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THE FOCUS ON NATURE TOUR IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA & NORTHERN MEXICO
August/September 2008

 



Cactus Wrens
(photo during a FONT tour by Doris Potter)

Links:

Birds & Other Wildlife during our southern Arizona & northern Mexico Tour in Aug-Sep '08

A List & Photo Gallery of Arizona Birds, in 2 parts  

A List & Photo Gallery of Mexico Birds, in 3 parts: 

Part #1: Tinamous to Shorebirds
    
Part #2: Jaegers to Woodpeckers   
Part #3: Manakins to Buntings

Mammals (a list with some photos) in:   
Arizona      Mexico  

Amphibians & Reptiles (a list with some photos) in: 
Arizona      Mexico

Arizona Butterflies and Dragonflies & Damselflies  (with some photos)

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Arizona

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Mexico


The following narrative was written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:


For a number of years, during the second half of the summer, FONT has been going to Arizona, primarily to see the hummingbirds that also go to that state at that time, but also other birds too. In all, nearly 150 species of birds have been seen during the FONT tours in Arizona in the late-summer.

In
2008, this annual tour was a little later that it was other years. It was at the very end of August, and spilled into September. The dates were August 28 to September 4, 2008.

Being later, and further into the migration, a few species were seen in
Arizona for us for the first time. Among them, the MacGillivray's Warbler was particularly common. There were a couple Sparrow species that we had not seen, other years, when the tour was earlier, the Savannah and Vesper. A single Osprey in a treetop at a day's end, no where near water, was also "new" for us for Arizona. And there were two species that we saw that normally range east of Arizona, the Northern Parula and the Yellow-throated Vireo.

But one of our "new" bird species for
Arizona was especially notable. It was a species not ever seen, not only by us, but by anyone, prior to the end of August 2008, not only in Arizona but anywhere north of Mexico, where the bird is endemic. Seeing a "new species" for the US, or for North America north of the Mexican border, is a hard to do! 
In all, over 800 species of birds have been noted in North America as just defined - that is, North America north of Mexico. Of those, over 700 species are regular, either widespread or local, in that part of the continent north of Mexico. Others are vagrants, that have occurred either at sea, or usually at the edge of the land mass, in remote places such as Alaska and Newfoundland. Other rarities for the region have also been at or near its edge, in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.        
The particular bird, being referred to here, as being in
Arizona, is a wren. It's named for a Mexican state, Sinaloa, although the species also occurs in a state that's further north and closer to the US, that is the border state of Sonora. 
The wren, now known as the Sinaloa Wren, was formerly called the Bar-vented Wren. It's a Mexican endemic (even with the new Arizona occurrence notwithstanding).
Mexico is a country rich in wrens. 29 species occur. That's more than in any other country. Among them, 11 are endemic to Mexico: the Gray-barred, Giant, Spotted, Boucard's, Yucatan, Sumichrast's, Nava's, Happy, Socorro, and the Clarion, in addition to the Sinaloa.
Putting all them together would be quite a collection of song. Putting all 29 Mexican species together would be a symphonic blast!  
Incidentally, in addition to the Sinaloa Wren (as noted, just found in Arizona), there are 2 other wren species that occur regularly and in numbers in
Sonora and have not been found north of the border: the Spotted and the Happy Wrens, with the former not yet "spotted", and the latter apparently happy to be where it is.   

We went during two consecutive mornings to the place with that first Sinaloa Wren visiting north of the Mexican border. Both of those mornings, there were numerous birders, from a variety of places themselves, hoping to get a look at the bird. Most, those two mornings, did not. A few heard the bird, giving its call, or a bit of a song, in the distance. Some got but a glimpse. Our experience was like that. On the other side of a stream, the call-note of the Sinaloa Wren was heard. Two wrens were detected in the underbrush. But when one appeared. it was a Bewick's Wren. Birds of the two species were apparently associating together.
So, we decided to go back again - later during our tour, on our way back from the
Chiricahua Mountains back to Tucson. It would not be at what would normally be thought of as the best time in the morning, and there probably would not be a crowd of other birders, but even so, we decided to visit the place again.
That place, by the way, was just south of the town of
Patagonia, along a dirt road near the sanctuary of the Nature Conservancy. That's where the bird had been since it was found. 
We learned about the wren, by the way, during our visit on the first day of our tour, at the store and office of the
Tucson Audubon Society, where we always stop for a visit at the beginning of our tours in the area. It was kind of them, at Tucson Audubon, to tell us, right away, about the rarity, found the previous day, that was a first, as noted, not only for southern Arizona, but for North America north of Mexico.

Anyway, when we went back to the wren's favored site that afternoon, a couple days after our previous two morning visits, we were most fortunate! It was about 3:45pm. As we drove slowly, along the dirt road, I heard some sounds of bird activity in trees at what certainly turned out to be the right place. We saw, first, some Bridled Titmice, and then the Northern Parula that had been seen by others and by us during the mornings a few days earlier. 
But wrens were detected in the underbrush. One or two Bewick's Wrens were present. And then we heard the call, as we had a few days previously, of the Sinaloa Wren. But not only that, then the bird came out onto the dirt road and took a dust bath right in front of us! Of course, we saw it well. But yet there was to be more. The Sinaloa Wren then went onto a branch, at about eye-level, only yards from us, and sang its hearty song. We saw every feature of the bird. 
There's an expression that "it's not over until the fat lady sings". Well, it was over for us, after that little Sinaloa Wren from Mexico belted out its rich song in front of us in clear view! It was certainly the "right way" to see a "good bird"!

There were some other birds that were seen nicely during our
Arizona tour in August/September '08.
The cast of sparrows one day was pretty good, east of Patagonia in the scenic
San Rafael Valley. That day we saw: Cassin's, Botteri's, Grasshopper, Vesper, Lark, Song, and Savannah. The last of these arrives in southern Arizona in August. A number of sparrows and related birds, and an assortment of hawks winter in that picturesque valley. During our day there, a notable raptor for us was a White-tailed Kite.

And of course there were, during our
2008 Arizona Tour, the Hummingbirds! We saw a dozen species, in various plumages, and all of them we saw well. There were, of course, the regulars, including: the Broad-billed, the "Rivoli's" form of the Magnificent, the Blue-throated, the Anna's, the Black-chinned, the Broad-tailed, and the Rufous. Telling some Rufous Hummingbirds from the Allen's Hummingbird can be problematic, but we saw both. And we also saw nicely the Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest of all North American birds.       

This fine photograph of an immature Broad-tailed Hummingbird
was taken during the FONT tour in southern Arizona in August 2008
by tour participant, Doris Potter.


As our tour continued, we crossed the border from the United States to Mexico, into Sonora.
We headed toward a place that was to be special to us, for the birds and the other nature that we would experience there. It's the property of a large ranch, about 30,000 acres, in the High Sonoran Desert, where elevations range from about 3,300 to 7,200 feet above sea level, and including a number of habitats, from riparian woodland to desert. Additionally, there would be some spectacular canyons to be explored, and in which some notable wildlife would be found. The scenery, we were told, was to be marvelous, and it was. We arrived at the place well after dark, but the following morning we found the property of the vast ranch to be as good as we were told it would be.
 
Wildlife does abound in the area. Pumas are said to be common. Deer and Coyote are as well. Many birds occur. During our tour, both Montezuma and Elegant Quail were found. In one of the canyons, we found Rufous-capped Warblers. A Mexican Yellow Grosbeak was seen, as were Five-striped and Rufous-winged Sparrows. The last of these species can be seen locally in southern Arizona , but not as readily as it has been in the past. Overall, the global range of the Rufous-winged Sparrow is nearly restricted to the Mexican state of Sonora.

In all, we saw a good number of birds, of about 70 species, on and near the property of the ranch.

What probably is best about where we were in the remote hills of Sonora is that it IS NOW, as places such as Arizona WERE in the past - before the "development" brought highways, agriculture, and many people. On the property in Sonora, such things are missing. The place is "natural".
Oh, there are some cattle on the ranch, but not many. As one traveled about on the property on tracks in a four-wheel drive vehicle, one had the opportunity to sense, during our visit, what a "natural place" could really be like - and how it was before the highways, agriculture, and many people.
I thought, more than once, as I was in those Sonoran hills, that a place in the United States very similar to where we were is the Big Bend National Park in Texas. Yes, the place had enough to it to be a national park.
           
There are a lot of birds and other nature in those Sonoran hills. One of the more notable of the birds is the Mexican subspecies of the Wild Turkey, known as the "Gould's Turkey". It has white in its plumage where other wild turkeys are buffy.

At one point, as we were driving, we noted a huge flock of birds kettling in the sky, hundreds of them, maybe a thousand. A look in the binoculars showed them to be Ravens.

Also in the region, numerous birds occur at Lake Angostura
and along the Bavispe River. And, again, not only are birds there, but other wildlife too.

To give again an idea of how remote and wild the area we visited in Sonora, Mexico really is:
As we stood on a hill overlooking Lake Angostura, we could see across the way a ridge clad on its upper parts with pines. It was there, we were told, that Geronimo had his last hangout. It was in such places that the Imperial Woodpecker once lived, and where today the Eared Quetzal still does.
In a nearby canyon, with steep walls, a couple years ago, a pair of Military Macaws were seen - the most northern sighting of that species, and the closest to the US.
 
Referring back to Geronimo for a second, one of the reasons why this part of Mexico has been so unpopulated is that it was, for over 150 years, the haunt of the aggressive, even ferocious, Apaches.

During our tour on the Sonoran ranch, our early-morning wake-up call, just outside our windows, was the howling of Coyotes. Throughout the day, there were, as noted, many birds, and also, butterflies in numbers of fine variety, and animals such as the Antelope Jackrabbit and the Coue's White-tailed Deer. Following dusk, owls called. After dark, the stars shone brightly, including a Milky Way that nearly jumped out at us.

As wonderful as the area and the nature were, it was without a doubt, all the more so, due to the kind hospitality of our hosts, Manuel and his family, and David. We learned so much from them, and our excellent Mexican meals on the ranch, reminded us, even though we didnít need reminding, of where we were. All of the time, during our visit, we were, simply put, so very glad to be there.   

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