Before coming to Portal for the birds, I researched the best places to see them. One book mentioned a walk down Portal’s Main Street as a good birding opportunity. I was surprised when we arrived to find that Portal’s Main Street is far from looking “Main.” It is just a short narrow road with about four businesses and several residences. Portal is tiny with one cafe/lodge, a doctor’s office, post office and library. We dropped in to the post office and met the postmistress who reported that she has worked there for 40 years and wants to retire, but is afraid they will close the building once she leaves as there is no one to take over.
Although in a remote area, Portal’s cafe and lodge is bustling with visitors and seems to be the heart of the town. This is a popular area for birders who come to see the hummingbirds and many other birds that flock to the Chiricahua Mountains with Portal situated at their base. Some of the town’s residents have opened their yards to birders and diligently keep feeders stocked. Some yards attract certain kinds of birds and word gets around among the birders where to go see them. When we asked several visitors where we could find a Crissal Thrasher, we were told Bob’s yard would be the best opportunity. Although we visited twice, we never saw one, but we did see many other birds like the Gambel’s Quail below.
Ms. Johnson’s yard in the photo below has a welcoming gate for birders and chairs arranged in different parts of the yard for viewing. She came out and sat with us for awhile, pointing out some of the birds we saw. Some yards have donation boxes to offset the cost of seed but she didn’t have one and refused to take a donation.
On one fun day of birding we visited three different yards including Dave Jasper’s pictured below. Cave Creek Lodge was another great spot and the perfect vacation lodge for birders. It has a beautiful location under rocky cliffs and plenty of places around the property to see the birds at feeders.
The Chiricahua Mountains are grand and mysterious with their rocky cliffs and spires. Although we had hoped to visit Chiricahua National Monument as well, since it was a bit of a drive over a horrible road and we were enjoying so much birding, we decided to spend our time in the Portal area. Besides, we were experiencing some of the same beautiful scenery here. I took the photos below after walking a short trail to a viewpoint.
Mark and I got tips from two different people that we must go and see the Whiskered Screech Owl. The first tip was from a birding guide who told us where to stop on the road when we saw two large sycamore branches hanging over. We drove to the spot and diligently searched but no luck. The next day when I visited a small visitor center and asked the volunteer if there were any birding hot spots, he said that we should definitely check out the Whiskered screech owl and gave very detailed directions on how to find it reporting it had just been sighted that day. Ever persistent, we drove back to the road and followed his directions. After a great deal of searching where two other birders saw us on the side of the road and joined in, we gave it up. I wanted to see this new “life” bird but the Whiskered screech owl would have to remain for another place and time. (Just like Mark’s official Chiricahua National Monument stamp).
We visited the Southwestern Research Station, a biological field station where scientists, naturalists, teachers and students come to study the plants, animals and birds of the region. This is a diverse environment from low deserts to alpine meadows, home to many different species. The Station is affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. While there, we talked to a group from the Bronx – high school students doing field projects. One of their leaders showed us photos of the owl banding they had done the previous night. We spent quite a bit of time at the hummingbird feeders which were buzzing with activity. We were able to see about seven different species, including the largest hummingbird found in the United States – Blue-throated and the second largest – Magnificent (Rivoli).
We really enjoyed our brief visit in the “town” of Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains area. In the next post I will be exploring one of my favorite national monuments! (And for those that might be getting tired of bird posts and photos, there will be no birds mentioned – smiley face).