OR "Was Mexican Jay really a lifer today???
Took my first trip to Madera Canyon today with Danny. We left before the sun rose and headed south on I-19 arriving at the canyon around 7:30 am. It was pretty chilly – a 3 or 4 layer morning – as we drove up Whitehouse Road into the park. We stopped at the Ampitheater Nature Trail and started up the trail. This trail reminded me of hiking the Appalachian Trail in PA with the running stream and the oaks’ leaves changing color. A regular fall day complete with brown leaves with which to shuffle under your feet! At first, it seemed unusually quiet for that time of the day, but we soon were surrounded by several chattering birds. It took a few minutes to find them and then a few more to positively identify them as Mexican Jays*. First birds, first lifers of the day! We took a long time to look at them and really make sure that was what we saw.
We headed back to the car and drove up the road to a picnic area where we saw a few more Mexican Jays. We then drove into the Bogs Spring campground area and followed a trail that went up the side of the mountain. We walked a short way when we spotted what I thought at first was a Towhee, but ended up to be a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. We also saw some jays along this trail. At this point the sun was starting to come up over the mountain giving us a fabulous view of the mountains and valleys, but the birds were still really quiet. We hiked up the trail a bit more following the streambed and found a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a red-shafted Northern Flicker, and more Mexican Jays. Not really seeing much on that trail, we headed back down and drove to a sunny spot near one of the gift shops. The place had several feeders and there was lots of activity, so we decided to do a little feeder-watching. Here we saw about a dozen Mexican Jays (are you getting the idea that this was the most frequent bird of the day?), but we also saw lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bridled Titmouse, and more Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The woodpeckers were somewhat aggressive with each other - lots of squawking and bickering going on around the feeders. This was the best birding of the day so far and we stayed for a long while drinking the hot apple cider that Danny brought along. We both got some pretty good pictures of the jays and the woodpeckers.
We finally pulled ourselves away from the activity of the feeders to walk up the hill a bit to the other gift shop and feeders. Along the way we encountered a Brown Creeper and a Red-naped Sapsucker working different sides of the same oak tree. As I was looking at these two, a Painted Redstart* burst into my binoculars and then flew off before I could get the directions out to Danny. We eventually gave up looking for it and started back up the hill where we stopped at the second gift shop. Upon exiting, we saw the redstart once more. This time he stuck around and let us look at him. He even ducked under the little bridge and took a bath so that we could watch him preen in the tree. There were also several Acorn Woodpeckers at this site. As we turned to leave, we heard a sound that Danny ID’d as a hummingbird and sure enough, there was a hummer at the feeder. He also sat in the tree and let us get a really good look at him. A truly Magnificent Hummingbird* was he!
We left Madera Canyon after lunch as it was getting really warm and a bit buggy as well. On the way back home, we went to Sweetwater Wetlands off of Prince Road. This sewage treatment plant is tucked away behind the Interstate and is well worth the trip! There are several ponds with a wide variety of bird life. Here we saw (in no particular order) Common Moorhen, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Gambel’s Quail, Northern Harrier, Harris’s Hawk*, Sora (heard only), Mourning Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, and Great-tailed Grackle. We had the Harris’s Hawk in the scope for a while as he was quite cooperative in giving us good views of all his best sides. I definitely will need to come back here! That’s 4 lifers today plus the 5 from yesterday make 9 lifers this weekend- pretty amazing!