Winter has come to Madera Canyon. Winter in this Sky Island begins when the cold moisture laden air settles into the Santa Cruz River Valley and rolls up canyon as the day slowly begins to warm up. I saw this last week from the patio of my neighbor that lived up on Hummingbird Hill. The crest of the Santa Rita Mountains were covered with fresh snow and Mt. Wrightson looked like a frozen monolith of rock. It had to be windy and bitterly cold on the summit. Paul Neff has a wonderful view from his house at the top of Susie Lode Lane. As Nancy and I looked down canyon the clouds were moving up canyon at a steady uneven pace. The scene reminded me of being in a cloud forest at Monte Verde or along the Los Quetzal's trail in the mountains of Panama. The mist washed over us and you began to see the view shrink before your eyes, You could make out the shape of the ridge across the street and the silhouette of the trees. I zipped up my jacket, rounded up Blue & Taz, and we took a hike along the Nature Trail. It was a beautiful winter day and my mind wandered to exotic places as I walked through the clouds.
We have had three moisture laden cold fronts come through southern Arizona over the past few weeks. These late in the year rains are what fuels the explosion of spring flowers in this part of the Sonoron Desert. Last Spring the Canyon was home to eleven species of Morning Glory. We've already had a low of 15 degrees, so there aren't many flowers blooming this time of year. There is still snow at the 6000' and once the sun goes down it gets cold quick. Our main water line froze and broke, yesterday. That's how cold it's been! My neighbor, Tim, hiked up the Old Baldy Trail today and repaired the broken water line. He is a "snowbird" from Talkeetna, Alaska. On a cold day he walks around in a sweatshirt and wonders out loud why we are such wimps. My neighbor is a good guy to have around...ahh, part of the year.
HOW IS THE WINTER BIRDING?
People often ask me if the birding is good in the winter. I usually liken it to a shift change. Some migrants leave for the winter and others come to stay. The resident birds, like Painted Redstart, Bridled Titmouse, Arizona Woodpecker, and Magnificent Hummingbird are here year around. For the past several winters Madera has had a male Elegant Trogon roaming through the lower canyon. What a treat! Does it get any better than this? Well, yes it does. Yesterday, the "Birdwire" BIRDWG05@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU subject line in an email screamed: SEAZ: Florida Wash--Rufous-capped Warbler
Arizona Field Ornithologists (AZFO) confirmed that Rufous-capped Warbler is indeed a very rare bird. Florida Canyon is a only 20 minute drive from the Chuparosa. Local birder, Jan Wilson, discovered the bird on December 6, 2011, while hiking the trail up from the Florida Work Center, a research station operated by the University of Arizona. Local birding guide, Laurens Halsey, photographed the bird today. You can see his excellent photo and hear the bird at http://www.azfo.org (click on "Photo Documentation" and "sound library" ). Historically, AZFO reports that there are 19 previous records for Rufous-capped Warbler. Most of those sightings were related to nesting attempts. Multiple birds were present at Florida Canyon from 19 December 2008 to 14 January 2010. A nest was found and photographed on 18 May 2008. The other recent record is of one to two individuals at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve from 4 June to 28 October 2009 which also included reports of nest building.
Did you know that my favorite breakfast on a cold winter morning this year is "Eggs Robles?" I first had this dish in a Santa Fe restaurant where the chef was a man named -- you guessed it, Robles. That vato can make a mean breakfast: 2 tamales, topped w/ 2 eggs over easy, and smothered with green chili enchilada sauce...mmmmgood! You mention this blog when you make your reservation and I might make this special breakfast for you.
I'll be keeping my eye out for a Rufous-backed Robin. A birder this week reported seeing two of them while hiking the Bog Springs Trail. Come on out for some winter birding and see what you can find.