On the weekend of June 2-3rd I took part in my first ever bird survey with the Tucson Audubon Society. Our survey was for the annual count of Elegant Trogans located in the Cave Creek area of the Chiricahua mountains in southeastern AZ. Other surveys for Elegant Trogans were also taking place in the Huachuca’s, Madera Canyon, and Patagonia Lake.
I headed to the Huachuca’s solo and opted to take the scenic route over FS road 42 via Pinery Canyon, over Onion pass and down to Cave Creek. The views of the Dragoons, Dos Cabezas and Chiracahuas from this dirt road were amazing. Approaching Cave Creek from this direction was stunning and provided breathtaking views of the south east flank of the Chiracahuas.
Feeling intimated as a novice birdwatcher, I met up with 12 other very experienced birders taking part in the survey Saturday afternoon at the Portal ranger station. My initial fears about being inexperienced were allayed as the director patiently went over the protocol for documenting when, where and how frequently we see and or hear elegant trogans. After listening to recordings of three different types of calls elegant trogans make and describing traditional habitat trogans prefer, our territories were assigned to us. My territory was the South fork of Cave creek 4 miles up canyon by the rock formation called “the Nose”. Did I mention this area is nicknamed the Yosemite of Arizona? Very aptly named!
After our meeting was completed I set up camp at the Sunny Flat campground and had a stunning view of the sun setting on Cathedral rock. Cave Creek area is also a “dark sky compliant” area which means stargazing was phenomenal!
Our survey started at 6:00 am Sunday morning and I was “late” to the trailhead and last one arriving at 5:30am. Within the first 2 miles hiking in I heard 2 elegant trogan males calling in the canyon. Arriving at my territory after hiking in 4 miles (and spending the next 2 hours there) I heard one more male trogan. Unf., I wasn’t able to spot him but nonetheless it was very cool tracking him by sound as he flew up and down thru my territory.
Fortunately, on my way hiking out and with the help of another volunteer I saw my first elegant trogan!! It was a male and was extremely exciting seeing one live in their natural habitat. All told the early results of our survey counted @ 5 males and 2 pairs of trogans dwelling in South fork. One other birder counted 32 different species of birds in her territory (there have been 375 avian species recorded here!).
The South fork of Cave Creek is a lovely shady riparian corridor at a higher elevation with many Arizona Sycamores and maple trees. Water was plentiful higher up the canyon and a few small poolsremained lower down. “The Bathtub” also had water in it and during monsoons it is a favorite watering hole for animals and people alike.
Overall, I had an excellent bird watching experience in Cave Creek. The Chiracahuas are a magical place, have a fascinating history and are an incredibly biodiverse region. I will definitely be back for more bird watching and exploring! By Deb Huie, Certified Pima MN, Cohort 1.