October 3, 2013: After a three hour drive I arrived around noontime in Portal, AZ. I met Donna Simonetti, Cynthia White and Linda Rockwell at the Portal Lodge where we are lunch. After lunch we went back to the cabin where I unloaded my gear and Cynthia and Linda settled in for their afternoon naps. But me? While the others had been here for three or four days, I had just arrived and I was itching to see birds! Donna was none too sleepy either, so we set off together for South fork to take a little hike. We agreed to meet up with the other girls later at the Cave Creek Ranch where, for a small fee, you can sit by their feeders and watch birds.
Though we knew the trogons that are seen here all summer were already gone, we still took the hike up the South Fork Trail. The creek was running slow, and in some areas disappeared below ground completely, but the canyon air was cool and clear, the leaves were changing colors, and our little jaunt was restful to the soul and invigorating to the body. I had not seen Donna in over three years, so it was nice to get reacquainted! It didn’t take long for us to feel like old friends again!
Donna is great at setting up her camera for a timed shot.
We only saw 6 species of birds on this little hike, then it was time to meet up with the girls. We hurried back to the car and drove to the ranch. Overhead the Ochre colored rocks of Cave Creek Canyon towered.
We sat in chairs or on benches and listened to the fountain bubble.
Then we started counting birds. At least I did, obsessive counter that I am.
All was peace and delight as hummingbirds hummed and woodpeckers pecked. A summer tanager flew in and out again. Cardinals hid in the bushes and White-breasted nuthatches flitted in the trees, but then…a pack of javalinas came charging in!
I have never been around wild javalinas before, so I hid behind Donna, who was snapping away with her camera. She wasn’t afraid at all! I’ve seen the Walt Disney Movie Old Yeller too many times to trust javalina. The javalina weren’t interested in me though. They just wanted to eat the leftover seed and grain in the feeding area, then they leapt over the wall and were gone, but not before stopping for a good scratch!
However, I was much more relaxed once the javalina were gone and the Coues White-tailed Deer arrived. Coues Whitetail Deer are a diminutive sub-species that lives here in the mountains of the southwest.
It was late afternoon, early evening by now and deep, cool violet-gray shadows had fallen across the canyon floor. Hummingbird activity picked up around the feeders as these small birds tried to fill up on nectar for the night. We saw Black-chins, Anna's, Magnificent, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds. A few rufous hummingbirds still lingered, and we may have seen a lone Calliope, but there was so much activity and so many feeders to watch that it was a bit difficult to keep track of them all! And in the fading light it was even harder to get pictures, but I did my best. All in all I counted 15 species of birds at Cave Creek Ranch while we sat there watching birds and wildlife!
Meanwhile, back at the cabin Linda Rockwell cooked up a delicious supper for all of us. It didn’t take me long to realize what a good cook she is! We sat around the table all using our laptops and Smartphones to Facebook and blog. It was such a wonderful evening, but the best was yet to come! After we all settled in for the night Donna and I decided we wanted to sit outside and watch stars. Though it was warm during the day, the nighttime temperature had dropped significantly. We bundled up and grabbed some chairs off the porch to sit in while we gazed into a velvet night.
Far from city lights the night was spangled with stars. We scanned the sky for falling stars and found a few. As Donna and I talked about the stars and the constellations we started to wonder where the Big Dipper was, and where was the North Star. Now, I am not even an amateur astronomer, but I do know that the North Star is the only star in the sky that never moves and the rest of the starts rotate around it. I also know it is in the handle of the Little Dipper but it is not a very bright star. But where was it? Though we were far from the city and from tall buildings, we still had trees and canyon walls to contend with. Plus, I happen to know that at certain times of the year the Big Dipper can be below the horizon for part of the night. In our quest for answers Donna and I were soon walking around in total darkness trying to find a spot where we could see the northern sky.
We eventually ended up on the paved road. Across the street and to the north the land rose slightly and was covered in Mesquite and other brush. After studying the sky for awhile I was able to find the North Star and point it out to Donna. We stood there like two school girls in the dark filled with awe and wonder at the night sky. We kept hoping we would hear an owl calling, but we never did. Donna did know about the constellation, Orion, and we searched the sky for it as well, but Orion had not risen yet. However, later in the night when a mouse in the house woke us up we both saw Orion framed perfectly in the cabin window! It was the perfect ending for one day and the perfect beginning to the next, since it was around 2 a.m. by then! Perhaps Orion gave us his blessing, for in the morning we found so many birds!