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Strike Two

Updated on August 29, 2017

Second Installment of Mishap in Florida Canyon

Some time back, I wrote about various misadventures I had had. One of them involved the time I was stranded in Florida Canyon, without access to a cell phone signal. My car broke! (My car doesn't like mountains, but I like my car anyway). Well, I learned something. Not enough yet, but I'm getting there.

(Just a recap. I first went to Florida Canyon to find this beautiful warbler, and simply couldn't hike past the water tank. Altogether I saw only two birds, and couldn't identify either of them. When I got back to my car, it wouldn't work. I don't remember exactly what it was doing. I hitched a ride back to Green Valley with some other birders, because there was no cell phone coverage there, and then called my husband, who came and got me and took me back to my car. I had blown a fuse. The air conditioner had frozen, and if I had it turned on, and tried to operate the electric window, I'd blow a fuse. My husband quickly figured out the problem, and replaced the fuse, and I started the car, but then decided to test it by turning on the air conditioner and rolling down the window, and blew another fuse. Lesson learned: if it broke, don't try to do the same thing until you get back to civilization! So he cannibalized another fuse and ordered me to drive straight to the mechanic, and followed me in.)

One thing people start doing when they have a fairly lengthy list of the birds they have seen in the wild in their lifetime (life list) is target birding. This is when you go to a certain location for the express purpose of finding a specific species, or several of them. I tend to target-bird for the species that are photogenic, because my main interest is in photographing the birds, not just seeing them. I will look for other birds, but when a bird is this pretty, I work much harder to find it.

My target species for this trip (which I took yesterday for the second time) is the Rufous-capped Warbler. That's a photo of this gorgeous bird on the upper left. Licensed under Creative Commons Share alike 2.0 by dominic sherony.

The Rufous-capped Warbler is an elusive bird. There is only one location in Arizona where one might find it. Florida Canyon is near Madera Canyon, which is a much more famous canyon. This particular bird likes to hang out above a small stone dam about a half mile from the parking lot. The parking lot is next to the Florida Canyon Workstation. I don't know what they do there, but we're not allowed inside. The hike is one of the more strenuous ones I normally undertake. There are two trails. One leads to a tall rock I am told is difficult to climb. The other is considered "treacherous". I have some hopes the bird will become easier to find, because it really looks like they have had at least one breeding pair. There were 7 found up there recently.

You may recall (if you read my earlier article) that the first time I went to Florida Canyon, I never made it up even to the bottom of the dam, because the trail at that time was nonexistent, and it was a sheer drop to the creek bed, enough to be worrisome, with loose dirt and stones. However, I recently learned that enough people have been up there that there is now a real trail. This proved to be correct.

You may also recall that after seeing only two birds, neither of which I was able to identify, I went back to my car, only to find that it was inoperable. I don't remember exactly what was wrong with it, but I certainly wasn't going anywhere. As it turned out, my air conditioner had frozen, and attempting to operate both the air conditioner and the window would blow a fuse. I hitched a ride back to Green Valley with some other birders so I could call my husband to come get me.

Important lesson for my car:

YOU WILL LEARN TO LIKE MOUNTAINS!

This time, learning the lessons of the past, I paid attention to the possibility I might be able to get cell phone coverage near the parking lot. Perhaps a quarter mile down the road, you can clearly see a cell phone tower. On my way, I tested it with a phone call, and got coverage. So I knew if I got stranded, I could call without having to ride 15 miles back to Green Valley. I also paid more attention to signs so I could give better directions. Lessons learned!

All other photos are mine.

Continuing the saga...

My new adventure

I slept a few hours in the evening, was awake for several, and then went back to bed to complete my night's sleep. It happened to work out that way, and this meant I could get an earlier start. I think I left home a little after 10. The clouds were beautiful! I took pictures along the way, because there were some pretty mountains as well. And I saw that the Santa Rita Mountains had a light dusting of snow. That was probably from the night before. Luckily, I took my thick jacket, because I would need it.

I walked a short distance and then noticed I had forgotten to take my cell phone with me. I really need to tie it to my finger because I do that more often than I'd like (I forgot again today). I figured I wouldn't get a signal, but I could see what time it is. So back to the car I went. By now, I was getting my second wind. Just a short distance later, I saw someone observing a bird with binoculars, so I asked him what he was looking at. He had a Black-throated Grey Warbler. I got a couple of passable pictures of that. It was a life bird for me. Now I know why I forgot my cell phone. I wouldn't have met him at that spot if I hadn't. Thank you, God!

On the way, I met a number of birders who told me they hadn't seen the Rufous-capped Warbler. I think they had the same idea I did, because it is the only day this week we were scheduled to have more sun than clouds, and I figured with all the trees, I'd need all the light I could get. Eventually I met one man who advised me to take the right trail to the rock, because the left trail is "treacherous". I thought since I had been cautioned about maybe not being able to climb the rock, I should investigate the left trail. I know a couple of things about myself, because of prior experiences. I had gone up the Carrie Nation Trail awhile back, and got to the big sycamore where the Elegant Trogon allegedly had a nest. In order to get up to the place where I might be able to see the nest more or less, I had to climb a fairly steep path, and I ended up crawling on hands and knees, and on the way down, I shinnied on the nether side. While I was up there, I got the photo of the Arizona Sister I showed you recently (and will show you again).

So I went along the "treacherous" path, and saw that the treacherous part was that there was a steep place in the path which consists of loose dirt (fortunately, no rocks or stones). So I proceeded to get on hands and knees, and I climbed up. It took awhile, and lots of energy, but it was no real problem.

However, I learned something new about this kind of behavior. Knees are not intended for walking. Feet are. My knees are still a little sore today. (Penitents take note. You don't have to hurt yourself to earn God's favor, by walking long distances on your knees. Jesus already took the pain for you. Just trust Him. End of public service announcement.)

Hey, I WAS wearing heavy jeans. I shouldn't have had any problems with my knees.

I had to do that once more, and there was a short place where I had to sit down and lower myself a couple of times. But I got to the top of the dam. Just as I finished crawling up the second steep part, the birder there offered to help me. I thanked him for his kind offer, but at that point, I didn't need it. He hadn't seen the Warbler, either. He'd walked down the creek a ways looking for it. He left shortly thereafter. I had decided the thing to do was wait quietly by the bushes I know the Warblers like, because I see the bushes in people's photographs. So I set up my handy light-weight camp stool, and waited. And waited, and waited. The only bird I saw up there was the Red-tailed Hawk I'll show you, plus two other birds briefly in the distance, neither of which looked anything like a warbler.

Two other people came down, and they hadn't seen any warblers, either.

So I sat and sat. No warblers.

I decided that when the sun got near the horizon, I'd have to go down, while I had enough light to see well, so after two hours, I packed up and slithered down the path a couple of times. I had to be careful because there were some prickly pears nearby and I didn't want to get impaled. I didn't. But that made the path narrow in places.

The Clouds Were Gorgeous - with a light dusting of snow on the mountains

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some lenticular clouds over the Catalina Mountains.Santa Rita Mountains. Look closely for snow in the crevices.Closer. The vegetation is obscuring the mountains, unfortunately.Near Florida Canyon.In the canyon.Later. The Santa Rita Mountains in the distance. The peak is Mount Baldy.
Some lenticular clouds over the Catalina Mountains.
Some lenticular clouds over the Catalina Mountains.
Santa Rita Mountains. Look closely for snow in the crevices.
Santa Rita Mountains. Look closely for snow in the crevices.
Closer. The vegetation is obscuring the mountains, unfortunately.
Closer. The vegetation is obscuring the mountains, unfortunately.
Near Florida Canyon.
Near Florida Canyon.
In the canyon.
In the canyon.
Later. The Santa Rita Mountains in the distance. The peak is Mount Baldy.
Later. The Santa Rita Mountains in the distance. The peak is Mount Baldy.

When Life Hands You Lemons

make lemonade

I didn't get my bird. But I got beautiful scenery pictures, some other birds, a peaceful day, and some good exercise.

Some of the Birds I Saw

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Female American Robin. Near the water tank.Black-throated Gray Warbler. A life bird. It didn't stick around very long.Side view. I like this one better.Red-tailed Hawk. Way far above the top of the canyon wall, and then some. Not close.Canyon Towhee. Found in the canyon, natch!Northern Cardinal. On the other side of the ravine.Canyon Towhee again. There were apparently several. The place was quite birdy.
Female American Robin. Near the water tank.
Female American Robin. Near the water tank.
Black-throated Gray Warbler. A life bird. It didn't stick around very long.
Black-throated Gray Warbler. A life bird. It didn't stick around very long.
Side view. I like this one better.
Side view. I like this one better.
Red-tailed Hawk. Way far above the top of the canyon wall, and then some. Not close.
Red-tailed Hawk. Way far above the top of the canyon wall, and then some. Not close.
Canyon Towhee. Found in the canyon, natch!
Canyon Towhee. Found in the canyon, natch!
Northern Cardinal. On the other side of the ravine.
Northern Cardinal. On the other side of the ravine.
Canyon Towhee again. There were apparently several. The place was quite birdy.
Canyon Towhee again. There were apparently several. The place was quite birdy.

Warblers

Do you like warblers?

A Few Other Things I Saw

Still making lemonade...

When I get to the top of any dam, I have to stop and take pictures. There was just a little bit of water flowing over the top, enough to make a gurgling sound. When I was away from directly above the dam, I would hear an occasional peep that could have been a bird. Brook sounds are very soothing.

On my way back down, I noticed some other things. The thing that grabbed my attention the most was a horehound plant (Marrubium vulgare). Horehound is a medicinal herb. I left it where it was, but now I know that in winter, if I need some, I know where to find it.

The end of the day brought a nice sunset.

Afterwards, I went to a restaurant in Green Valley and had some very nice trout with wonderful vegetables and a variety of salad greens.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rough tree bark always fascinates me. The artist in me loves textures.The little dam. About a third of its width.Neat green stuff growing on the wet side.Horehound.A famous Arizona sunset; perfect end to a wonderful day.
Rough tree bark always fascinates me. The artist in me loves textures.
Rough tree bark always fascinates me. The artist in me loves textures.
The little dam. About a third of its width.
The little dam. About a third of its width.
Neat green stuff growing on the wet side.
Neat green stuff growing on the wet side.
Horehound.
Horehound.
A famous Arizona sunset; perfect end to a wonderful day.
A famous Arizona sunset; perfect end to a wonderful day.

Strike Three

So they said the daytime high was going to be 90 degrees on Saturday, and I thought I'd try again, but I didn't feel up to it. So I went on Sunday instead. We have been stealing everyone else's global warming, and we haven't had any real rain since November. Doesn't bode well for spring flowers, although we are already getting some, especially in botanical gardens and along the medians of highways.

As it happened, I never saw any Warblers on this occasion, either.

Will I try again? Yep! I'll keep trying until I get them.

Next day I talked to a couple who had seen them. They saw them at 4:30 in the afternoon. That's just exactly what time I had left.

While waiting, I amused myself by taking photos of a house fly with my telephoto lens. I present that below. On the way back out, I got my best pictures ever of a Spotted Towhee. Nice consolation prize. I was also looking for the young Trogon, but didn't see him either.

I hereby declare that Rufous-capped Warbler is my new nemesis bird. A birder's nemesis bird is a bird that he or she has tried repeatedly to find, without success.

What I Did See

Click thumbnail to view full-size
House fly. A cooperative little fellow.Spotted Towhee. You might say this was my LAST nemesis bird. They're beautiful!
House fly. A cooperative little fellow.
House fly. A cooperative little fellow.
Spotted Towhee. You might say this was my LAST nemesis bird. They're beautiful!
Spotted Towhee. You might say this was my LAST nemesis bird. They're beautiful!

Most Important Lesson for a Birder

A birdwatcher can learn an important lesson from my experience. When someone tells you there is an interesting bird, go look for it BEFORE the weather changes!

I didn't learn that the trail had much improved until it got much colder and cloudy, threatening rain. I am guessing that the warblers simply didn't like the weather, so they left for parts unknown. I assume they'll be back when the weather warms up a bit. They were last year. I will wait a month and watch for reports that they have been seen. Then I will go right away.

Some birds only stay a day. They're called One Day Wonders. I try to go see them within 24 hours, and I have had occasion to go see one, and I made it before he left. Other birds are migrating and may stay a few days. Others will stay for weeks, and some over-winter.

It pays to study the behavior and migration patterns of the birds that interest you. Birds go with the seasons. Pay attention. Learn.

And that's the thought with which I leave you.

Good birding!

Read about Warblers

Available at Amazon

Since this trip was about warblers, I thought you might like to learn about them, too. I ordered two of these books for myself.

The Warbler Guide

by Tom Stephenson, Scott Whittle

A Field Guide to Warblers of North America (Peterson Field Guides)

by Kimball Garrett, Jon Dunn

Stokes Field Guide to Warblers

by Donald Stokes, Lillian Stokes

Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide

by David Beadle, Jon Curson, David Quinn

Comments - A place for actions and reactions...what do you think?

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    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      Such serendipity when you get to see a one day wonder.

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 3 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      Thanks for sharing your tips. Birding is something I have considered and this helps.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 3 years ago

      Great story.