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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.
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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.