Thursday, September 22, 2011

SE Arizona - Day 1 and 2

Due to work commitments, we were forced to take our fall vacation in late September. In past years, it would have been a no brainer to plan a trip to Yellowstone, but the past few fall seasons there haven't been great. So, instead we decided to head back to SE Arizona. We had unfinished business there from our trip 18 months ago that was somewhat interrupted by weather.

So, after an uneventful flight to Phoenix and a surprisingly nice experience with Enterprise Rent-a-Car, we climbed into our Ford Escape and took off south hoping for lower temperatures and lots of critters. As we approached Tucson we could see some dramatic lightning in the distance. But, as we got even closer our "oohs and aahs" quickly turned into "holy craps" and worse as we realized that we were going to be driving into a black wall of rain and hail. The temperature had gone from 98 degrees to 66 degrees in an instant and even though we slowed down to 5-10 MPH, we could barely see the road. We passed dozens of cars that had just given up and pulled off the freeway onto the shoulder or took an exit off the freeway entirely. While it seemed longer, the white-knuckled zero visibility conditions probably just lasted a minute or two and then we were through it. We continued to pass more cars pulled off the freeway and we could see lots of underpasses were flooded so it was a good thing that we didn't exit the freeway. Luckily, that was the extent of the bad weather for the rest of the trip. Looking back, it would have been fitting to have Pink Floyd on the radio singing an Arizona inspired altered version of "Welcome to The Monsoon".

Our first destination was Madera Canyon for two nights which is primarily noted for birding but we were planning to do some "mammaling" and "herping" as well. After settling in our cabin at the Santa Rita Lodge which we nicknamed "slanty" due to the pretty dramatic slope of the floor, we unpacked, grabbed the camera gear, and took off to look for critters. The Santa Rita Lodge has lots of feeders up so we didn't have to go very far before seeing life and not all of it feathered.

Acorn Woodpecker Acorn:
Acorn Woodpecker

Lesser Goldfinch:
Lesser Goldfinch

Bordered Patch:
Bordered Patch

Juvenile Rock Squirrel:
Juvenile Rock Squirrel

One thing we didn't do during our last Arizona trip was take night walks so we quickly remedied that our first night by walking the roads. Unfortunately, besides this spider, we came up empty on the walk.


However, we hit the goldmine back at the cabin because a grouping of hummingbird feeders was left out all night and the bats quickly took advantage of this. They darted in and out so quickly in real time that I doubted I would be able to get a decent picture but after a few adjustments I was able to get good enough shots to identify these bats as Lesser Long-nosed bats.

Lesser Long-nosed Bat

Lesser Long-nosed Bat

We didn't get a great night's sleep the first night because we had some sort of critters rustling around on our cabin. We got up numerous times with flashlights in hand trying to find them, secretly hoping that it might be a Ringtail, but we never saw a thing. In the light of day we did see a rather large poop on the roof so who knows what was up there.

Our goal this morning was to look for an Elegant Trogon so we headed out early and up the trail where they are known to hang out. Unfortunately, we never saw nor heard a Trogon and the most prevalent critter was the mosquito. But, we did manage to find a few more welcomed critters as well

Clark's and Yarrow's Spiny Lizards:
A Pair of Spiny Lizards (Clark's and Yarrow's)

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard:
Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

Pleasing Fungus Beetles having a 'Shroom:
Beetle Feeding Frenzy - Pleasing Fungus Beetle

We didn't make it to the top of the canyon because the skeeters were just too ferocious and we didn't pack decent bug spray. But, the view from about 3/4 of the way up was pretty nice:

View from Madera Canyon

After sort of striking out deep in the canyon, we decided to head to the mouth of the canyon next hoping that we would see more pretty critters and less bitey ones. Unfortunately, our luck wasn't much better, but the area was pretty.

Proctor Road, Madera Canyon

We rested a bit in the afternoon by taking a drive along the roads leading to the canyon and stopping by the Proctor Rd area again. This yielded some good pictures.

Wild Turkey:
Wild Turkey

Black Bear (We have now seen bears 6 years in a row during our various trips):
Black Bear

Monarch Butterfly:
Monarch Butterfly

Coyote in the Cactus:
Coyote in the Cactus

Another Cool Praying Mantis:
Praying Mantis

Instead of a night walk tonight, we decided to do a night drive after getting a tip that snakes like to warm up on the roads after dusk. So, we drove up to the top of the canyon and then back out almost to Green Valley. This turned out to be a great choice since it yielded some interesting animals and our first sightings of rattlesnakes in the wild.

Our first Rattler, a juvenile Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake:
Juvenile Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

A few hundred yards further down the road was this large Rattler:
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

We also had this creepy spider outside our cabin:
Creepy Spider Part 2

All in all, it was a great first couple of days for us.

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