Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Hard' Closure Coming to Cave Creek Canyon

On Monday, the Forest Service plans to institute a 'hard' closure of Cave Creek Canyon, meaning no entry by any means, including foot, except to canyon residents. The closure will most likely last for months. Thus, tomorrow is the last day when people can enter the canyon on foot.

I've learned a few other details: the Herb Martyr Road above the research station is washed out at Crystal Wash.

Columbus Electric laid a ground wire up the canyon, so that the research station now has electricity, but no fiber optics cable for Internet.

The South Fork Road is okay to the bridge and cabins (though in need of cleanup), but above the cabins it is gone. South Fork reclaimed it. Interestingly, the picnic area and bathroom at the trailhead are intact.

The water system to the FS campgrounds is broken.

Below the canyon, John and Morgan's straw bale home was flooded inside, and up to the top of the first layer of bales. They may need a hand in cleaning up!

Farther away to the east, the Peloncillos were as hard hit as the Chiricahuas. The county road south of Animas into the Animas Valley and Diamond A (Gray) Ranch has been washed out in some places. At the southern end, along Geronimo Trail (accessed from 15th Street in Douglas), the old wooden bridge supporting the road has been completely swept away. This means that access to Guadalupe Canyon, the Slaughter Ranch, and Clanton Canyon has been severed.

One positive note: the Chiricahua Leopard Frogs in Reed's pond at Cave Creek Ranch have survived!

Portal after Hurricane Odile, Part 2

The Forest Service has closed the road into Cave Creek Canyon indefinitely. In places the road has been seriously undermined, even washed away. Anyone needing to access the Southwest Research Station will have to approach from Paradise via East Turkey Creek, then turn left and drop down into Cave Creek Canyon.

Bud and Deborah Johnson hiked into South Fork to the trailhead. They report that the road below the bridge is bad. The bridge and two cabins survive intact, with possibly a small amount of flooding in the cabins, but above the bridge, the road to the trailhead is simply gone. The rumor is that the Forest Service may not replace the road at all; I haven't been able to reach anyone who could confirm that.

(I often walk the South Fork road, and don't believe it's a big loss if in the future we have a trail rather than a road for that half-mile above the bridge. Beginning at the junction with the main canyon road, the South Fork road often hosts more species of birds than the trail up the canyon, although most birders don't realize that, and drive right past this excellent habitat in their hurry to get to the trailhead.)

Alan and I stopped by Cave Creek Ranch to ask Reed about the damage there, and to lend a hand. Floodwaters did enter several cabins; he's in the process of pulling up wet carpet and pads, and mucking out the dense silt that covers the flooded floors. Tony and Rene have very kindly been helping.

The propane tank was floating in the floodwaters, and Reed tied it to a tree with clothesline to prevent its voyage downstream. Another tank from someone's place across the creek probably had a broken valve; the smell of propane was strong.

Woodland Cottage, sans part of its former woodland, with the back porch seriously undermined and about a foot of silt on the front patio. 
(Photos by Narca)

In Woodland Cottage, the most impacted of the ranch's cabins, the floodline on the interior was about 18" high. Water overtopped the bathtub and floated the refrigerator, which fell over on its side, where it was found still running –– even with the electric sockets having been under water!

Silt piled against the front door had to be dug out to allow the door to open.

In a digression, another favorite birder destination is the Casa de San Pedro in Hereford, next to the San Pedro River. Patrick and Karl, the owners, tell me that they were prepared for the San Pedro River to rise 18' –– and it rose 21'. One of their main issues, like Reed's, is mud everywhere; their landscaping also needs major work. They do hope to be back in business soon.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Portal After Storm Odile

For friends of Portal everywhere, the bottom line is that everyone is okay, after the remnants of Hurricane Odile targeted the Chiricahua Mountains and the sister villages of Portal, Arizona, and Rodeo, New Mexico. At our home, we received 5.29" of rain over a four-day period, nearly all of it falling on Wednesday night. (Contrast that with 11" in an hour at Cabo San Lucas, where the hurricane made landfall!)

We woke yesterday morning to a roaring creek in our normally-dry arroyo, and found ourselves homebound, until the flash flood went down.

Flashing arroyo cuts across our road
(Photos by Narca)

This morning, we joined neighbors Mark and Kathy Luckadoo to move rocks from the road down at the crossing, rake it, and smooth it until we could again drive through.

Mark, Kathy, and Alan at work on the crossing

Test run over the crossing––yes!

Then Alan and I went on a fact-finding foray.

This video taken yesterday showed Cave Creek flowing over the Portal Bridge. By today, the water had dropped below the bridge.

Portal Bridge, with some damage

Water level on Friday at the Portal Bridge

We were relieved to learn that our friends and neighbors appear all accounted for. Yes, everyone, the three houses below the research station, but above the South Fork confluence, all survived. Water ran over portions of the property, but spared the houses.  Phone service and power lines are all down for much of the canyon, including parts of Portal.

The American Museum of Natural History's Southwest Research Station also survived, though I don't know the extent of the damage. Dawn Wilson, SWRS director, was able to come out today, in search of generators. All I've been told is that about 35 people are at the station, without drinking water. Included are about 20 students from Wales. The station has begun to evacuate their guests.

The major damage is to the area of the canyon below the confluence of South Fork and the main fork of Cave Creek, where the two vastly swollen streams converged. Flooding was definitely a problem above that confluence also, for these three homes and for the research station, but at least those places weren't swept away.

The bridges are intact, and today an engineer is evaluating their integrity for the US Forest Service.

Road closure into Cave Creek Canyon

Right now the road into Cave Creek Canyon is closed at the Visitor Information Center. Above the VIC, near the lower campgrounds where the road splits and goes on both sides of an island of trees, the righthand road has been completely washed away. The left is still passable. So repair to infrastructure, mainly to the road, will no doubt keep the canyon closed for a while, to all but the most essential traffic. Here is a link to photos of the damage above the road closure.

Folks have been concerned enough for Linda Jakse that I should say specifically––she's okay. We were told that the water rose above their patio to the back door, but no further. When it receded, the patio had even survived. The future gatherings that she and Paul will no doubt host on that patio are not in jeopardy.

A number of homes literally became islands in the storm, yet they all emerged intact, or mostly so. Peter and Mary Sue Waser have impressive video of the raging Cave Creek flowing around their entire home, but I'm not able to find it online. Here is a very similar video by Deborah Johnson. Amazingly, only a little water entered their utility room. Other creekside homes, including Gloria's, Howard and Carol's, Eskild and Susan's, Richard and Rose Ann's, Marge Fagan's, are all okay, although some outbuildings and wells are damaged. I haven't heard how Dinah's home fared, other than rumor that when last seen, it was high and dry.

Peter and Mary Sue's home became an island in the stream.

From the Wasers' home, the river flowed down the main street of Portal, in front of the library and post office, before channeling back into the main creek bed.

The main street in Portal, which became a river for awhile

Here is Laura Mullen's video of water flowing down the main street! (The same area is shown in Deborah Johnson's video above.) The people in the video are standing on the rock wall you see in the distance in this photo.

Cave Creek Ranch suffered damage to creekside cabins. This video taken at the lodge gives you some idea of the power of the raging creek.

In some places, Cave Creek now flows down a new primary watercourse.

Across from the visitor center, Cave Creek has a new channel

Let's correct some misinformation reported by the sheriff's office and by national television: Gloria, our elder friend––and Portal's Honorary Mayor!––who was rescued from her home after Howard checked on her, was not up to her knees in water inside her home! Her situation was similar to the Wasers'. Water flowed all around her house but only a tiny bit got inside. However, her rescuers had to carry her through knee-deep water to retrieve her. She's fine now.

The Cochise County sheriff checked on people around Portal, to make sure everyone was accounted for. We do appreciate all the help from the sheriff's deputies, the Forest Service, the Border Patrol, and the county road folks, in dealing with the storm and its aftermath. Thank you!!

My information for Rodeo and the San Simon Valley is much sketchier. It did appear for awhile, however, that the ancient Pleistocene lake might reestablish itself to the north of Rodeo. The sheriff's Facebook page has a photo from State Line Road, along the AZ-NM border. Next, our valley gets to remember that it is, actually, a semidesert grassland.

We all appreciate your concern and well-wishes. We're drying out now! And the butterflies are out in force. Hummingbirds are still swarming, Violet-green Swallows and Swainson's Hawks are still migrating.

Bordered Patch on sunflowers at the Visitor Information Center

Sunday, June 8, 2014

White-collared Seedeaters and Friends

A rich site like the San José del Cabo Estuary invites exploring, especially in the cool early morning hours. Besides the waterbirds and celebrated Belding's Yellowthroats, many other species thrive in the riparian habitat. This must be the world epicenter for Hooded Orioles!

A splendid male Hooded Oriole

Gilded Flickers inhabit nearly the entire Baja peninsula.

Both Common Ground-Doves (like this one) and Ruddy Ground-Doves 
live at the estuary –– but have you ever seen one foraging in beach sand?

An elegant Rough-winged Swallow pauses for a moment.

Our most unexpected find is a handful of White-collared Seedeaters, which must be a recent arrival in Baja. The standard publications don't list them for the peninsula, although their occurrence here in southern Baja is mentioned on the website of Handbook of the Birds of the World (Internet Bird Collection).

A male White-collared Seedeater of the West Mexican race...

and the female White-collared Seedeater, also eating what seedeaters eat!

Hmm, yes –– we have to figure her out first. The male waits till the more difficult ID has been resolved, before he appears!

(By the way, if there is a next trip to Cabo, I'll be parasailing! It looks like great fun.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Waterbirds at San José del Cabo Estuary

Face-to-face with a Common Gallinule
(Photos by Narca)

As a RAMSAR wetland of international importance, the San José del Cabo Estuary supports a wide range of water-dependent birds, ranging from that quintessential fisherman, the Osprey, to ibis, shorebirds, herons, ducks.

An Osprey in late afternoon light

We find the usual suspects for such a locale.

An immature Double-crested Cormorant, sporting orange lores

Reflections are lovely around this female Ruddy Duck.

Black-crowned Night-Herons quietly hunker down at the water's edge.

A graceful Great Egret leaps into the air.

A few Spotted Sandpipers still linger into early May.

A very tame American Coot

A few yearling White-faced Ibis forage here, 
probably not yet ready to head north to breed.

An immature California Gull, one of many

The bulk of the hundreds of gulls are immature California Gulls, also not yet old enough to head north to their breeding grounds. Might as well lounge on the beaches of Baja!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

San Jose del Cabo Estuary

Our final birding destination is the estuary of San José del Cabo, a 42-hectare freshwater coastal lagoon, and home to Belding's Yellowthroat.

Looking toward the less-disturbed side of San José del Cabo Estuary
(Photos by Narca)

Estero San José del Cabo is both a RAMSAR wetland of international importance and an Important Bird Area.

Sign about Estero San José del Cabo

Construction of the old Hotel Presidente adjacent to the estuary was controversial, because part of the estuary was destroyed to build it. In addition, habitat along that entire side of the estuary has been converted by the town to a public park, leaving precious little wetland for the endangered yellowthroats. (At least activities like fishing are prohibited!)

A public park now occupies the west side of the estuary.

Lovely Washingtonia fan palms are prominent plants here.

Palo verdes are also in bloom.

The Presidente is now owned by Holiday Inn, and we stay there, in spite of the lingering guilt-by-association. From the Holiday Inn, access to the estuary is excellent, and the Holiday Inn has a more laid-back, comfortable feel than other resorts in the area. Ironically, the town's creation of a public park on one side of the estuary has made the reedy habitat more accessible to birders, and we find that the yellowthroats are very easy to see.

A very cooperative male Belding's Yellowthroat at the estuary

Notice the yellow frame above his mask, where a 
male Common Yellowthroat would show white.

A female Belding's Yellowthroat

This endangered warbler is restricted to a handful of remnant wetlands in Baja. Habitat loss and degradation are the major threats. About 500 individual yellowthroats are thought to remain in the estuary. We find about eight Belding's Yellowthroats here, and a single male Common Yellowthroat in a tree by the water.

Conservation strategies to help the yellowthroat have only been developed over the past few years, and are now being pursued. Here at the tip of Baja, the pressure from up-scale developments is extreme. One proposal to create more habitat for the yellowthroats is to create marshes on golf courses and resorts that are developed within the yellowthroat's range.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miraflores, a Village in Baja

North of San José del Cabo, and nestled at the foot of the Sierra de la Laguna, is the very beautiful Mexican village of Miraflores. We drive around the village, searching for Xantus' Hummingbirds, and find them foraging in the flower gardens.

A female Xantus' Hummingbird, with her red-and-black bill buried 
in a red flower (Photo by Narca)

Small dirt roads leading out of town also go through interesting habitat, where we find (among other species) a Thick-billed Kingbird, more Gray Thrashers, Phainopeplas, Gilded Flickers, a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest, Pyrrhuloxias, Plumbeous Vireo, Scott's Oriole, and many, many Hooded Orioles.

A female Hooded Oriole probes the fruit of a cardón cactus.

Gila Woodpeckers are at home on the big cacti, as they are in Arizona.

Baja's other resident gnatcatcher, the Blue-gray, is building a nest.

This Gray Thrasher is carrying bits of food to new hatchlings.

Another Gray Thrasher's nest

Flowering mimosa trees are a magnet for orioles.

Herpetologists get pretty excited about Baja, too.

A magnificent Baja Spinytail Iguana