Birds, Bugs and Other Critters!

Although summer officially begins June 20th, we have had a few days in the 100s and mostly the 90s since the last week of May. Most of the migratory birds have arrived and many have already nested and fledged their young. The bears and other wildlife are very active. There is an abundance of green vegetation and insects galore. We have had some clouds and brief rain showers the last couple days, which made for the nice sunset in my header photo.

The photo below is of a feature in South Fork Canyon known as the skull eyes.


Skull Eyes, South Fork Canyon


View higher resolution photos on Flickr – Birds, Bugs and Other Critters!

Cave Creek Ranch is just a couple blocks down the road from the Visitor Center. This is a great place to stay to experience Cave Creek Canyon here in Portal, AZ. They are also a wildlife sanctuary and guests are very likely to see a variety of animals. In addition there is a bird feeding area with many types of feeders. I like to walk over there every few days to see what’s there. A Striped Skunk that has been making regular appearances as well as a Rock Squirrel, which is a very large ground squirrel.


Striped Skunk


Rock Squirrel

There is a tiny Cliff Chipmunk that lives where I am camped and he scampers all around eating acorns that the Mexican Jays knock to the ground. He is so cute!


Cliff Chipmunk

A pair of Painted Redstarts, a species of warbler, had a nest along South Fork Road. They hatched three or four eggs. The babies have all fledged now and left the nesting area. The adults are very colorful and fun to watch. Both parents are active in raising the babies.


Painted Redstart adult


Painted Redstart feeding young

It is very buggy here! There are lots of spiders, crickets, flying insects and so forth, providing plenty of food for the insect-eating birds. The last few days I have been seeing adult and baby Arizona Tan Praying Mantis around camp.


Arizona Tan Praying Mantis

Have you heard of a Vinegaroon before? I had not until a few days ago. It is so named because when it is disturbed, it sprays acetic acid – vinegar! Someone pointed this one out to me. He held an object close to it so it would spray. It does smell exactly like vinegar. They are also known as whip scorpions.


Tohono Vinegaroon

Back to the birds –  I saw this nice pair of Arizona Woodpeckers on South Fork Road. They are both males and I think the one is a juvenile, as its red patch on the head doesn’t seem to have grown in completely. The females don’t have red on the head. They were feeding together and also playing chase around the tree which was fun to watch. Maybe father and son?


Arizona Woodpecker, male


Arizona Woodpecker, two males, perhaps an adult and a juvenile


A cute ball of feathers!

The Acorn Woodpeckers are very numerous and they love to visit nectar feeders. I was sitting outside and watching this one as he was deciding whether or not to jump over to the feeder I have out. He did of course!


Acorn Woodpecker


Now to the big event of the year thus far! A very rare bird, an Eared Quetzal, arrived here in Cave Creek Canyon around June 1st. He was staying along the Middle Fork of Cave Creek, about five miles up the canyon. This species is a resident of the mountain ranges of Mexico. On very rare occasions, an individual will wander up into southeast Arizona. About a week after it was first seen, its presence became public knowledge, and birders began to arrive from around Arizona as well as other states. From what I have read, this is only the 26th record of this species in AZ. The last time it was seen in the Chiricahua Mountains was in 2005. So I am ecstatic to be here right now! The American Birding Association has stated it is an early favorite for rare bird of the year. The species is known to wander around a very large territory. On Tuesday, June 9, when I heard the news, I went to the area. Happily I did see the bird that afternoon, although always obstructed by branches, so no photos. At 5am Wednesday, I arrived back to the area hoping for a better sighting and some photos. But it had mysteriously disappeared and wasn’t seen for the next three days, to the dismay of many who had traveled here hoping to see it. I was very glad for my sighting on Tuesday. Then, on Saturday it returned back to Cave Creek. So the rush was on again! I went up as soon as I heard the news. It hung around in one area for about an hour and a half with many good views – very exciting! It is so rare in the US that this will likely be my one and only lifetime sighting. The Eared Quetzal is in the same family as the Elegant Trogon that nests here. But the Quetzal, at 14 inches, is about two inches longer than the Elegant Trogon. It is noticeably larger. This one is judged to be a first year male by those who are knowledgeable. This is indicated by the incomplete molting to adult plumage around the neck and breast, which in an adult is green. The are named Eared because of the very fine feathers that extend out from the sides of the head. If you look closely, you can see them in the photos.


A beautiful Eared Quetzal!


The mixture of gray and green plumage on the neck/breast indicates a first year male


Lovely iridescent feathers on the back

The bird was seen on Sunday morning, then it apparently decided to fly over to the west slope of the mountains to Pinery Canyon where it spent part of the day, then flew back over here!  So it if it does stay in Arizona awhile, it may wander around a good bit; which will be the cause of great consternation for those who are trying to get a sighting!

I will close with this portrait of the Cliff Chipmunk, which is my favorite of the photos I have taken of him.


Cliff Chipmunk

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