Monday, July 27, 2009

Brown-backed Solitaire trip report

Jeff Cowell, John Small, and I left Claremont on Friday morning at 05:35 a.m., for a Southeast Arizona birding trip that was planned over a month ago. After we had already planned the trip, one (possibly two!) Brown-backed Solitaire(s) showed up in the Huachucas at Miller Canyon, then at Ramsey Canyon.

We were supposed to bird Madera Canyon Friday afternoon, which we did, but we were robbed of 3 hours of daylight by the fatality truck accident on the 10 near Tucson (the truck driver died, and her load of toxic chemicals shut down the highway). We saw Black-throated Sparrows, Bell's Vireo, Hermit Thrushes, a Bridled Titmouse, and a Wild Turkey. We heard-only Whip-poorwill, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and Whiskered Screech Owls. We also saw a unique desert hare called an Antelope Jackrabbit. It has white sides, like a two-toned car.

Saturday morning we birded Patagonia Roadside Rest, the Paton's backyard, and the Preserve. We only heard the Sinaloa Wren, but saw Black Vultures, Gray Hawks, Cardinals, White-winged Doves, Gambel's Quail, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Thick-billed Kingbird, Canyon Towhees, Curve-billed Thrashers, and a female Varied Bunting.

On the way to the Huachuca Mountains (the site of Miller, Carr, and Ramsey Canyons) Saturday afternoon we had Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Botteri's & Cassin's Sparrows.

We then stopped at Mary Jo Ballator's B&B, in Ash Canyon, where we saw the male Lucifer Hummingbird (the little guy with a purple throat; in the photo, above), along with an Arizona Gray Squirrel, Mexican Jays, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and a Gray Hawk.

At Miller Canyon we sat at the hummingbird feeders at Beatty's Orchard, where we saw White-eared, Blue-throated, Magnificent, Anna's, Berylline, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds. John Small and I hiked up the canyon, where we encountered the Black-tailed Rattlesnake in the photo. He held his ground, but never lunged at us. As a matter of fact, he only rattled once. We kept our distance, and that was good enough for him. He must be eating the local Rock Squirrels, which look just like the California Ground Squirrel.

That night, Jeff and I ate at The Mesquite Tree, a local steak house out in the middle of the countryside on Highway 92, at the foot of Carr Canyon Road. I like it because the food is good, and it's where the locals go out for a nice dinner. Usually it has businesmen in sports coats and Stetsons, but tonight there was an old Hungarian lady at one table, and an old German lady at another, both with their husbands, who were probably retired Army from Fort Huachuca, the economic engine of the area. A bunch of you reading this have eaten there, probably with me.

Sunday morning in Sierra Vista (which is full of Great-tailed Grackles, White-winged Doves, and Curve-billed Thrashers) we stopped at the Starbucks inside a Safeway (my usual grande mocha with extra whipped cream), and looked around for Chihuahuan Ravens. We didn't see any until Sunday afternoon, when we went to Wendy's; but we did see an adult Peregrine. Then we drove up the winding, narrow, rocky road to Carr Canyon, arriving at "The Reef", situated around 7,000 feet, where we saw Yellow-eyed Junco, a female Virginia's Warbler, and a calling Buff-breatsed Flycatcher. There were also lots of birds found in the mountains of L.A. County, like White-breasted Nuthatchm Acorn Woodpecker, White-throated swift, Hairy Woodpecker, Scrub Jay, Hutton's Vireo, Bushtits, and Band-tailed Pigeon.

We drove back down to Highway 92, and went over one canyon to Ramsey Canyon, where we finally got John good looks at Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Bridled Titmouse (he kept hearing, but not seeing them). There was also a male Blue-throated Hummingbird in the parking lot. Inside the preserve, Arizona Woodpecker and Hepatic Tanager were more lifebirds for John (Jeff got his life Hepatic Tanager a month ago when I dragged him to Arrastre Creek, in the San Bernardino Mountains of California). We hiked up to the barberries, and within half an hour, the Brown-backed Solitaire showed up. I remember fondly the only other time I heard and saw this non-descript bird's fantastic song. You'd swear that a lunatic is up in the tree, playing a flute. It's the most beautfiful bird song I have ever heard, anywhere on three continents, except maybe Melodius Blackbird (another Mexican bird species). Listen to Chris Benesh's recording of the bird at: , then look at a picture of it at: .

Back in Sierra Vista we stopped for burgers at Wendy's (John jumped out of the car, and stared at the Chihuahuan Ravens across the street, while we ordered at the drive-through); then we drove straight north on Highway 90 towards the 10. Close to the entrance to Kartchner Caverns ( ) John noiced a pair of Swainson's Hawks. We pulled over, and got killer looks. We got back into the car, and headed to Tucson, where we stopped at Sweetwater Wetlands, and it was 108F. Tropical Kingbird, Common Moorhen, Sora, Cinnamon Teal, and Harris' Hawk (see the photo,above) rounded out the trip list, along with a Hispid Cotton Rat (a native rat that does not live near humans), and a Round-tailed Ground Squirrel. The hawk was John's 27th lifebird on the trip.

Phoenix was a frigid 111 degrees, and the thermometer stayed there for the next 3 hours i.e. 200 miles of desert, as we approached the Colorado River. All of the birds we saw were Eurasian Collared Doves, White-winged Doves, and Rock Pigeons. Jeff and John saw the Black-necked Stilts in the concrete ditch by the Tolleson Starbucks (I always stop there for a mocha and to see what shorebirds are lurking between the 10 Freeway and the mall). Once we crossed into California, we saw multiple Lesser Nighthawks flying over the freeway. In Indio it was only 104 degrees at 9:00 p.m.

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