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A really nice day of birding in Santa Cruz County, with migration in full swing and a number of great highlights.
Palo Duro Creek Golf Course, Nogales:
The ponds at the abandoned golf course were a good choice to start the day, with 42 species in just a couple of hours. Migration was in evidence, the most obvious participants being a flock of 14 AMERICAN AVOCET which spent a full hour flying back and forth, not sure if they should land or not.
A flock of 11 WHITE-FACED IBIS headed north, and then a group of 6 WILLET magically appeared on the shoreline of the western pond, their arrival unseen.
There was a good smattering of ducks for the time of year: a pair of GADWALL, a pair of ‘MEXICAN’ MALLARD, five CINNAMON TEAL, a pair of NORTHERN SHOVELER, and several RUDDY DUCKS. We also found PIED-BILLED GREBE, GREAT BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET, GRAY HAWK, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, BELTED KINGFISHER, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED, TREE and BARN SWALLOWS, LUCY’S and YELLOW WARBLERS, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, ABERT’S TOWHEE, and a couple of lingering YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS. We had a ‘field guide moment’ when both CASSIN’S and WESTERN KINGBIRDS perched side by side.
S. River Rd, Nogales:
I spied a GRAY HAWK perched on a pole by the bridge crossing the Santa Cruz River, so we pulled over to get a better look. The next car that came by stopped and asked what we were looking at – passing birders, who joined us to watch the hawk. The next car, the same. And the next! Before long we had about 20 birders enjoying the hawk.
This is a regular site for nesting GRAY HAWKS, and a second bird called from a nearby cottonwood. Three BLACK VULTURES flew over, and a RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW was singing from the mesquites.
Tucson Audubon’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, Patagonia:
We spent a pleasant couple of hours watching and photographing a nice range of spring birds at the feeders, and the surrounding world-class riparian habitat. Highlights included GRAY HAWK, INCA DOVE, BROAD-BILLED and VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRDS, NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, LUCY’S, YELLOW, and both ‘AUDUBON’S’ and another ‘MYRTLE’ YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, LINCOLN’S SPARROW, ABERT’S TOWHEE, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, SUMMER TANAGER, a bunch of LAZULI BUNTINGS, a smart male INDIGO BUNTING, and PINE SISKIN.
Most interesting to me was the continuing CURVE-BILLED THRASHERS, which have made a nest in a cavity in a dead tree. In the desert, Curve-billed Thrashers famously build their nests in cholla and other cacti and will utilize dense bushes and trees in other situations, but I’ve not found any reference to them nesting in tree cavities, so it’s presumably quite unusual.
A quick stop near the Calabasas Campground produced an immature male VERMILION FLYCATCHER, plus DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW.
Peña Blanca Lake:
Even though it was mid-afternoon, I fancied we’d do well at the lake, and so it proved. Raptors were magnificently in evidence. A migrant OSPREY soared over the lake, looking for fish.
We were delighted to see a COMMON BLACK HAWK and get great views as it also circled above us, on the lookout.
By the nest site, a ZONE-TAILED HAWK watched us suspiciously from a regular perch.
Also at the lake, NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, BELTED KINGFISHER, PACIFIC-SLOPE and DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, CASSIN’S and WESTERN KINGBIRDS, BELL’S VIREO, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, BLACK-THROATED, LARK and LINCOLN’S SPARROWS, and LAZULI BUNTING.
There’s good news and bad news concerning wren nests at the lake. Sadly it seems that the CANYON WREN nest I’ve been watching lately has been predated, as there were no chicks in it today, and they weren’t close to the stage of fledging the nest on their own. An adult bird was singing from the nearby hillside. On the bright side, there are two ROCK WREN nests, one in the parking lot and another only a hundred yards away. Both sets of parents are feeding young, which can be heard squeaking every time the adults drop between the rocks with food.
Peña Blanca Canyon:
We didn’t arrive until early evening, but it was still worth it. We wanted to find an ELEGANT TROGON, and we did, but we didn’t get great views.
We also found GREATER ROADRUNNER, COSTA’S and BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRDS, ARIZONA WOODPECKER, HAMMOND’S, DUSKY-CAPPED and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS, and BRIDLED TITMOUSE.
As the sun went down and we headed back to the car, we heard a pair of ELF OWLS calling. Then another, neighbors in the same part of the canyon. A fifth bird began vocalizing as we got nearer to the car. It struck me that I hadn’t birded the canyon at night, something of an oversight that I’ll fix in the near future. I’ve heard ELF OWLS calling during the day further up the canyon at two different spots, so it begs the question: just how many Elf Owls are in the canyon? And what else could be lurking at night? When I find out, I’ll let you know…