I finally found my first Rufous-capped there in spring 2012. Just at sunrise I heard scritching in leaf litter along the trail and pished a couple times. A House Wren scrambled to the top of a bush, peered at me, then flipped away into the dawn. The scritching continued so I pished again. The next bird up was unhappy, scolding, pumping up and down, wigging out. Seeing the cocked tail and the bold eyeline, I thought to myself “Bewick’s.” As the sun cleared the eastern foothills and the shadows melted away, I saw there was no barring on wings or tail and the thick, blunt bill could not belong to a wren. Then, in the sun shaft, the spotless throat and breast began to glow brilliant gold. I had my Rufous-capped.
Since then, though some years I have missed Florida’s signature warbler, I never miss an annual trip to this special place.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Riparian corridor from oak grasslands through dense chaparral along an intermittent creek.
Moderate elevation gains on a rocky trail with creek crossings sometimes flowing or with standing pools.
Common residents: Gambel’s Quail, Golden Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Verdin, Rock and Bewick’s Wrens, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Canyon Towhee. Many of the western warblers recorded in spring and fall; always a few eastern surprises. Summer breeders: Zone-tailed Hawk, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, and Scott’s Oriole. Present in winter: Black-chinned Sparrow. Seen with some regularity but not to be expected are Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Rufous-capped Warbler. Rarities include Five-striped Sparrow and, in winter, Elegant Trogon.
When to go
Year-round; best in April, May, and July through October.
National forest, no fees. Canyon access via hiking trail #145 along a cottonwood/willow riparian area through oak grassland. Trailhead is at the southeast corner of parking lot and initially parallels the fenced boundary of Florida Work Center, which is off limits to birders.
Please do not play tapes of Rufous-capped Warbler in the canyon, but do learn its vocalizations before you go. I have never seen Rufous-cappeds without hearing them first.
For more info
Subscribe to the Arizona/New Mexico birding listserv — and follow the weekly report of the Southeast Arizona Rare Bird Alert from Tucson Audubon.
Gear for a rough trail
The trail follows and crosses the creek bed, water sometimes flowing or with intermittent pools. Rocks can be slippery and there is an old stone dam to negotiate. Additionally the chaparral is thick, and the Rufous-cappeds are skulkers. I recommend a light, handholdable zoom lens (100-400mm is perfect) and my favorite photography accessory, tile-layers’ kneepads, for a “kneel, wait, and listen” strategy.