Saturday, June 13, 2020

Madera Canyon: Wild Salvation

Into the Santa Rita Mountains I go ... 

Oh Lordy, it was good to be back! It had been a couple years since I'd been in Madera Canyon. The last time, in fact, had been with Carole. We returned for a day hike along the lush sycamore-lined stream, one of many visits we shared to this land frequented by the jaguar. It was also the locale of Hope's first backpack some forty years ago. Yep, there were many memories in the Santa Rita mountains. This visit was spurred by June's triple digit heat and a burning desire to connect with some very special birds. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. but awoke at 4:00. I arrived the canyon at 6:30. Primo bird time. I expected to get a good dose of the 250 recorded species.

I parked in front of the small lodge to await my friend Judith, and headed for their natural viewing area replete with bird feeders. Within minutes I learned that the very rare Berylline Hummingbird had been spotted, and was showing up about every twenty minutes at a feeder to drink. I would attempt to see it several times before my visit ended, but would I be successful?

Judith arrived and we headed upcanyon to see the Sulfur-bellied Flycatchers, said to be nesting in an old telephone pole not far from the road. I heard them before I saw them ... sounded like the squeaking of a bunch of dog toys. They were remarkable! That yellow chest and rusty tail ... gorgeous birds. And a new sighting for me. Yahoo!

The bird I longed to see the most, however, was the Elegant Trogon. A Mexican bird, S. Arizona is its northernmost range, and it's rare. It has been frequenting this canyon, however, for many years. I have spotted them in the Huachuca Mountains, Cave Creek near Portal, Sycamore Canyon and Mexico. I wanted to share some time with one here, today.

Miraculously, I was awarded within minutes. A female was spotted in an oak tree not far from the road. Furthermore, I'd never seen a female before ... always the colorful males. She perched in their unmistakable way, with rump out and tail tucked inward. A picture of peace.

Her male, meanwhile, called from the thick Sycamore canopy. I was able to catch this shot at a distance. I would hear him for the next few hours, but rarely got a glimpse.

Trogons nest in tree cavities. After years of trying to see these elusive birds, I was gobsmacked to see this pair nesting in the top of an old telephone pole right on the road! They take turns on the nest so we waited for an hour for the exchange. At one point Momma came out of the hole to chase away a woodpecker, but she returned inside and did not exchange places with the guy who must have been having too much fun in the forest.

Momma Trogon returning to her brood

Two hours of Trogon waiting was enough.
We donned our covid masks and returned to the popular hummer feeders to see if that Berylline was around. The sun and scenes were irresistible. If you want an idea of why the Magnificent is so named, check out the difference in sizes of this male Magnificent and an Anna's hummer at the same feeder.

Judith and I had one more stop to make, but before we departed, I ducked down to look into a bush where the Berylline was said to hang out. As I did so it flew up to a feeder and was promptly chased away by other hummers. We got a good look at her green body, nondescript face and and rufous wings, More than enough to call it a sighting. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Must be lonely to be the only one of your species in a world of feeders.

Down the road we went to a distant sycamore tree where a tiny Northern Pygmy Owl was nesting in a hole in tree. Normally this would be the highlight of a birding trip. On this day it was one more incredible moment. We didn't get to see the parents feeding but we did spy the baby peering out of the stunning white trunk.

I can not count all of the birds we saw this day. Bridaled Titmice, Hepatic Tanagers, Wrens, Arizona Woodpeckers were profuse and even an American Robin, rare for this area. His song lilted through the forest, taking me back to my Iowa childhood, hearing his riff through the humid haze as the sun rose. 

Two new bird sightings is a banner day and the Trogons were an uplifting gift. What counted the most, however, was the preciousness of this holy place and the many beings that call it home. The coatis, jaguar, ocelots, birds, lions, bears ... these wild spirits keep us sane. They offset human addiction to control and domestication. Their presence calls upon us to respect and protect them. To acknowledge our kinship.

I hope you can find a special place as the summer solstice approaches. Commune with those energies larger than we. May we join on June 20th, New Moon and solar eclipse, and give humble thanks for this hallowed planet. Love to you and all our relations. Be well ...

Jimson Weed

Moon Over Wrightston and Hopkins Telescope


One never feels alone in this canyon. The deep ravine speaks in many tongues.

For more on the cultural history of Madera (spanish for 'wood') follow this link:,road%20to%20haul%20the%20lumber.