Day 5 was originally scheduled to hunt for the Sinaloa Wren at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, but since we lucked out yesterday and found the wren skulking around the leaf litter, it was our plan today to head east to the White Water Draw refuge near McNeal, Arizona. We were hoping to get to the refuge early in the morning. Several people we met in AZ told us that if you arrive after the photographers show up then your chances of finding our target bird would be slim. The photographers tend to get too close and flush the birds into the grasses where they are extremely difficult to find. So we arrived around 8AM and outside the refuge we found a large flock of about 30 Sandhill Cranes. They appeared to be the lesser sandhills based on their size. Inside the refuge were another 2000+ cranes.
Once we arrived at the parking area for the refuge we noticed that many people were actually camping at the refuge, which I found strange. The refuge is similar to Bombay Hook. The refuge is made up of man made pools surrounded by dikes. However, no cars are allowed, so you have to walk around the area. We walked in and the first birds that we saw were our target birds eating right on the first dike. I set up the scope and we watched life bird number five, a male and female Ruddy Ground-Dove.
Although the picture is not great, the male showed no scaling on the throat as a Common Ground-Dove would show. Also there was more spotting on the wings and the wings were a lot redder then the common.
After sharing the scope with a couple from Georgia, who also came to see the birds, we turned around and there was a Vermilion Flycatcher right behind us.
After walking around for a little we found two Great Horned Owls, Long-billed Dowitchers, Bushtits, and a Barn Owl sitting in the rafters of a very large picnic pavilion.
|Sleeping Barn Owl
Continuing the tour we found Northern Harrier, Black and Say's Phoebe, Green-tailed Towhee, Eastern Meadowlark and Greater Roadrunner. Returning to the parking lot there was a Loggerhead Shrike posing for us at the top of a tree.
After visiting the refuge we headed to San Pedro Riparian Preserve back in Sierra Vista. This place was just hopping with more sparrows then I have ever seen. We found hundreds of White-crowned Sparrows, a few Brewer's Sparrows, a couple hundred Vesper Sparrows, Savannahs, Chipping, Song, Lincoln's and lots of Lark Sparrows, plus Lesser Goldfinch. The feeder at the HQ was taken over with Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
After this preserve we traveled south to the Coronado National Monument. The only new bird species that we added was Canyon Wren at the top of the mountain in the park. Also at the top were two border patrol trucks with a radar system attached to an antenna. Apparently the radar picks up body heat of people, and thus they can track down illegal aliens coming across the border.
But the interesting part of the trip was the outfit that I got to wear at the HQ. We went in the visitor center and found a helmet and a very heavy chain vest that you were allowed to try on to get the feel of how much they weighed. Well I needed help getting the vest on because of weight but once I got it over my head it wasn't too bad. Below is my imitation of a Conquistador.
|Al the Conquistador
We started out today looking for Baird's Sparrow in the San Rafael Grasslands. This would be lifer number six but we drove around for three hours and could not find this little bugger. We did find a White-tailed Kite that was hovering over the grasslands hunting for a meal.
|San Rafael Grasslands
Moving on after the disappointment of not finding the sparrow we drove a short distance to Patagonia and stopped at the Paton's Backyard.
This is the property that I asked the club members for donations to help purchase. They needed to save the property from being sold to an individual who might not allow birders on their property. We were told that the Tucson Audubon will be managing the property starting in mid February. The Paton's property is world famous for having the first Violet-crowned Hummingbird recorded in the US. They also have had other great birds like Plain-capped Starthroat.
When we arrived we were able to see Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Green-tailed Towhee and Anna's and Broad-billed Hummingbirds.
Leaving the Paton's we headed for Saguaro National Monument. No new birds were added here but the park was enjoyable to see again.
|Gila Woodpecker nest hole from a Saguaro Cactus
Our final day was just a long drive to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. New birds for the trip were Black Vulture and Crested Caracara. From here we drove to Ontario Airport in California to return our car. On the way we drove through Temucula wine country (Hello Jim Lockyer) and then to Lake Skinner to see if we could get a better view of a Blue-footed Booby. Well we did. Actually saw two boobies sitting on the dock.
|Neat Sign Along Route
So I would call this a very successful road trip. We put 2,346 miles on the car in seven days. Car rental firms love people like us. We added five new life birds. They were Blue-footed Booby, Nutting's Flycatcher, Rufous-capped Warbler, Sinaloa Wren and Ruddy Ground-Dove. Other lifers we could have gotten but missed were Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Baird's Sparrow, California Condors and Rufous-backed Robin. We found 142 species in Arizona and are still adding more year birds here in California.