Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #4 – Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary

By Jim Gain


This blog series chronicles the adventures that Rich Brown and I experienced on our quest to find and photograph the amazing birds of Southeast Arizona in May of 2022.



Nestled against the Huachuca Mountain Range just south of Sierra Vista and about 10 miles north of the US/Mexico border, the sanctuary used to be the Ash Canyon B&B owned and lovingly maintained by Mary Jo Ballator. Her dedication and devotion created a destination where people from around the world came to visit to see rare and beautiful birds like the Lucifer Hummingbird and Plain-capped Star-throat.

I met Mary Jo in April of 2019 when I spent almost an entire day birding and chatting with her and other birders. I remember so distinctly as she pointed to a smaller hummingbird feeder and stating “The male Lucifer Hummingbird prefers to visit this one first and he will perch briefly on this branch. Be ready because he’ll be here shortly!” Not 5 minutes later I got this image as he paused briefly on that exact branch. She was such a nice person and I vowed to return to visit her again. Sadly, Mary Jo passed away barely a month later.

Lucifer Hummingbird – April 2019


Dr. Mario Molina contacted the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory offering to donate the full asking price of the property so that it could remain protected and open to the public. With this extraordinarily generous donation and the blessings of Mary Jo’s family, SABO assumed ownership of the property on November 1, 2019, to be managed as a permanent sanctuary for birds, other wildlife, and the people who love them.


As we left the Paton Center, we were sitting at 67 species for the trip with Rich sitting at 3 lifers with the addition of the Ruddy Ground Dove. We had visited the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary when we came here in January of 2021 and were hopeful of getting some of the migrating birds we had missed then. As we pulled in to the parking area at 4:00 pm, our first thoughts were to find out if the Lucifer Hummingbird was being seen. Comments from others seem to indicate that “someone” had seen it recently. Another one of Rich’s target birds, Scott’s Oriole, had also been seen. As we watched both the hummingbird feeders and seed feeders, the local birds gave us lots of “Kodak Moments.”

Mexican Jay
Bronzed Cowbird
Lazuli Bunting – Female
Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Shortly after 6:00, a van full of birders pulled into the parking lot and we now had many eyes watching the feeders.

I happened to walk around to the public blinds area and I noticed a small, yellow-faced bird hopping around at the base of one of the smaller Mesquite trees. I immediately recognized it as a GRACE’S WARBLER. Rather than focusing on getting a photo of it, I called out to the group of birders sitting nearby and I tried to get them on it. Right away, the leader of the group commented, “It’s probably just a Yellow-rumped Warbler, ignore it. Grace’s Warbler doesn’t occur here.” Two of his group did get on the bird and confirmed the ID. He was correct in that Grace’s Warbler is a higher elevation bird, but we caught one that was passing through.


I spent several minutes trying to re-find and photograph the warbler to no avail.

A couple of minutes later, Rich comes up to me to show me the LCD panel of his camera to ID an unusual bird he had just photographed. Sure enough, the Grace’s Warbler had popped up down at the lower feeding station and was posing for all the birders there. Photo by Rich Brown


The name of the bird likely derives from the Latin meaning of “Lucifer”, which is interpreted as “light-bearing” and likely refers to the iridescent gorget of the male.

One of the sanctuary volunteers commented that the bird liked to come in close to dusk and fill up for the night. Suddenly, the call goes out, “Feeder Station E, it’s here!” Sure enough, the male Lucifer Hummingbird came in not once, but several times as dusk settled in at the sanctuary. Lifer #5 for Rich.

Lucifer Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird

Ebird Checklist Link

Next Stop: Miller Canyon–Beatty’s Guest Ranch

2 thoughts on “Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #4 – Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary”

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