The Cochise County of Arizona is a bird watcher’s dream. Located in the southeastern section of Arizona, it has a great mix of national parks, Forest Service property, state parks, Arizona Game and Fish property, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) holdings and the famous Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon property.
We discovered that we were too early to catch the hummingbird and migrant show at Ramsey Canyon so we started birding this county in Sierra Vista at the Sand Pedro Riparian National Conservation area. This incredible property extends along the San Pedro River from the Mexican border up to the town of Benson. You can’t miss the area as you drive into town where desert scrub predominates. Your eye is drawn to a long green belt which extends as far as the eye can see. This band announces the lush habitat along the San Pedro River which is an invaluable area for wildlife and provides a natural corridor for birds to move north and south during migration. We found our first migrating warblers along the river on a walk which started at the San Pedro House.
Unfortunately there was no decent RV park in Sierra Vista so we continued east to the town of Bisbee, Ariz. We had heard from other RVers we met in Ramsey Canyon that Queen Mine RV park was a good facility, so off we went. We should have called first as Queen Mine RV park was full but Nancy, the manager, suggested the Turquoise Valley Golf and RV park. We discovered the golf course manager was looking to add other activities to the club’s roster and we volunteered to check out the birding on the golf course and report back. If it was good, we suggested that a local birder could lead walks. Early the next day we hit the links, not with clubs, but binoculars. We found the birding to be good and certainly diverse enough to offer bird walks.
The next couple of mornings we visited and birded the Whitewater Wash (which is what both Flip and I thought should happen to Congress) a huge tract of land owned and managed by Arizona Game and Fish. Here we watched many vermilion flycatchers, western and Cassin’s kingbirds and large flocks of lark buntings which had just arrived from points south. It turns out that we were being watched as well. A pair of great horned owls peered out of an open shed near the trail head. Flip was able to take several photos of the leery owls while I signed in.
We moved into the town of Bisbee when a space became available at Queen Mine and decided to check out Café Roca, a restaurant which had been recommended by a birding couple at San Pedro House. We called ahead this time and found reservations were only available early and late. We chose the early, settled in and were attended to by a waiter. During the course of the evening we started chatting with the waiter and he asked where we were from. “Martha’s Vineyard,” we said. “Wow,” said the waiter. “There is a waitress here from Martha’s Vineyard.” The woman was Gretchen Baer and I knew her name and her mother’s work and that her brother Jonathan (Johnny) had been the UPS driver on the Vineyard for years. As we left I introduced myself and Gretchen knew of the Whitings, especially Allen. Gretchen is an artist and shows her work in Bisbee. We were able to enjoy her bold and colorful show which was being held at the local convention center. We returned to Café Roka for a second fabulous meal and asked for Gretchen to be our waitress. It was a busy night and she suggested we call and stop by her studio (appointment only). We had already made plans to go to Katchner Caves so it wasn’t to happen this time around. Gretchen shared her blog address: paintressgretchen.blogspot.com and mentioned that her brother also lived in town. Department of small world! Who would have thought we would find a couple of transplanted Vineyarders in Bisbee, Ariz.
Rob Culbert is leading his Saturday bird walks again and on April 5 the group went to Sarson’s Island and the Farm Institute. Rob counted 40 double-crested cormorants settling in to nest on Sarson’s Island and found many Island breeding birds singing at the Farm Institute.
Rob Bierregaard reports that the two Vineyard ospreys that are fitted with tracking devices are headed home. Snowy is in Cuba and Belle is in Haiti. In the meantime many other ospreys are still arriving on the Island daily. Nat Woodruff reports that the ospreys are back on the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital nest as of April 6. Stephanie Mashek emails that the pair of ospreys are not only back at Harthaven but they are mating. Constance Alexander reports that the osprey pair arrived at Chip Chop on Tashmoo, but no birds have returned to the West nest at Tashmoo as of April 7. Constance also added that there are pairs of piping plovers and American oystercatchers on the Tashmoo flats. Dick Jennings, who is Rob Bierregaard’s right hand man for ospreys on the Vineyard, had the following reaction to the lack of ospreys on the West nest at Tashmoo: “In May of last year the female was sitting on eggs, but by late June the nest was abandoned. The female in that nest was banded as a fledgling in 1996 in the Westport River area which would have made her 16 years old last year. Vineyard ospreys average life expectancy is roughly 18 to 20 years, so she should still be with us. We have no data to determine the male’s age, but he should be still claiming his nest site. That pair has been very productive over the years.”
On April 7 Lanny McDowell photographed a late-staying snow bunting at Katama and the following day took a shot of a killdeer also at Katama. Sarah Mayhew sent in a photo of a purple finch she took at her feeder on the Panhandle in West Tisbury on April 7.
On April 8 Matt Pelikan heard eastern phoebe and pine warblers singing by the Wakeman Center on Lambert’s Cove. Penny Uhlendorf and Lanny McDowell heard the same species around their Tashmoo homes the same day. Penny also heard eastern bluebird chatter and brown creepers singing. On the other end of the Island, Jeff Bernier photographed an eastern phoebe at Katama.
Ken Magnuson sent a fantastic photo of two American oystercatchers in flight that he photographed at Katama on April 8. Suzie Bowman was taking a group around Felix Neck and at the turtle pond she was showing people the wood duck box when who should appear out of the hole but a screech owl! A great treat for many and lifers for a few.
Albion Alley spotted a pair of wood ducks in a pond on Lambert’s Cove Road on April 9. Albion mentioned that it had been quite a while since he had seen wood ducks. Albion also was tickled to see a large covey of quail at Abel’s Hill that had made it through the winter!
Allan Keith has been busy working on a book so has been glued to his computer. He was at Gay Head on April 9 and was amazed at the number of razorbills offshore. He counted over 200. Allan noted that these are probably the razorbills that were being seen as far south as Florida this winter returning north. Allan spotted one common murre in the group of razorbills and mentioned there were a couple of thousand common eiders off the Gay Head Cliffs as well. This is more eiders than have been seen off the Cliffs all winter. Allan saw two golden-crowned kinglets at Gay Head that he thought might be migrants. Back at his home at Turtle Brook he still has six ring-necked duck, two pair of green-winged and two pair of blue-winged teal in his pond.
Finally I owe John Nelson an apology. He saw the first American oystercatcher of the season on March 10.