Saturday, July 28, 2018


One of my "unofficial" duties every year is to survey the bird life at Rancho El Aribabi during the month of July.  It is usually hot, miserable and the best time to find amazing birds!

a male Varied Bunting comes into the pasture for a drink
This year was NO exception.  Located 45 minutes south of the international border in the state of Sonora, Rancho El Aribabi holds many of the Sonoran species that we have in Southern Arizona.  This is also the land of the Jaguar and Ocelot.  While I did my bird surveys, Jim did his tracker work on the cats.  In the process, we found each other data for the ranch.  A recent report was released to the public about the recent death of the Huachuca Jaguar of Southern Arizona near our survey site. Last year, another Jaguar of the Santa Rita mountains IN Arizona, was killed for its fur without much public outcry.  How this recent Mexican kill had more traction than the one is the US is beyond me?!  The Santa Rita Jaguar was recorded by National Geographic and tracked by a UA research group, which included a dog team member. What I write here is just speculation. A poacher must have used the landmarks from the video in the Santa Rita mountains to track the animal while utilizing illegal wildlife cameras with a GPS tracking signal to find this extremely secretive cat. Once a wildlife camera is tripped, a signal is sent to the owner via wireless means. From that point, s/he can check from their computer and see where the animal had recently passed. 

a cicada sheds his form to grow wings and fly
It is beyond my comprehension why such savagery happens.  When a person, who studies cats like the Jaguars, finds one of these rare gems in the wild, it's hard to hold back this exciting information.  For every 10 great people out there, there are always 1 or 2 terrible people who will break the law.  And this is the danger of revealing this information to the public. Not everyone is a good egg.

Finding a Jaguar is a privilege and many times, quite a bit of work on the researcher's part. In my opinion, this information should be kept secret from the public.  I've only seen 2 in my lifetime but I hid their exact locations when recording the data.  The data should ALWAYS be recorded.  I do the same with rare birds.  And I am super protective of any endangered species.  In the beginning, I assumed most people were honorable.  Then I discovered otherwise.  That's when I changed as an observer. 

On my trip to the Amazon years ago, I discovered that I wanted more from my camera.  These poor photos of the Jaguar helped motivate me buy a better camera.  My 6th sense had gone off on this day.  I remember that I was on a canoe.  The small crew was quiet and I noticed two vultures curiously looking at something. As we silently floated around the bend, we found this male Jaguar along the banks for a brief moment.  Our guide was shocked. This time I was ready with my camera for the Jaguar.  Today, on the ranch, several people and organizations track these endangered mammals. Finding a Jaguar is a gift and a curse at the same time. The wildlife official knows s/he will have to release the information at some point. And when that happens, everyone wants to take credit for the person's find. Meanwhile poachers, secretly take this public information and plot a course. 

If you've seen the original Jurassic Park, you'll remember the large guy getting chased by a small dinosaur.  That was me.  This bird kept making a coo-coo call in random spots around my survey point.  It was creepy but made me laugh.  I took the coo coo call as the bird telling me there was a nest nearby.  So I carefully walked out of the area keeping my eye out for the Greater Roadrunner's nest
These are just my words, but you can read the article link above and form your own opinion. These good people are just trying to protect the corridor of these magnificent beasts from human development (and also because they are in love with the chase and possible first time discovery of these rare cats).  I'm a birder first.  I get it.  We seek the impossible.  And if we find something rare, the personal rewards from all the risk taking made the difficult trek absolutely worth it. It's like winning the lottery. You want to share your excitement, but you know that if you do, there will be consequences. 

a sexy male Rufous Hummingbird
One of the notable things we saw on this trek were high numbers of Violet-crowned Hummingbirds.  MANY people from all over the world come to Southern Arizona with hopes of spotting this beauty.  Here at the ranch, they were THE most common hummingbird at the feeders.  The Rufous male hummingbirds were also present indicating that migration has begun.  

dolphins with wings, the Violet-crowned Hummingbirds
For me, seeing a Rufous Hummingbird in July is like watching the first fall migration of Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin.  It reminds me that seasons do change and life continues in its cycle.  The monsoon storms grew over the mountains while we were there. The firefly show blinked all around us. And even on me! Yet another sign that the "seasons" have changed in our beautiful Sonoran desert. 

Broad-billed Hummingbirds sparkled in the brief moments of morning sunlight. 

the brilliant gem known as the Broad-billed Hummingbird
As a rule, we did most of our surveys in the morning when critters were SUPER active. And it was cooler.  In the afternoon, I hung out with Kathy and Mary Ann on the patio away from the intense sun and muggy conditions.  It was a special weekend as we were experimenting with a catered event provided by Carlos' sons.  They did an amazing job. And made our work easier.  Kathy, who normally did all of our food prep in the past, got so bored that she went for a hike!  

a mummified Pallid Bat
The usual birds were present.  We also discovered a grim scene inside one of the rooms.  Mummified Pallid Bats were found all around the fireplace.  I plugged my nose as Jim picked up these poor mammals.  Apparently, there was no escaping back up the chimney where they came.  

the western subspecies of the Yellow-breasted Chat
Yellow-breasted Chats were chatty.  Thick-billed Kingbirds were cheer-eeping. Sinaloan Wrens were rattling POPS! And the mournful cries of the Gray Hawk could be heard up and down the canyon. 

Thick-billed Kingbirds
I was dying from heat exhaustion. At one point, I almost passed out because I went outside of the safe zone and ran out of water. So I hustled it back to headquarters before anything bad happened. One evening in my tent, it was unbearable. I couldn't sleep at all!  I have enjoyed sleep in my a/c  run home whenever I can. For the first summer in a long while, I have traveled most of it outside of Arizona. Some of the nights were challenging in the various places. After several weeks back from this adventure, I have fond memories of our trip.  If you had asked me during this particular weekend how I felt, I might have said something else:) 

Carne Asada never tasted better
For it was on this survey that some incredible things happened.  For one, we discovered several more species for the ranch.  During a morning coffee, watching the hummingbirds, I noticed a green bunting under the feeder.  A female Painted Bunting!!!  Later Jim and I were trying to relocate a Northern Jacana that I had seen earlier in the wetlands.  I thought this bird would be rare but it turned out the Willow Flycatcher was even rarer! FITZ-BEW!  Jim was shocked.  I thought it was unusual but nothing like the Northern Jacana.  And it didn't end.  Later we found Flame-colored Tanagers along the riparian corridor!  Talk about amazing!  July is the best time to visit Aribabi and it's the reason I go every year to do my counts at the ranch.  

I call a Gray Hawk over to my location by making a mournful whistle
Every year, Jim finds some nasty bug hiding in the couch or somewhere nearby that I'd rather never know about. This trek was no different.  On this little adventure, a Windscorpion, apparently not poisonous, was under the cushion of a couch.  Gross! How is that thing not deadly?  Look at those pinchers for a mouth!

nasty alien bug from a group known as Windscorpions, not poisonous
On Saturday night, we celebrated our last finds together with a nice bottle of wine and an excellent Mexican dinner.   

For every in depth research project, there should be a fun birding expedition after wards.  Everything in my life continues to change.  Every experience away from what I know, changes me.  Nothing is black or white anymore. Over the next several weeks, we'll explore the island of Maui. 28 new bird species were added to the list towards the 1,000 bird marker I've set for this year, but what I saw, or didn't see, changed me in ways that I hope I will be able to write down properly.

Leila Empress
As I did my research for Hawaii, I made notes without any feeling. Reading about something is completely different than experiencing it. Needless to say, the experiences with birds between Trinidad and Maui were night and day and it changed me.

For the El Aribabi Report, click here. Next week we explore the beautiful world of Hawaii.  For now, I'll leave with a Sunday Morning moment I had during my survey along the Cocospera Riparian corridor. I wanted to sleep in this spot.  It was so relaxing. 


  1. Awesome post Chris! Congrats on the jaguar sighting and photos. Love all the birds, they are beautiful. Happy birding! Enjoy your day!

  2. You are spot on about the poachers using technology to find these awesome creatures. Sometimes as self made naturalists we forget the world around us is so unkind. Lovely post! I can't wait for your Hawaii report as it is the last state I need to visit of our 50 so I will be paying attention!

    1. I'll do my best to give you some tips to help planning out your birding adventures there. It was very beautiful!

  3. Oh Chris I am just SICK about the two jaguars!!! I just want to string up the poachers by their thumbs. It just makes me ill when someone has so little respect for the Nature God Gave Us! Those jaguars were having a hard enough time living in our world without being subjected to human indifference...a human desire for trophies. I hope they were caught and prosecuted. One of the things I loved about living in Tucson was knowing that jaguar was out in the Santa Ritas, holding onto the past with his beautiful heart. I am so mad about this!!!!!! Anyway, I love your beautiful photos. The hummingbird shots were especially nice. And that river looks so peaceful.


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