Peppersauce Canyon, 7 June 2008

This morning a small group of us (myself, Morgan Jackson, and Doug Jenness) ventured into Peppersauce Canyon, hoping to track down a Gray Vireo I had heard on the North American Migration Count a few weeks before. We were hoping to find breeding evidence in the area, but saw neither hide nor tail of a Gray Vireo the whole morning. We were still pretty glad we went though, because en route to the Vireo habitat we found an even better bird - a male SCARLET TANAGER!

Needless to say, this was a state bird for everyone in the group. Credit goes to Morgan for spotting the bird, about 20 feet away from us wide out in the open. Naturally, because Doug and I were looking in another direction, and I had to throw down my backpack to rapidly fumble for my camera, it immediately became less visible. As a result, the photos are painfully poor, but fortunately diagnostic:

This picture just shows a bright red bird with a solid black wing (though you can see a hint of the light bill, and no distinctive markings anywhere besides this stark color difference).

Even worse quality, but you can see that there are no markings on the face.

Looking around for insects? Here you can see a broad, pale bill angled towards the camera. The whitish color on the wing is just an artifact of the lighting. The yellowish tinge to the breast might be a lighting artifact, but it might also be a few molting body feathers. This bird seemed to have just a few yellow feathers here and there on the face, so perhaps it is 99% finished molting into this plumage?

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) is an Arizona Bird Comittee review species, so we'll be submitting documentation. According to Tucson Audubon Society's "Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona (2007)," there are about 20 records in all of this species in SE AZ.

Also in the canyon today, we found a late-ish Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi). Per the same book, this bird is "rare" in June in SE AZ:

Perched, classically, in the branch of a snag.

Once we got past the sycamore-laden stretch of the canyon and into the prime oak-juniper habitat, we started systematically searching for any sign of a Gray Vireo (Vireo vicinior). Instead, we enjoyed great looks at a more common bird in this habitat, Black-chinned Sparrow (Spizella atrogularis). Bear in mind I'm only using a Canon Powershot S5, and the image stabilization isn't that great...but it does the trick most times:

And the habitat:

Fortunately we decided to press on for just a bit longer, and came across another large drainage with plenty of trees, mostly Emory Oak and Silver-leaf Oak, but also some ash. We were richly rewarded with a fantastic animal sighting:


What total luck! Thoroughly pleased with our morning, we headed for the car around noon. We stopped for about 20 minutes at the Scarlet Tanager spot hoping for a better photo or even just a second appearance, but nada. It might still be there, though, so good luck if you go for it!

John Yerger
Tucson, AZ

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