Thursday, December 6, 2012

Southeast Arizona Birding Wrap-up

I am not going to bury the lede:  We saw the trogon!

The day started unpromisingly.  It was a bit chilly and quite cloudy/foggy and there was not much bird activity.  And when we did see birds, it was very difficult to perceive any field marks; the lack of sunlight made them all look somewhat hazy and grey.  We abandoned our first location fairly quickly and went to the Nature Conservancy property where the trogon had been seen.  (We went to the other location first mostly because we were waiting for the NC place to open for visitors.)  We got pretty lucky to see a painted redstart; even though it was somewhat hard to see, silhouetted against the sky, the coloration is bright and unmistakeable.

Painted redstart (photo from Cornell Lab)

The trail up the mountainside did not yield many birds, but a Townsend's warbler landed in a tree perhaps 2 feet from my nose.  (And I was amused to notice how my Austin-based birding experience means that all of the warblers with striking yellow and black face coloration are "those ones that look kind of like a golden-cheeked warbler."  Having the golden-cheeked warbler as the reference bird for this category must be quite uncommon, given that it's an endangered species that lives only in mixed ashe-juniper and oak woodlands of central Texas.)

Townsend's warbler (photo from Cornell Lab)

Once the weather started warming up, the birds and birders became more active.  We fell in among a small flock of people who were looking at a bird that Robert identified for them as a band-tailed pigeon, immediately establishing himself as the group's Bird Guru.  I talked to an older man who had talked to a woman who had seen the elegant trogon earlier in the day.  A while after this man left the flock, and as the rest of us were looking over a tree full of yellow-rumped warblers in the hope of finding something else, I heard the sound of his distinctive voice from further down the trail.  I thought, He must have the trogon!, so Robert and I moved as quickly toward him as is consistent with not scaring the fuck out of every bird on the reserve. 

And indeed, he had the trogon, who was exceptionally cooperative, giving us great, clear views of himself both in the trees and flying about.  I turned to Robert to suggest that he get the rest of our flock to see this magnificent bird, but he was already halfway back down the trail to get them. Everybody ooohed and aaahed over the bird, and the older man got a really nice photo using his tiny point-and-shoot camera. 

Elegant trogon (photo from Wikipedia)

And thus did the elegant trogon lose its "nemesis bird" status in a big way.

The next day, it rained all morning but we managed to see a lot of birds at and around the bird feeders at San Pedro House, including a new sparrow - Baird's sparrow.

Baird's sparrow (photo from Cornell Lab)

I left Arizona with 498 species, not quite making the goal of 500, but within range of it.  We saw 18 life birds in Arizona, and 88 species altogether.  A quite satisfactory outcome.

During our trip, I was particularly sensitized to bill shape for some reason, which was helpful in sorting out the thrashers we saw.  There were several new species of thrashers available to us in SE Arizona, but unfortunately we kept seeing our old friend the curve-billed thrasher.

I was also struck by the variations of red on the various birds we saw.  The breast of the trogon glowed brightly red.  The vermilion flycatcher gleamed with an orange-red brilliance.  The wet, fluffed up feathers of the pyrrhuloxia made them look like whitish-grey birds with rosy red wounds on their chests.

A couple weeks after our trip, Robert and I went to a local nature reserve where common redpolls had been seen.  We did not see the redpolls.  We saw something even better: white-winged crossbills, bringing me up to 499 species.

This weekend, we are headed a few hours north of home in the hopes of seeing some of the birds of the boreal forest.  Come on, one more new species!


rvman said...

Three day bird trip to the "Sax-Zim Bog". Forecast - Saturday high of 24. Sunday high of 20, 60% chance of snow. Monday high of 14, low of 6.

mom said...

Good luck! Time to get those long johns out. Stay warm.

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