Monday, January 18, 2016

The Borderlands


The borderlands of the US are some of the wildest and most remote areas of the American Southwest.  It's often best to go with water, friends and a good vehicle for these treks. 

Ferruginous Hawk
After I returned from Wisconsin, I had wanted to go to Yuma and find a rare Streak-backed Oriole.  It's a three hour drive and I didn't want to make it alone. The trek to Yuma can be...somewhat dry:) When my friends Gordon and Muriel said they were chasing the bird, I asked if I could join them. They still thought I was in Wisconsin.  And I actually was at the time of my text:)

Streak-backed Oriole
They were very kind and let me hitch a ride on this very early morning trek. Since it was the first day of the year, we felt that it was important to start the year off with a "proper" bird:) That's the birder rule.  The other birder rule is to record every bird you see on that first day.  On this day, we would find the beautiful Streak-backed Oriole from Mexico:)

Burrowing Owls
We also made lots of other discoveries on our way back home.  There were plenty of Burrowing Owls around the farming fields. But as we were counting birds, my body decided it couldn't take the stress anymore and I crashed.  I had just returned from Wisconsin and slept for 3 hours before getting back on the road again in Arizona!  I think at one point I did some snoring.  

Can you see where the border is?  Hint:  the left side is Mexico and the right is the US.  The dry creek bed is basically the dividing line. 
I also had signed up previously to help out with the Atascosa CBC count around the California Gulch and Warsaw Canyon areas along the Mexican border the following day.  So as I said good-bye to Muriel and Gordon on Saturday, I was off with Dave and Ron on Sunday doing more area counts of birds. Yes I was still exhausted. But it was for a good cause and a way to help out Tucson Audubon. 

We print a map and find a new riparian area to bird along the Warsaw Canyon area.  I write in my notes that water in winter is very important for the Five-striped Sparrow.  There was a springs/creek along a rocky outcrop. And it was here that we found one of these sparrows.  On the other counts for the day, several other FSSP were discovered around similar spots. 
As we walked along the springs of Warsaw Canyon, we found wonderful birds like the Elegant Trogon, Five-striped Sparrow and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  The roads along the border were rocky and steep, but somehow we managed to get to our very isolated locations. 

Hooded Skunk
This area was full of fantastic wildlife.  Throughout the day, we had excellent views(!) of the very secretive Montezuma Quail!  Their numbers were quite impressive, but that didn't stop them from disappearing quickly into the vegetation. 

Female Montezuma Quail pretending to be a rock. It took me 5 minutes to locate her!  That's how "invisible" they can be!
The border can be hot and dangerous.  My tip to birders/historians/hikers/off road junkies/herpers/wildlife trackers, and everyone else who wants to visit these areas?  Bring food and water with you.  Use a sturdy vehicle that can handle off road conditions.  If you can, try and bring a friend or two with you. And always keep your eyes open. Cell phone service is spotty and doesn't work much of the time. Most of the time, the border crossing folk won't do any harm. I've been into other areas when I first began birding that had opened my eyes up to what is "THE BORDER".  It's the reason why I now carry a cell phone that has a tracker on it. I went 12 years without a cell phone! Now I'm addicted and straying away from my story so....With all that said, I have NEVER had issues in this area(Ruby Road/Peña Blanca Lake), but I have heard stories. Water and flat tires should be your main concern. And keep it all locked up. 


As we chased a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, we found a water depot for people crossing this very isolated stretch of desert. A church organization from Tucson supplies water and food in this hidden location. These "watering holes" have been controversial as this church has been in the news several times for its humanitarian work along the border. I have no opinion on the matter, but I do hate the trash left behind in the nearby wash!



As Dave drove his all terrain vehicle up the sharp and rocky "roads", I laughed. I think it's something I do when I'm nervous.  But it was kinda fun:) We were going up some steep inclines! Luckily none of us had to use the bathroom! 

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet

As the day came to close, I thought about how crazy my start to the New Year had been. From snow to desert and then back to snow again.  I feel like I've finally hit my stride as a legit birder and that everything I've done has lead me to this moment in my life. And yet I still have so much to learn! My focus this year is on finding new state birds for Arizona. Over the next couple weeks, we'll explore the beautiful Ramsey Canyon, Lake Havasu and the Willcox area.  If you haven't done a CBC(or Christmas Bird Count) with your local Audubon, I highly encourage trying it out. And throughout the year, your local Audubon will have many other events planned! Check it out! It's good for the birds and it's a great way to meet new birders and make friends. And of course, learn about our feathered friends. Until next time.......


17 comments:

  1. Fantastic! I am ashamed to say after my years birding in AZ that I still have never gone to Warsaw Canyon/California Gulch. I have taken various sedans into many inappropriate terrains, but that is one I have not yet attempted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey don't feel bad about not going! I normally wouldn't go either but people drag me with them OR I will help out with counts. It's a pretty cool area but it's rough on vehicles which I can't do with my car. The most I can do is Pena Blanca lake....and the good birds are further down the unpaved road. Nice to hear from you! Hope you are well. Have you been blogging? We miss you!

      Delete
  2. Well I am not surprised that you were exhausted but what wonderful trips and birds seen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are like me. Travel travel travel. But look at the birds we find:)

      Delete
  3. Wonderful post and photos Chris. Your enthusiasm for wildlife and adventures always shines throughout your posts. Good to hear you've got your birding year off to a good start :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello there! I'll be reading blogs again soon. Even though the holidays are over, it seems like they aren't quite done yet. Hope you've had a good start to your year as well! Hugs from Tucson!

      Delete
  4. Hello Chris, sounds like a productive outing with great bird sightings. Wonderful post and photos. Happy Birding!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well, that nothing bad had happened, being in so little dangerous place. Most important, however, that you were on an expedition and you are pleased with it. Regards.

    ReplyDelete
  6. An interesting post. It's sad that we often have to consider so many other things than just the birds when we go birding, but worth it when we see such special birds. Sharing with others can be an added benefit often too, although not always for photography!

    ReplyDelete
  7. What an amazing adventure! Wonderful sightings. (The skunk might not be welcome, but it looks like he ignored you). We came across a couple of those water stashes when we stayed in Tucson. I didn't know much about birding back then -- now I wish I could go back; can only imagine seeing that Elegant Trogan!

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a fascinating post and what amazing adventures you have had. I love the account of your trips and the accompanying photos. Thank you so much.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello Chris!:) Loved your post as usual, it's an amazing account of your somewhat exausting but exciting adventures in the wilderness, with loads of interesting and delightful wildlife sighting and captures. Very enjoyable post Chris!:)

    ReplyDelete
  10. That's a great start to the year, Chris. With that level of dedication, I predict that 2016 is going to be an excellent year for you! That skunk is a fabulous looking creature!

    ReplyDelete
  11. What an incredible New Year adventure, Chris! And what a plethora of birds (and wildlife) you found! I love the streak-backed oriole and am so glad you were successful. Beautiful photos (except for the water bottles!....looks like a separate group needs to do a clean-up operation!) You were so tired! A gung-ho, die-hard, dedicated birder for sure! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Chris, this post makes me want to come back, though I am still not sure I would be brave enough to get that close to the border! Wonderful picture and story! I love that last shot!

    By the way, do NOT bird yourself to death!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi! There are many critters in border lands. I like your bird's photos very much. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  14. It sounds like a very fantastic experience.

    And I am lucky enough for not being a birder yet.

    I did not see a proper bird.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by!