When we decided to visit southeastern Arizona, we discovered the Huachuca Mountains. We stayed in a little house south of Sierra Vista – elevation 4,600’.
Many bird species prefer the higher, forested mountains. So, if we were going to see those species, we needed to go up the canyons and climb into the mountains.
Miller Peak is the highest mountain in the Huachucas at 9,466’ (2,885 m), and Miller Canyon is one of the best places to see birds. We drove up the canyon early one morning and parked. Then we hiked steadily upward. A bird watcher coming down the mountain path told us just where to look after the bend in the path by a large split rock for a special owl.
We went back to Carr Canyon one evening to meet Sheri Williamson and Tom Wood for an “owl prowl.” We wanted to know how to go about finding owls in the woods. Shari and Tom showed us how they do it – which takes knowledge of each species, years of practice, and learning how to call the birds with their own voices. We walked to a clearing and within minutes saw the smallest owl in the world, an elf owl. What a sight! Would we see any more? We waited while Sheri and Tom listened. We walked to a different spot in the semi-darkness in an opening near some tall trees. All of a sudden Tom turned on his powerful flashlight and aimed it at the tree limb overhead so we could see not one, but two, western screech-owls looking down at us.
We wanted to drive the Carr Canyon road up the mountain. The problem was that it was a rutted, steep 5-mile road with one switchback after another. A sign at the bottom, “Not Recommended for Passenger Cars”, did make us pause, but friends had told us, if we drove very slowly, we should be all right. We did, and we were.
At the end of our stay, we drove to Fort Huachuca, an army base, that owns 20% of the mountain range. (The US Forest Service owns over 40%, and the rest is privately owned land.) Our destination on the base was Garden Canyon.
We drove further up the rough road into Garden Canyon. When we finally got out of the car and started to walk, we heard an unusual call. Could it really be the elegant trogan? Since the bird is only seen one place in the U.S., the very far southern edge of Arizona, we could only hope. We walked a little further and heard the strange call again. (Their call is a little like a barking dog.) We hiked down the path in the direction of the trogan’s call but eventually gave up. Just as we started back toward the car, a bird flew right by us and landed in a nearby tree. It called out. The elegant trogon! A minute later, we saw two more in a faraway tree. What an amazing sight!