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?