No other sound is as evocative of the mountain canyons of our “sky islands” in southeastern Arizona as the “Kwaa Kwaa Kwaa” of the Elegant Trogon. Even if you are not a birder or have never heard of a trogon you would know that this sound comes from something big and exotic. The bright red and green bird that makes the call looks like it belongs in the jungles of Costa Rica rather than an Arizona canyon and indeed most trogon species are restricted to the tropics. But we are thrilled to have this representative, along with its much rarer cousin the Eared Quetzal, in our part of the world.
We recently participated in an Elegant Trogon census in the nearby Huachuca Mountains. It didn’t take any arm-twisting to convince us to spend a beautiful summer morning hiking in the Miller Peak Wilderness Area quietly listening for trogons. We only found three males, all noisily advertising for mates and staking out their territories in the sycamore lined canyon bottoms. Hopefully they are better at locating female trogons than we proved to be. Despite being large and colorful (the females are less so), trogons can be very difficult to locate when they are silent. Perhaps there were female admirers perched quietly watching the proceedings.
The long drought in the southwest is taking its toll. The many species of evergreen oaks are showing the stress of a record freeze in late winter and no winter rains. Insect numbers are extremely low and some of our insectivorous birds appear to have deferred nesting this year. Fires in the nearby Chiricahua Mountains displaced some mountain species, including trogons to marginal habitat including our neighborhood in Bisbee. The Huachuca Mountains had a large fire in mid-June, although firefighters were able to save the sheltered canyons in the northern part of the mountains, including the one we surveyed.
Maybe we will go back to Sunnyside canyon to see if our trogons found a mate. The summer rains have begun and hope is in the air.