Archive for Southwest Wings
The list from our California Gulch tour, which visited Sonoita, Ruby Road, California Gulch, Montosa Canyon, Amado, Rio Rico, Pena Blanca Lake, and the Patagonia Roadside Rest. Five-striped Sparrow was our target, but we ended up seeing a lot more as we wandered through some of southeast Arizona’s best birding spots.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
As hoped, our Southwest Wings tour recorded four species of kingbird this week, though the famous and occasionally uncooperative Thick-billed Kingbirds at the Patagonia picnic table remained heard only this year. But we had good studies of Western, Cassin’s, and Tropical Kingbirds, that last so rapidly increasing in Arizona as to no longer be much of a rarity at all.
This photo, from the Tubac bridge, shows the yellow diffusion of the breast, the long (if somewhat foreshortened bill), the dull brown rectrices, and of course that notorious tail notch.
Eager birders visiting southeast Arizona or the Rio Grande Valley in late summer often rely too much on tail shape in identifying yellow-bellied kingbirds. It’s true that Tropical (and Couch’s, which has occurred once in Arizona so far) show a far deeper and better defined notch than the other species in fresh plumage–I repeat, in fresh plumage. This time of year, adult Western Kingbirds are beginning their tail molt, and nearly all the Westerns we saw this week were missing their central tail feathers, giving perched birds a nice deep notch and flying birds a funny frigatebird look.
Our tour was intended to add rarities and specialties to the list, but as usual, what I think most of us will remember is learning a little more about some of the common birds we might not have known so well. None of us will ever look at a kingbird again without at least trying to age it–and no tail notch will fool us again.
A wonderful conclusion to this year’s Southwest Wings festival: a morning in the Mule Mountains with Tom Wood and half a score of personable and enthusiastic birders! And with both of my lectures behind me, I could relax and enjoy the fine weather, the good company, and the spectacular views.
As is often the case with such amazing landscapes, it wasn’t particularly birdy; in fact, at this spot, Juniper Flats, the avifauna appeared to comprise half a dozen Rufous-crowned Sparrows and a male Spotted Towhee–so I was happy!
The towhee, a first-summer male (you can just see the molt limits in the photo above), perched up and sang at us for several minutes before deciding to make himself scarce.
A quick flight into the vegetation and he was gone, leaving us to turn our attention to the beautiful wildflowers on a delightfully cool morning.
… and a dayflower, the reminder that even fine weekends of birding can’t last forever!