To  Cave Creek 
               Canyon  Friends

Our Mission is to inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of Cave Creek Canyon through volunteer work and outreach programs.

[By Steve Wolfe]         

The Eared Quetzal

[Bob Rodrigues]
The Avian Blue Moon
           By Helen Snyder
When you hear that something happens "Once in a blue moon", it means  rarely.  And something much rarer than a 'blue moon' appeared in Portal on June 7 when Peg Abbott and I finally identified  the bird that was the source of some strange calls we'd been hearing: it was a flashy, loud and colorful Eared Quetzal, a larger relative of our Elegant Trogon. This bird is a denizen of Mexico's high pine forests in the Sierra Madre Occidental and the species is normally wary and hard to glimpse. But this young male was oddly oblivious to us as he landed right overhead and fed upon fat bristly caterpillars it plucked from sycamore leaves growing along Cave Creek among the summer recreation residences above the Southwestern Research Station.   

Over the previous ten days two cabin owners had heard occasional raucous sounds when this Eared Quetzal settled in unnoticed among the cabins along Cave Creek on road 42A above the Southwestern Research Station. I heard its 'K ekekek-kek-kek ' call a single time on the Trogon census day and wrote it off as an aberrant Cooper's Hawk. Peg did the same a week later, until we were sitting on my patio  and  heard  the unmistakable ' Squeee-chuk " call which I recognized from weeks spent camping among nesting Eared Quetzals in Mexican high-elevation forests. On its breeding grounds the Eared Quetzal gives a very different territorial call, a beautiful bell-like series of fast triplet notes, very different from the two vocalizations we heard.  
Since its first US record in 1977 Eared Quetzals have appeared only infrequently several times a decade or so. Several decades  ago  a pair nested in the Huachucas in October but failed after a cold snap. Any eager birder that hasn't seen one has it permanently on their Most Wanted Holy Grail Bucket Bird List of Lists. Sightings in the past have launched large crowds. And with few confirmed records since 2005, this one was going to bring a lot of birders. But COVID-19 concerns were riding high in Portal and with cases on the increase in Arizona, we had a dilemma: do we risk bringing COVID-19 to Portal, or do we keep this sighting quiet?   

I conferred with top local birder Richard Webster and we decided that because the Quetzal was so audible and visible from the gravel 42A road, and it didn't flee at the sight of people, it was a matter of time till its presence was discovered by locals who bird in the canyon every day now that COVID-19 is keeping birders close to home base: word was bound to get ou t. Another factor in our decision to announce it was that the quetzal was moving up and down the creek so closely paralleled by Forest Road 42A that birders could get excellent views by staying on the road and without scrambling around in the creek bottom damaging  soils, seedling trees and nesting Painted Redstarts. A USFS fence erected years ago  to keep cattle out of the riparian was a handy boundary for a wildlife closure if one were needed.   
So with some trepidation we decided we would let the world know, encourage birding from the road, emphasize the Portal community's concerns about COVID-19 and urge that the current protocols of masks and distancing continue. I advised the Forest Service's District Ranger Doug Ruppel of what might be about to happen, and we felt that some people management might be necessary only if we saw too much pressure on the bird or the habitat.    

The day after discovery Richard Webster posted a careful detailed account of the discovery on the 'Arizona Birding' Facebook page and the AZ NM bird listserv. He offered viewing guidelines and COVID  precaution recommendations. Within hours the first carloads of jubilant  birders were celebrating their success in getting good looks at the Eared Quetzal from the road. The excitement was as palpable as the dust was over the next days as people posted updates on Facebook and eBird, exchanging location updates in near real-time. After several days the bird disappeared and was discovered way over the mountain in upper Pinery Canyon. Identifiable as the same bird by its pattern of chest-feather molt, it lingered a bit in Pinery, then returned to Cave Creek again to the delight of many. It then became elusive and was seen no more after the 17 th .  

As I followed this week-long event unfold I reflected on how different  it was from the  
discovery of the first US record in October 1977 when Trogon expert Rick Taylor found a pair of Eared Trogons (as it was called then) with two immature birds up South Fork.  It looked like a family group, and they were seen by hundreds of birders who drove cross-country. The press heard about it, the birds made state-wide Arizona news, and our then-Congressional representative Mo Udall even came to see the bird.  As best Rick and I can recall, the word was spread by Portal birders like Sally and Walter Spofford, phone call by phone call, because there was no Rare Bird Alert like today's, no internet, no cell phones, just word of mouth.   [Editor: picture of Mo Udall in front, Barbara Roth and Rick Taylor.  Barbara and Rick still live in the area!]

The 2020 Eared Quetzal's visit produced many excellent photographs. It is an odd-looking bird, larger than our iconic Elegant Trogon, with a smaller head and a bit lumpish in comparison, and clad in similarly bright colors that in technical feather-by-feather descriptions often involve the words 'metallic', 'coppery' or 'bronze' to cover the fact that the upperparts and wings can look blue one minute, green the next. The underside of the tail is  white  and the belly is brilliant red. The "ears" are barely visible, long single plumes that barely show in photographs. It lacks a yellow beak and the white cummerbund of the Elegant  Trogon  but the general trogon look is unmistakable: it's a handsome member of the trogon family.

Let's hope it returns in late summer to a remote cool patch of conifers, this time to sing its triplet territorial song to its mate.
[Photos by Bob Rodrigues and Steve Wolfe]

Barfoot Park Hike & Trail Work, June 4, 2020
       by Rolf Koford

On the hottest day so far this year in Portal, four hikers headed for the high country. We parked at Barfoot Park and worked for the morning improving the Barfoot Lookout Trail, which connects Barfoot Park with the Crest Trail at Barfoot Saddle, just below the former Barfoot Lookout. Using Pulaskis, McLeods, Rogue pick hoes and loppers, we removed encroaching vegetation and straightened parts of the trail that were "sagging."


This trail improvement follows recent deadfall clearing by two other trail workers the previous week. The trail is not perfect but we are satisfied that hikers will have no complaints-at least until the next windstorm. We will have another trail maintenance day in about a month.

We enjoyed lunch and refreshing cold beverages at Barfoot Park, then delivered one hiker to Long Park so she could don a backpack and get in some hiking.


Photos from around Portal

                            Damselfly                    [By Debb Johnson]           2-tailed Swallowtail

            Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher                                        Berylline Hummingbird
                [Bob Rodrigues]                                                         [Debra Davison]

                                    Lupines                                                       White-nosed Coati
                         [By Debb Johnson]                                                [By Jackie Lewis]

Visitor Information Center Is Still Closed 
In Response to COVID-19 
It may partly reopen in July

Forest Service established campgrounds were closed on 3/23/20.  
Herb Martyr and Rustler Park Campgrounds are now open.  Sunny Flat, Idlewilde and Stewart Campgrounds remain closed through June, possibly opening in July.

Dispersed camping is allowed.
The forest remains open.
Call (520) 558-2221 or (520) 388-8436 for Information


As we told you last month Friends of Cave Creek Canyon has been working with the Forest Service for the past 18 months on a plan to replace the picnic and trailhead area that was removed after the flood of 2014. The Forest Service is currently developing a Draft Environmental Assessment, which will be available for public comment. We were told in 2018 that if we ever wanted a picnic area, restrooms, benches and other trails in South Fork again, we would need to pay for it, as the Forest Service did not have funds for it. 
There are some different opinions within the community as to what should or should not be included in the plan for South Fork. Once we receive the Draft Environmental Assessment everyone will be able to analyze and send comments during the public comment period. 
Currently we believe that the Draft Environmental Assessment of the project may be released in July.   Depending upon that Assessment and its recommendations,  FOCCC will determine its position on the project.  FOCCC has received too many different opinions to include them all in an email.   In agreement with some of the interested parties, we have decided to put their positions on the FOCCC website for your evaluation.   We will let you know when this will be available.

A Piece of History
by Trey Brandt

Marine Corps Vought OS2U Kingfisher # 5351 crashed in Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona, October 12, 1941

Summary: The pilot of the Kingfisher, Marine Corps Flight Sergeant Edward "Mac" McMahon, was ferrying the aircraft from New York to San Diego. While on the East Coast, he picked up a passenger, 23 year-old Navy Radio Operator Oscar Rohrer, who was trying to get to his home in San Diego to visit his wife on furlough. On the afternoon of October 12, the two men departed El Paso at 4:15 in the afternoon and set a heading for Tucson, Arizona.

As the aircraft approached the Chiricahua Mountains it began to encounter cloudbanks which obscured Flight Sergeant McMahon's visibility. As he began to fly up a sharply rising canyon near the small mountain town of Paradise, he concluded he did not have the altitude necessary to clear the mountain range and banked hard to the left to reverse his course back out of the canyon. Just as he almost completed his turn, his left wing struck a tall Juniper tree which caused his aircraft to crash onto the mountainside. Tragically, McMahon was killed in the crash, but amazingly, his passenger Navy Radioman Oscar Rohrer was catapulted from the crashing aircraft and only suffered a broken nose and lacerations on his forehead. Despite bleeding profusely, he managed to hike down the canyon until he was rescued by local ranchers who heard the crash and formed a search party and headed up the mountain.

Investigators concluded that had McMahon turned a mere 20 feet earlier he would have missed the large Juniper tree.

When I had crouched down to take a picture, I saw something roll out of the dirt and rest against my boot. It had a unique shape, so I picked it and wiped away the dirt and was very surprised to see it was McMahon's metal USMC globe and anchor insignia.

Unfortunately, Oscar Rohrer passed away a few years ago. However, his family greatly appreciated the information and photos I passed on as they had no documentation of the crash and only knew what he had told them.
I had very little information on Edward McMahon until April of 2011, when I received an email from his son who came across my website while researching his father. He also mentioned that his 97 year old mother, Mac's wife, was alive. It was a satisfying feeling to be able to return the USMC pin to Mac's family and have it mean so much to them. The pin finally made it home to Mac's wife after 70 years.

[Editors note:  Trey also told me that " I actually took the pilot's son (in his early 80's now) and his family, about 20 people, up to the crash site 2 years ago. As one can imagine, it was very emotional and powerful for them."]

Look at this site for more information and fascinating pictures.  

Trey Brandt gave permission for FOCCC to use this article.  He can be reached at 

Cave Creek by Tony Donaldson

FOCCC 2020 Officers and Board

Reed Peters         President                            Other Board Members  
Sheri Ashley        Vice President                          Bob Ashley        
Mike Williams      Vice President 
                       Alan Craig        
Rick Beno 
  Rene Donaldson
Pat Parran            Secretary
Kim Vacariu
Cecil Williams 




Friends Of Cave Creek Canyon
PO Box 16126
Portal, Arizona 85632


Visit Our Website 


Thanks to our "Sustainer's Circle" and Lifetime Members 
for their generous support:  
Kirby Alguire, Tom Arny, Bob and Bettina Arrigoni, Susan Dalby & Eskild Peterson, Stephen Durkovich, L. Syrene Forsman, Mary George, Bill and Sally Hague, Paul Hirt and Linda Jakse, Fritz and Gayle Jandry, Don Hollister, Claudia Kirscher, Mike  Leuthold,  Barbara Lounsbery,  Patrick McNamara, John and Karin McQuillan, Barbara and Pete Miller, Patricia Parran, Cecilia Raak, Tom Roseman and Paula Baldwin, Delia Scholes and Ed Newbold, John and Linda Sumner, Jeff and Alice Wakefield, and Bob and Sherry Zoellick.

Please support our Business Members  who  have given generously to Friends Of Cave Creek Canyon.  Without their assistance, we would be hard pressed to accomplish our goals. Click on their names to check out their websites.    
                 Cave Creek Ranch                           Chiricahua Desert Museum
             Naturalist Journeys, LLC                             A.S.K. Pest Control
                 Sky Island Rolfing                                           Wynne Brown 
                   Chiricahua Gallery                                      Daussin & Associates
                   Casa Petra Vera                                      Ed Newbold Wildlife Artist    
                     Quailway Cottage                                    Sky Island Lodge
            Sky Island Grill & Grocery                        The George Walker House      
Portal Peak Store and Lodge                            Umphres Propane
                     Gardenwerks                                            Ol' Morani Ranch
Business Memberships start at just $50.00!