Chiricahua National Monument jlrizona

Chiricahua s dominant bird is undoubtedly the Mexican jay. One can t spend any amount of time within the park without getting acquainted with this charismatic creature. It usually is a bold and aggressive bird that will approach a camper or hiker with great curiosity. But at other times, especially during the nesting season, it can be shy and elusive. It usually occurs in active and noisy flocks of five to 18 individuals, moving through the forest with little heed for human beings. At other times it can approach with great stealth, silently closing in on a point of interest. But when discovered, it and its companions may suddenly erupt out of the trees with great clamoring and verbosity.

One morning in fall, after many of the summer resident birds had already departed for warmer climates, and ripe acorns hung from the oaks, I visited Chiricahuas Faraway Ranch. Harvest-time was in full swing. The cacophony of Mexican jays, acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers, white-breasted nuthatches, and bridled titmice was audible from as far away as the parking area. And as I approached the ranch buildings I realized that the majority of birds were centered around the tall oak trees. The drum of acorns falling on the tin roofs added to the uproar.

Mexican jays were everywhere. Two to three dozen individuals had laid claim to the oak trees and seemed intent on harvesting the entire crop for themselves. They were actively searching the foliage for viable acorns, going about their investigations in a seemingly haphazard fashion, jumping from limb to limb and knocking more acorns loose than they gathered. Those were the acorns that drummed the tin roofs. Standing beneath the trees I watched one

Mexican jay V

individual collect an acorn and hammer it with its large, heavy bill until it was able to retrieve the rich meat. Other jays found acorns below the oaks, either on the bare ground or among the weedy surroundings. Perhaps their roughshod movement among the foliage was intentional.

At one point in my observations I noticed that many of the Faraway jays were youngsters, evident by their yellowish bills rather than the solid black bills of adults. Nor were the young birds as brightly colored as their parents. In sunlight, the adults' deep blue upperparts contrasted with their all-gray underparts, and their blackish ear coverts were also readily apparent. But all the jays that morning seemed intent on the acorn harvest. I was reminded of Herbert Brandt's writings about this bird's relationship to oaks in Arizona and Its Bird Life:

The jay is so closely confined to the live oak belt that it may be considered obligated to that strangly dominant tree. The latter furnishes the wily bird with acorns for a major food, twigs for the foundation of the nest, rootlets to line the cradle, . . . a form fork offers a proper site in which to anchor the nest. When the jaylet first opens its eyes it sees only the features and foliage of the live oak; yet evidently it is so well satisfied with its sturdy birth tree that it never leaves those evergreen mansions, but lives its whole obligate life bound to a natural economy of acorns.

The Turk Environment

Arizona's Chiricahua National Monument is analogous to Big Bend National Park in Texas in that both areas represent northern extensions of Mexico's mountain provinces. The affinity for much of Chiricahua's flora and fauna lies below the border within the evergreen Madrean forest and woodland of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Chiricahua's Apache and Chihuahua pines, Apache fox squirrel, and mountain (Yarrow's) spiny lizards are Mexican species that barely enter the United States.

A total of 12,120 acres (4,905 ha) of the Chiricahua Mountains is included within Chiricahua National Monument (established in 1924), and 95 percent of that area is designated wilderness. "Chiricahua" is said to be an Opata Indian term for "mountain of the wild turkeys." Vehicular access is limited to an 8-mile (13 km) scenic drive to Massai Point (6,870 ft or 2,094 m elevation) and trailhead. The park contains 17 miles (27 km) of designated trails, two of which are self-guided: Massai Point and Rhyolite Canyon nature trails. Access to the monument is from the west, via state Highways 186 or 181. The larger portion of the Chiricahua Mountains, including Cave Creek Canyon and Rustler Park, falls under the administration of the Coronado National Forest. Access in these areas is via the Pinery Canyon gravelled road that crosses the mountains between the monument entrance road and Portal, Arizona, and the Turkey Creek and Rucker Lake roads south of the monument.

The park's visitor center is located near the west entrance at the start of the Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive and Rhyolite Canyon Trail. There can be found an information desk, orientation program, exhibits, and a sales outlet; bird field guides and a checklist are available. A park campground is located beyond the visitor center. Picnicking sites are available at Bonita Creek Trail, Faraway Ranch, Massai Point, and Sugarloaf parking area.

The visitor center also is the centerpiece for the area's interpretive program, which includes guided walks, talks, and evening programs, some of which address the park's rich bird life. Programs vary, and a schedule of interpretive activities is available for the asking.

Chiricahua National Monument is comprised primarily (90 percent) of a mixed oak-conifer woodland. Dominant oaks include Arizona white, Emory, silverleaf, and netleaf oaks. Dominant conifers include Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, two-needle pinyon, Chihuahua and ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir. Other common trees and shrubs of this environment include Schotts yucca, Wheeler sotol, bear-grass, Arizona walnut, Arizona sycamore, mountain mahogany, New Mexico locust, poison ivy, skunkbush sumac, birchleaf buckthorn, Arizona madrone, and manzanita. The park's higher and more open slopes often contain chaparral vegetation that is dominated by manzanita, Toumey oak, mountain mahogany, and buckbrush.

The lower, western edge (entrance) of the park contains a riparian habitat that is dominated by Fremont cottonwood, willows, Arizona sycamore, Arizona cypress, pines, netleaf hackberry, and desert willow. The adjacent arid grasslands are dominated by numerous grasses and scattered soaptree yuccas, agaves, white-ball acacia, velvet mesquite, ocotillo, and various cacti.

Additional information can be obtained from the Superintendent, Chiricahua National Monument, Dos Cabezas Route, Box 6500, Willcox, AZ 85643; (602) 824-3560.

(Bird Life

The Mexican jay is one of the Mexican species that enter the United States only in a few ranges that connect to Mexico's more massive Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental. This bird was earlier known as "gray-breasted" jay, but it is now known, appropriately, as "Mexican" jay.

Chiricahua supports several other reasonably common Mexican songbirds, although none are as abundant as the Mexican jay. The other species include the heavily streaked sulphur-bellied flycatchers, with their yellowish underparts and rusty tails; Mexican chickadees, with their coal black caps and bibs and dark gray flanks; active bridled titmice, with their tall crests and black-and-white heads; red-faced warblers, with their red, black, and white heads and white rumps; painted redstarts, with their all-black plumage, except for bright red bellies and snow white wing patches and outer tail feathers; and yellow-eyed juncos, with their rufous backs and wing coverts, black tails with white outer tail feathers, and gray heads with bright yellow eyes offset by black lores. Less common birds of Mexican affinity include whiskered screech-owls, blue-throated and magnificient hummingbirds, Strickland's woodpeckers, greater pewees, dusky-capped flycatchers, and olive warblers. Thick-billed parrots have recently been reintroduced in the Chiricahuas and may become a resident once again.

Of all these tropical birds, none possesses the appeal of the little red-faced warbler. Gale Monson described this species, in Griscom and Sprunt's The Warblers of America, as "small and quick. ... It feeds through the outer portion of the coniferous trees, with constant small jerks of the tail. Also like many other warblers, it is adept at flycatching. Close examination will show the bill to be stout at the base, the upper mandible arched like a Titmouse's." Red-faced warblers may return from their wintering grounds in western Mexico to Central America by early April. Soon after, males can be heard singing clear and penetrating whistled notes, like "a tink a tink, tsee, tsee, tsee, tswee, tsweep." By May, paired birds are constructing nests of pine needles, fine bark, and soft plant materials in depressions on the ground, concealed in grasses or sheltered by rocks or logs. And by early September, adults and their fledglings depart for their winter homes. It is a true Neotropical migrant whose existence depends upon the long-term survival of both its breeding and wintering grounds.

The Rhyolite Canyon Trail, including the popular Vi-mile (.4 km) nature trail, provides easy access into the heart of the oak-pine woodlands. One morning in May I followed this trail up-canyon to Echo Canyon. Birdsong, from the full-time residents as well as the summer-only residents, was all around me. Mexican jays were heard now and again, but their general lack of dominance that day suggested that they still were involved with nesting chores. Acorn woodpeckers, however, adequately filled in for the usually noisy

jays. These woodpeckers were, in fact, not only vocally active but easily observed flying here and there and paying little attention to the hiker. Their loud calls, usually described as "ja-cob" or "whack-up," never ceased. I discovered a pair of these gregarious birds on a tall snag just off the trail, and I was able to examine them at my leisure. Acorn woodpeckers are middle-sized woodpeckers with allblack backs, tails, and wings, except in flight, when white wing patches and their snow white rumps are obvious. Their most conspicuous feature is their contrasting black, white, red, and yellow heads, almost clownlike in appearance.

The tall snag, on which these woodpeckers rested when they were not cavorting about or chasing after flying insects, contained several dozen acorns that had been wedged into holes the previous year. Acorn woodpeckers hoard acorns each fall, jamming them into holes drilled for that purpose for use during the remainder of the year. There are records of old trees elsewhere in the West with 50,000 or more storage holes, but none of the various trees located along the Rhyolite Canyon Trail contained more than a few dozen.

The common flycatcher that morning was the ash-throated flycatcher, most evident by its occasional "ka-brick" calls. It took me several minutes to locate one of these rather nondescript flycatchers. When I finally did find one it was carrying a bill-full of nesting material into a cavity in an oak snag. Its grayish throat and breast above a yellowish belly and crissum contrasted with its reddish tail and dark wings and head, which was slightly crested.

Bridled titmice were present as well, and although their vocalizations were common, very chickadee-like versions of rapid "chick-a-dee-dee" notes, they were not so easily observed. After several minutes of seeing only pieces of these birds disappearing among the foliage, I made thin squeaking notes with my lips against the back of my hand. Almost instantly one individual approached to within 15 to 20 feet (4.5-6 m), to where I was able to observe it for several minutes, calling it back each time it seemed to lose interest. It truly was a lovely little bird; its bridle-like, black-and-white face pattern, tall, loose crest, and gray-green back were most appealing. In winter, this species leads the bird parties, and anyone searching for birds at that time of year can locate the flock by listening for these active little tits.

My squeaking had also attracted two other avian members of the oak-pine community, the white-breasted nuthatch and black-headed grosbeak. The white-breasted nuthatch was walking straight down the scaly trunk of a sycamore, probing under the loose bark for insects. Its all-white underparts and face, black cap and nape, and grayish back and tail were most obvious. So were the nasal "yank" notes it made every few seconds.

The black-headed grosbeak was a beautiful male, probably nesting among the adjacent oaks. It glared at me from among the green sycamore foliage. Its deep cinnamon, almost rose-red, throat, flanks, and chest gleamed in the morning light, contrasting with its coal black cap, face, and tail. It was close enough that, through binoculars, I could see its very large, triangular bill very well. It suddenly gave a loud "pik" call and flew away up the drainage. Its bright yellow underwing coverts were obvious in flight. And a few seconds later I detected its distinct song, a series of rich robinlike whistles. One of the best descriptions of its voice comes from Joseph Grinnell and Robert Storer's writings in Arthur C. Bent's Life History series:

The black-headed grosbeak possesses a rich voluble song that forces itself upon the attention of everyone in the neighborhood. In fact at the height of the song season this is the noisiest of all the birds. The song resembles in some respect that of a robin, and novices sometimes confuse the two. The grosbeak's song is much fuller and more varied, contains many little trills, and is given in more rapid time. Now and then it bursts forth fortissimo and after several rounds of burbling, winds up with a number of "squeals," the last one attenuated and dying out slowly.

Bent adds a description of the length of one grosbeak's song that began 15 minutes before sunrise, and the bird "sang from the time it began, almost without any intermission, for a period of 3 hours, each rendition of its song being followed by another with scarcely a pause between."

Rufous-sided towhees were also common along the Rhyolite Canyon Trail, preferring the dense thickets along the edge of the drainage. Rufous-sided males are one of the park's most distin guished birds, readily identified by their coal black hoods with contrasting blood-red eyes, black backs with many white spots, whiter underparts, and rufous sides. Territorial males were extremely active along the canyon, singing songs that consisted of two sharp notes followed by a trill, such as "clip-clip-cheeee." Several other towhees were detected by their foraging activities among the leaves. Like their eastern cousins, this towhee scratches backward with both feet, raking aside the litter in its search for insects and seeds underneath. How they are able to remain upright is a complex operation that includes excellent balance and considerable skill. The unique sound of a towhee s foraging activities can be most helpful in locating this thicket-dweller.

Other resident birds found within the oak-pine woodlands during my May hike included broad-tailed hummingbirds, northern flickers, Mexican chickadees, bushtits, canyon wrens (in the rocky drainage), American robins, Hutton s vireos, Grace s warblers, western and hepatic tanagers, brown-headed cowbirds, yellow-eyed juncos, and lesser goldfinches.

Mexican chickadees and yellow-eyed juncos were only present in the higher and deeper canyons where Douglas fir was reasonably common. Mexican chickadees called out their rather distinct husky, buzzing "kabree, kabree, kabree, kabree" notes from the high pines and Douglas fir. Brandt referred to this little chickadee as a "fur bird" because of the great amount of mammal hair utilized in their nests.

Yellow-eyed juncos were present at all elevations, from ground level to the very tip of the taller trees, from where they sang melodic three-part songs, with contrasting pitch and rhythm, described by John Terres as "chi chip chip, wheedle, wheedle, wheedle, che che che che che." I located several individuals foraging over the pine needle-clad ground with a strange gait that Allan Phillips and colleagues described as "a peculiar shuffle, between a hop and a walk." This junco is very different from the wintering dark-eyed juncos that nest in the mountains of central Arizona and northward. Yellow-eyed juncos, earlier known as "Mexican juncos," possess a quiet and calm demeanor, moving over the terrain with leisure, seldom in a hurry. Wintering dark-eyes move in a jerky fashion and always seem to be in a rush.

Lower Bonita Canyon, near Faraway Ranch and below, contains riparian vegetation along the creekbed and desert grasslands on the northern slope and southern flats. Common riparian birds include black-chinned hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers, western wood-pewees, ash-throated and brown-crested flycatchers, Cassin's kingbirds, violet-green swallows, American robins, black-headed and blue grosbeaks, and hooded and northern (Bullock's) orioles. The most obvious of these birds is the Cassin s kingbird, a dynamic 9-inch (23 cm) bird that is difficult to ignore in spring and summer. Its aggressive and blustery manner, gray and yellow plumage pattern, and loud and ringing "chibew" calls help to identify this hardy flycatcher.

Desert grassland birds are most common along the entrance road. These include American kestrels; GambePs quail; greater roadrunners; common poorwills; Say's phoebes; crissal thrashers; phainopeplas; loggerhead shrikes; canyon towhees; Cassin's (during wet years), rufous-crowned, black-chinned, and black-throated sparrows; and Scott's orioles. The Scott's oriole can often be found along the entrance road, flying across the valley from yucca to yucca; they are especially common when yuccas and century plants are in flower. Males are gorgeous birds with coal black hoods, backs, wings (with yellow shoulder patches), and tails, and bright yellow underparts and rumps. Females are yellow-olive and heavily streaked with black. Their songs are lovely renditions of rich whistled phrases, somewhat like that of a western meadowlark.

From any viewpoint where the open sky can be seen, one is certain to find turkey vultures, with their bare red heads, great wingspan and wings held in a shallow V-pattern, and slight tilting from side to side. These scavengers utilize thermals from the warm lowlands, riding these drafts for hours on end, rarely flapping their wings. They may begin their soaring in the lower canyons and ride thousands of feet upward as the day progresses, to a point where they can no longer be seen with the naked eye. Nesting vultures utilize the abundant rock and dirt ledges of the monument, laying two or three brownish-blotched white eggs directly on the ground; young are fledged and able to fly in 70 to 80 days.

Chiricahua also is within the breeding range of the zone-tailed hawk, a turkey vulture look-alike that often soars with vultures. Zone-tails possess feathered heads and black-and-white banded tails, but they otherwise look very much like turkey vultures. They have the same bi-color wings that are held in a shallow V-pattern in flight, and they fly with a slight tilting from side to side. Their ability to mimic turkey vultures provides them with a good cover-up so that they can prey upon lizards that frequent the high cliffs.

Other soaring birds found in the park include Cooper s hawks, with their short, rounded wings and long tails; red-tailed hawks with light- to brick-red tails; the huge golden eagle, best identified by its size, flat wingspan, and the adult's golden head; prairie falcons, with pale plumage and black wingpits; and the much smaller, black-and-white white-throated swift.

White-throated swifts are most common within the canyons, where they nest in crevices on the cliffs and chase down their insect prey with swift flights. They have cigar-shaped bodies with swept-back wings. They often are detected first by their loud, descending twittering calls high overhead. Swifts should not be confused with the summering violet-green swallows, with their snow white underpays and violet-green backs.

Chiricahua is far enough south for white-throated swifts, which summer as far north as Alberta, Canada, to spend their winters here. They are able to congregate overnight in large overhangs and crevices on south-facing cliffs, actually hanging together like bees in a hive. They are able to withstand occasional below-freezing temperatures; semi-hibernation allows them to conserve their energy for several days until warmer temperatures prevail and insects are again available. See chapter 22 on Colorado National Monument for additional details about this fascinating bird.

Most of Chiricahua s other birds either go south for the winter months or are able to withstand the cooler temperatures. Although no winter bird surveys have been undertaken within the park, Christmas Bird Counts at Portal, Arizona, provide some perspective on the bird life at that time of year. The 1990 Portal Christmas Count tallied 12,517 individuals of 122 species. The dozen most numerous of those birds, in descending order of abundance, included red-winged blackbird, white-crowned sparrow, dark-eyed junco, Brewer's blackbird, Brewer's sparrow, mourning dove, vesper sparrow, Mexican jay, savannah sparrow, house finch, bushtit, and canyon towhee.

In summary, the park checklist includes 179 species, of which 112 are listed as either permanent or summer residents and, therefore, are assumed to nest. Of those 112 species, none are water birds, 19 are hawks and owls, and 8 are warblers. Twenty-five of the 179 species are listed only as winter visitors: northern harrier; ferruginous hawk; red-naped and Williamson's sapsuckers; red-breasted nuthatch; ruby-crowned kinglet; western and mountain bluebirds; Townsend's solitaire; hermit thrush; American pipit; cedar waxwing; northern cardinal; pyrrhuloxia; green-tailed towhee; chipping, vesper, savannah, grasshopper, song, Lincoln's, and white-crowned sparrows; lark bunting; dark-eyed junco; and pine siskin. Several of these most certainly also occur in migration.

<Birds of Special interest

Turkey vulture. This is the common, long-winged bird that soars with a shallow V-shaped pattern and slight tilting from side to side; it has an all-dark plumage and bare red head.

White-throated swift. Its great speed, black-and-white plumage, swept-back wings, and constant twittering calls help identify this cliff-loving species.

Acorn woodpecker. This gregarious woodpecker frequents snags and is rarely silent; it can be identified by its black, white, red, and yellow head pattern.

Ash-throated flycatcher. It occurs throughout the lower, open woodlands in spring and summer, and sports a grayish throat and chest, yellowish belly, and reddish tail.

Mexican jay. One of the park's most common full-time residents, it is easily identified by its blue upperparts, dark bill and ear coverts, and all-gray underparts.

Red-faced warbler. This beautiful bird with a red, black, and white head pattern, frequents the cooler canyons and uplands in spring and summer.

Black-headed grosbeak. Males possess black heads, wings with white wing bars, and tails with contrasting cinnamon underparts and large, heavy bills.

Rufous-sided towhee. This bird of the thickets sports an all-black head and back, red eyes, white underparts, and chestnut sides.

Yellow-eyed junco. It prefers the cooler canyons and uplands, and is identified by its rufous back, gray head with bright yellow eyes, and black tail with white outer feathers.

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