Operation PhotoTrogon Stop #6 – Carr Canyon

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.

After leaving Miller Canyon we took the road up to Carr Canyon which proved to be quite an arduous trip of 5 miles on a very long and winding dirt road.

It was steep and rocky and bouncy and if you looked over the edge as you were driving you would likely get vertigo, because it was a long ways down to Sierra Vista.

Our target up the canyon was the Reef Townsite Campground an unusual campground way at the top of the canyon.

At over 7200 feet the habitat changes from the Madrean Oak shrubland to to a pine forest with cool breezes and cooler temperatures.


This high mountain campground was constructed on a site that was once occupied by the old mining town of Reef. That remote outpost got its name from the nearby Carr Reef, a tall band of quartzite-bearing cliffs that form the Huachuca Mountains’ dramatic eastern front. Mining activity along the Reef began during the last few years of the nineteenth century and proceeded in fits and starts all the way into the 1950’s.

The property occupied by the mines and the town was returned to public ownership in 1970, and in 1988, the Forest Service constructed a campground on the townsite. A number of picnic tables and tent pads were placed within the visible outlines of old cabin foundations. From Reef Townsite Campground webpage



This is a location that I had been to several times before and it would probably be the best place for many of our remainder target birds. As we pulled into the campground and rolled our windows down a birder walked up and started a conversation with us. He shared with us that they had seen Grace’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Buff-bellied Flycatcher and a Greater Pewee.

As we were talking a vireo began calling quite loudly in the trees just above us. We got on it right away and using our Merlin app again determined that we were indeed listening to the Plumbeous Vireo which is an all gray version of the Cassin’s Vireo but with no yellowish or tan coloration at all.

Plumbeous Vireo

This bird continued to sing almost the entire time we were there. We eventually encountered several more of the Plumbeous Vireos and got very accustomed to their song and what they look like.

Plumbeous Vireo

Next in the trees above us we saw a flycatcher flitting around catching insects and we quickly determined due to its all tan coloration that it was our target Buff-bellied Flycatcher.

As we walked around the campground for the next hour and a half we managed to find and photograph Hepatic Tanager, Grace’s Warbler, Painted Redstart and a Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Hepatic Tanager
Grace’s Warbler
Painted Redstart
Dusky-capped Flycatcher


We left the Reef Townsite Campground and headed towards the top of Carr Canyon to the Ramsey Vista Campground. I had just been talking with Rich about what the Greater Pewee sounds like with its “Jose Maria” call and as we cruised very slowly up the canyon I could hear the sounds of Mr. Jose Maria, AKA Greater Pewee calling from the top of the ridge.

Greater Pewee

By the time we headed back down the canyon Rich had snagged 4 more lifers bringing his trip lifer list up to 10!

Ebird Checklist Links: Carr Canyon–Reef Townsite CG and Carr Canyon Road–BETWEEN Reef Townsite and Ramsey Vista CGs

Next Stop – Return to Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary

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