another shot at some Rufous-backed Robins, which of course we failed to find. We also missed the trogon that was wintering there. What we did find was White-throated Swift, Western Grebe, House Wren, Vermilion Flycatcher, Hammond’s and Gray Flycatchers, Plumbeous Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Great Blue Heron, Marsh Wren, Canvasback and some Double-crested Cormorants. Despite looking pretty thoroughly we couldn’t turn up a Neotropic Cormorant, which I had the last time I was there.
Bridled Titmouse by the lake
One of the many belligerent cows at Patagonia Lake
Then it was off to the Paton’s famous feeders where we found Inca and White-winged Dove, Lazuli Bunting, Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Sapsucker and Gambel’s Quail in addition to the regular feeder birds.
Lazuli Bunting hiding behind the feeder pole
After watching the feeders and the skies for a while we made our way to the San Rafael Grasslands, just east of Patagonia. This area, while not the best for birding, was pretty awesome and definitely worth a visit. The highlight here by far was a herd of Pronghorns that allowed for good scope views. The few birds that we found while failing to find a Baird’s Sparrow were Northern Harrier, Grasshopper Sparrow, ‘Lillian’s’ Meadowlark, American Pipit, “Prairie” Merlin and a White-tailed Kite.
Our first look at the Grasslands
Enjoying the open space
Random agave(?) plant
360º of grasslands
One last look at the Pronghorn
Afterwards we headed back to Patagonia for supper at the Wagon Wheel which had pretty good food, and then it was off on the long drive to Portal in the dark, where we camped up in Cave Creek Canyon under the millions of stars that we could see in the dry desert air. Unfortunately my camera decided it didn't want to take any pictures at this point in the day so my efforts at star shots were wasted!