Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Border Crossings

Five-striped Sparrow  Can you see it in the pic?:)
In the days after my trip to Guatemala, my studies would continue into the northern part of the state of Sonora, Mexico. I'll be alternating my local treks with the Guatemala posts to keep everything current. The trip had been planned two months in advance and would include all kinds of wildlife enthusiasts like wildlife trackers, birders(3 of us), and a herpes guy.  Well I guess the official title would be herpetologist or person who studies snakes, lizards, frogs, etc. not herpes.  I still laugh each time I hear that word.
Rancho Aribabi
I wish I could play it serious on these hikes, but the simple fact is that while on these adventures, I feel like a kid again.  New territory.  New lands.  New birds.  New experiences. And the possibility of finding that rare unicorn!  Oh it's out there folks!:) On a journey with Gordon Karre from Birding Adventures and crew, we explore Rancho Aribabi in the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico.
Green Kingfisher
Every adventure reveals a new challenge with great rewards. 4 new life birds would be gained on this trek.  The above shot is one of them.....the Green Kingfisher.  If it hadn't been for Gordon's ear on this call, we may have dipped!  It's always good to have another birder along.  2 sets of eyes scanning the same area are much better than one:)
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
It was wonderful to observe Varied Buntings, Yellow-breasted Chats, Summer Tanagers and Vermilion Flycatchers out in full force. They were in great numbers around the property and river.
But it was this Five-striped Sparrow that won me over.  Lately I've really been into sparrows.  As you'll see in the Guatemala travels ahead, sparrows were some of the most interesting birds out there.  On this weekend venture, I added this sparrow to my lifelist.
Many times I go on hikes with people and forget to look up.  It would prove wise for me to keep my eyes on the ground as well during this trip. Snakes, ants, horse piles, and other things were found all along the path.  Here Gordon and I both hunt for birds with our cameras in this beautiful riparian area along the Cocospera river.
Turkey Vultures 
On one of our walks we could smell death.  It's not a pleasant smell, but the vultures surrounded whatever it was that decayed along the river.
Black Vulture
I found these birds quite fascinating.  We tried to observe what they were feeding on but never found the carcass.
The Black Phoebe always lightens the heart after a long hot and muggy walk.  It was cooler in this area during the morning but as with the monsoon season, the humidity and heat intensity increases by early afternoon.  This should be a time for cool down.  We chilled on the patio and watched the active hummingbird feeders and tree canopy above the river.
Black Phoebe
The clouds build.  The heat is nasty.  The birders are restless.  It's 4 PM.  Must continue......somehow.
A short jaunt from the ranch house and we spot a Thick-billed Kingbird.  The 3rd lifebird on this trip.  Note the white throat and thick bill.
Thick-billed Kingbird
It was a large kingbird as it flew off of the branch. It was a nice find around the pastures near the ranch.
Other cool finds came in the form of Gray Hawks in flight.  I love love love these birds!!!  I don't know why but I just do.  Nothing gets the heart pumpin' faster than a Gray Hawk flying over my head.
Gray Hawk
This post is pic lengthy so I'm trying to keep the commentary down.  The Yellow-breasted Chats were everywhere!  I've found this bird in Arizona around waterways, and the same was true at the ranch.  However, the numbers were shocking!  I've never seen so many flying around one place. 
Yellow-breasted Chat
A nice thing about having a professional herpes man with us is that he knew all the names of the frogs, toads and snakes that slithered and jumped about us. Snakes make my skin crawl.  But after I'm done with that sensation, I fall in love with their color, design and mystery.  I can be a stinker as well sometimes.  Sometimes I'll just say the name wrong to watch people correct me 5 million times.  I think that comes from my family, but the joy of saying frog instead of toad just to have them say, "It's a toad! Not a frog!" made me laugh.  I do it with birders as well:)
Lowland Leopard Frog
Anyhow, I don't mind touching frogs and toads, but remember to wash your hands after holding them before you eat.  That's all I'm going to write on this matter:)

Red-spotted Toad
I remember catching frogs and toads when I was a kid.  And then being the little demon that I was, I'd get close to people who disliked them. While they were drinking beer around a campfire, I'd sneak up on them:)  This was in Wisconsin of course:)  Then the frog would mysteriously jump out of my hand onto the person's chest and all chaos would begin.  Beer splashed all over as people tried to pull themselves together. Today, I'd like to apologize to those tormented by my antics. I love you Evie.  She is a dear friend of the family and in many ways is like our Aunt who just happened to be our neighbor.  Gone are those days with coffee cake on Saturday mornings.  I so do miss that time period when neighbors were friends.  As for the frogs, I would retrieve them quickly so they weren't hurt and release them back into the water areas where we found them.  Today, the world is a different place.  I teach my nephews and nieces that when we want to hold a frog or toad, we must put them back in the same place we found them.  And let's continue the theme of touching toads....
The Sonoran Desert Toad
During the monsoon, the Sonoran Desert Toad(also known as the Colorado River toad) appear out of nowhere.  They spend most of their life cycle buried in the desert, but when the hot and moist conditions arrive, these toads come out in full force.  And they get quite large. My desert tip to pet owners.  These toads are poisonous to dogs.  Don't kill them.  Move them out of the area and wash your hands after touching them. DO NOT let your dog out of your sights during the evening hours when these toads are especially active.  One lick or chomp from your dog with this toad and it's bye bye Fido.  Keeping them out of your yard is nearly impossible so it's especially important during monsoon to keep an eye on your pets while they are outdoors. But still.....this is one cool toad. For more information on what to do if your dog gets a taste of this toad, check out this post from The Firefly Forest.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Another lifebird was this Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Although I first found it in Sweetwater several days previous.  Last year I knew nothing.  This year I would not miss out on this bird again as it only comes to visit during our summer months.  And I now have this bird memorized by sight and call.  It is great at hiding in the middle of a tree.  They have a creepy call, but I love it!  We saw and heard plenty of these birds around the river by the ranch house.
Javelina with babies
But my real story comes from this above pic.  I've had a lot of wildlife encounters but none that scared me like this one.  My body is exhausted from the month long hikes around Guatemala and Arizona.  On this day I limped down the dark road alone barely awake and yet aware that there were new birds to be found.  A pack of javelina crossed this road.  I kept my distance as any good wildlife photographer would do.  It was 5:30 in the morning.  I waited until they all rushed across the road.....or so I thought.  I waited several minutes and then continued my walk forward.  Suddenly a mother and her babies popped out from the trail.  We were just a few meters from each other.  I froze as did she.  And she growled at me.  I had previously found a cement block to climb in case I was attacked by a jaguar, mountain lion or in this case.....a javelina.  All three have different attack patterns.  In the case of the javelina, they have a poor sense of sight so I was prepared to jump up on that block in my pajamas. If I shouted, I would alert the entire pack.  So I backed away.....slowly.  And she still growled at me.  Never turn your back on a wild animal and NEVER break eye contact with a mountain lion or it will be your doom. I have been reading about these types of experiences and glad I did.  Never in my life did I expect to have it happen to me!  Thankfully, the Javelina continued across the road with her two babies. By this time I was quite alert and awake. It was also the end to my early AM bird search:)
Canyon Towhee
One adorable bird after another would come to our porch.  The Canyon Towhee didn't mind at all that we watched them jump around searching for food.
Sinaloa Wren
The most rewarding find for me was this Sinaloa Wren.  It was a bit of effort. Gordon went to one side of the tree and I to the other. The bird was loud and at first I thought it sounded like an Oriole because it was a song we didn't recognize.  But when it flew out of the trees, we noticed that it was way too small.  There wasn't any internet connection to play a bird call. And the bird was moving fast out of our area.  So I began my Snow White calls.  Everytime the bird made a call, I repeated its call with my whistles. Eventually I pulled this wren out of the dark shadows and snapped several shots.  We were super thrilled to add this bird  onto our lifelists and I hit one of my target birds!  But........
There was the one that got away.  The Rose-throated Becard. I found this bird in Guatemala but it was the female who decided to visit me.  The male is quite different looking and had been seen by several people in our troupe:) The heat and humidity was out of control by the time I got around to finding this bird.  I attached my water pack to head to the river where the nest was hanging.  But a certain horse blocked my path.  After my javelina adventure, I decided not to push it and be happy with our finds for the weekend.
Rufous Hummingbird
Our final parting gift at the ranch came from these migrating Rufous Hummingbirds.  It was wonderful to see these birds again and it was also a sign that we are at the midway point of summer.  These are some of the earliest birds that begin their migration back to Central and South America.
I joked with Gordon about his ice cube consumption because they are a must on his birding adventures during this hot time of year. So I tried the ice cubes in my water pack and I have to admit, it made those nasty hot hikes so much easier.  I don't know if the cold water plays with the mind or it just makes everything better but it did feel good drinking something cold. Refrigeration with much of our Guatemalan trip was not an option.  Finding clean water took priority. I just got used to the idea of having a supply of tepid and safe water. And I soon found out that Ms. Brown also needs ice cubes and cold drinks for these summer treks.  A birder must?  Since this trek, I've purchased several bags of ice and now use them on our walks and.....I have been converted. Another note worth mentioning......I will not eat anymore beef for the next several months.  I love the taste but it wreaks havoc on my stomach.  Normally I eat a lot of veggies, but we had some of the most delicious hamburgers on this trek.  Not smart.
One of the Kino missions on our way back home.  But I imagined it as a place where elves used to gather .  Magical.
One final note.  I will be trekking with Ms. Kathie Brown, Ms. Gaelyn Olmsted and Mr. Gordon Karre again. We are scheduling more hunts around Arizona and surrounding states over the next several months. I'd also like to thank Kathy Cooper for her incredible organization and planning for this epic Mexican trip.  I have been in conflict about Mexico over the past several years.  As a Spanish teacher and friend to the country, I doubted the conservation efforts.  After this trip, I can see that efforts are being made. I've also realized there are a lot of hidden gems that are still found around Mexico.  This trip has wet my appetite to explore Sonora and surrounding areas more. In fact, there is a parrot that once roamed Arizona and can only be found now in one state of Mexico. I'd also like to thank Kathy for the wonderful lunches and dinners she put together.....especially that pot roast!  And the refreshing watermelon and cilantro combo!  Delicious!  For more information on Rancho Aribabi, click here.  Carlos is the contact person.  The ranch is a jaguar tracking station but it's also home to so much more.  The firefly show was incredible!!

I'm also linking up with Stewart M's Wildbird Wednesday.  It's a great way to learn about birds seen around the world.  And also dream about new places to explore.....:)


  1. the violet-crowned is so cool! great shots of the vultures in the old tree. the javelina encounter would have been thrilling - in lots of ways! i love me some toads. :)

  2. Very nice photos a different kind of birds to me in our part of the world ,Nette

  3. So many pretty birds but the Violet Crowned Hummingbird stole my affections.

    The javelina would have had me going in the opposite direction. Just the thought of encountering a mountain lion makes my knees knock!

  4. Great read, Chris. The Sinaloa Wren would have been fun to see, good job on calling it out. Hoping to go on the next trek down. Happy birding.

  5. What an awsome field trip Chris, with so many lifers too:) Your exciting if some what scary encounter with the Javelina made the hairs on my neck stand on end!!
    A remarkable series of new bird photos, and loads of interesting frogs, and info about them made this post rather special.
    Warm Regards.

  6. Great post!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  7. I would have LOVED to find that in my viewfinder!!! The rufous Hummer and the Yellow chat!!

    Two on my list to find. Hopefully someday.

    Great photos!

  8. Really enjoyed this post on your Mexican visit Chris. Some wonderful birds, and great photos.

    Just been reading the Arizona Game and Fish Department's words on Javelina (an animal I'd not heard of before - except by its other name: Peccary) and they sound quite placid! I think I'd be more scared of the Mountain Lion that they're likely to attract!!

  9. A fantastic post.. many thanks for sharing.

  10. Muy interesante ver y conocer las aves de otros lugares. Muy bellas y variadas también. Un cordial saludo..

  11. It sounds like a great trip - beautiful birds and a really scarey encounter with the javelina!

  12. Chris, wonderful pics and story told in your ever humorous style! What a rascal you were as a kid! Glad you enjoyed your trip!

  13. What a great trip across the border! Really enjoyed this post. Looking forward to your other travel adventures as well.

  14. Another interesting post, Chris. I will say that when I read about the Herpes Guy, I stopped and read it again... ha ha ....

    Bet that scare with the Javelina was rough... Glad you didn't go birding at 5:30 a.m. alone again... ha ha

    Great bird photos. You really got to see some interesting new birds down there. Wow...


  15. Wonderful series of shots, and an interesting post. That hummer is awesome!

  16. Miałeś przyspieszone obudzenie się po spotkaniu zwierza mamy z dziećmi. Jednak było tyle pięknych ptaków , które Ci to wynagrodziły. Żaby i ropuchy lubię. Pozdrawiam.
    You had accelerated awakening after meeting confides mothers with children. But there were so many beautiful birds that you are compensated by. I like frogs and toads. Yours.

  17. Congrats on your 4 new life birds Chris. You had so many adventurous encounters its like reading a suspense story- which I enjoyed immensely.
    Great captures Chris- happy birding ~:)

  18. Chris, great report on your outing! Awesome bird sightings and the scenery is beautiful. I love the hummers and the Javelina sighting is cool. Wonderful post and photos. Happy Birding!

  19. So many wonderful adventures for you this summer. I like the idea of birding south of the border and you captured some beauties. But really, a big brave guy like you scared of a few javelina. I've never really found them aggressive, just obnoxious when then snuffle up the ground bird seed and tip things over in the yard. Sure hope you're still planning a trip to the North Rim. Been rather rainy here lately.

  20. what an amazing birding venture; great photos. You did well in the heat! Yes that's something I'm kind of mindful of in the Aussie bushland, birding, that don't always keep focused on what's 'up', but also keep an eye out on what's on the ground. Snakes in the bush aren't one of my hopeful encounters at all

  21. What superb adventures you've been having Chris :) Some great photos - I love the red-spotted toad :)

    So glad you escaped unscathed from the javelina!

    You've certainly seen some brilliant wildlife and well done on all the lifers :)

  22. Great place by the looks of it - funny how all the places I want to visit are on the other side of the world!

    Cheers and thanks for the link to WBW - Stewart M - Melbourne

  23. Interesting post. I love all the wild life, but the hummingbird is my favorite. We don't have them here.


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