Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Drive Through Box Canyon

1. Greaterville rd-kab Greaterville Rd. 3-20-13

After a day of rest, Chris and I continued our birding adventures on his week off from work. I had been telling Chris about Box Canyon ever since I met him. Today seemed like the perfect day to take a drive through. Box Canyon is a canyon that cuts through the Santa Rita Mountains from the Sonoita Highway on the east to Madera Canyon on the west. While you can drive through from either direction, we decided to go from east to west since that would put the sun behind out backs and make photography and bird identification much better. I pulled off Highway 83 onto Greaterville Road and slowed down. There is very little traffic on this road and one can drive slowly with their windows down to look and listen for birds.

2. meadowlark-kabThe first part of the road is paved and meanders past ranches and pasture. Much of the land is Savannah-like with a few scattered trees. Sometimes it is possible to see antelope in this area, but we did not see any today. With hazy blue skies overhead and mild temperatures we were quite comfortable as we watched for birds outside our windows. The scattered trees become a refuge and a lookout for all kinds of birds and we were seeing and hearing thrashers, meadowlarks and sparrows. We found a shrike atop a different tree, and blackbirds around the barns. Sparrows flitted up from the grasses causing us to stop and try to find and identify them. We scanned the sky for raptors and kept a look out for anything different. It was amazing how time just slipped away as we were lost in observing birds.3. shrike-kab It was the first day of spring on this day but there was not much in bloom yet. Box Canyon starts out at a lower elevation but slowly climbs up to greater heights. At the higher elevations in the oak montane sometimes Montezuma Quail are found. While we were both aware of this possibility, we did not hold out much hope of actually seeing one, though I actually did see my first ever Montezuma Quail on this road back in 2008.


4. thrasher-kab Curve-billed thrasher on barbed wire 3-20-18

As we left the grasslands behind the Santa Rita Mountains came into view. In some of the creases and crevices the last of the winters snow still held on tenaciously. Soon it would all be melted away for good.

5. santa ritas-kab Santa Rita Mountains 3-20-13

I cannot view these mountains without thinking of the impending mine that could go in here and destroy all this habitat. So much is at stake. So much beauty and wildlife will be affected if that mine goes in. A few greedy people will make their money and walk away, leaving the rest of us to deal with the aftermath and devastation. The Santa Ritas will never be the same. I shook these gloomy thoughts away and tried to enjoy the day before me. Today there is beauty. Today there are birds!

6. dirt road-kab Pavement now gave way to dirt as we entered Box Canyon proper. We were now within the boundaries of the Coronado National Forest. Any time we heard or saw a bird we stopped and tired to identify it and add it to our list. I found one place to stop along a wash where I pulled off the road and parked. Chris and I were hearing birds all around and the spot looked promising. He went one way and I another. while he wandered down the road, I went down a steep bank into the wash. While I found pyrrhuloxias, he found a Rufous-crowned Sparrow! It was a life bird for him!

7. Chris r-kab Chris with a look of triumph after having found and photographed a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

8. mound-kab This was the upper part of a nearby hill.


9. waxwings and robins-kab Waxwings and Robins 3-20-13

A bit farther along the road we pulled off again and watched as flocks of birds flew over our heads. At first we were not sure what we were seeing, but then we realized that we were seeing a mixed flock of robins and Cedar Waxwings! Chris and I had been searching for waxwings all year with no luck. I’m not sure who said it first, but one of us commented, “So this is where they have been hiding!” We were quite happy to get them on our list for the year. There was a huge flock here feeding on hackberries.

10. towhee and AZWO-kab Canyon Towhee and Arizona Woodpecker on agave 3-20-13

As we stood there discussing the robins and waxwings I heard a light, tap-tapping which sounded like a woodpecker to me. I trained my binoculars in the direction of the sound and soon found its source. at first I thought it was a Ladder-backed woodpecker, but soon realized it was an Arizona woodpecker! It was not only a First of the Year (FOY) for me, but also the first time I had seen this species since moving back to Arizona last summer. And there at the base of the plant on one of its broad, spiky leaves was a Canyon Towhee to boot!

11. cow-kab Since this is open range, we did see a few cattle as well.

12. cattle guard-kab Cattle Guards and fences are used to keep the cattle in certain areas.

13. foothills-kab Much of the drive through Box Canyon is just about the scenery.

14. canyon rd-kab 

15. box canyon-kab 

16. canyon-kab 

17. curves-kab 

18. box canyon-kab Eventually the road emerges onto the bajada of the Santa Rita Mountains and the Santa Rita Experimental Range. Here the land opens out before us once again and we start to see and hear Cactus Wrens and Black-throated Sparrows.

19. hawk n shrike-kab I pulled the car up quickly when I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk and a Loggerhead Shrike on these utility wires. We watched as the pair stared each other down. At one point the shrike actually dive-bombed the hawk, but the hawk was not impressed and the shrike went back to its position.

20. BTSP-kab Farther down the road I pulled up sharply when we saw a couple of small birds in some ocotillo. They turned out to be Black-throated sparrows. By now we were passing Florida Canyon. We had been on the road since 7 a.m. without breakfast or lunch. I was quite hungry and ready to eat but Chris seems to be able to push himself much farther than I can without eating. As we drew nearer the paved road that lead to Madera Canyon, Chris suggested we take a quick detour there to see what we could see before heading into town to eat. By now it was nearly 1:30 PM, but I agreed. We are both such obsessive birders and we know it! I was nearing the pavement when I noticed an idiot light on in my car. It said one of my tires was losing pressure. Well, this has happened before when I have changed elevations. I thought it was from being higher up in the mountains and coming down, but as I turned onto the road I heard a sound that was unfamiliar for my car. Chris rolled down his window and looked out. “Pull over,” he said, “You have a flat tire!”

21. oops-kab And sure enough, I did!

Well that was the end of birding for this day. I felt so awful but Chris quickly took charge. My cell wasn’t working but Chris’ was. We made a few phone calls, then soon realized we would have to change the tire ourselves. As usual, we worked as a team and though I had never changed a tire on my vehicle before we soon located the spare underneath the back of the car. Chris was quite the gentleman and crawled underneath to dislodge it for me. Thankfully I had a big old towel I keep in the back so he did not have to lay in the dirt. Then, after getting the stupid 3 piece jack set up, I kneeled on the same towel and worked the jack since it was hard for Chris to bend down that far.22. chris-kab Still, Chris was my hero on this day. I cannot thank him enough. In the end it all worked out. We got the flat tire off and the gimpy spare on and drove into town on all back roads going only 50 mph, the supposed speed limit for the spare. The closest Firestone was 30 miles away in Tucson but we made it. A friend came to pick us up and we all went out to eat together before Chris dropped me at home and picked up his car. However, obsessive birders that we are, we were still counting birds along the edge of the parking lot at the tire store when we thought we heard and saw an oriole. We never did find it.


Note: Since this was such a long drive, we broke the count into three sections of 5 miles or less:

Birds Seen on Greaterville Road on 3-20-13 (Start 7:45 AM; 3.2 miles; 1:17 hours.)

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Northern Harrier
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Eurasian Collared dove
  5. Mourning Dove
  6. Gila Woodpecker
  7. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  8. American Kestrel
  9. Say’s Phoebe
  10. Loggerhead Shrike
  11. Common raven
  12. Northern Mockingbird
  13. Curve-billed thrasher
  14. Canyon Towhee
  15. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  16. Chipping Sparrow
  17. Vesper Sparrow
  18. Lark Sparrow
  19. Lark bunting
  20. White-crowned Sparrow
  21. Eastern Meadowlark
  22. Brewer’s Blackbirds
  23. House Finch

Birds seen in Box Canyon on 3-20-2013 (Start 9:25 AM; 3:23 hours; 4.8 miles)

  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Northern Harrier
  3. Cooper’s Hawk
  4. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  5. Arizona woodpecker
  6. Northern Flicker
  7. Cassin’s Kingbird
  8. Mexican jay
  9. Common raven
  10. Verdin
  11. Rock Wren
  12. Cactus Wren
  13. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
  14. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  15. American Robin
  16. Curve-billed thrasher
  17. Cedar Waxwing
  18. Canyon Towhee
  19. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  20. Rufous-Crowned Sparrow (seen only by Chris)
  21. Chipping Sparrow
  22. Black-throated Sparrow
  23. Northern Cardinal
  24. Eastern Meadowlark
  25. Lesser Goldfinch
  26. Dark-eyed Junco

Birds seen on the Santa Rita Experimental Range on 3-20-13 (Start 12:45 PM; 39 minutes: 6.1 miles)

  1. Gambel’s Quail
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Red-tailed Hawk
  4. Loggerhead Shrike
  5. Cactus wren
  6. Northern Mockingbird
  7. Black-throated Sparrow
  8. Lark Sparrow


  1. What a fun and dangerous trip!!! I'm so glad we made it through alive!:) But that was a really fun it was gorgeous weather and landscape to boot!!

  2. Chris, I cannot thank you enough for being there to help me! It was fun but I did feel bad about the flat tire. Thank you! BTW, we will have to do this again one day, maybe from the opposite direction!

  3. Quite the adventure. I love the looks of that Box Canyon road, for the drive, scenery and birds.

  4. OH MY GOSH!!! Look at all the birds you saw. Wow! I loved Arizona, especially the giant cacti. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I do love the outdoors and I grew up camping and hiking, we still do. However, the outdoors to which I refer are the ones where the terrorists hid in the rain forest :)

    1. Oh Ces! I would be afraid to go in there myself! I cannot imagine the forest being a place of terror instead of a place of refuge! How horrible!

  5. What a great outing, Kathie! The scenery looks beautiful. It would be a shame be have mining ruin the beauty and all the habitat. Awesome bird sightings and a great list. Sorry about the flat tire though! Happy Birding!

    1. Eileen, the birds were great; the flat tire a bummer, but it was all worth it! What fun we had!


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.