Monday, October 7, 2019

The Rains of Migration

A gorgeous view to the entrance of the Chiricahuan Mountains
Birders often gamble while traveling to new places when searching for new species. Sometimes the weather cooperates.  And sometimes it doesn't.

Jeff tries to get that perfect shot of a Blue-throated Mountain-gem
This past weekend I had the fortune of showing Floridian birding friend Jeff the wonders of the magical Chiricahua mountains. He was in search of several really cool Arizona rarities AND a couple resident birds. 

Wilson's Warbler

(Un)fortunately on our planned outing, it rained all day long with the temps in the lower 50's.  These were the coolest temps we've had in a long time!  I was not appropriately dressed and froze my butt off!  BUT, I love the cold.  It makes me happy.  And so did the rain.  However, Jeff wasn't having it. This was his ONE shot for several lifers. 

Jeff searches high and low for the White-eared Hummingbird, a species that like to hang out near riparian streams and oak trees
I know how he felt, but truly it was a magical day out even with the rain. I told him not to lose faith.  We'd find birds even in the rain.  They might not be in best photography light, but they'll be around the mountain. Jeff drove with the windows down so I could hear the bird conversations happening around our vehicle. 

A rare Berryline Hummingbird comes to the feeders

Our first stop was for the Berryline Hummingbird at the Southwestern Research Station. It didn't show first thing in the morning.  And it began to rain.  So I suggested we hunt for the Mexican Chickadees first.  Later on in the morning, we returned to a hungry Berryline Hummer feeding at one of the stations. Hummingbirds get super active during rain events so I knew the bird would be around the feeders. 

The Berryline Hummingbird is a rarity for Arizona but does often show up several times a year during the summer.  However, they don't always stick around like this female did. While at the Southwestern Research Station, I noticed this vehicle and laughed. It made me think about all the birders who don't have an SUV or bigger car to drive on our rugged Arizona roads.  There are some birders who really chance it out there and gamble their lives with their older vehicles. I'll sometimes arrive at a location and wonder how in the world they safely made it with the car they were driving.  I was once that birder not so long ago:)

While on the road, we had amazing views of a Band-tailed Pigeon. These pigeons are secretive and often skittish in Arizona.  This bird analyzed its situation before quickly flying off. 

My favorite sighting of the day was this Band-tailed Pigeon
High on the Chiricahuan mountains, we drove through the clouds.  These massive gray blobs of moisture began to descend all around us.  The conditions began to turn for the worse. 

At one point, I felt like I was in Oregon or Washington state.  Everything was so green and lush. And while we were driving up to Rustler Park, I began hearing Mexican Chickadees.  And lots of them!

Mexican Chickadee

My only photo is the one I took(above) years ago in the same general vicinity.  These chickadees are super difficult to snap photos of!  We tried several times attempting to capture that one awesome shot.  Jeff saw plenty of these chickadees but they didn't want to pose for a pic.  I couldn't believe the numbers this year.  This species has done very well!

Blue-throated Mountain-gem
And of course, another resident, the Blue-throated Mountain-gem was in great numbers.  Jeff was excited to see this gorgeous hummer as well. 

The mountains were full of our regular resident birds as well.  At one point as one of the clouds descended upon our position, it pushed down a huge number of migrating birds into the trees.  We were literally surrounded by dozens of Western Tanagers!

A Purple Gallinule is an expected rarity for Tucson in the newly flowing Santa Cruz River.  Clearly this restoration project is doing its job. 

What had seemed as a lackluster monsoon season in southeastern Arizona this year has turned into an exciting bang to the end of the season.  We have been getting storm after storm now when it should all be winding down.  With these storms, comes lots of vagrants!

It was a special treat to be able to bird with Jeff during that magical rain event.  Setting aside the photography, as I do often now, the act of birding is a thrill. Much of my photography is just for documentation and this blog now. In the true sense of birding, you just have to experience a new bird with your eyes and ears. And we did. I think for every 10 new birds I discover; I may get 7 lifer shots of which 5 are only great.  We spoke about that in the car. On that day, Jeff added 4 lifers to that lifelist and we dipped on one of our targets, the White-eared Hummingbird.  But I wasn't hopeful for that one as they had just left the nesting site. When it began to rain in that particular spot, we didn't see any birds at all except a Hammond's Flycatcher. And that's all part of the game. 

And speaking of games and difficult birds!  Next week we celebrate fall up in Flagstaff as we search for my nemesis, the Dusky Grouse!  Until next time....


  1. Usually rain is a curse on a hiking trip. What a treat to see so many hummers. Curious about the comment re: the Santa Cruz river. What is the story behind it?

    1. Almost 50 years ago, the Santa Cruz river used to run through Tucson. However, as people moved into Tucson, more and more water was getting used up and the river was sucked dry on the top creating a dry wash. Today, they are releasing water back down this area again and we are crossing our fingers that this area will be once again restored. We voted on this project and it's happening in phases. It's pretty wonderful to have the river/stream flow again.

  2. You're such a natural(ist) to take joy from the sharing. The scenery is delightful in the rainy mist. Have fun in Flag.


Thanks for stopping by!