May the 4th Be With You!

That corny meme turned out to be lucky for us as we saw a Slate-throated Whitestart (Redstart) yesterday near our current haunts in Rodeo/Portal.

So often, we have lamented the fact that so many rare birds are present in locations far removed from where we happen to be. For example, Florida has been a hotbed of rarities for the past few months, with no fewer than eight species there that we do not yet have on our new life list. Unfortunately, we have been in Texas and New Mexico during that time, far beyond our comfortable (and affordable) chase distance for rarities.

We try to choose our hangout locations based on where we hope chase-able rarities will show up, but we have had mixed luck lately. Yesterday was a rare positive day for us. We have been in New Mexico and Arizona to try to take advantage of the Mexican rarities that often show up here in the spring and summer. Based on last year’s performance we had expected four or five such species to make an appearance and we hoped to see at least four of them. So far, however, up until yesterday that is, we had only added one species; Tufted Flycatcher.

Yesterday added species number two to the list this season. We woke up about 6 AM and the first thing we did was check our rare bird alerts. There was a sketchy report of the redstart, without many details, but it was only about 20 miles away from us! We were packed and ready to chase it in about half an hour and out the door. Even though it was only about 20 miles away it still took us a little over an hour to reach the isolated location high up in the Chiricahua Mountains. Once there, it was not immediately apparent where the bird had actually been seen. One report had it at the Pinery Canyon Campground. Another had it at a “random” location along the road. We wandered around a bit, checked out some likely spots, chatted with other birders (who had not heard anything more) and basically “waited for re-inforcements.” After a couple of hours it became clear that the “random” location was the right one. We convinced a few other birders to join us at the location and staked out the area for a while without success. Then, just as we were breaking for lunch, another couple spotted the bird foraging near a couple of Painted Redstarts just about 50 yards away from where we had parked! Everyone rushed over and we all got some good looks at the bird. Over the next hour it made three brief appearances in our area and was seen by at least six or seven birders. Then it disappeared for a while and we decided not to wait for it to return. Thus, I was not able to get any good photos to document the bird, but at least we were treated to some good binocular views.

The whitestart is species number 726 for our list. What’s next?

April in Arizona – Week Four

Days upon days of windy weather and a minor illness kept us from birding much in the last week of April. Our total list for the month only reached 208 species.

We had expected about 20 more than that, and indeed, we missed many common birds, both local residents and migrants. Some of these we simply could not find, even though others had reported them, and some we just did not really bother to look for. (We thought, wrongly, that they would be easy to spot just as incidental birds.) Others don’t seem to have returned to our search areas in any appreciable numbers yet. In fact, we have the feeling that much of the migration is a bit late this year. Several species that we remember seeing by this time in the past were non-existent in 2016.

Still, 208 species is a nice list. It is a testament to the overall diversity of this region that we found so many birds with the relatively small amount of overall effort we put into the search. Not that we didn’t do some birding on a fair number of days for the month, but we did not make 10 mile hikes, or strenuous drives in search of birds.

I have given a few of my impressions of the comparison of birding during migration in Arizona and South Texas already, but I’ll summarize them again here:

First, there is not near as much of the spectacle of migration in Arizona. There is no trans-Gulf migration, no fallouts, no concentration of the birds in limited habitat. Migration in Arizona appears to be a more diffuse affair, spread out over millions of acres of habitat that are lightly birded.

Second, there are fewer species all told. Water birds are practically an afterthought here in the predominantly desert and semi-desert habitats. There are no days of finding 20 or 25 species of warblers and vireos. Diversity is more about the returning summer residents at various elevations than it is about migrants strictly in passage to habitats farther north.

Finally, we felt that finding birds during migration in Arizona was more difficult than in South Texas. We had to go where the birds were rather than waiting for the birds to come to us as we were used to in the Rio Grande Valley. The travel was not far or difficult, but it was more than just driving to South Padre Island and waiting at the Convention Centre for a wave of birds to fall from the sky over the Gulf of Mexico!

All-in-all it was a fun comparison to do and we saw many nice birds, but we were disappointed that we were only able to find one new species for our life list. Last year during this time (while we were on our way to Alaska) at least three rarities were present in the area. We’ll keep hoping that they show up before we leave in a couple of weeks.

Here is the final list:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Mallard
  5. Blue-winged Teal
  6. Cinnamon Teal
  7. Northern Shoveler
  8. Green-winged Teal
  9. Ring-necked Duck
  10. Lesser Scaup
  11. Bufflehead
  12. Ruddy Duck
  13. Wild Turkey
  14. Scaled Quail
  15. Gambel’s Quail
  16. Montezuma Quail
  17. Pied-billed Grebe
  18. Eared Grebe
  19. Neotropic Cormorant
  20. Double-crested Cormorant
  21. Great Blue Heron
  22. Cattle Egret
  23. Green Heron
  24. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  25. White-faced Ibis
  26. Black Vulture
  27. Turkey Vulture
  28. Northern Harrier
  29. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  30. Cooper’s Hawk
  31. Northern Goshawk
  32. Common Black-Hawk
  33. Gray Hawk
  34. Swainson’s Hawk
  35. Zone-tailed Hawk
  36. Red-tailed Hawk
  37. Golden Eagle
  38. American Kestrel
  39. Peregrine Falcon
  40. Prairie Falcon
  41. American Coot
  42. Killdeer
  43. Black-necked Stilt
  44. American Avocet
  45. Spotted Sandpiper
  46. Greater Yellowlegs
  47. Willet
  48. Lesser Yellowlegs
  49. Marbled Godwit
  50. Western Sandpiper
  51. Least Sandpiper
  52. Long-billed Dowitcher
  53. Wilson’s Snipe
  54. Wilson’s Phalarope
  55. Franklin’s Gull
  56. Bonaparte’s Gull
  57. Rock Pigeon
  58. Band-tailed Pigeon
  59. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  60. White-winged Dove
  61. Mourning Dove
  62. Inca Dove
  63. Greater Roadrunner
  64. Barn Owl
  65. Western Screech-Owl
  66. Whiskered Screech-Owl
  67. Great Horned Owl
  68. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  69. Elf Owl
  70. Burrowing Owl
  71. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  72. Common Poorwill
  73. Vaux’s Swift
  74. White-throated Swift
  75. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  76. Blue-throated Hummingbird
  77. Magnificent Hummingbird
  78. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  79. Anna’s Hummingbird
  80. Costa’s Hummingbird
  81. Calliope Hummingbird
  82. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  83. Rufous Hummingbird
  84. Belted Kingfisher
  85. Acorn Woodpecker
  86. Gila Woodpecker
  87. Red-naped Sapsucker
  88. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  89. Hairy Woodpecker
  90. Arizona Woodpecker
  91. Northern Flicker
  92. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  93. Greater Pewee
  94. Western Wood-Pewee
  95. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  96. Gray Flycatcher
  97. Dusky Flycatcher
  98. Black Phoebe
  99. Say’s Phoebe
  100. Vermilion Flycatcher
  101. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  102. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  103. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  104. Cassin’s Kingbird
  105. Thick-billed Kingbird
  106. Western Kingbird
  107. Loggerhead Shrike
  108. Bell’s Vireo
  109. Plumbeous Vireo
  110. Cassin’s Vireo
  111. Hutton’s Vireo
  112. Warbling Vireo
  113. Steller’s Jay
  114. Western Scrub-Jay
  115. Mexican Jay
  116. Chihuahuan Raven
  117. Common Raven
  118. Horned Lark
  119. Purple Martin
  120. Tree Swallow
  121. Violet-green Swallow
  122. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  123. Cliff Swallow
  124. Barn Swallow
  125. Mexican Chickadee
  126. Bridled Titmouse
  127. Verdin
  128. Bushtit
  129. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  130. White-breasted Nuthatch
  131. Pygmy Nuthatch
  132. Brown Creeper
  133. Cactus Wren
  134. Canyon Wren
  135. Bewick’s Wren
  136. House Wren
  137. Marsh Wren
  138. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  139. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  140. Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  141. Western Bluebird
  142. Townsend’s Solitaire
  143. Hermit Thrush
  144. American Robin
  145. Northern Mockingbird
  146. Bendire’s Thrasher
  147. Curve-billed Thrasher
  148. Crissal Thrasher
  149. European Starling
  150. American Pipit
  151. Cedar Waxwing
  152. Phainopepla
  153. Orange-crowned Warbler
  154. Lucy’s Warbler
  155. Yellow Warbler
  156. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  157. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  158. Townsend’s Warbler
  159. Grace’s Warbler
  160. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  161. Common Yellowthroat
  162. Wilson’s Warbler
  163. Painted Redstart
  164. Yellow-breasted Chat
  165. Hepatic Tanager
  166. Summer Tanager
  167. Western Tanager
  168. Flame-colored Tanager
  169. Green-tailed Towhee
  170. Spotted Towhee
  171. Canyon Towhee
  172. Abert’s Towhee
  173. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  174. Cassin’s Sparrow
  175. Botteri’s Sparrow
  176. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  177. Chipping Sparrow
  178. Clay-colored Sparrow
  179. Brewer’s Sparrow
  180. Vesper Sparrow
  181. Lark Sparrow
  182. Black-throated Sparrow
  183. Lark Bunting
  184. Savannah Sparrow
  185. Song Sparrow
  186. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  187. White-crowned Sparrow
  188. Dark-eyed Junco
  189. Yellow-eyed Junco
  190. Northern Cardinal
  191. Pyrrhuloxia
  192. Black-headed Grosbeak
  193. Lazuli Bunting
  194. Red-winged Blackbird
  195. Eastern Meadowlark
  196. Western Meadowlark
  197. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  198. Brewer’s Blackbird
  199. Great-tailed Grackle
  200. Brown-headed Cowbird
  201. Hooded Oriole
  202. Bullock’s Oriole
  203. Scott’s Oriole
  204. House Finch
  205. Red Crossbill
  206. Pine Siskin
  207. Lesser Goldfinch
  208. House Sparrow

April in Arizona – Week Three Update

In weeks one and two, we spent more time working on our property than birding. But week three changed that as we spent all or part of five days touring some of our favorite hotspots in SE Arizona.

Our tour started at Twin Lakes Golf Course and the wastewater lagoons in Wilcox. There we were able to find many species of water birds that had been missing from our list so far this month. There was nothing especially exciting, but we had a nice assortment of the usual suspects.

From there, we went to Saguaro National Monument. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a camping spot and had to leave before we had time to do any birding. Thus, our list lacks Gilded Flicker.

Fortunately, Procter Road, at the base of Madera Canyon, was available for camping and was only about an hour’s drive from Saguaro NM. There we were able to add several species characteristic of the mesquite-grassland habitat and we were well-positioned for our forays into Florida Canyon and Madera Canyon over the next two days.

Those two canyons did not disappoint. We were especially impressed by Florida Canyon’s bird diversity and were able to get some nice photos of the pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers that are setting up housekeeping there this breeding season. Similarly, we found almost all of the usual species of Madera Canyon, though we missed the trogon, despite spending time at a suspected nest site.

After Madera, we headed southeast to Patagonia/Sonoita Creek, checked out the hummingbirds at Paton’s house and continued down to Patagonia Lake State Park. We spent a great morning with Jim and Sally Lockwood, long-time volunteers at the park, and found many nice species along the lake shore and in the riparian forest along Sonoita Creek.

The following day, we started with a visit to the Nature Conservancy preserve at Patagonia and found a Thick-billed Kingbird along with a nice assortment of residents and migrants in the cottonwoods and willows. We ended the day, and the birding for this trip, with a stroll through Ramsey Canyon Preserve just south of Sierra Vista.

Overall, we spent about four full days of birding time and traveled about 525 miles. Our trip list reached 168 species. That brings our total tally for the month to 202 species:

  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  2. Gadwall
  3. American Wigeon
  4. Mallard
  5. Blue-winged Teal
  6. Cinnamon Teal
  7. Northern Shoveler
  8. Green-winged Teal
  9. Ring-necked Duck
  10. Scaup sp.
  11. Bufflehead
  12. Ruddy Duck
  13. Wild Turkey
  14. Scaled Quail
  15. Gambel’s Quail
  16. Montezuma Quail
  17. Pied-billed Grebe
  18. Eared Grebe
  19. Neotropic Cormorant
  20. Double-crested Cormorant
  21. Great Blue Heron
  22. Cattle Egret
  23. Green Heron
  24. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  25. White-faced Ibis
  26. Black Vulture
  27. Turkey Vulture
  28. Northern Harrier
  29. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  30. Cooper’s Hawk
  31. Northern Goshawk
  32. Common Black-Hawk
  33. Gray Hawk
  34. Swainson’s Hawk
  35. Zone-tailed Hawk
  36. Red-tailed Hawk
  37. Golden Eagle
  38. American Kestrel
  39. Prairie Falcon
  40. American Coot
  41. Killdeer
  42. Black-necked Stilt
  43. American Avocet
  44. Spotted Sandpiper
  45. Greater Yellowlegs
  46. Willet
  47. Lesser Yellowlegs
  48. Marbled Godwit
  49. Western Sandpiper
  50. Least Sandpiper
  51. Long-billed Dowitcher
  52. Wilson’s Phalarope
  53. Franklin’s Gull
  54. Bonaparte’s Gull
  55. Rock Pigeon
  56. Band-tailed Pigeon
  57. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  58. White-winged Dove
  59. Mourning Dove
  60. Inca Dove
  61. Greater Roadrunner
  62. Western Screech-Owl
  63. Whiskered Screech-Owl
  64. Great Horned Owl
  65. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  66. Elf Owl
  67. Burrowing Owl
  68. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  69. Common Poorwill
  70. White-throated Swift
  71. Swift sp.
  72. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  73. Blue-throated Hummingbird
  74. Magnificent Hummingbird
  75. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  76. Anna’s Hummingbird
  77. Costa’s Hummingbird
  78. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  79. Rufous Hummingbird
  80. Belted Kingfisher
  81. Acorn Woodpecker
  82. Gila Woodpecker
  83. Red-naped Sapsucker
  84. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  85. Arizona Woodpecker
  86. Northern Flicker
  87. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  88. Greater Pewee
  89. Western Wood-Pewee
  90. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  91. Gray Flycatcher
  92. Dusky Flycatcher
  93. Tufted Flycatcher
  94. Black Phoebe
  95. Say’s Phoebe
  96. Vermilion Flycatcher
  97. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  98. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  99. Brown-crested Flycatcher
  100. Cassin’s Kingbird
  101. Thick-billed Kingbird
  102. Western Kingbird
  103. Loggerhead Shrike
  104. Bell’s Vireo
  105. Plumbeous Vireo
  106. Cassin’s Vireo
  107. Hutton’s Vireo
  108. Warbling Vireo
  109. Steller’s Jay
  110. Mexican Jay
  111. Chihuahuan Raven
  112. Common Raven
  113. Horned Lark
  114. Purple Martin
  115. Tree Swallow
  116. Violet-green Swallow
  117. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  118. Cliff Swallow
  119. Barn Swallow
  120. Mexican Chickadee
  121. Bridled Titmouse
  122. Verdin
  123. Bushtit
  124. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  125. White-breasted Nuthatch
  126. Pygmy Nuthatch
  127. Brown Creeper
  128. Cactus Wren
  129. Canyon Wren
  130. Bewick’s Wren
  131. House Wren
  132. Marsh Wren
  133. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  134. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  135. Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  136. Western Bluebird
  137. Townsend’s Solitaire
  138. Hermit Thrush
  139. American Robin
  140. Northern Mockingbird
  141. Bendire’s Thrasher
  142. Curve-billed Thrasher
  143. Crissal Thrasher
  144. European Starling
  145. American Pipit
  146. Cedar Waxwing
  147. Phainopepla
  148. Orange-crowned Warbler
  149. Lucy’s Warbler
  150. Yellow Warbler
  151. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  152. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  153. Townsend’s Warbler
  154. Grace’s Warbler
  155. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  156. Common Yellowthroat
  157. Wilson’s Warbler
  158. Painted Redstart
  159. Yellow-breasted Chat
  160. Hepatic Tanager
  161. Summer Tanager
  162. Western Tanager
  163. Flame-colored Tanager
  164. Green-tailed Towhee
  165. Spotted Towhee
  166. Canyon Towhee
  167. Abert’s Towhee
  168. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  169. Cassin’s Sparrow
  170. Botteri’s Sparrow
  171. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  172. Chipping Sparrow
  173. Clay-colored Sparrow
  174. Brewer’s Sparrow
  175. Vesper Sparrow
  176. Lark Sparrow
  177. Black-throated Sparrow
  178. Lark Bunting
  179. Savannah Sparrow
  180. Song Sparrow
  181. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  182. White-crowned Sparrow
  183. Dark-eyed Junco
  184. Yellow-eyed Junco
  185. Northern Cardinal
  186. Pyrrhuloxia
  187. Black-headed Grosbeak
  188. Lazuli Bunting
  189. Red-winged Blackbird
  190. Eastern Meadowlark
  191. Western Meadowlark
  192. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  193. Brewer’s Blackbird
  194. Great-tailed Grackle
  195. Brown-headed Cowbird
  196. Hooded Oriole
  197. Scott’s Oriole
  198. House Finch
  199. Red Crossbill
  200. Pine Siskin
  201. Lesser Goldfinch
  202. House Sparrow


April in Arizona – Week Two

Migration continues to be very weak as April moves along, but we did manage to visit several more habitats and pick up some more of the local species of each area.

It is clear already that spring migration in the arid Southwest is very different from what we are used to along the Gulf Coast of Texas. There are no large surges of trans-Gulf migrants here and, therefore, no fallouts. Migration, at least this year, seems to start later and be concentrated into a briefer season. Also, in general, there are fewer species involved. It seems implausible that we will ever encounter a 30 species “warbler day” in SE Arizona or SW New Mexico. This area’s diversity seems to be more about its variety of habitats at various elevations than about a wave of migrants passing through.

Here is the updated list:

  1. Blue-winged Teal
  2. Cinnamon Teal
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Ring-necked Duck
  5. Bufflehead
  6. Wild Turkey
  7. Scaled Quail
  8. Gambel’s Quail
  9. Montezuma Quail
  10. Great Blue Heron
  11. Turkey Vulture
  12. Northern Harrier
  13. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  14. Cooper’s Hawk
  15. Northern Goshawk
  16. Gray Hawk
  17. Swainson’s Hawk
  18. Zone-tailed Hawk
  19. Red-tailed Hawk
  20. Golden Eagle
  21. American Kestrel
  22. Prairie Falcon
  23. American Coot
  24. Killdeer
  25. Rock Pigeon
  26. Band-tailed Pigeon
  27. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  28. White-winged Dove
  29. Mourning Dove
  30. Inca Dove
  31. Greater Roadrunner
  32. Western Screech-Owl
  33. Great Horned Owl
  34. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  35. Elf Owl
  36. Burrowing Owl
  37. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  38. White-throated Swift
  39. Swift sp.
  40. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  41. Blue-throated Hummingbird
  42. Magnificent Hummingbird
  43. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  44. Costa’s Hummingbird
  45. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  46. Rufous Hummingbird
  47. Acorn Woodpecker
  48. Gila Woodpecker
  49. Red-naped Sapsucker
  50. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  51. Hairy Woodpecker
  52. Arizona Woodpecker
  53. Northern Flicker
  54. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  55. Greater Pewee
  56. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  57. Dusky Flycatcher
  58. Tufted Flycatcher
  59. Black Phoebe
  60. Say’s Phoebe
  61. Vermilion Flycatcher
  62. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  63. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  64. Cassin’s Kingbird
  65. Western Kingbird
  66. Loggerhead Shrike
  67. Bell’s Vireo
  68. Cassin’s Vireo
  69. Hutton’s Vireo
  70. Steller’s Jay
  71. Mexican Jay
  72. Chihuahuan Raven
  73. Common Raven
  74. Horned Lark
  75. Tree Swallow
  76. Violet-green Swallow
  77. Barn Swallow
  78. Mexican Chickadee
  79. Bridled Titmouse
  80. Verdin
  81. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  82. White-breasted Nuthatch
  83. Pygmy Nuthatch
  84. Brown Creeper
  85. Cactus Wren
  86. Canyon Wren
  87. Bewick’s Wren
  88. House Wren
  89. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  90. Townsend’s Solitaire
  91. Hermit Thrush
  92. American Robin
  93. Northern Mockingbird
  94. Bendire’s Thrasher
  95. Curve-billed Thrasher
  96. Crissal Thrasher
  97. American Pipit
  98. Cedar Waxwing
  99. Lucy’s Warbler
  100. Yellow Warbler
  101. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  102. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  103. Townsend’s Warbler
  104. Common Yellowthroat
  105. Wilson’s Warbler
  106. Painted Redstart
  107. Hepatic Tanager
  108. Flame-colored Tanager
  109. Green-tailed Towhee
  110. Spotted Towhee
  111. Canyon Towhee
  112. Cassin’s Sparrow
  113. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  114. Chipping Sparrow
  115. Clay-colored Sparrow
  116. Brewer’s Sparrow
  117. Vesper Sparrow
  118. Black-throated Sparrow
  119. Lark Bunting
  120. Savannah Sparrow
  121. Song Sparrow
  122. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  123. White-crowned Sparrow
  124. Dark-eyed Junco
  125. Yellow-eyed Junco
  126. Northern Cardinal
  127. Pyrrhuloxia
  128. Lazuli Bunting
  129. Red-winged Blackbird
  130. Eastern Meadowlark
  131. Western Meadowlark
  132. Brewer’s Blackbird
  133. Great-tailed Grackle
  134. Hooded Oriole
  135. Scott’s Oriole
  136. House Finch
  137. Red Crossbill
  138. Pine Siskin
  139. Lesser Goldfinch
  140. House Sparrow

April in Arizona (and part of NM) – Week 1

The month started off with a bang when we saw the Tufted Flycatcher and Flame-colored Tanagers at Ramsey Canyon. It continued with a nice assortment of local specialties and migrant birds during week one.

We “only” spent two full days of birding in week one,, and a couple of shorter trips to nearby places, for a total of about 24 hours in the field. In that time we were able to compile a list of 116 species.

Some very nice finds included the rarities mentioned above, several owls (Northern Saw-whet, Northern Pygmy, Elf, Burrowing, and Western Screech) and several raptors (Northern Goshawk, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and the usual suspects). Migrants were relatively few, but we expect their numbers to build steadily.

  1. Blue-winged Teal
  2. Cinnamon Teal
  3. Ring-necked Duck
  4. Wild Turkey
  5. Scaled Quail
  6. Gambel’s Quail
  7. Montezuma Quail
  8. Pied-billed Grebe
  9. Turkey Vulture
  10. Northern Harrier
  11. Cooper’s Hawk
  12. Northern Goshawk
  13. Gray Hawk
  14. Swainson’s Hawk
  15. Zone-tailed Hawk
  16. Red-tailed Hawk
  17. Golden Eagle
  18. American Kestrel
  19. Wilson’s Snipe
  20. Rock Pigeon
  21. Band-tailed Pigeon
  22. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  23. White-winged Dove
  24. Mourning Dove
  25. Inca Dove
  26. Greater Roadrunner
  27. Western Screech-Owl
  28. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  29. Elf Owl
  30. Burrowing Owl
  31. Northern Saw-whet Owl
  32. Vaux’s Swift
  33. White-throated Swift
  34. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  35. Blue-throated Hummingbird
  36. Magnificent Hummingbird
  37. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  38. Costa’s Hummingbird
  39. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  40. Rufous Hummingbird
  41. Acorn Woodpecker
  42. Gila Woodpecker
  43. Red-naped Sapsucker
  44. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  45. Hairy Woodpecker
  46. Arizona Woodpecker
  47. Northern Flicker
  48. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  49. Greater Pewee
  50. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  51. Dusky Flycatcher
  52. Black Phoebe
  53. Say’s Phoebe
  54. Vermilion Flycatcher
  55. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  56. Cassin’s Kingbird
  57. Western Kingbird
  58. Loggerhead Shrike
  59. Bell’s Vireo
  60. Cassin’s Vireo
  61. Hutton’s Vireo
  62. Mexican Jay
  63. Chihuahuan Raven
  64. Common Raven
  65. Horned Lark
  66. Tree Swallow
  67. Violet-green Swallow
  68. Bridled Titmouse
  69. Verdin
  70. White-breasted Nuthatch
  71. Brown Creeper
  72. Cactus Wren
  73. Canyon Wren
  74. Bewick’s Wren
  75. House Wren
  76. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  77. Hermit Thrush
  78. American Robin
  79. Northern Mockingbird
  80. Bendire’s Thrasher
  81. Curve-billed Thrasher
  82. Crissal Thrasher
  83. Lucy’s Warbler
  84. Yellow Warbler
  85. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  86. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  87. Townsend’s Warbler
  88. Common Yellowthroat
  89. Painted Redstart
  90. Hepatic Tanager
  91. Flame-colored Tanager
  92. Green-tailed Towhee
  93. Spotted Towhee
  94. Canyon Towhee
  95. Cassin’s Sparrow
  96. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  97. Chipping Sparrow
  98. Brewer’s Sparrow
  99. Vesper Sparrow
  100. Black-throated Sparrow
  101. Lark Bunting
  102. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  103. White-crowned Sparrow
  104. Dark-eyed Junco
  105. Northern Cardinal
  106. Pyrrhuloxia
  107. Red-winged Blackbird
  108. Eastern Meadowlark
  109. Brewer’s Blackbird
  110. Great-tailed Grackle
  111. Hooded Oriole
  112. Scott’s Oriole
  113. House Finch
  114. Pine Siskin
  115. Lesser Goldfinch
  116. House Sparrow

All-in-all it was a nice start to the month.

April in Arizona and a Mexican Rarity

April in Arizona started off with a bang: Tufted Flycatcher!

This little gem from the tropical pine forests of Mexico is one of the rarest birds in North America (i.e. the ABA area). Fewer than 10 have been recorded north of the border … ever. “Our” bird was first spotted in Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Arizona, on Monday, March 28th, but since the preserve was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, we had to wait until the 31st to go look for it.

We weren’t the only ones who had that idea. When we arrived at the preserve gate, about a half hour before opening time, a line of cars stretched back at least a quarter of a mile! Once through the gate and after paying the entry fee ($6 per person; good for one week) we joined the throng hustling up the approximately one-half mile long trail to the last known location, the Bledsoe Loop.

Along the way, we met some familiar faces, including “John from Australia” whom I had met while chasing the Common Cranes in western Texas late if February. John had tried unsuccessfully for the bird in the afternoon when it was first seen and had an inkling that the bird might have moved to higher elevations, so we left the masses behind and hiked a short way up the Hamburg Trail. The reason for this inkling was that two Tufted Flycatchers had spent the summer in the higher elevations of the Hamburg Trail in 2015, and the current bird is suspected to be one of that pair or one of their offspring.

Unfortunately, despite some nice birding along the trail, we missed the Tufted Flycatcher. Not only that, but it started to snow! We certainly did not expect snow at the relatively low elevation of the preserve (5000 – 5500 feet) this late in the year, but there it was. Then, to add even more insult to our injuries, we heard a report that the flycatcher was seen down in the canyon where we had first been.

The rest of the day, (We spent seven hours at the preserve.) we walked up and down the trail visiting all of the likely locations without success. We managed to find the other rarity that has been at the preserve this spring, Flame-colored Tanager, and that certainly was a treat, but no flycatcher. We were bushed by the time we left and headed into Sierra Vista for dinner and a motel.

The next day, April Fool’s Day, we returned to the preserve once again, hoping that nature would not play any tricks on us. The volunteers at the gate to the parking lot let the waiting birders in early to avoid another long line-up of cars and the trail up the canyon was opened a little early as well.

This time the weather was perfect: no hint of snow or precipitation of any kind, calm winds, and bright sunshine. The crowd of birders was noticeably reduced. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the crowd of birds was lower as well. We spent several hours looking but never got a glimpse of either the flycatcher or the tanager. We also saw far fewer of the usual local birds and migrants than we had seen in the snow flurries the day before.

Late in the morning we took a restroom and snack break and returned to the visitor center. We spent about 30 minutes there and started back up the trail. Almost immediately, we ran into one of the birders we had been with earlier in the day. He had just re-found the flycatcher and was hustling back to the visitor center to spread the word! We hustled up the trail as fast as our lungs would let us and we were very fortunate to find a small group of birders still watching the bird. Amazingly, it had hardly moved from where it had been found and was still actively feeding and offering nice views. Unfortunately, it was quite distant from the trail and I was not able to get a good photo.

It is quite remarkable that the bird was re-found where it was. It is only because it was on the edge of a clearing that is was visible at all as it foraged under the branches of oaks and young pines well across a creek from the trail. Everyone we had spoken to had advised us to look for the bird in sycamore trees near the creek. No one ever mentioned hillsides of pine-oak woodland. We’re certainly thankful for the sharp eyes of the helpful birder who re-found the bird and then took the time to alert everyone!

For the rest of April we are going to be doing a fair amount of birding in Arizona and a sliver of New Mexico. We will keep a list of all we see and try to make weekly reports on our favorite birding spots. Lets hope another rarity or two come our way.

Birding Doldrums and a Note on Lumps and Splits

As with everything in life, birding definitely has its ups and downs. Since reporting on the Common Crane chase, we have been in a down phase.

Most of the reason for the lack of birding excitement is the natural consequence of the season. We arrived at our place in New Mexico on the cusp between winter and spring. Some of the wintering birds, such as cranes and waterfowl, are on their way north already and most of the spring birds have yet to arrive. Another reason for less birding action is that we have been busy working on the property and are not spending as much time afield as we would like. We’ll try to get out more and write more as the spring progresses.

There is some birding news, however. The American Ornithologist’s Union (AOU) is preparing to meet and the proposed changes to the classification of the North American bird fauna have been released for consideration. Most of the proposals involve arcane rules of taxonomy or nomenclature and will have no effect on the average birder, but some of the changes will affect the life lists of most North American birders.

Perhaps the most notable and talked about change is the proposal to lump Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll into a single species. Based on the latest data available, it seems as if the two former species are actually just variations of one species. Where the ranges of the forms overlap there is enough interbreeding and mixing of genes to suggest that the color variations and other field marks we see are part of a broader continuum. Bird listers hate lumps! Whenever lumping of species occurs, we lose a tick on our list just by the whim of some scientists voting somewhere. All the hard-fought effort to find and tick a species is lost by the stroke of a pen.

On the other hand, listers love splits, and fortunately for us, there are some proposed splits that will balance out the loss of the Hoary Redpoll, and even add a species or two. One of these splits is especially beneficial to us because the subspecies being proposed for elevation to full species status is found right where we are currently staying. The Lillian’s Meadowlark, a pale-cheeked variation of Eastern Meadowlark that occupies a disjunct range in Southwestern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona, is singing on our property as I write this post. The geographic isolation of this population is the strongest evidence for its elevation to full species and removal from consideration as “just” a race of Eastern Meadowlark.

Another proposed split is the elevation of certain populations of Scrub-Jays in California to full species status. In fact, there was talk of as many as three or four “new” species of Scrub-Jays based on genetic studies, but the only one I saw in the released notes was the “California Scrub-Jay.” That species complex is certainly diverse and confusing. It hasn’t been all that long since the “original” Scrub-Jay was split into the Florida, Island, and Western species. It is not clear if we have actually seen the proposed new species in the past, (though we think we have) so we may need to travel out to California to add this bird if the proposal is accepted, much like we did when Bell’s Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow were split from Sage Sparrow.

There are also proposals to elevate certain subspecies of Leach’s Storm-Petrel to full species status. I know almost nothing about the merits of these proposals, but the Leach’s Storm-Petrel complex has long been among the most widespread and diverse of the pelagic birds, with seemingly disjunct populations scattered across several oceans. Whatever happens with the complex will have no effect on my new life list, however, since I don’t even have Leach’s on that list yet! (We need to do more pelagic trips!)

The bottom line for our new life list is that if the AOU proposals are accepted, we will lose one species, gain two more, and have several potential new species to chase. That’s not a bad result from just sitting here and reading an ornithological website!

So Long to the RGV. A Rarity Awaits!

After spending about 10 weeks in the Rio Grande Valley this winter, we’re on the road again!

Actually, Michael is on the road. Renee has some doctor’s appointments to catch up on before she leaves. We usually travel together, so something had to be out there to get me to leave my better half behind. That something was a trio of Common Cranes.

Last winter at least three, and maybe as many as five, Common Cranes were found near Muleshoe NWR, in west Texas, and later in the season, near Bitter Lakes NWR, in eastern New Mexico. They may have been two distinct sets of birds or the same birds moving between the two refuges, a distance of a couple of hundred miles. In any case, we did not chase those birds because we were too busy getting ready for our Alaska adventure during the summer.

This year is different. We were already planning to visit our place in New Mexico for the spring season and a detour up to crane country was doable. In fact, the birds (if they are the same birds) moved a little closer this year. They are hanging out south of Lubbock, and though that is still about 700 miles from the RGV, it is only about an additional 350 miles to visit the cranes and then continue on to New Mexico. The only real changes to our plans are that “small” detour and the fact that I left early to chase the cranes while Renee kept her appointments.

Crane spotting is a lot of fun, but it is an exercise in patience and persistence to find the needle in a haystack. There are three Common Cranes among several flocks of Sandhill Cranes that must number from 20,000 to 40,000 birds. Those odds are far better than the PowerBall lottery, but it is still a daunting task to find one of the rarities among the spectacle.

The task is made much easier by the reports from other birders and especially from the reports made by a researcher who is studying Sandhill Cranes. In fact, the researcher, Justin Bosler, was the first to find the Common Cranes last year and again this year. That makes sense, since he spends every day banding, tracking and studying the Sandhill Cranes and is most likely to spot the odd birds in the flocks.

Armed with these prior reports, and even getting useful information from the negative reports, it was not too difficult to find the foraging flocks of cranes after my drive up from the RGV. Making sense of the chaotic situation of 20,000 to 40,000 cranes over a fairly large area was more difficult. Fortunately, other crane spotters (seven, including me; in four vehicles) were present and we all exchanged cell phone numbers and headed off in various directions to search the various flocks.

The weather was cold, clear, and somewhat windy. The birds tended to feed in shallow depressions to stay out of the cold wind. That made it difficult to see many of the birds. Plus, it always seemed that any large flock of cranes was situated so that the sun was in my eyes and viewing was practically impossible. Finally, the birds tended to be a long distance away and heat shimmer was obvious. Still, we all spent the entire morning searching through every flock that presented itself, waiting for the phone call that never came. By around noon the flocks of cranes started to head off to rest on nearby shallow lakes. Those lakes are on private property so we all took the afternoon off.

Later in the day I and one other couple searched other nearby areas and managed to find about 7,000 or 8,000 birds in several flocks. The lighting and viewing conditions were much better. The wind had died down and the birds were closer than those during the morning. Unfortunately, the results were the same.

The next day I was out even earlier than the birds. While driving around the fields waiting for the birds to show, it didn’t take long to reconnect with some of the people from the day before and to add one more number to our phone list. Soon, we could see long lines and wedges of birds lifting off from the lakes and heading toward the farm fields. Many birds continued on past us but some started to settle in various places. The hunt was on again as we all headed out to try to find vantage points to scope different flocks.

It was quite a spectacle. Many of the Sandhill Cranes were starting to hop and dance. Some were even mating. There were both greater and lesser races of Sandhills in the flocks and a variety of plumages, including some nearly completely cinnamon juvenile birds and a nearly totally white leucistic bird. I spent hours looking at every single head sticking up to find the distinctive dark neck and pale cheek of the Common Crane. After seeing dozens of dark necks that turned out to be shadows; after watching 5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 cranes in a dozen different flocks; after driving the same bad farm roads over and over … finally, I received a phone call. “We met a guy who says he just saw the bird and we’re trying to re-find it. Come over to the next road south of where we last saw you!”

I must have kicked up quite a rooster tail of sand as I raced over to the next road and saw two cars parked up ahead. I set up my scope and camera next to the others and we all kept looking at every head poking up above the feeding flock of about 5,000 cranes (a flock I had been looking at from the opposite direction earlier, but into the sun). “I think I see it.” said one birder. “It’s just to the left of the water tank in the distance; near the power pole that has the transformer.” With those kinds of detailed instructions even I could find the bird! Finally, I found the dark neck I had been looking for. I saw the black crown and the white cheek despite the heat shimmer and haze. I saw the yellow on the bill despite the fact that the viewing distance was 800 yards or so. I even got some poor photos.

Tick! Number 724. One step closer to my goal of seeing as many birds as I can see.

Our Time in the RGV is Running Out

There have been lots of great birds in the RGV this winter, and nearby as well, but we are running out of time to add any more lifers to our list.

Northern Jacana started our stay in south Texas this winter and we added Flame-colored Tanager as well. There were grosbeaks, buntings, warblers and more, but none of them were new to our list. Now, our time is running out. It is likely that we will be leaving Texas in just a couple of weeks. How about one more lifer?!

The weather started out a bit odd, with alternating days in the 90s and 40s and quite a bit of rain. Lately, though, it has been beautiful. The winds have been a bit high sometimes but the temperatures have been delightful. Almost every day we take a couple of hours to do some wildlife watching. The diversity of birds has been great: tropical specialties and northern visitors, desert friends and humid neighbors, common and rare; all have put in an appearance.

But we still are waiting for another code 4 or 5. Yep, we’re getting greedy in our old age!

Another Successful Chase … but

UPDATE: We went back to Refugio and got a much better look at the tanager!

Yesterday, I drove up to Refugio, Texas and got a glimpse of the Flame-colored Tanager there.

But it was just a glimpse; a diagnostic glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless. Needless to say, there is no photo. That’s not much to show for a six hour round trip drive and six hours of stakeout birding. I can add the bird to my list but it was not very satisfying.

On a more positive note, Lions City Park was interesting, especially since it was the first time I have been there. This small bit of habitat has hosted two mega or near-mega rarities and some other unusual birds this winter. I did not see the Golden-crowned Warbler that has been resident for several weeks, but I did find the Greater Pewee and a completely unexpected Chukar. The last bird is almost certainly an escapee from a game ranch that releases them for shooting, but it was fun to see it anyway.

The list stands at 723. I’m still hoping for more from South Texas this winter. Someone conjure up a Roadside Hawk!