If the Santa Ritas Mountains are part of the sky islands of Southern Arizona, then the surrounding habitat would be considered the "shore" followed by a sea of grassland. I love the Santa Rita Mountains, but I love the habitat that surrounds this mountain just slightly more.
Particularly the grasslands. And specifically, the winter grasslands. This is a special time of year when beautiful wintering grassland species show up. And sometimes, a special visitor, or two, shows up for several months.
|The Gray Ghost, or male Northern Harrier, flies over the Cienegas Grasslands|
Between numerous Northern Harriers and different morphs and subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks.......
|a rare Rough-legged Hawk|
And among the countless meadowlarks, sparrows and longspurs, hide a few goodies like the Baird's Sparrow, Short-eared Owl and sometimes.....a Rough-legged Hawk. Southern Arizona can be hit or miss with this species each year. But this year, there were TWO in the same general area of Sonoita flying between Santa Cruz and Pima counties. Friendly Pima birder man, Brian Nicholson found one of them hanging out on Pima county lands.
There were several birders there who needed this lifer. The road was busy and tricky. Every bird was a Rough-legged Hawk until it wasn't. Northern Harriers. So I clued them in on the behaviors of the bird. "Look for kiting". It's either a White-tailed Kite or not. And if it's not, it's the Rough-legged Hawk. As a sign from the bird gods, a hawk flew over our heads and began to hover and kite for all to see. Then off it went up into the thermals far far away from us over into Pima County lands.
With one mission complete, I stopped at the iconic Sonoita gas station to purchase yet another pair of sun glasses. I lose them all the time.
|A classic and scenic gas station in Sonoita makes for a great meeting place|
Then it was off to Patagonia for some relaxing birding. This weekend was a "just me" weekend but it didn't turn out that way. It's good to be connected to the community and I enjoyed the company. There was lots of talking and meeting new people. It's easy to do when people have the bird spark. The teacher gene is like a magnet to people and I like it because people are really interested in the habitat and birds. If I don't have anything going on, I take the time and get to know the people on the trails if they are interested in conversation. Sometimes, I disappear into obscure places but since this rare hawk attracted all the chasers, I waited a bit for them to see the hawk and disappear. They like to tick birds off the list and are very competitive with each other. I don't like it. So I waited. The afternoon crowd is more my style. They want to observe behaviors and enjoy longer sustained looks at the raptors in the area. While they were there for the Rough-legged Hawk; they were also there to explore and see some cool stuff. And that's a beautiful thing.
|A Sharp-shinned Hawk|
I went to Patagonia to finish off my day in the most beautiful weather ever. I thought I'd have alone time there, but there was a birder who asked for help ID'ing a vireo. It was a Hutton's. While there, we had a rare appearance of a Chihuahan Raven. Over the years, I've gotten really good with this species. They are not common in Patagonia, but a few do show up from time to time. Their vocalizations are different from that of the Common Raven and when they call, it's an ID snap. If they don't call, it can be SUPER tricky. Thankfully most ravens are talkative in flight. The high "haw haw haw" of the bird stood out among all the Common Ravens. I had a birder play the call to learn the call. The raven responded and flew near us on top of an Aleppo Pine. Total bird nerds geeking out.
I am enjoying this lull before things start picking up again. We'll be traveling to the west coast this winter, Wales in March, a road trek with Gordon in April, June with Ms. Kathie Brown in Wisconsin, July in New Zealand, Maine in October......and December, I've left open to be spontaneous. Life is amazing and this is how it flies by so quickly! This blog is all about exploration and discovery. Until next time....