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A night birding and photography trip to California Gulch with a difference, starting in Rio Rico at 2:40 a.m. and sampling the pre-dawn action in the gulch. We had mixed results, but on the whole it was very good.
Driving Ruby Rd in the dark always provides the opportunity for interesting nocturnal wildlife, but all we saw were ANTELOPE JACKRABBITS and the now obligatory GRAY FOX.
Confluence of California Gulch & Warsaw Canyon:
A BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR was singing about a quarter mile before we got to the usual spot, which bode well, I thought. However, even though we tried hard over the next hour, coming close to singing birds on numerous occasions, we never did get a visual. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much nightjar vocalization at one time. There were at least four singing males, maybe more. It was hard to tell, but impressive nonetheless.
We also heard WESTERN SCREECH-OWL, ELF OWL, and COMMON POORWILL, but didn’t get views of any of those either.
Despite many night visits, I’d never tried birding this site before dawn before. One thing I hadn’t accounted for (which is obvious, really) was how early the dawn chorus starts, and how distracting it can be when trying to locate night birds. ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS were particularly noisy nuisances.
As night gave way to day, our luck improved. We found a couple of FIVE-STRIPED SPARROWS, one singing heartily, and got decent views.
A pair of VARIED BUNTINGS was also showing well just before the sun came up over the ridge.
We got a few glimpses of a male MONTEZUMA QUAIL. I’ve seen this pair, and more recently just the male, on numerous occasions recently in exactly the same spot. I assume the female is on a nest nearby. We also found BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, calling CRISSAL THRASHER, LUCY’S WARBLER, SUMER TANAGER, and HOODED ORIOLE.
We left soon after the sun came up, but stopped again a half mile north of the confluence when I heard the familiar twang of another singing FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW close by on the Warsaw Canyon side of the road. This one was particularly showy and allowed us to get much improved photos.
Not to be outdone, a male VARIED BUNTING also appeared for his photo. What a stunning bird!
Peña Blanca Canyon:
We ducked into the canyon very briefly, so see if we could catch an ELEGANT TROGON inside 15 minutes. We did, a female, but didn’t get very good views.
Other birds noted during our quick visit included BLACK VULTURE, GRAY HAWK, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, HUTTON’S VIREO, PAINTED REDSTART, SUMER TANAGER, and SCOTT’S ORIOLE.
I also got a brief view of an ‘AZURE’ EASTERN BLUEBIRD. They are regular at certain sites nearby, including both canyons either side (Walker to the east and Sycamore to the west) but I rarely see them here in the summer. I wonder if it had been displaced by the recent Mule Ridge Fire that devastated some of their regular haunts around Sycamore and Yank’s Canyons.