When Ruth & I first visited Ramsey Canyon, it was a strictly local, magical place with an amazing number of hummingbirds to observe. We sat for hours watching several species land on a row of feeders close enough to see defining details and delight in. The walk up the canyon, despite the nearby August heat, was pleasantly cool. Someone in hot Sierra Vista told us about it or we never would have visited because it’s not the kind of place you find on your own. It still is not mentioned much in travel literature. We had not been back for many years when we saw it again last week. Wow, has it changed!
Ramsey Canyon has been discovered; 24,401 people, including many dedicated bird watchers, journeyed there in 2015 according to The Nature Conservancy, which as taken over its operation. This was a 30% increase over 2014. Why? It’s mainly the hummingbirds but there are also other unusual species of plants and animals to see. This is, for example, the only place in North America I’ve heard about that has resident coatis. This time we found a busy visitor center built in 2000 where we joined a tour of the canyon with about 30 others. However, we bailed out after 20 minutes because the tour leader aimed his commentary at children and we saw no hummingbirds.
I don’t blame The Nature Conservancy, a well-respected organization, for our disappointment. They are probably doing a fine job of keeping Ramsey Canyon, which is 90 miles southeast of Tucson near the Mexican border, attractive to the masses. The tour leader spoke about the fire danger and clearing out tons of brush. There was lots of available info about flora and fauna and a well-supplied gift shop. However, Ramsey Canyon had become more of a mainstream tourist spot than a private hideaway.
Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest birds. Their nests are half-walnut sized, and their eggs look like a Tic Tac. While Ramsey Canyon is known for 16 species, there are 270 types of hummingbirds in North and South America, the only places on the planet where they live. Only 18 of existing species visit the United States with Texas experiencing the most seen varieties. They frequent southern Arizona because Ramsey Canyon’s a place of extreme biodiversity due to geographic placement. It’s in the Huachuca Mountains at an altitude of 5,500 feet. Nature Conservancy literature calls it a Sky Island, which I interpret to mean a cool, well-watered retreat surrounded by vast desert dryness.
Guided nature walks occur only from March through October. Migrating hummingbirds start arriving in April as do butterflies. Trees, including the rare but abundant Arizona sycamore, bud in April. Monsoon rains come in July when the interesting rufous variety is migrating south. By August, when we visited for the first time, there are usually 14 hummingbird species flitting about. Few see them all.
The Rufous, which I do remember observing, weighs little more than a penny and migrates 3,000 miles from Central Mexico to Alaska and back again. They feed on small insects, spiders, and especially flower nectar. Hummingbirds have evolved with flowering plants in one of nature’s most intimate relationships. The male rufous is describe in the Ramsey Canyon Visitor Center as an orange fireball with pugnacious behavior. All hummingbirds are actually ferocious. If they were the size of buzzards, we’d be in trouble.