Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The First Bird Lists

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Last August I was on a field trip to Fort Huachuca during the American Birding Association annual convention in Tucson, AZ. Where's Fort Huachuca? It's tuck into the foothills and canyons of the Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista, Arizona, south of Tucson. It's an old U.S. Army base created back in the days when we spent our time and effort trying to "tame" the Southwest and all its inhabitants.

Some of the most famous bird watching spots in the Southwest are within the boundaries of the fort, including Garden Canyon and Sheelite Canyon. Garden Canyon is known as a reliable place to find specialty species such as elegant trogon, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, northern beardless tyrannulet, and painted redstart. Sheelite is famous for its nesting spotted owls. Birders from all over the world come to Fort Huachuca, and the officials running the fort are kind enough to permit us to roam the roads and trails looking for these birds.

But we weren't the first people to take note of the special birds of the Huachucas. Native Americans such as the Apache were watching, marveling at, and even rendering the likenesses of the region's birdlife.

Today you can still see evidence of the Apaches' interest in birds in the form of surviving cave paintings. These ancient images are surprisingly recognizable as many of the particular birds, snakes, and animals of the area. These may be North America's first recorded life lists!
The easiest paintings to see in Garden Canyon are at the two upper pull-offs, past the entrance to the Scheelite Canyon trail. The Army has erected fencing to protect the cave art, so you'll have to be content to observe them from a distance, through your binoculars. It's ancient birding and it's a blast to try to figure out which bird species are being depicted.

My buddy Wezil Walraven, who first showed me these cave paintings, is in contact with the Fort Huachuca natural history officer and I am hoping to get some additional information on these paintings soon. When I do, I'll add it here to Bill of the Birds, which, I guess, when you think about it, is our modern form of cave painting.


On December 7, 2005 at 4:18 PM bisbeebird said...


We sometimes take our workshop participants here and challenge them to find the hummingbird. Amid the big raptors with banded tails (Imm. Golden Eagle? Zone-tailed?) tucked away on a vertical rock is a nice little hummingbird. The Apache rock art here overlays even earlier peoples art. Cool site!

Tom Wood
SABO- Bisbee, AZ