Spring in Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, AZ

The several weeks since my last blog post have flown by! Since it has been awhile, I have quite a few photos to share. This area is so beautiful that I had a difficult time narrowing down to these selections!

On April 15th I drove to Portal, AZ and Cave Creek Canyon. During the winter, I spent two and half months here volunteering at the Visitor Information Center (VIC). My big plans for this summer were to meet some friends in Montana late May. From there we would cross the US-Canada border bound for Alaska. Obviously those plans were cancelled. I decided to return to the Canyon for the spring. I had planned to stay at an RV park; however there was an open RV site at the VIC which was graciously offered to me. Although the VIC is currently closed to the public, it is being staffed on a reduced hours basis to answer phone calls, do lawn maintenance and so forth. In exchange for my full hookup site, I am on duty two or three days a week. We may open on a limited basis sometime in June.

For higher resolution photos, visit Cave Creek Canyon Photo Album 

The spring migration was slower than normal here but there are still many birds. A couple that regularly visit my nectar feeder are Blue-throated Mountain Gem hummingbird and Scott’s Oriole.

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Blue-throated Mountain Gen

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Scott’s Oriole

The Elegant Trogon that this area is most known for arrives around April 15-20. My first sighting this year was this male on April 16th.  The trogon draws many visitors to the Canyon during normal times, but very few people are here this year.

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Elegant Trogon male

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Elegant Trogon male

The trail up the canyon of the South Fork of Cave Creek is beautiful and also one of the best birding trails in the spring. When I am birding I usually have my long zoom lens on the camera which isn’t suitable for landscape photos. A couple days ago, I took the long lens off and hiked up the canyon with the intent of photographing the stunning canyon walls and the creek that much of the trail follows. I should have done this earlier when there was more water in the creek. It is now quite low and dry in many spots.

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View from South Fork Trailhead

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Canyon Walls, South Fork

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Lush South Fork Trail

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South Fork of Cave Creek

Many cavity nesting birds use the Sycamores in the canyon, including woodpeckers, flickers, owls, and the Elegant Trogons.

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There are many Arizona Sycamores in the canyon.

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This pool is known as the bathtub.

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Walls of South Fork

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The yellow, red and green colors of the canyon walls are lichen.

These Chiricahua Mountains receive roughly 20 inches of precipitation annually. As a result, the riparian areas are very lush once all the trees and shrubs have their leaves. It is beautiful, but makes bird photography a challenge as many of the birds stay high in the canopy and move about quickly. I do have a few bird photos to share though.

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Hepatic Tanager, male

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Hepatic Tanager, female

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Yellow-eyed Junco

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Painted Redstarts nest on the ground, sometimes right next to trails or roads

The mountains are also home to the large Chiricahua Fox Squirrel. They are up to two feet long and I have been told they are the only tree squirrel in the Chiricahua Mountains. There are some ground squirrels and at least one chipmunk.

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Chiricahua Fox Squirrel

Just over the mountains from Cave Creek Canyon is West Turkey Creek Canyon. A pair of Crescent-chested Warblers came up from Mexico to the canyon. This is a rare visitor to Arizona. Early one morning I drove the 46 miles to West Turkey Creek, which took two hours over the narrow, windy mountain road. They are beautiful and it was well worth the trip!

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Crescent-chested Warbler

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Crescent-chested Warbler

Another bird I see around the VIC is the Hooded Oriole.

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Hooded Oriole

There are several flycatcher species here and some look very similar. I wasn’t sure if this next photo is Ash-throated or Dusky-capped Flycatcher. I posted the photo on the What’s This Bird Facebook Group and received a response that it is Dusky-capped. So I’ll go with that and if anyone disagrees, let me know 🙂

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Dusky-capped Flycatcher

I have been told by locals that there are also fewer butterflies than average. The Arizona Sister is the one I see most and is quite lovely.

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Arizona Sister

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Arizona Sister

With the uncertainty around the lifting of travel restrictions and closures, I’m planning to stay here in the beautiful Chiricahua Mountains for the time being. I am at 5,000 feet elevation, so the temps are more pleasant than the lower elevation of Tucson or Phoenix areas. There will be some hot days in the high 90’s though, especially in June before the monsoon rains begin.

I will close with this photo of the moon and Mars (or Venus?) over the ridge to the west of my RV site.

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Moon over Chiricahua Mountains

8 Comments on “Spring in Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, AZ

  1. Beautiful photos and glad you have landed someplace safe and also lovely. We close on the sale of our AZ villa this Thursday and we are rather sad about it. We’ll miss our little place but we may return to that area but it will be either in an RV or to live full time. In the meantime, we are staying close to our house and glad it’s a comfy place to be. Take care.

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      • If you ever get to Oregon (and providing we are still living here), please look me up if you need a place to spend a night. We have a full-hookup site next to the house. 🙂

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      • Thanks Robin! I was tentatively thinking of the PNW for 2021. But since Alaska was cancelled this year, we are going to try for 2021. So maybe 2022 for PNW. I really want to visit there!

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  2. Great place to hide out from the Arizona desert summer! I loved hiking in Chiracahua national monument, those rock formations are amazing. Your Cave Creek photos are beautiful, and makes my sheltering in place feel less restricted, although I long to get back out there. August, maybe…

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    • Yes, the formations in the monument are stunning! This has been a good location for me to shelter in place. Hope you can get out soon!

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  3. The bird photos are stunning. But sorry your Alaska trip was cancelled. Same for so many but we have found ways to enjoy the moment and where we are. These extra five weeks in Ajo has allowed me to see trees and shrubs in bloom I wouldn’t ordinarily see and make new friends.

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    • Thanks Martha! So true, I never expected to spend the summer in AZ 😀 But this location has been a good place for me. We will try for Alaska next year.

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