Trying for Trogons: Memories from Camp Chiricahua 2012

Southeast Arizona is home to a dazzling array of beautiful and rare birds, but one species is foremost in the minds of birders travelling to the region than any other: the Elegant Trogon. On Camp Chiricahua last summer, the bird was never far from our thoughts, given that it graced the cover of all of our checklists.

By Eamon Corbett

Southeast Arizona is home to a dazzling array of beautiful
and rare birds, but one species is foremost in the minds of birders travelling
to the region than any other: the Elegant Trogon. On Camp Chiricahua last
summer, the bird was never far from our thoughts, given that it graced the
cover of all of our checklists. The northernmost representative of a family of
tropical rainforest denizens, the trogon is a large, stunning red-and-green
bird that nests in the cavities in Arizona Sycamores along rivers. This habitat
is most easily accessed in Cave Creek Canyon, above the town of Portal,
Arizona, in the Chiricahuas, so all of us campers were eagerly anticipating the
hike up the road into the canyon.

IMG_5186
Moonset at Cave Creek Ranch (Photo by Jennie Duberstein)

The rest of the campers and I, accompanied by trip leaders
Michael O’Brian, Louise Zemaitis, and Jennie Duberstein, set off on a Saturday
morning, following the road above the Cave Creek Ranch. The sheer rock walls of
the canyon loomed on either side of us. Along the way we searched, without
luck, for the elusive Montezuma Quail (we’d get it eventually: see James’s
earlier post
). There were no quail to be found, but we were entertained
by Mexican Jays, the fantastic songs of Canyon Wrens on the slopes above us,
and the “squeaky toy” calls of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. For the
butterfly-watchers in the group there were beauties like the Bordered Patch,
Two-tailed Swallowtail, and Golden-banded Skipper.

IMG_5188
Cathedral Vista (Photo by Jennie Duberstein)

But as we approached the sycamore-lined river, it was clear
what the primary quarry of the day was, and all eyes and ears were focused on
finding a trogon. Suddenly, Michael stopped: “Did you heard that?!”

In the distance was the unmistakable call of an Elegant
Trogon! We scanned the trees in the direction that the call seemed to be coming
from, and suddenly someone spotted it: a brilliant adult male trogon perched in
a sycamore. Camera shutters clicked madly, and broad smiles appeared on the
faces of everyone. As trogons often do, it sat relatively still with its unique
hunch-backed posture, giving everyone excellent looks. At the urging of our
leaders, we took detailed field notes. In addition to the shiny green back and
head and vivid red underparts, I noted the orange-red orbital ring setting of a
dark eye, the broad yellow bill, and the long, coppery dark-tipped tail. It sat
preening as everyone watched, still somewhat awed, flew a short distance, and
then crossed the road, giving a sputtering call, and disappeared deeper into
the forest.

IMG_5200
Trogon watching! (Photo by Jennie Duberstein)

With such a remarkable target bird seen better than we could
have expected, spirits were very high as we took a short loop walk to get a
great vista of the canyon (Black-throated Gray Warbler was a nice bonus). But
the trogon show wasn’t over. As we approached the “trogon-spot” on the way
back, we found the adult male again. But this time, he was accompanied by two
juvenile trogons! The young birds were not as brightly-colored as the adult,
but were still striking: browner with white flashes on the outside of their
tails, white-spotted wings, and a white bar through each eye. All three trogons
were extremely active, eating grapes from vines in the trees. While this
doesn’t seem like a particularly challenging proposition, they were apparently
too heavy to feed from the vines at their leisure, and instead resorted to
making quick sallies and plucking grapes while hovering in a flash of red,
green, and white.

After watching them foraging for a while, we parted ways
with the trogons and started back down the canyon towards Portal, ecstatic at
our close encounter with a bird so stunning and so emblematic of our camp’s
namesakes, the incomparable Chiricahua Mountains.

IMG_5192
Taking a short rest after all of the trogon excitement. (Photo by Jennie Duberstein)

Hoping for your own trogon experience this summer? Learn about attending Camp Chiricahua 2013 here.


EamonspainAbout the author: Eamon Corbett is a 17-year-old birder and bird blogger from Pelham, New York, and one of the Student Blog Editors of The Eyrie. He has been birding for almost as long as he could talk, thanks in part to regular family vacations to Florida, where Osprey and Turkey Vultures first caught his eye. Read more of Eamon’s writing on his blog, Flight Log.

2013-04-24T01:51:16+00:00