Feathery Fireworks

July 4 was my first full day in Arizona. I was staying at the legendary birding hotspot the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. I awoke early with the intention of adding one elusive quail to my lifelist.

Montezuma quail (Cyrtonyx montezumae) is a Southeast Arizona marquee bird. It is a bird that many birder’s attempt to see in this area. Most birders, if they are lucky,  only see the quail briefly as it is flushes, flying away from the viewer. Pete Dunne notes that the Montezuma, “Spends most of its life not being seen.” On two previous visits, Montezuma’s has evaded my view.

On the 4th, I arose early and walked five minutes to the Madera Picnic Area. It was 5:50 AM and there was already a car in the parking lot. It’s owner was a Tucson birder that was looking over Madera Creek into the hillside. I figured that is was always a good sign. I walked up besides him and he said, “Montezuma quail” and directed my view to a point halfway up the hillside.

The cryptic quail eluded my search until the male moved, his harlequin face pattern flashing on the hillside. The female also appeared as the two quail worked along the hillside. I followed then upstream, keeping them in view for a full 15 minutes!  A one point the two headed down to the creekside. This was a quality lifer with absolutely quality looks!


This photo will not win any wildlife photography awards but it is a definitive proof that I was looking at the elusive Montezuma quail.

Later I headed south to the small town of Saint David to finally close out North American kites. In this small area, pockets of Mississippi kites where summer breeders. I came to Golden Bell Road and turned right. The road then turned 90 degrees to the north becoming S. Miller Lane. Halfway down the lane I spotted the unmistakable shape of a Mississippi kite. At one point I had three birds soaring above me. I saw one bird fly into the top of a tall cottonwood. I moved closer to investigate. There was a kite perched in the high branches and to its left was a stick nest with a bird on it! Great find.


A perched Mississippi kite to the right and a nest on the left.

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