Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Colossal Cave Mountain Park 8-29-2010

On Sunday morning, 12 adventurous souls braved the unknown and joined me on a birding trip to a relatively underbirded Tucson birding destination. The park contains much more than just the cave, including a great stretch of riparian habitat complete with large cottonwoods and a pond.
Staking out the elusive Yellow Playground Horsey

Birding was quite fantastic this morning -- we racked up 53 species by the time things quieted down around 11am. We were greeted by a calling Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet right when we got out of the cars, and he serenaded us for the next half hour as we walked down the dry wash area downhill from the parking lot.

There are currently large numbers of buntings in the grassy areas along the wash, and we got good looks at a nice male Varied Bunting as well as passable looks at a good number of Lazuli. No Indigo Buntings, though I did have one the day before while scouting. There was an overnight push of birds into the area -- on Saturday I had one Bullock's Oriole and one Nashville Warbler, while today they were the stars of the show! We tallied 35 Bullock's Orioles (17 in one tree) -- plus two Hooded -- and over 30 Nashville's.

The scrubby areas of the wash/riparian area were where all of the action was. We spent 20 minutes in one spot and added almost 20 species to the list. Among them were Black-headed Grosbeak, Summer Tanager female, Western Tanager, Purple Martin, Ash-throated and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Abert's and Canyon Towhees, etc.

Three very vocal Zone-tailed Hawks soared overhead for virtually the entire time -- they actually outnumbered the vultures this morning. We saw a quick flyby of an adult Gray Hawk early on, but were eventually rewarded with prolonged scope views of a winey juvenile.

A highlight for everyone were the Vermilion Flycatchers -- three different males gave great looks. Rufous-winged Sparrows and Blue Grosbeaks sang from various locations. A Warbling Vireo was our last score of the day.

For anyone who hasn't birded Colossal Cave park yet, I encourage you to do so. It's a location that's easily accessible and close to town, but is very underbirded. Increased birder presence here is bound to turn up something great. If you go, it's best to park at the cowboy statue (ask at the entrance) and bird down the wash (through the Arizona Trail gate), then come back up to the parking lot and go up along the road and the Equestrian Trail, which parallels the riparian zone above the small pond. The trail below the pond continues along good habitat, as well.

Thanks to all who participated in the walk this morning. What a great group!

-Matt! Brooks

*addendum -- One of the participants (Don Morgan) had this to add:
Hi matt, thought I would give you an update on Colossal Cave birding after you and the group left. Along with Nancy Rivera, I stayed til almost 5 PM, mostly retracing the trails you followed. Nothing spectacular, but we did get a few good looks. We went through the gate again, and down into the wash and surrounding areas. we saw lots of Rufous-winged Sparrows there, but no Buntings. The highlight, however, was the immature Gray Hawk, who suddenly appeared right over our heads. He was only 100 or so feet high, and circled over us for a minute or 2. Best look at 1 I've ever had. On the other side, past the pond we had good looks at alot of the birds we had seen earlier, including a Varied Bunting male and the Gray Hawk, sitting in his tree again. I had an Indigo bunting, which I had not seen earlier. Last bird of the day was gorgeous male Western Tanager, by the pond. We had to sit out a thunder storm, but it didn't amount to anything there. However back at the parking lot there was a roar, and on investigation, the dry wash was 6 feet deep! First time I have ever seen one come up like that.

I went back Tuesday AM, hoping for a shot at the tyrannulets, but not a sound or sight of 1. I had a great time though, watching 4 Zone-tailed Hawks trying to fly in formation. They kept me occupied for at least an hour, and I got enough good looks to have a better handle on ID ing them at a distance. I also saw a falcon, which I'm sure was a Perigrine, flying out beyond the ZT Hawks. Too far for field marks, but definitely a falcon, and based on the way it flew, I believe Peregrine, not Prairie. No sign of a Gray Hawk, and no buntings either. I only saw 2 Nashvilles, so I think you managed to pick a great migration day. I couldn't find the other trail you mentioned, and it got hot around noon, so I left.

Great spot, Matt, thanks for leading the walk. If I get back to the area, it will be on my visit list.

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