The Trogon Trek

For many birders, the Elegant Trogon is on their 'life list'.  If a birder is very lucky they actually see one.  Getting a decent photograph of this bird is a plus.  The Elegant Trogon migrates North from Central America in the spring to nest and breed.  It is estimated that as few  as 50 pairs make it as far north as the Chiricahua  Mountains  in southern Arizona.  A couple of pairs are reported to migrate to South Fork, along Cave Creek, near a very small community named Portal.  They fly south to Central America in September.    

A male Elegant Trogon

Elaine, her sister Rosalind,  and Susan spent four days in Portal to photograph the many birds that is drawn to the area.  But, their real goal was to photograph the Elegant Trogon.   The three ladies prepped for months, planning everything from menus, camera gear, even learning the Grand Trogan's mating call.  On the day I hiked with them we were told that two pair had been spotted on the South Fork Trail, specifically beyond the picnic area.  It would take a 4 mile plus roundtrip hike  to get to the area where the pairs had been spotted.  Of course, we all took photos along the way.

A male Hairy Woodpecker.

This is a Yellow Warbler.

This is a Pine Siskin.

This is a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

A Great Horned Owl.

A male Acorn Woodpecker.  Wowza!  This tree is a favorite one of woodpeckers.

This is an American Robin.

There is research going on in the Portal area.  Research birds are banded for identification and tracking purposes.  I would say this Mexican Jay is a popular research project!

Another American Robin.

This is an Hepatic Tanager.

This is an Acorn Woodpecker.

Another Hepatic Tanager.

This is the Arizona Woodpecker.  It could be a pair.

A Yellow-Eye Junco. 

This is a Western Tanager.

A Western Kingbird.

The top bird is a Ladderback Woodpecker and the lower one is a Crissal Thrasher.

A male Arizona Woodpecker.

This is a Lazuli Bunting.

A Hooded Oriole.

This is a Cassin's Finch.

A male Arizona Woodpecker.

This is a Green-tailed Towhee.

This is a Spotted Towhee.

Parking area for the South Fork trailhead.

This board shows example of the devastation done by the flood a couple of years ago.  I have to walk South Fork to truly appreciate how powerful a flood coming down a stream bed can be.

The early part of South Fork Trail.  It got much more difficult as we continued to walk back.

Cave Creek

Bird watching requires a fair amount of 'looking up'.  The rock formations along the trail meant my looking up was doing double duty.

The area suffered a forest fire several years ago, followed by a devastating flood.  South Fork still shows evidence of the destruction.  The dirt road going to the picnic area was washed out, huge trees ripped up, boulders changing addresses.  The road may not be rebuilt.

Water in Cave Creek and shade in abundance, makes this area a natural riparian.

Not everything that flies along the South Fork Trail is a bird.

This made me laugh.  These guys or gals are getting in a little spring warm up on the rocks.

This area is rather wild looking and is 2 miles from the trailhead.

As we hiked further and further the excitement began to build.  We reached the picnic area and several people reported that they had seen Elegant Trogons just a bit further.  How far is just a bit further after a 2 mile hike?  Just enough to keep us going!  I was not in the forward scouting group so I missed the look on Elaine's face as she spotted her first Trogon.  But it was not long before we spotted her coming quickly back on the trail to get us, letting us know it was just ahead of us.  I noticed that we all became more quiet, almost whispering to each other, as we wanted to locate the male's characteristic  mating song (some have described it as a dog's bark, others as a seal calling).  The female Trogon in not as colorful as the male, but is still a gorgeous bird.

Male Elegant Trogon

Female Elegant Trogon

Male Elegant Trogon

Female Elegant Trogon

Male Elegant Trogon

Female Elegant Trogon

Female Elegant Trogon

Male Trogon

Another great experience was visiting the various 'feeding stations' that are maintained  by people living in the area.  They keep feeders going, sometimes replenishing food three or more times a day!  People are invited to stop by, grab a seat and just watch the many varieties of birds that show up.  Feeder hosts also know their birds, can assist with identification and they keep in touch with each other so they can let you know what is going on in the area.  Small donations help in defraying the cost of the food they put out.

The Arizona Woodpecker.

A Black-headed Grosbeak.

A Red-naped Sapsucker.

The hummer on the left is a Magnificent Hummingbird.  The one on the right is unidentified.

This is a Mexican Jay.

This is a female Scott's Oriole.

A female Northern Cardinal.

This is a male Scott's Oriole.

This is a Lazuli Bunting with a House Finch.

These are Lark Buntings.  There five males and one female.  They look like a street gang planning to rob the feeders!!!

This is a male Black-headed Grosbeak.

This is a female Scott's Oriole.

These are male and female Lesser Goldfinch.

This is a Gilded Flicker.  

Another Mexican Jay showing off among the pretty flowers.

A Magnificent Hummingbird.

A Red-napped Sapsucker.

Meet Bo.  He belongs to the owner of the George Walker House, the bed and breakfast where we stayed.  He gave up chasing birds a long time ago!

The little community of Portal has a general store and a Post Office.  Catering to birders is the main business in town.  

This is a male Northern Cardinal.

Two Acorn Woodpeckers.

This is a Say's Phoebe.  There are birds everywhere!  Having your camera ready is a must.

This is a Lark Bunting.  

Another Lark Bunting with a more comfortable perch.

This is Chipping Sparrow.

I love this image.  It is Cactus Wren.

Just arriving, or leaving, the Chiricahua Mountains is a photographic treat.  

What fun!  Birders are great photography buddies.  They get excited over bird sounds, even more excited when they spot one they are looking for.  They understand patience.  They accept that they are not in control.  Birds show up and take off as they wish.  Most of all, they have a passion for birds that motivates them to hike, wait, listen and in the end they may have the shot of the beautiful bird as it perched behind branches, leaves, twigs and in blown out highlights.  As they look at the image they say, "What a beautiful bird!"  I leave you with my best bird shot.

Birders call this a leaf bird.  It is often spotted by beginning birders who mistake its shape and or color for the real deal.  I have several of these excellent photos of the leaf bird.  I also have quite a few 'birds that were just there', 'bird gone' and blurred images that everyone agrees is better than 50% chance of being in the bird family.