Sunday, June 8, 2014

SE Arizona Day 5: Wilcox, Patagonia, Paton's Place, and Proctor Rd.

It was understandably difficult to pull ourselves away from Cave Creek Ranch and its surrounding avian allure, but we still had a couple days to go after some targets back to the west in Pima and Santa Cruz Counties. But we weren't quite done with Cochise just yet. John had suggested that we stop by Wilcox, which is a great place for shorebirds and waterfowl, and a reliable location for Scaled Quail. We had enough flexibility in our schedule to squeeze in a stop there on our way back west, and it turned out to be a more than worthwhile stop for our state lists, trip list, and my ABA year list.

As we pulled up, we could already see avocets, stilts, and a flock of ibis, and we knew we had made a good choice. We wound up with 11 species of shorebirds, including a couple rarities for Arizona - Snowy Plover and American Golden Plover. Other highlights included Bonaparte's Gull, Black Tern, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, American Pipit, Swainson's Hawk, Vermillion Flycatcher and our first Eastern Meadowlarks of the trip. The loop road around the lake provided fantastic looks at every species - it was just the right distance to be able to enjoy things at close range without disturbing anything. Also here, we met former Illinois residents/birders Craig Thayer and his wife (whose name I can't remember). They now live in Tuscon and had come down to check out the Snowy Plover, and we had a good time birding together for a little while.

Wilson's Phalaropes
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014



Black Tern
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

These beauties were glowing in the morning light:



American Avocets
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Here's a bird I haven't seen in a while and most likely won't see again this year, a huge pick up for my ABA year list:


Long-billed Curlew
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

This little guy to some work to find, but it was well worth the effort!

Snowy Plover
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014


American Golden Plover
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

I can't remember the last time I saw a Red-necked Phalarope in alternate plumage, such a sweet bird!


Red-necked Phalarope
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014



Black-necked Stilts
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014


Bonaparte's Gull
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

White-faced Ibis
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Baird's Sandpiper
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Eastern Meadowlark
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

I thought these mixed species shots that I was able to capture were pretty exciting:


American Avocets and Red-necked Phalarope
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014


Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Long-billed Curlew
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Willet and Long-billed Curlew
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014


White-faced Ibis and American Avocet
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

White-faced Ibis and Black-necked Stilt
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Black-necked Stilts, White-faced Ibis, and American Avocets
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

On our way to a nearby pond, these little specialties scurried along the side of the road. They were the only ones we had for the trip. My dad pointed out that their nickname is appropriately "Cotton Top."




Scaled Quail
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Here's what was on the pond:

Cinnamon Teal
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Ruddy Duck
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Blue-winged Teal and Cinnamon Teal
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

And this guy flew by as we left:

Swainson's Hawk
Wilcox, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

With that stop, my dad's AZ state list passed the 200 mark, and I landed at 199, which was sure to change soon.

From there we went to St. David's Monastery to try for Mississippi Kites, which we missed. But, there were some other nice birds there, including our only Common Ground Doves of the trip which my dad spotted - even smaller than the Inca! This gave us all 7 species of dove/pigeon for the trip in Cochise County, not bad!


Lark Sparrow
St. David Monastery, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Vermillion Flycatcher
St. David Monastery, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Yellow-breasted Chat
St. David Monastery, Cochise Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

We continued south and west from there, saying goodbye to Cochise and entering Santa Cruz County. As we did so, I still had a handful of lifers that I wanted to get, but two in particular stuck out to me because they would also be lifers for my dad, whose ABA life list was still sitting at 648. We hoped we could get him to 650 this trip, and now it would take a nightjar and a gnatcatcher to do it. One was on the docket for this night, the other for the following day.

In the mean time, we stayed focused on the Patagonia specialties. We first hit up the well known Patagonia Roadside Rest Area. Initially things were slow here, but after a little while they started picking up. I spotted a couple Black Vultures soaring way up on a ridge, a first for the trip list.

Black Vulture
Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Several Lucy's Warblers were around and active as well, and for the first time all trip, I actually got a picture of one. This was one of the most abundant birds we had in many locations, but their size and incessant movements made them impossible to keep up with.

Lucy's Warbler
Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

We then spotted the target bird for this location: my lifer Thick-billed Kingbird, which was remarkably working the same little stretch of trees where my dad had seen his first and only one of this species 40 years prior. Quite the distinct looking kingbird, with the soft yellow belly fading to a very washed out breast; and the top of its head and back are a much darker gray than any of the other kingbirds have, which I noticed even had a tinge of brown at the right angle. And of course that massive bill appropriately matches its name. Another awesome SE Arizona specialty that can only be found reliably in a handful of locations.



Thick-billed Kingbird
Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

And here's a textbook Ash-throated:

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Patagonia Roadside Rest Area, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

The next stop was the famous Paton's Yard. There was another Thick-billed Kingbird here, a few Abert's Towhees, and a Yellow-breasted Chat. After a little waiting a Bronzed Cowbird showed up too.

Bronzed Cowbird
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Abert's Towhee
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

But the real treat of this place is its rare hummingbird, the Violet-crowned. Within 10 minutes of us arriving, it came into the feeder. It was a rather dingy bird that kinda threw me off at first, but there was no mistaking that snowy white underside paired with the violet cap. I watched it fly to a little perch back in a tree, where it sat quite contently for about 20 minutes. Realizing it likely wasn't going to move anytime soon, I went to the car and grabbed the scope and set it up on this little guy, which was a treat to see in such detail. And another lifer was in the bag!

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Broad-billed Hummingbird and Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Weird White-winged Dove
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Overall it was actually a pretty slow stop though, as it we were there in the middle of the afternoon and the light was harsh. Yet on our way out, we had another Gray Hawk gliding around above us.

Gray Hawk
Paton's Place, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

After checking in to our hotel, we set back out for the evening. I kept seeing interesting reports coming from Patagonia Lake State Park, so we stopped by there briefly and had two outstanding birds in short order. Less than a minute into our walk down the trail, I heard another new call, though it sounded familiar because we had been studying it earlier in the day. I waited for it to call again, and when it did I was sure we had our long awaited Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet! Quite the mouthful for such a tiny flycatcher. This one happened to be particularly friendly, too! Another lifer, and one that I was beginning to wonder if we would find or not. It was our only one of the trip.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Patagonia Lake State Park, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

And then a downright crazy thing happened. We scanned the lake and picked up our first Neotropic Cormorants of the trip, and my dad spotted our only Green Heron flying by. I then noticed a tern sitting out on an exposed stump. We looked at it for a while and just assumed it was a Forster's as we didn't have the scope on us and the heat waves were making things difficult. Something didn't quite feel right about Forster's though, for whatever reason. The shape. The mantle color. The bill. When I checked the listserv, it became abundantly clear why things weren't adding up for a Forster's: "ELEGANT TERN at Patagonia Lake." I looked back at my pictures and sure enough, that was our bird! The possibility of an Elegant didn't even register in my mind because 1) it's a rare bird in Arizona, and 2) I had never seen one before! As if the trip hadn't already been enough, Arizona coughed up my lifer Elegant Tern, unreal!

Elegant Tern
Patagonia Lake State Park, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Neotropic Cormorants
Patagonia Lake State Park, Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

All of that actually happened it a pretty quick span of time, because we had another target bird for the night. We started back north, and of course along the way there was yet another Gray Hawk on the way, just hanging out along the side of the road. We were in a hurry, but still agreed that we needed to pull over and not pass up these amazing looks - the best we had of the trip. Those tail stripes, silky gray back, and barring underneath, wow. Definitely one of my new favorite raptors.


Gray Hawk
Santa Cruz Co, AZ
May 23, 2014

Another bonus bird on our drive back north was our only Harris's Hawk of the trip sitting on a roadside pole. Things continued to fall into place for us everywhere we went.

We finally arrived back at Proctor Road, where we had struck out a few nights prior. Our second attempt couldn't have been any different. We arrived a little after 7, and had plans to stay as long as it took to hear this little nightjar calling. Even though we had another hour and a half of driving to get back to our place in Patagonia, it would be worth it to get this bird. Thankfully it cooperated much more quickly than we anticipated, though not without a little drama first.

A member from the Tucson Audubon chapter (which, by the way, is an amazing organization doing all kinds of great things for birds in the region) was already there and listening when we arrived, and she had it calling already. But there was an issue. A couple whom she had seen the night before was up on the hillside, traipsing around and trying to get a look at the bird. She said they were new birders, but surely they knew better! And then we began hearing the call. It was awesome, but I couldn't shake the thought that they could be playing the tape up there to try to find it. We discussed what to do about the situation, and as we kept hearing it call, I got fed up and headed into the hills myself.

My goal was to determine if they were playing the call, and to get them to stop if they were, and maybe to get them to come down if possible. I didn't exactly have a plan of how to accomplish that goal though. So, under the fading daylight, I quickly and gingerly worked my way through a path-less hillside of cacti and other thorny business, and eventually came up the couple. I first saw the lady, and immediately heard the nightjar, but she wasn't playing anything. I asked if he was playing the call, and she confirmed that he wasn't, saying he was just trying to get a look at it. I still disapproved of this, but didn't communicate that real clearly in my abounding relief that the call we were hearing was actually coming from the exceedingly rare Buff-collared Nightjar!

I left the couple on the hill and came back down with the wonderful news that my dad and I had our lifer, bringing him to 649 for the ABA. And then the thing just kept singing away. We could hear it calling from different parts of the hillside as it moved around and hunted for the evening. It continued off and on for a solid hour, allowing us a chance to record it, too. Just listen to these 40 seconds of goodness. In this recording, if you listen closely you can hear the Buff-collared going off simultaneously with a Common Poorwill.

As had happened throughout the day, we had a very difficult time pulling ourselves away again. But, knowing that we had a very early morning ahead of us, we took the cooperative nightjar as a gift and headed back. We reveled in a truly amazing day, beginning with a lake full of shorebirds that now felt like an eternity ago. Southeast Arizona had worked its magic yet again. With one more full day of birding ahead of us, we had no idea of the many highlights still to come!