I meet my guide at the point where Madera Canyon Road turns sharply to the left towards Green Valley and the dirt road begins to the right. We loaded a cooler filled with water and snacks into my rental black Volkswagen Jetta. (How could they give me a black car in the middle of an Arizona summer?!)
The car was surprisingly low to the ground in a part of the country that is crisscrossed with dirt roads in various states of maintenance. On a previous trip I had driven over the Chiricahua Mountains, and being from California, I wondered when the paved road was going to start. It never did.
Our destination this morning was Florida Canyon (pronounced Flor-ee-da) and our target bird was ( as David Allen Sibley puts it, a “very rare visitor from Mexico to southern Arizona”), the rufous-capped warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons). This long-tailed small warbler with a stunning facial pattern is not just a visitor to Arizona but a breeder. In Florida Canyon there could possibly be seven pairs on territory.
We started up the trail and it didn’t take long for my guide to pause and listen. He had heard something off to the right, a bird foraging in the trees. He called in a little gray long-tailed puff of a bird. it was another “rare visitor from Mexico”, the black-capped gnatcatcher (Poliotila nigriceps). A great lifer and another tick off my target bird list! This gnatcatcher was now breeding in a few locations in Arizona, including Florida Canyon.
On our way up the dry creek bed, my guide pointed out a tarantula hawk. He noted that the wasp was not aggressive to humans but it’s sting was second only to the bullet ant of Central America according to the Schmidt sting pain index. Both bullet ants and tarantula hawks received a score of 4 which represents the most painful sting on the pain index (a honey bee is rated at 2). So we gave the wasp a wide berth.
We headed further up the canyon on a trail that was blazed by birders in their pursuit of the highly sought after rufous-capped warbler. We stopped, looked and listened. No dice. We headed further in and did the same, still no dice. We continued up canyon and as my guide was pointing out a larger boulder, I spotted the warbler than appeared a few feet above his head. It’s facial pattern was unmistakable. Rufous-capped warbler! Lifer!