The winds blew for two days, with gusts as high as 40 mph shaking the trailer. It was like being sandblasted, and there was fine grit everywhere.
We Came For The Birds
Needless to say, we spent little time at the campground. But we hadn’t planned to be there much anyway. We came to this remote location to bird in the nearby Chiricahua Mountains. A premier spot for spring migration, it had been on our list of places to visit for years.
A dozen miles from our campground (and crossing into Arizona), the Chiricahua Mountains rise craggily from the surrounding desert. The eastern side of the mountains contains Cave Creek Canyon and the teeny town of Portal (population 200), both well-known birding meccas. The water in the canyon attracts a wide variety of birds that arrive during spring migration. Many stay to nest and raise their young.
A Welcoming Place For Birders
Portal and the nearby even tinier town of Paradise (population 12) appear to be populated by birders. Many people make their outdoor spaces into bird sanctuaries, with numerous bird feeders, water features, and landscaping designed to attract our feathered friends.
Some of the locals are incredibly generous. They welcome visitors to their yards and gardens, even providing shaded places to rest and observe the birds. We found a favorite spot in Portal that we returned to several times—the owners are part-time residents, but make their garden available even in their absence. It was lovely to sit in the shade of the enormous sycamore trees, watching the various hummingbirds zip by to drink from the nectar feeders, or better yet, to sip from the ocotillo blossoms.
There are seeds for the seedeaters (most everyone), jars of jelly and sliced oranges for the fruit eaters (orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, and whoever else develops a sweet tooth), suet for those who like fat with their seed (woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays), and sugar water for the hummingbirds (although woodpeckers will also visit). We know from experience that keeping the birds stocked with food is a daily job—albeit a rewarding one.
Click on photos for a larger image
Hiking In The Chiricahuas
There are numerous hiking opportunities in the Chiricahuas. The South Fork trail along Cave Creek is so pretty that we hiked it twice. When we find something we like, we tend to do it again. :-)
Click on photos for a larger view
A Colorful Surprise: The Elegant Trogon
Both times we hiked the South Fork Trail, we found the Elegant Trogon (much to our surprise and delight!). The trogon is a tropical forest-dwelling bird that lives in Mexico and Central America. A small number find their way to the canyons of southeast Arizona every spring, where they nest in cavities excavated by woodpeckers.
About The RV Park
Despite the dust storm, Rusty’s RV Ranch is an excellent place to stay if you’re visiting the Chiricahuas. The owner runs a tight ship—she gave us a lecture when we registered about 1) no noise and 2) no lights. Apparently, she didn’t realize that she was preaching to the choir. We’re always in search of the quietest, darkest places we can find. Needless to say, our stay at Rusty’s was wonderfully quiet and dark. It’s also a bargain at Passport America rates ($12 per night, full hook-ups, nice laundry, and beautiful views of the mountains. No extra charge for the dust storm).
I did not know the Chiricahuas are known for birding. Great price on the RV Park. Thanks for sharing all the info in this post. We may have to make this a stop on our way back from TX…..wind and all :-)
You would love it here, Ingrid. The Chiricahuas, especially near Portal and Cave Creek, are one of the premier birding spots in the U.S., especially during spring migration. Definitely worth a visit — and the winds didn’t bother us at all in the canyons.
These are some mountains that I am looking forward to exploring. How neat that the people in town are so friendly and allow you to use their yards! That owl is awesome. Some day I will see one for myself. I bet Eric was in heaven:)
The Chiricahuas are stunning, Pam. They’re referred to as the “Yosemite of Arizona” and it’s easy to see why. We’re “active” birders, and enjoy combining birding with hiking, and this is a great place to do both. Eric was definitely in heaven. :-)
Wow. At first I thought you were at Chiricahua National Monument in AZ then I realized that you were in NM and partially in AZ.
Great captures as always from both of you. And yes that Elegant Trogon is a beauty. I was lucky enough to see it while we were in Patagonia. Our stay in Patagonia was my first birding experience and I got hooked ever since.
Perhaps this could be stop for us when we winter in AZ, that is if I can convince Steve to bird with me. ha ha
We really wanted to head over to the other side of the Chiricahuas to hike in the Monument, but didn’t have the time this trip. Loved your photos of your hikes there — although I don’t want to be hiking in the snow! So fun that you also saw the Elegant Trogon. I can understand how that experience enticed you into birding!
Beautiful photos! We love to take the drive from the Tombstone side over to Portal.
It’s a beautiful drive, isn’t it? Seeing the mountains rise up from the desert floor is just spectacular.
We love the Chiricahuas. I think we hiked most every trail within the National Monument grounds while we were there. Would have loved to tag along with a couple of birders while we were there. I adore the Elegant Trogon. We found him feasting on a lizard during a hike we took in Patagonia.
We’re planning to return to the other side of the Chiricahuas to hike in the National Monument — I’m sure the hiking is even more spectacular than where we were. The Elegant Trogon lives up to his name, doesn’t he? Love the photos you got of him in Patagonia.
So you know what a dust storm is now! Welcome to the Southwest! It’s a pretty bizarre experience the first time isn’t it? Still, you had some clear weather for your bird photos. They’re beautiful!
Yes, a dust storm is a bizarre experience! We’ve traveled many times in the Southwest, but always in the fall and winter, which thankfully isn’t dust storm season. Still, it was worth it to be there in the spring.
For some reason, maybe my signal?, for pictures 3-14 I can see the thumbnails but they won’t come up large. And of course #13 & 14 are the elegant trogon, just my luck. This is heart breaking for someone like me who LOVES your pictures. So I’ll be back perhaps earlier in the day tomorrow to see the rest of these beauties. Hope the dust storm didn’t scratch up your house and vehicle. You guys do find the most interesting places. Got Rusty’s on my list. She’s my kind of gal….no noise, no lights…..LOVE IT! Is PPA good for more than just Sun-Thurs there?? Pretty sweet birding to get such colorful visitors to feeders while you sit and watch. Not like crawling around after the Kirtland’s that’s for sure! What’s not to love about a town named Paradise?
I think you would enjoy the Chiricahuas, Sherry — and PPA is good at Rusty’s if you stay a minimum of three nights, any night of the week. Although we most enjoy our birding combined with hiking, it’s fun sometimes to take a break in a beautiful garden and have the birds come to us. :-) We’re loving following your adventures — so wonderful that you got to see the Kirtland’s warbler (you certainly worked for that one!).