22 May 2018

Dusty Whirlwindy (AZ)

My most recent travels took me back to the desert southwest.  The big twist to this story is that it WASN'T for work.  Instead, my friend Caleb and I did a whirlwind trip through southern Arizona.  I think it's the first time I've flown somewhere for personal travel in quite a while.

We had a long list of targets but not a lot of time... so it was off to the races pretty quickly after starting in Phoenix.  Of course, the major target of mine was our first miss... the long-staying Streak-backed Oriole in Tucson was no longer long-staying... it was long gone (our checklist).  Oh well, I WILL catch up with one of those in the ABA area someday, somehow.

We stopped in Green Valley; eBird had a seemingly reliable place for HARRIS'S HAWKS.... and it was right!  Checklist and photo:
Farther south, we then spent some time at the Santa Gertrudis Lane area hoping for some of the continuing rarities.  Although we struck out on the Sinaloa Wren and Rufous-backed Robins, we did connect with the continuing THICK-BILLED KINGBIRDS:
It had been a while since I had seen ABERT'S TOWHEES (well, since last July) so I took a pic of one of those too:
... meanwhile, the BRIDLED TITMICE were fairly friendly:
We gave the location about two hours before calling it quits... we had other destinations that were also time sensitive.  Here's our checklist from that stop.

From there, it was out into the wilds towards California Gulch!  Thankfully, the weather was good, navigation was straightforward, and our rental Yukon made easy work of the roads.  Here's proof we made it to the confluence:
This spot is pretty special after nightfall... we had multiple BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJARS singing along with COMMON POORWILL, WESTERN SCREECH-OWL, and ELF OWL.  A LESSER NIGHTHAWK flew over as well.  This one spot yielded 3 nightjar species and 2 owl species!  Here's the checklist with some of our recordings.  From there, it was the long, bumpy, late-night drive back to Nogales.

The next morning, we actually decided to return to Santa Gertrudis Lane to try our hand at the rarities again.  This time, stars aligned and we found the long-staying SINALOA WREN:
This is still a very rare species in the US, and it's still a Code 5 despite showing up in AZ multiple places in recent years.  In fact, this was the first time I had actually SEEN one here (I had heard it before).  It was also a new photo bird.

Our luck continued when we found a couple of the long-staying RUFOUS-BACKED ROBINS as well.  Checklist.  This day was starting out fantastically!  We zoomed over to Patagonia Lake State Park where we pulled out a BOTTERI'S SPARROW on the entrance road (checklist).  We hit a snag within the park though... we couldn't find the Black-capped Gnatcatchers!

We had to boogie out of there and so it was back to Patagonia for lunch and a quick visit to the Patton's Hummingbird Extravaganza (seriously, this place is becoming an amusement park).  We added a VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD and this impressive GOPHER SNAKE:
And then we hit the road headed for Sierra Vista.  A few stops along the way failed to turn up any Chihuahuan Ravens or Cassin's Sparrows but no matter, it was a rough time of day and not much was moving.  We made it to Sierra Vista in time to visit Mary Jo's feeders at Ash Canyon.  Our main target only stuck around for 10 seconds but we were successful in seeing it, a male LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD.

The next morning it was straight up to Carr Canyon and the Reef Townsite campground area.  New birds came fast and furious.  GREATER PEWEE, ARIZONA WOODPECKER, BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER, etc.  One of the highlights for me was watching this GRACE'S WARBLER hopping around on the ground collecting nesting material:
This was a treat because this relatively poorly-known species usually sticks high to trees where views are harder to get.

We also snagged a nice female OLIVE WARBLER here:
Down the road a bit, we finally hit a jackpot... a stunning RED-FACED WARBLER that put on a great show:
Sticking to our tight schedule though, we needed to make our way towards Portal and so we were off.  Although that drive doesn't take you through any particularly birdy hotspots, we were successful in finding a perched CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN that we were able to study:
On our way into Rodeo, we stopped at the Willow Tank to see if we could find any quail, thrashers, sparrows, or anything else of note.  It was here that we found multiple BENDIRE'S THRASHERS which was clutch.  It was hard to gauge bill length with the bill open though!
But still, you can see the pale base to the lower mandible.

We made our way up to Portal where this familiar (but grand!) vista awaited:
Speaking of grand, we were living it up at the Portal Peak Lodge for the next two nights.  Wooo!  That night, we went up-canyon a bit and heard MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL, ELF OWL, WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL, and FLAMMULATED OWL.  In fact, we heard an Elf Owl just outside of the lodge too.

The next morning, we cruised around the oak forests looking for Montezuma Quail but no luck.  We continued higher up towards East Turkey Creek Junction.  No chickadees there though.  Just beyond the junction, we had nice looks at this target, the BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW:
This nearby BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER was looking sharp too:
Meanwhile, in a nearby treetop, a couple of RED CROSSBILLS posed quietly:
We then went to Rustler Park but it was rather quiet.  There was this butterfly flying around that I was curious about but it never perched at an angle I could get a pic of.  Instead, I had to settle for this blurry flight shot... but it was good enough to confirm it as a MEXICAN YELLOW:
No, it's not a rare species or anything... but it's certainly not one I see in Missouri!

Then it was up and over to Barfoot Park.  Upon arriving, we spotted a female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER which is always a good bird for the area.  It was flagged in eBird so I attempted to get photographic proof... which ended up being kind of difficult:
Although we were still having trouble finding chickadees, we had no trouble finding lots of tame YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS!
Finally, between Barfoot Junction and Onion Saddle, we found the right flock for scolding.  In came a couple of our key target, the MEXICAN CHICKADEE.  And boy, when they came in, they CAME IN:
It was a good morning at higher elevations and we had little remaining to target and so we returned downhill through Cave Creek Canyon.  The reliable day-roosting WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL was still at the hole (how long has this bird used this cavity?  Going on 3-4 years I believe).
We swung into the Cave Creek Ranch in Portal and saw the continuing LEWIS'S WOODPECKER which was pretty sweet!

We wanted to duck into Bob Rodrigues' yard and check out his feeders, hoping for the continuing Rufous-winged Sparrow that sometimes shows up (we had somehow missed them farther west).  No luck with that sparrow but we saw a wealth of other things like this continuing (and rare) HARRIS'S SPARROW:
It had been a good year for CASSIN'S FINCHES and they were present in town at several spots including Bob's feeders:
But, no luck with the Rufous-winged Sparrow.  However, that evening we worked the Portal-Paradise Road and somehow managed a quick look at a couple of CRISSAL THRASHERS in the wash near town.  That night, we drove some roads below town and ended up with zero snakes but two BARN OWLS.

The next morning, we needed to head straight out of town and so we drove right to Willcox (you HAVE to stop at Willcox if you're in the area, as you know).  Our timing worked out right and we connected with a rarity that had shown up the day before, this LEAST TERN:
It's kinda silly that we just happened to roll up to see it but that's how it goes.  The TROPICAL KINGBIRD was continuing as well.

At this point, we really needed to start making our way to Phoenix as we were both flying out later that day.  A quick call to Tom Johnson and he had a suggestion, via eBird, for Rufous-winged Sparrow.  It was behind a hotel in Benson.  Hmm, so off we went!  We rolled up and after a little exploring... well, it sounded like we were hearing a TENNESSEE WARBLER.... but those are really quite rare in AZ.  Maybe we were imagining it?  We found the bird and it, well, LOOKED like a Tennessee Warbler as well.  Shoot, that's a good bird!
After the dust settled from confirming that... we realized we were hearing our original target, a RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW.  We tracked it down and sure enough, a last clutch target bird had just fallen into place (my pic is rubbish though!):
From there, it was back to Phoenix, a last PB&J sandwich out of the back of our Yukon, a quick car wash to remove the signs of California Gulch, and flights home.  It was a quick trip but we still managed to find most of the targets and tallied about 170-180 species in 5 days of birding.

Now... where was I... back in Missouri, it would seem!