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August 31st, 2017
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Prothonotary Warbler, Green Kingfisher, Northern Waterthrush

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After conducting a Yellow-billed Cuckoo survey in Pesqueira Canyon near Nogales, Jennie and I headed to Patagonia Lake for some general birding. Despite not arriving until 1:00 pm, we racked up an impressive 53 species along the Birding Trail, with some excellent rarities.

Not long after we arrived, we heard the distinctive buzzy trill of a GREEN KINGFISHER calling between the willows and the cattails not long beyond the stairs, an area I’ve never seen one at the lake. Normally, the water level isn’t sufficient to create suitable habitat in this spot, but the monsoon swell meant that it was deep enough to dive and rich was small fish. We spent a while looking but couldn’t get a view. Several young SORAS were out in full view along the muddy edge, and a WILLOW FLYCATCHER fed low in the willows.

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Soon after we were lucky enough to meet Chris McCreedy, who asked if we were looking for the Prothonotary Warbler. What Prothonotary Warbler? One had been found the previous evening and reported to eBird, but I’d missed it. We set about searching for a new state bird for both of us, and indeed a world life bird for me. I’m not sure how I hadn’t seen one on my travels, but I hadn’t, so this was exciting!

We spent a long while looking but we couldn’t find the warbler, so Jennie and I headed towards the end of the lake, where a Stilt Sandpiper had been seen by the creek inflow. We couldn’t find that either, but did see WHITE-FACED IBIS, BELTED KINGFISHER and a few SPOTTED SANDPIPERS. Other birds included DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW, ABERT’S TOWHEE, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, WESTERN and SUMMER TANAGERS, BLUE GROSBEAK, LAZULI BUNTING, and BULLOCK’S ORIOLE.

We also saw something remarkable. Delightfully, a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO appeared at the end of the lake in a dead tree, broke off a branch, and headed into a willow thicket. A couple of minutes later it was back, breaking another branch from the tree. It used all its force to break the twig, so enthusiastically that at one point it hung upside-down momentarily before the branch broke. It came back a couple more times, each time heading to the same spot in the willows with another twig. It was across the creek so we didn’t pursue it to find a nest, but it was a fantastic spectacle to witness.

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

We headed back towards the trailhead and met Chris again, who had seen the Prothonotary Warbler. We settled back into the willows to look. I was aware that a Northern Waterthrush had been around, which surprisingly would be a new bird for me in Santa Cruz County. Somehow I’d never seen one along the Santa Cruz River at Tubac, Sonoita Creek or at either of the main lakes. We hadn’t been back for long before a bird flew past, catching my eye. I followed it and it proved to be the NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. Excellent!

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Chris had also seen the Green Kingfisher in this area, as well as the Prothonotary Warbler, so we hung around a while longer. A HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER was foraging among the willows, while ORANGE-CROWNED, NASHVILLE, MacGILLIVRAY’S, YELLOW, and WILSON’S WARBLERS, plus several COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, gave suggestive flashes of yellow as they lurked in the dark.

Suddenly, the GREEN KINGFISHER called again and flashed past, landing at the back of the willows. We were able to get nice views as we peered through a convenient gap in the foliage.

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

By now we’d been standing in the same spot for quite a while, enjoying amazing birding all around us. It was late afternoon and time to go, so we turned to head back to the car. As we did so, Jennie caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of her eye, and quickly called out “PROTHONOTARY WARBLER!”

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler and Sora

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

A new life bird, and three great rarities all seen from one spot! We watched the warbler for a while before heading home, delighted with our day.

 

August 31st, 2017
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Yellow-billed Cuckoo survey - Pesqueira Canyon

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It was the final scheduled Yellow-billed Cuckoo survey of the season on behalf of Tucson Audubon Society and Coronado National Forest, and Jennie and I were confident we could find some in Pesqueira Canyon near Nogales.

We succeeded! There was still a pair of YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS in the canyon, in an area that had hosted cuckoos on previous visits, and the way they were acting was suggestive of a breeding pair. They were never far apart and were softly calling to each other.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Pesqueira Canyon is a fairly standard, lower-elevation, mesquite- and oak-dominated border canyon. It isn’t particularly known as a birding site, but it was lively with breeding birds and migrants passing through for a total of 43 species.

The highlights were four GRAY HAWKS, four COMMON GROUND-DOVES, three GREATER ROADRUNNERS, 15 migrant GRAY FLYCATCHERS, VERMILION, ASH-THROATED, and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, CURVE-BILLED and a minimum of five CRISSAL THRASHERS, a couple of LUCY’S WARBLERS (one of which was singing!), migrant MacGILLIVRAYS, YELLOW, and WILSON’S WARBLERS, an impressive 37 RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, WESTERN TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED and BLUE GROSBEAKS, and BULLOCK’S ORIOLE.

Common Ground-Dove

 

August 18th, 2017
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Yellow-billed Cuckoo survey - Pesqueira Canyon

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  • Hover over the photos to see the species name or site description

A thoroughly enjoyable cuckoo survey at Pesqueira Canyon near Nogales. Jennie and I found 43 species, including the main target, a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. We also found a rare butterfly.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Also in the canyon this morning, lots more birds feeding on the abundant insect life. Three BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS flew over, and we also encountered two MONTEZUMA QUAIL, four GRAY HAWKS, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, five GREATER ROADRUNNERS, five migrant GRAY FLYCATCHERS, BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER, CRISSAL THRASHER, MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER, RUFOUS-WINGED, BOTTERI’S, CASSIN’S, BLACK-THROATED, LARK, and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS, SUMMER TANAGER, BLUE GROSBEAK, VARIED BUNTING, HOODED and BULLOCK’S ORIOLES, and BRONZED COWBIRD.

Blue Grosbeak

Cow and flies!

Of the abundant insects, one stood out as the highlight – in fact, highlight of the day, and one of the best things I’ve found all year. I spotted a ‘patch’ butterfly and something struck me as being different from the regular Bordered Patch and worthy of further investigation. I got a documentary photo and later realized it was worth a second look, as it was a rare Mexican vagrant, a ROSITA PATCH, which has only been recorded in Arizona a handful of times.

Rosita Patch

 

May 2nd, 2017
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Five-striped Sparrows at California Gulch

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A highly enjoyable day with my good friends, Jim and Pauline, with an emotional end to a long quest for a certain sparrow…

Arivaca Lake:

This excellent but under-watched site was lively as always, including CINNAMON TEAL, PIED-BILLED GREBE, GRAY HAWK, VERMILION FLYCATCHERS feeding young, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, RUFOUS-WINGED and LARK SPARROWS, LAZULI BUNTING, and HOODED and BULLCOK’S ORIOLES. We’d hoped to find Thick-billed Kingbirds as this is a regular site, but they weren’t around. Maybe they’re late, or maybe they’re not coming back this year. Time will tell.

Yellow Warbler

Most surprising was a male SUMMER TANAGER, which can often be a hard bird to get good views high in the cottonwoods, taking a shine to us and perching within a few feet of us in a mesquite. Quite stunning!

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

A pair of SWAINSON’S HAWKS were along the road, a regular site for this attractive summer hawk.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Confluence of California Gulch & Warsaw Canyon:

One particular FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW has been very good to me lately, showing well while the others continue to be elusive, as is normal until they start singing just before the monsoon season. Today we found its mate as well, which was keeping its head down in the usual fashion, but the showy bird was especially showy today.

I’d taken Jim and Pauline to the gulch before to look for Five-stripes, without success. Today was, therefore, a big deal for all of us, and it couldn’t have gone any better. I can always tell when seeing a particular target bird means that little bit more to my clients. Rather than jumping up and down and whooping with delight, they went silent, fixed it with a steely gaze, and took it all in with perhaps a little mist in their eyes. It was a real honor to share this moment with two of my longest-standing and favorite clients.

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

Also here, BELL’S VIREO, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW.

Rufous-winged Sparrow

Ruby Lakes (aka California Gulch Dam, NOT at Ruby):

We spent a while hanging out at another under-birded yet productive site, enjoying ‘MEXICAN’ MALLARD with a bunch of fluffy ducklings, GRAY HAWK, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET, VERMILION FLYCATCHERS feeding young, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, LARK and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROWS, SUMMER TANAGER, and LAZULI BUNTING.

Ruby Lakes

We also enjoyed the dragonflies perching along the water’s edge.

Mexican Amberwing

Variegated Meadowhawk

Peña Blanca Canyon:

We had just enough time to run up the canyon a short way to see if the WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL was showing at the entrance to her nest hole, which she was, kind of – we could just see the top of her head!

Whiskered Screech-Owl