Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Bottom of the Barrel

The endless Arizona Highway
On a road trip to end them all, I sacrificed part of my soul to finish finding the two most difficult birds in our state. It just took an Arizona Big Year contestant, Brian Johnson, to nudge me into chasing the birds:) The Nutting's Flycatcher is probably THE most difficult bird in the state of Arizona. There are only a few of these birds in the state and they look similar to 3 other birds that are all part of the Myiarchus(my-ark-us) genus. And to add to the difficulty level, two of those similar looking species were there in great number along with the Nutting's Flycatcher! Gulls and Terns are EASY compared to these birds!

Roseate Tern

  Today's post title, refers to some of the harder birds that people usually put at the bottom of their life bird list to chase because of their distance, visibility and/or difficulty factor. And who wants to drive 4 hours to just HEAR a bird?! 

Nesting Red-tailed Hawks
The road into the "Nutting's area" is remote and requires a tough vehicle.  So we rented one with high clearance. There was NO cell service.  Water packs had to be used.  AND it was hot in this forgotten world of emerald green vegetation. 

The remote immense jungle off of Planet Ranch Road
The riparian area is beautiful, but it is not for the faint of heart. In fact, not so long ago some birders had to be rescued.  Luckily they found a spot where there was cell phone service.  While we were there, we didn't have any signal at all so they were very lucky! We had to memorize the Nutting's Flycatcher calls and separate the voice from the Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers.

Following a wash in this remote riparian area
It wasn't a day of art.  It was all about finding these difficult birds. Most of our morning was spent hiking in the heat and shrubbery.  Eventually, we found one bird for sure.  We may have spied a second but the bird flew off before I could get my binos on it. Nor did it call.  Satisfied, we headed back towards the parking area.  BUT where was the parking lot??!!!!

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Thankfully my compadre, Brian, had a compass and we were able to find the mound of vegetation that we had to crawl through to return to our vehicle.  By that time, I had run out of water and needed some shade.  Cold water made me forget the nasty mosquito bites I received all over my legs:)

Western Wood-Pewee

While the Nutting's Flycatcher isn't a popular bird to chase because of its' remote location and difficult ID, it is a bird that many need for their list if they are doing a Big Year(which Brian is doing).  ABA listers also need to chase this bird to stay in the competition. While it wasn't a lifer, it was a new state bird for me. These birds are quite common in Mexico. Like the "Western Flycatchers", the Nutting's is a part of a confusing group of birds that look alike or what scientists call "Cryptic Species".

Left side-Brown-crested Flycatcher(top); Dusky-capped Flycatcher(bottom) Right side-Nutting's Flycatcher(top); Ash-throated Flycatcher(bottom). 
 Most birders cannot just look at the bird and call it.  They have to listen to their calls for the ID. The Nutting's, if it screams, "WHEEEP!", is then an easier bird to ID.  But if it doesn't do that(and it didn't), it can be a bear:)  Anyhow, no more of that business. Again.  

Birding, for me, is not a competition.  It's an art.  The experience behind the bird is as important as the bird itself. My lifer Nutting's will always be in the tropics of Mexico. I'm just thankful I was with Brian during this trek because I wouldn't have done this alone. 

Another headache for some....the "Western" Flycatchers Top:Cordilleran Flycatcher Bottom: Pacific-Slope Flycatcher
I went a tad extreme on this day. Driving the distance we did for the Nutting's Flycatcher was one thing, but to do it again during the same day for a Black Rail was crazy.  But I was sick of making excuses for this bird.  I'm a "rip the band-aid off" kind of person. 

Top from Left to Right: Great-crested Flycatcher; Brown-crested Flycatcher   Bottom from Left to Right: Ash-throated Flycatcher; Dusky-capped Flycatcher(in Guatemala)
The Black Rail is another bird a lot of people put off chasing only because it's mostly a "heard only" bird.  It's easy to hear, but extremely secretive!  That's why I'm calling this lifer a two parter.  While I heard it only in Arizona, I plan on going to Texas to the Anahuac NWR and the Yellow Rail Birding Festival, LA to get photos.

Night Falls over the ag fields in Yuma
But for now, it was a fascinating stop into a buggy area. In the darkness, we heard two of the birds call.  We were bit up during my video recording by hundreds of mosquitoes. This is why my camera is shaky.  

Birding has its challenges.  On that day, I was once again almost up for 24 hours!  Thankfully Gordon let me crash at his place to get an early start for Lake Havasu.  By the time I returned home to Tucson, it was around 2 AM the next day.  What an exhausting day!

Some of you may ask, "Then why do it?"  I'll be honest.  I'm also fascinated by the birders who go on these chases.  I'm finding as I work with many different people that the birds mean different things to them.  One weekend, they become a number for a fundraising event.  On another weekend, it's about staying number 1 in the state of Arizona.  During another weekend, I find myself up at midnight working with only owls. Another weekend, I chase a rare warbler.  And then there are those who just want to see pretty birds.  And for me, it's about many different things.  Birds=adventures=science=passion=life's greatest journey.

All my photography work is my own EXCEPT for the photo below:)  This Black Rail is a cool bird and one you all need to see a picture of.  Maybe one day I'll have one of my own to share with you all.  For now, I'll share my audio:)

Black Rail from Wikipedia

"Looks like we made it!" through this post:)  To break up the headaches, we were able to see Barry Manilow in concert before he retires!  Cell phone pics are pretty great!

"Looks like we made it!":)


  1. Barry is retiring! How awful but brilliant that you saw him. I have alwsy loved his music and voice and manner. You really had some challenging bird watching and perserverence. Love all the bird shots in this post. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

    1. I know. I was shocked as well that he was retiring. How do we age so quickly??!!! You have a great weekend as well!

  2. Hello, all I can say is Kudos to you. Your life list must be long. Great shot of all the flycatchers. Happy Memorial Day weekend.

    1. Thank you Eileen. Yes, I'm working on the my life list in a week or so. I need to get to 800 this year within this country. That's one of my goals. It should be fun:)

  3. Yes you have the art to share whatever you find and make us love it!

    1. Thanks Terese! It's good to see you back again! Happy summer!


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