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Friday, August 18, 2017

Rare bird search in Arizona - August 2017

Near California Gulch
               Arizona in August? What are you thinking? Well, if you want to see some extraordinary birds, Arizona is the place to go. Southeast Arizona, in particular, is noted for its rich birdlife. The sky islands, as they call the mountains, are fabulous for attracting Mexican rarities plus all the western birds that you just can’t find in Pennsylvania.

                Before arriving in Arizona, Sharon and I spent 10 days visiting our family in California. Christine, our Daughter-in-Law, was directing a community play, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Chris had acting, singing and tap dancing parts in the play. After leaving California we flew into Tucson. Upon our arrival around 2PM we immediately hopped in our rental car and drove south heading to California Gulch, which is noted for its small population of Five-striped Sparrows. The gulch is the northern most limit of the Five-striped Sparrow in North America.  Unfortunately, it’s also famous for being one of the worst places to travel, even in a four wheel drive vehicle with high clearance. We didn’t have either of those. Plus it’s known for being a place to find smugglers. Along the way we found some creatures of interest.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit covered in Ticks - gross

Bull just covered in flies
The road leading into the gulch is approximately twenty miles in length and is unpaved. Traveling the dirt roads, we started counting the number of stream crossings we had to traverse with our car. After about 16 miles we had crossed 19 muddy stream beds. The car was already a mess, layered with mud. Then we met up with a Border Patrol officer and asked him if we could make the last six miles to the gulch. He looked at our vehicle and kind of smirked and told us “Maybe if you tiptoe through the wet areas”.

We bravely (stupidly) traveled on and were met by a pond in the middle of the road and realized that we had met our match. There was no way we were getting across or around this spot. Plus, I was reading recent emails about other people’s experiences with this road and one person said they got stuck in the mud for over six hours. Another person came along and tried to help them and couldn’t get them out so they offered to give them a ride back to town. There were six people now in the rescue vehicle and that car ended up with a flat tire. The six people had to spend the night sleeping in the car. That had to be uncomfortable for everyone. We decided not to go that route and turned around within just four miles of our destination.

Considering my options
           So we didn’t get any Five-striped Sparrows or the Buff-breasted Nightjar that was reported there for the last two months. It was now approaching dusk so we turned around and birded our way back to town. We were able to find a gazillion Cassin’s Sparrow’s, Greater Roadrunner, Lesser Nighthawk and lots of Western Kingbirds. Since we were in the middle of nowhere and about an hours drive back to our hotel we decided to have dinner in the gulch.
A glorious subway dinner in AZ
            We also spotted a Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. It was dark when we entered the small town of Arivaca. As we turned onto the main road I spotted something sitting in the middle of the road. Just when I realized it was a bird and started to slow down, the bird flew off. It appeared to be a nightjar or Whip-poor-will but I was unable to identify the bird.  So our first attempt at adding a life bird was a failure. But hope springs eternal and there were still seven days of birding left.

Greater Roadrunner

Cassin's Sparrow - only photo I was able to get.

Gambel's Quail
              I have to say that the sunsets in Arizona are first class when you have the mountains in the picture.

               Stayed tuned for more birding.

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