Birding Blog Archives

February 14th, 2009
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Blue Mocker

Like a great many other birders this week, I made the trek to Slaughter Ranch, right on the Mexican border in the desert to the east of Douglas. Unlike some I only had a three hour drive – most of the other birders there were from out of state. The reason? The discovery by Richard Webster of only the fifth Blue Mockingbird recorded in the USA. And what a fantastic bird! Spiky, electric blue with ruby red eyes, and seemingly more like a jay than a mockingbird (or, as I later realized, more like a Roller or even a Motmot).

It’s a skulker, so getting a clear view in its chosen dense hackberry thicket was hard work, but perseverance paid off with several acceptable views and loads of bad record shots…

Slaughter Ranch is located within a good stone-thrower’s range of the famous fence, and is in a unique position to attract migrants heading north through the Sierra Madres, being a real oasis in the desert, along a major migration route in the valley funnelling birds towards the Chiricahuas from Mexico. Surrounded by fairly foreboding Chihuahuan desert (to most migrants, at least), the attractions are obvious and it must be a welcome rest for weary migrants. Many of the birds appearing in the Chiricahuas must pass through here. But it’s three hours from Tucson and very few people get out to look – or did, anyway. That might change…

Last year Richard found a Yellow Grosbeak at the Ranch, almost as rare as the mockingbird. The day after the mockingbird was found, the Patagonia Roadside Rest Effect was felt when two male Ruddy Ground-Doves were found within yards of the mockingbird. They were still there, hanging out with three Inca Dove friends.

A Swamp Sparrow skulked at the back of the House Pond. A nice selection of ducks and grebes was on the water, and both Northern Rough-winged and Tree Swallows skimmed the surface.

A Great Horned Owl kept a close eye on me from a tall cottonwood, and the scrub held many sparrows, kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Crissal Thrashers, a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher and at least three Gray Flycatchers.

Three Eastern Bluebirds and a small flock of American Pipits cruised the lawn. Four woodpecker species were present: Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker and a nice male Red-naped Sapsucker. The list goes on and on…

But in short, brilliant birding! I think my trips to the Sulphur Springs Valley might stretch a bit further south in the future… 😀

On the way home I stopped to take a few photos of one of my favorite views in SE Arizona, over the San Pedro Valley towards the Huachuca Mountains between Bisbee and Tombstone. I know this sounds a bit strange, but it’s one of the very few places that really makes me feel like I’m actually on a planet! I don’t think the photos really capture it…

I also checked in briefly at Benson WTP and was pleased to find a couple of female-type Common Goldeneyes amongst the impressive gathering of wildfowl there to round off another great day in SE Arizona.

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