Arizona Birds Part Two

Part two of my continuing series on the different Arizona birds that I encountered last month takes us to one of the two blinds that I took advantage of in southeast Arizona. The images in this post all come from the Madera Canyon blind that you read about in the paragraphs below. Click the images to view larger.

Arizona birds
White-breasted Nuthatch

As I was planning my trip, I had accumulated far more places I wanted to visit than I had time for. I would only be in Arizona for 5 days, and I needed to set aside 2 and 1/2 days for family. That leaves just 2 full days and a morning for photography. It was tough deciding where I wanted to go and what I hoped to accomplish. I already knew I would be visiting the Gilbert Water Ranch at least once during the trip, so I needed to pick 1 or 2 other places to focus on.

Arizona birds
Dark-eyed Junco

As I mapped out these destinations, it became apparent that I would spend more time driving and hiking for birds than I would actually photographing them. That wasn’t going to work, so I reached out to a Flickr contact that had photographed Arizona birds last April for some suggestions. He came back with a list of 10 places he recommended that had been good for him. The first two places, The Pond at Elephant Head – Bill Forbes and Madera Canyon – Bill Forbes were his favorite. I knew where Madera Canyon was, but I had never heard of The Pond at Elephant Head or Bill Forbes. So it was off to the almighty Google to learn more. What I learned is that Bill has a pair of blinds for photographers. One of them is at his home in the Elephant Head area (named after a mountain nearby) and another in Madera Canyon. I also learned that Bill invented the Phototrap which is a device used to trigger a camera when something breaks an infrared beam. Bill uses it to photograph bats diving into a pond in his backyard for a drink of water at night. Click the link to learn more about the Phototrap, and click this link to learn more about his photography blinds.

Arizona birds
Lesser Goldfinch (Lifer)

I contacted Bill and arranged for an afternoon at Madera Canyon and a morning at Elephant Head for photography. I definitely recommend the photography blinds. Bill has portable perches that you can move around in order to photograph the birds that come to both blinds. The blinds are at different elevations, so you get a completely different variety of birds at each blind. Both blinds have water, food, fruit, suet and other attractants to bring the birds in. You basically sit in the blinds and wait for the birds to show up. This was far more productive than driving and hiking all over the state looking for different birds. Naturally I wasn’t able to see everything Arizona has to offer, but given my limited time, this was an excellent opportunity to make the best use of the time I had available.

Arizona birds
Bridled Titmouse (Lifer)

Once Bill oriented me to everything at the Madera Canyon blind, he left me alone to arrange the perches as I wanted. He employs many free-standing stands with large perches in them as well as some clamps that he uses to attach to a table that holds the water source and other ground perches. I wish I had been sharp enough to take a photo of the setup with my iPhone for the blog. I’m really bad at letting the simple photos slip away that would really enhance the storytelling in my blog. I promise to do better in the future.

Arizona birds
Broad-billed Hummingbird (Lifer)

Once everything was positioned and I got settled into the blind, it was time to wait. I got everything setup the way I wanted around 1:30 or so. After about 5 minutes of quiet, the Mexican Jays announced their presence and the caravan of birds began (including those already posted above).

Arizona birds
Mexican Jay (Lifer)

After the jays made their appearance (and gorge on most of the food), I heard the strangest noise coming from the tree above me. I couldn’t look up into the tree as I was hidden in the blind, so I had to hope that whatever it was would make an appearance. Much to my surprise, an Acorn Woodpecker showed up to check out the goods. I wasn’t expecting an Acorn Woodpecker, but they are common in the canyon.

Arizona birds
Acorn Woodpecker (Lifer)

Shortly after the Acorn Woodpecker stopped by, his best buddy, the Arizona Woodpecker made an appearance.

Arizona birds
Arizona Woodpecker (Lifer)

It didn’t take long for another surprise bird to show up. I was thrilled to see a Hepatic Tanager drop by.

Arizona birds
Hepatic Tanager (Lifer)

I got a brief glimpse and just a few frames of a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. He was feeding on the ground, so the angle and environment was all wrong, but at least I got a shot of him.

Arizona birds
Rufous-crowned Sparrow (Lifer)

I also got a glimpse of a somewhat uncooperative Lincoln’s Sparrow. He spent some time picking at the variety of seeds offered, but he wouldn’t land on the perches that were closer to me and that I wanted him on. I guess I’ll just have to go back and try again!

Arizona birds
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Lifer)

But clearly, the most magnificent find of the day had to be the Magnificent Hummingbird. Compared to the other hummers around, this guy is twice the size and he sounds like a helicopter when he flies overhead. He spent most of his time chasing off other hummingbirds that were coming to the feeder, but for a short time, he entertained me with a little preening while I waited patiently for him to show off. Score!!

Arizona birds
Magnificent Hummingbird (Lifer)

So to sum up, I’d have to say that the 4 hours I spent in the blind at Madera Canyon were quite productive. Add to that the amount of fun I had that afternoon, it was certainly a smart choice to hook up with Bill and his blind. I started shooting that day at 6:30am at the Gilbert Water Ranch, took a 4 hour break to eat some lunch and travel to Madera Canyon, then continued shooting until 6:00pm. I shot 1600+ images that day and I can unequivocally say that I was one tired photographer at the end of that day. But I slept like a baby with a huge smile on my face.

The next post will detail the morning I had at the Elephant Head blind down in the desert valley.


  • Jess Yarnell

    April 15, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Oh my gosh! These are wonderful! You can’t see it, but I’ve got drool all over my chin, haha. Seriously, what a great trip! I’m so happy you had this opportunity.

    • Michael

      April 15, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      There’s even more, but this might have been the best of the two days. Stay tuned!

  • Donna Faylo

    April 16, 2014 at 8:36 am

    OMG, I am green with envy! These photos and opportunities were FANTASTIC!!! I say “Road Trip”!!!!