Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The "Other" State

 The body grows tired, and my work gets mixed up in flowers, lizards, snakes, bats and bugs.  But onward I trekked with an amazing crew of wildlife trackers and herpers.  Being one of two birders, we safely entered the state of Sonora, Mexico which borders the southern part of Arizona. 

Flame Skimmer
We camped for several days and nights without electricity, air conditioning and other creature comforts.  And yet the rewards were higher on this trek than any other because we were in some remote areas around Sonora.  While the birds were in great numbers, they took a backseat on this trek.  

Pallid Bats
Some of the greatest mysteries still remain on the mountain tops of Northern Mexico.  Sonora is an amazing state full of surprises. As I've reported before, Arizona is a well birded state in most of the various regions.  In contrast, much of Sonora has not been ebirded. It's rather sad since it's all connected. Part of my job at our locale was to find birds and other rarities.  Birds like Green Kingfishers and Five-striped Sparrows are often seen in these places and this time was no different.  

I'm not a rough and rugged hiker as I do prefer the softer side of camping. And yes, camping can be fun and comfortable! One of my big dislikes for this time of year comes in the form of scaly fanged critters known as snakes. It makes birding a challenge! There were rattlesnakes and other venomous creatures hanging out in the thick grasses.  In one situation, I had a Black-tailed Rattler sound off with a loud "RAAAAATTTTLE!" and flee further back into the grasses!  I did my heebie jeebie dance and got away from the area.  The herper with me was sad that it had escaped. While I was freaking out, he was running after the snake!  Hopefully he didn't look back and see me doing my willy nilly freak out.  And yes, guys can admit that snakes freak them out.  Just don't kill them.  They are good to have around.....just not my personal space.  Herpers are a fascinating group of people.  Both birders and herpers are nerds in their own sense but I'll just say that one group is wilder than the other:)  Might have to challenge those stereotypes!

It was hard to ignore the many beautiful butterflies around the area. However our mission was to track Jaguars.  These elusive creatures had been found around several spots and so we went to check equipment around the various locations.  

Queen Butterfly
I am truly fascinated by this state.  This year Las Aventuras took you to Rocky Point, Sonora for a seabird adventure.  Now we're visiting the interior mountain region of the state.  It's a large area to cover and I hope to get further south for a closer look at the indigenous peoples and their tropical birds. 

Dark Buckeye
Finding a crew to go to Mexico is no easy task.  Not many Americans feel comfortable these days crossing the border.  And rightly so!  BUT crossing the border was a much safer option for me than staying near the border on the Arizona side to observe Five-striped Sparrows.  This year we ran into drug trafficking around the Ruby Road area and it was a bit unsettling. 

Africanized Bees!  Very dangerous when a swarm becomes upset.  Each year several people will die from their stings.
 One of my favorite things about the Sonoran desert is how wild and dangerous it all can be.  Poisonous critters, spiky cacti, heat and strange human varieties all inhabit this vast landscape.  Coming from Wisconsin, this place continues to fascinate me.  Every day I wake up in MY HOME, I think.....I live here!  I really really live here!  Purple sunsets.  Prickly cactus pads.  Sparkling hummingbirds.  Colorful lizards.  Outdoor dining.  Mountains.  Canyons.  It's all so beautiful and overwhelming at times.  And much of it is still so very wild. 

Ocotillo line a wash
The Sonoran desert enters a good portion of Mexico. Political lines, drug issues and very remote and rocky roads can make this area very undesirable to explore. And maybe language barriers:)  I'd love to piece together the "birdscape" puzzle between Arizona and the state of Sonora.  I'd get to use my Spanish and study birds.  Pretty awesome!

Southern Dogface
 While on this trek, a major discovery happened for me.  I glanced down on the ground and noticed this strange looking snake.  But it wasn't a snake.  Instinctively I knew this but it took me time to wrap my head around the creature I was staring at intently. Once my brain ID'd this lizard.....yes lizard......I did a secret herper lifer dance.  The move looks something like a snake wrapping itself around its prey. Not pretty at all.  There are not many lizards or snakes that inspire me to move in a positive manner, but the Madrean Alligator Lizard is like finding a Montezuma Quail!  Herpers and birders alike rejoice at these beauties.   Note their tiny tiny feet. 

Madrean Alligator Lizard
 With the recent monsoon rains, the canyon was ALIVE!  Imagine Julie Andrews singing the "Hills are Alive" running through the grasses and then getting bit by a venomous snake.  That's how green the mountains and canyons were!  Black and Turkey Vultures would quickly find her body and have a snack. Definitely not a Disney production:) Thankfully Julie never ran through THOSE grasses.

Common Lesser Earless Lizard
Most of the time, it's all very brown.  Yet with a wet rainy season, everything really greens up nicely!  All of this happens within a matter of a month!

The warbler migration has begun.  Most evident were the Nashville, MacGillivray's, Yellow and Wilson's Warblers dripping from the trees!  They were everywhere.  Blue Grosbeaks and Yellow-breasted Chats were also very abundant. 

Five-striped Sparrow

However, my mission this year was to observe Five-striped Sparrows and a Green Kingfisher.  I could not relocate the Rose-throated Becard.  Their nest was still present, but no one was home!

MacGillivray's Warbler
I am now home after a long weekend of satisfying work and bug bites! 

A special thank you goes out to Kathy Cooper and her daughter Mary Ann for making such wonderful meals.  It truly takes talent to work off the grid feeding a group of people without having the use of electricity.  Each meal was an amazing piece of art and our group was grateful for their hard work.  Kathy and Mary Ann, you both are one of a kind.  Thank you for organizing this spectacular event. 

Ares Metalmark
While it was a challenging weekend, we each completed our goals to help keep tabs on the wildlife in that area so that they stay protected.  We discovered Mountain Lions, Javelina, Coues Deer and so much more.  As for the Jaguars?  I hope they keep their secrets hidden from humans.  I know they are out there.  Once, 6 years ago, I came across one in the Amazon.  We briefly made eye contact and I smiled.  Some secrets are sacred.   For more on wild birds and other fun things found around our world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. What an adventure! That Ares Metalmark on the orange flower is stunning.

  2. Oh Chris, what a magnificent, diverse, and imposing series of creatures you saw, and show us on your blog. I'm in awe of all these sightings, and your beautiful pictures.They are all amazing discoveries.
    Warm Regards.

  3. Wow! I am amazed you made this trip, but I love that you did. The photos are wonderful! Such a wide variety of species, and I know you were loving every minute (except for the snake minutes!) Great photos, as always! I love the jaguars...I am so happy there's one (or more?) here in AZ. It fascinates me, and makes me glad that something that once roamed so freely in our area, can still say "I'm here no matter how you change my world." They are absolutely my favorite wild cat.

  4. What an amazing weekend with so many wonderful critters.

  5. Amazed by theses bats, fascinated by the bees, the dogface is a yellow dream and your adventure a pleasure to read.

  6. WOW what an amazing place and how exciting to visit it.....except for the snakes and that ugly spider,lol.

    great images. thanks for sharing.

  7. A really wonderful post Chris and what an incredible adventure. The butterflies are just gorgeous! Must admit snakes are the one creature I am not 100% keen on and I would totally freak out in the areas you mention with rattlesnakes etc.! Over here we only have one venomous snake the adder - they are believed extinct in the county where I live. Do like watching snakes but definitely at a distance if they are poisonous!!

    Great images by the way :)

  8. That is one great post Chris.Your adventures continue to amaze and entertain.

    And here's me thinking that the USA is a civilised place compared to what is happening in other parts of the world. You make it sound like a dangerous Mission Impossible but through it all you keep birding and wildlifing.

    I think we need a new word to encompass all the non-birding stuff - you're the man to do it.

  9. So..how many species did you see? Birds I mean!

    Oh..and nice story and pics. It all looks so lovely and You know I would love to see a 5 striped sparrow!

  10. You really brought this adventure to life and saw so much. I'd go to Mexico with you during the winter. Will you protect me from the bad snakes or at least show me the dance? That 'lizard' is amazing!

  11. I so enjoyed seeing all the wondrous creatures you discovered on your Sonoran adventure. The bats are cute!

  12. So awesome! But the best part is how excited you are by your life, your environment and the fresh eyes you bring to everything around you! Carry on.

  13. Wonderful shots of great variety. I like the shots of bats.

  14. That is an overwhelming and delightful range a creatures.Of course the bug wings are my fav!Beautiful beautiful photos!

  15. P.S.
    One would say "café torréfié" but in everyday language "une bonne tasse de café."
    Coffee dark roast: un café noir.

  16. Wow, what an incredible post. You are pretty brave risking the snakes and everything. The drug trafficking is what would really scare me.


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