A New Year Begins – Portal, AZ

As 2020 rolled in, I continued my position as a volunteer host at the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center (VIC) in Portal, AZ. During the last few days of December there were several inches of snow in the canyon and more in the mountains. It made for some very scenic vistas. 

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View of the crest of the Chiricahua Mountains

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View from Ash Spring Trail

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Frozen Winn Falls

To view higher resolution photos from this post, visit the Portal, AZ January 2020 Album on my Flickr page.

Back in June 2018 I purchased a Panasonic G85 camera. It was okay for landscape/travel photography. But when I became interested in bird photography, it just didn’t produce satisfactory results. After several months of working with it, I finally decided to look for a new camera. I wanted to stay with the Micro Four-Thirds format. Olympus is the other major M43 manufacturer. They had some excellent deals during the month of December, and I decided to purchase their OMD EM-1 Mark 2 camera. They had a trade in promotion going; I was able to get a good price on trade for the G85, in addition to several hundred dollars off the camera price. The EM-1 M2 is a much more advanced camera than I have ever used, it is consider professional level. I love it but it has been a pretty steep learning curve for me. After about a month now I am starting to get comfortable with it, but still so much more to learn. I am in a Facebook group for OMD cameras and the photos that are posted on there are absolutely amazing.  It gives me inspiration to work to improve my photography.

Portal is one of the best birding hotspots in the US. I was surprised that even in winter there are a lot of birds here. During the Christmas Bird Count, over 120 species were tallied. One of the spots I liked to look for birds was a small side stream that flows along the South Fork Trail. There were usually a few birds around the water.

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Yellow-eyed Junco splashing in the water

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Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) getting a drink

Another great way to see a lot of birds is to visit some of the feeders that are open to the public. There are several in the area and info is available in the VIC. A short walk from my campsite is the Cave Creek Ranch. They have a wonderful setup there with all types of feeders, water features, etc. For anyone looking to visit the canyon, Cave Creek Ranch is a great place to stay. They are at the entrance to the canyon bordering forest service land. Guests usually see a variety of birds and wildlife. Here are a few of the photos I took there.

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Bridled Titmouse grabbing lunch

The Bridled Titmouse’ primary range is in Mexico. In the US, it is found in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.

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Bridled Titmouse

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The Lesser Goldfinch provides a bright splash of color in the winter

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Acorn Woodpecker, one of the most common woodpeckers in this area

Around 5pm daily, this White-nosed Coatimundi would come around for his evening snack.

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Hmm, where’s the peanut butter?

These two bucks were practicing their sparring one afternoon.

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Coues Deer

There were two hummingbird species that over-wintered here and were commonly seen. The Rivoli’s (formerly Magnificent) and the Blue-throated Mountain Gem. These are two of the largest hummers in the US, each around 5 to 5.5 inches in length. We had the Rivoli’s visiting the nectar feeders at the VIC, and I also had them at my nectar feeder. The Blue-throated was mostly seen down at Cave Creek Ranch. My feeder was only in the sunlight a couple hours each day, which was not optimal for photography. I did get this Rivoli’s, which is either a female or a juvenile, I’m not sure which. The males, being cautious, would always land on the opposite side of wherever I was, so all I could see was a little heading peering over the feeder at me.

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Rivoli’s Hummingbird

I loved seeing the small Coues Whitetail Deer around my campsite. Look at those huge ears!

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My what big ears you have!

I finally got a nice moon shot!

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It was cloudy on the night of full moon, this was a couple days later.

For groceries, I would go to the town of Douglas. While down that way, I would visit the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. During the winter there are thousands of Sandhill Cranes there. They beginning flying in around 11am, arriving hundreds at a time. They spend the afternoon and then fly to other locations for the night. There may be ten thousand or more there on any given day during this time of year.

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Sandhill Cranes coming in for landing

In addition to the cranes, there were lots of other birds there. A pair of Great Horned Owls regularly nests in the hay barn that is on site. They were there the day I made my last visit.

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Great Horned Owl

This juvenile Vermilion Flycatcher is just beginning to molt into his adult plumage. He’s a mess right now, but before long he will be a brilliant red with a black back.

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Juvenile Vermilion Flycatcher

It was cold in early January, but in the latter part of the month, we had some nice warm days. The high elevation snow melt increased the creek levels. There was a good amount of water coming over this small waterfall.

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Near John Hands Campground

January 29 was my last volunteer day in the VIC. I very much enjoyed being here in Portal. I enjoyed meeting the visitors who came in; and I met many wonderful local people here as well. In addition to hosting in the VIC, I also worked with the trail maintenance crew a couple times. That was fun! After two and half months, I was ready to head to the desert, but I was also sad to leave. I do plan to return next year and will be looking forward to it.

Portal, AZ is a wonderful place to visit. The canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains are beautiful any time of year. There are many options for lodging as well as camping. If you plan to visit Arizona, this is a great area to include in your itinerary.

This final photo is the view of the canyon I had each evening from my campsite. I never tired of seeing the setting sun lighting up the canyon walls.

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Entrance to Cave Creek Canyon

5 Comments on “A New Year Begins – Portal, AZ

  1. Wonderful photos. The OMD was the camera I wanted but settled on the Nikon for $ reasons. I’m happy with it so far. Will post some low flying jet photos from the bombing range here, and some rodeo shots from the tohono o’odham reservation soon. Been lazy about posting.

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    • Thanks Martha! I’m pretty stoked about this camera, love it so far. Look forward to seeing your photos and hearing about the rodeo. I haven’t been able to go to it yet.

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  2. Your photos are stunning. When I’m ready to upgrade cameras, I know it’ll be a Micro Four-Thirds. Keep us posted on your thoughts regarding the camera and lenses.
    A few years ago we boondocked at Whitewater Draw for a couple of nights and I absolutely loved it. It was an amazing experience to live amongst the cranes and be there at sunrise and sunset.

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    • Thanks Ingrid! I would like to camp at Whitewater sometime. It would be cool to be there for sunrise and sunset.

      I would definitely recommend the Olympus over Panasonic. Particularly a model that has the Phase Detect autofocus. It is much superior to contrast detect, which is on all Panasonic models and some Olympus models. I am using the Panasonic Leica 100-400 long zoom which I had purchased for the G85. It is a very good lens and alot of Olympus users shoot with it. In addition I have 2 Olympus zoom lenses and they are tack sharp. I have fallen in love with Olympus gear! If you start to look for a camera, you might check out the Facebook groups for Micro Four Thirds and the OMD Cameras group. There are some excellent photos posted which will give you a comparison of the quality of different models and lenses. Awhile back I had joined the G85 Facebook group. There are almost no still photos posted there. Almost all videos. The G85 seems to be mostly popular for video. Unfortunately I didn’t know all this when I purchased it.

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      • Thank you for taking the time to share this. When my Lumix FZ200 started acting up, I considered the G85 but time and again the talk was always about video. Therefore, I ended up just getting the FZ300 to replace the FZ200 but know if I want to take my photography up a notch that I’ll need and want to upgrade to a mirrorless. Olympus has a great reputation for still photography and is on my short list. Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

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