Thursday, May 21, 2020

Opening the Floodgates

Before I begin this report, I need to let you all know that I have been waiting to get one particular shot for this post today.  It only took me 3 attempts to do so! I apologize for the late posting. Now on with the show.....

An Arctic Tern shows up.  Historical records say that this would be the 7th sighting for the state and a first photo documented bird!
This year has been quite slow in the "crazy rarities" chase.  That was until April happened.  Strange reports have been coming from homeowners across Southeastern Arizona about odd bird sounds around their patches and also about rare birds being seen around their feeders! In fact, a birder reported that she thought she heard a different trogon around her patch. Elegant Trogons are "common" and expected down here.  Many of us who bird here are very familiar with their calls. Her thought was that the call being made was that of a Mountain Trogon. The bird was never confirmed.  But it is one of the next expected birds to show up in Southeastern Arizona. 

Will a Mountain Trogon be a first record for the state?
Over the years, there have been secret sightings of breeding Blue Mockingbirds. These rarities have shown up in Arizona before and are definitely considered by birders to be gems.  But it's the first state report of a species that gets birders into a frenzy! And then all birders from the 1st Age to the present come together as they look at each other in great mystery.  "Are you the great Gandalf we see on ancient ebird reports?", asks the young birder who spends all their time researching historical data from the 1900's.  Some wear an invisible cloak like that of the Black Rail, rarely seen but always heard.

Blue Mockingbirds have been seen and banded in Arizona
Other rare gems include the Yellow Grosbeak, Eared Quetzal, or Aztec Thrush. A birder in Arizona has the potential for a real exciting time here.  Others claim, there's a secret population of Thick-billed Parrots hiding in the mystical Chiricahua Mountains! But these are stories for another time. 

Fan-tailed Warbler
Often I believe that I'll never see such crazy things happen.  Never in my life would I have expected to see a Fan-tailed Warbler, Pine Flycatcher or 3 species of storm petrels in the desert, but it happens.  And usually, it's not all at once. 

Berylline Hummingbird

As I shoot forward into the present, I am confounded by a great mystery in my mind.  For the past 3 weeks, several amazing discoveries have happened here in Arizona.  Normally a Berylline Hummingbird has been a rare yet regular late spring/summer visitor. About 2 years ago, they became easier to see again. Before my time, White-eared and Berylline Hummingbirds seemed a bit more regular until we had the massive fires on the Huachuca Mountains during that first decade of 2000. From that time, they've been one day wonders. Last year there was a late staying Berylline Hummingbird in Portal at the Southwestern Research Station. The current Berylline Hummingbird has been at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders for a few weeks now. White-eared Hummingbirds are also beginning to nest again in small yet stable populations. 

One night recently, I escaped the heat with a friend into the world renowned Madera Canyon and was floored to see a Berylline at the feeders!  I don't keep up with the rarities outside of Pima County unless I haven't seen the bird in Pima or the state of Arizona so this was a fun surprise!

Plain-capped Starthroat
Another fun hummingbird that can show up this time of year is the Plain-capped Starthroat.  What a thrill!

Crescent-chested Warbler
Then something even crazier happened.  In the magical, mystical mountains of the Chiricahuas, a birder discovered a pair of breeding Crescent-chested Warblers!  And even more than that, there were more than 2 warblers in this remote canyon! Never in my life had I expected to see these birds in the US.  

But then again, Tufted Flycatchers, Flame-colored Tanagers and Slate-throated Redstarts have also bred here. In fact, the Flame-colored Tanagers are back again near Ramsey Canyon!

Birders, during this pandemic, went crazy and broke quarantine as only birders can and will do.  Hundreds from all across the US drove(or flew!) and camped in this beautiful canyon to see these very visible warblers.  They are still present today. This will be a first record for the US if these birds successfully nest. 

But it gets better.  I thought, "Ok, this will be the bird of the year or summer."  But I was wrong again.  On Friday of last week, a Clay-colored Thrush was reported!!! And in Pima County!  This is yet ANOTHER Mexican bird.  One was seen last year in Portal but the record wasn't accepted.  However that may now change with this very public bird!  It will be the first record for Pima County.

Clay-colored Thrush
And how quickly we forget about last year's surprise first record, the White-throated Thrush! These birds are adding up to something bigger.  Evidence that Mexican birds are moving up into Southeastern Arizona and beginning to breed. 

White-throated Thrush
We are often chided as idiots here in the US by savage mongrels.  "Climate change is a hoax." Is it?  While Arizona has always had Mexican vagrants show up here in the state, we are noticing trends.  

Green Kingfisher
Ten years ago, it was tough finding Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Rufous-capped Warblers, Rose-throated Becards, Green Kingfishers and even Elegant Trogons. I remember a birder once saying that Elegant Trogons could never be found in Pima County.  And if the world wasn't changing, he would be correct.  But we are finding Elegant Trogons expanding their ranges as are all these other species. Today, Trogons are almost a given. I say almost because I still hear stories from birders about how they chased these birds for 40 days and 40 nights:)  With the right patience and timing, you can find all these gems here in Southeastern Arizona.

Birders have had a fun time watching incredible birds out in the field
Of course, the mysteries still continue.  We await the report of a Rusty Sparrow or White-tipped Dove which are only miles south of our Arizona/Mexico border.  There are many more species on that list, but over the past 5 years, we have been observing an increasing trend of Mexican vagrants.  It certainly makes Arizona birding fun but it is also an alarm that change is happening.  

I expect the first tern I'd see this year in AZ would be a Forster's.  Turns out I was wrong.  It would be a state and Pima County first Arctic Tern
Why are these birds here? Has habitat been lost in Mexico that's affecting these birds? An air flow change? Or are the birds increasing in population and expanding their range like our Elegant Trogons and Black-capped Gnatcatchers?  Did the quarantine of human kind affect migration habits of the birds this year?  Are waterways affecting bird habitat in the state of Sonora and Arizona?

Cheroot shares a bit of cheese during a lunch break while observing the nesting Crescent-chested Warblers
One thing is certain.  Change is happening. I know in Pima County, there have been some great changes happening here.  We've created better birding hotspots.  Or we're improving the quality of known birding hotspots.  It has been exciting for many of us who live in this area as we are seeing a real change happening around us. Much of this thanks in part to Tucson Audubon and Pima County with thousands of hours put in by workers and volunteers! Water is the key to everything here in the desert.  And the birds are gravitating towards  these places.  As I've said before, Arizona birding attracts a lot of people from all over the world and the quality of birder has also gotten better, thanks in part to the dedication of ebird reviewers and bird leaders.  

As for the lady who reported a possible Mountain Trogon.  I believe you heard something different and I won't be shocked if someone reports one at some point. Will Military Macaws show up next? There had been a report and pics of them in Patagonia many many years ago before the time of ebird and digital documentation.  What about a Black-throated Magpie-Jay? Elegant Quail? We are watching the world unwind.  It is both exciting and sad at the same time.  People can deny all they want.  But we, the birders, see it happening in front of our very eyes.  I've posted some very terrible videos of two great thrushes below.  Both times I had these birds alone in the wild.  Very special observations indeed!

Birders wait and wait and wait.....for the superstar, the Clay-colored Thrush

Until next time.......

We spend the evening listening to the beautiful song of the Clay-colored Thrush at the Arivaca Cienega creek

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by!