In fact, as an educator, I feel it important to bird areas that have the most activity. During this time of year, the grassland birds are extremely vocal and easily seen. Our friends had no problem spotting birds. But my goal? Teaching them the calls and sounds of our grassland birds. And by the bird gods did they learn them! I had goosebumps listening to the birders pick out the sounds while ID'ing the birds on their own.
To make things even better? First class personality and professional bird guide, Chris Benesh joined the party. He is a relaxed and funny guy who helped take the stress out of this trip with our 20 guests. I'm not used to leading a group with so many people!
The weekend before the festival, I went with Magill Weber and we birded the area for my target birds that I wanted to present to the group. On our list, I had put down birds like the Thick-billed Kingbird, Cassin's, Grasshopper and Botteri's Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks and the Cassin's and Western Kingbirds. BUT.....to make something truly special....I mean.....really really special.....I feel that there needs to be more than just birds.
And the Cienagas Grasslands have it all. There is history. There are birds. There is epic landscape dotted with colorful wildflowers. And there are Pronghorn. I feel at peace here.
I think this trip was one of the cheapest of the tours. And it was the one that made a lasting impression on everyone. We saw coyotes, pronghorn and prairie dogs. Speaking of Prairie Dogs....
|Mojave Rattlesnake during our scouting mission|
We arrived at the Prairie Dog settlement. I was looking for Burrowing Owls. They were looking at the dogs.
Juveniles played. Adults fed. And an Australian couple was more interested in a strange bird out in the field. Chris was helping other birders ID certain critters. I was helping a birder ID a Western Kingbird in flight when Willy and Jess asked me about the weird looking bird. Thinking regular resident birds, I asked them if it was a Killdeer. They told me "no". It was too big. Ok. How about a Long-billed Curlew? Hesitation. Then Willy said he was pretty sure it wasn't a curlew. That got my attention.
|Black-tailed Prairie Dog|
Everyone became serious. Photographers grabbed their cameras. Never in my life had I expected to see an Upland Sandpiper in Arizona! The birders got excited and their cameras began snapping off shots left and right.
I think I almost wet my pants. It wasn't a lifer for me but it was an excellent state bird! No scope was needed and everyone got to see the bird well. It doesn't get better than this in the epic world of birding.
My life is different now. My birding style has changed. I feel absolute joy watching others discovering our birds for the first time. Just look at the intensity above as they discover their first Painted Redstart. I want to send a shout out to Luke Safford for helping me put this trek together and to Hollie Faulkner Mansfield for her amazing driving skills. She seriously has a talent for taking the roads slow so that I could listen for birds. And also to Chris Benesh for joining the trek. What an honor! I don't know how you do it as a full time job but I do know why you do it. I was exhausted after a busy weekend out. Eventually I'll get to the Costa Rican posts, but I am off this weekend to help out with the Jaguar cams and bird surveys down in Mexico. It will be my final trek down to this particular site so I am a little sad about it all. I'll have that report next week. Here are the ebird reports from our trek out to the Cienagas Grasslands.
For the Cienagas Grasslands, click here.
For the Prairie Dog Colony, click here.
Until next time.....