Sonoran Adventure – Part 1

Aventuras en Sonora, Primera Parte

Generally, when I think of a Christmas Bird Count (CBC), I think of a cold, snowy day spent scouring obscure suburban neighborhoods in search of backyard feeders and the host of finches, sparrows, and the like that are to be found with them. This year’s round of CBCs is different.

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The vista above Arroyo Santa Barbara

We have only been on the trail for a couple of hours since I rolled out of my hammock into the chilly predawn air of the Reserva Monte Mojino in southern Sonora, México. My companions, Raymond van Buskirk, Amanda Powell, and local guide Felix Garcia, and I scramble down the loose single track into a steep-walled riparian canyon downstream from the remote village of Santa Barbara where we stayed the night before. Already, the heat is quite oppressive to me, but the incredible song of the Brown-backed Solitaire echoes throughout the canyon, leading us onward. (I encourage you to listen to some recordings of their song, found here!)

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Amanda, Raymond, and Felix sorting through and counting flocks of wintering sparrows and warblers

The avian life of the area is quite astounding, with diversity ranging from birds familiar and common in the US, like Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler, to such exotics as the Lilac-crowned Parrot and Spotted Wren, both species endemic to Mexico. We strain our ears, hoping for the screeches of the rare Military Macaw, the cliffs here being the northernmost extent of their range. After several false alarms elicited by the frequent ringing of cowbell-toting free-range cattle in the arroyo, we were rewarded by the faint but distinctive crawww of two distant macaws.

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Spotted Wren, one of several Mexican endemics we saw today

Staring through the patchily lit understory, we pick out the calls and later sight such elusive birds as Blue Mockingbirds, Crescent-chested and Rufous-capped Warblers, Rufous-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Elegant Trogons, and many others. Before we know it, the sun is rapidly disappearing behind the ridge of the arroyo, and we are forced to return to camp, meeting up and comparing notes with the other half of our group, who had spent their day climbing on the ridge high above the canyon.

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Black-throated Gray Warbler, a common breeder in the Piñon-Juniper woodland of Colorado

We eat our dinner of tacos around a small campfire, passing an old soda bottle of a fiery hand-crafted tequila, known locally as lechugía, that was gifted to us by a sociable and friendly neighbor. Despite the intense itching of black fly bites, I retire to my hammock and drift to sleep with the distant whinnying calls of Whiskered Screech-Owls and woops of a Mottled Owl in my ears, full of anticipation for the birds tomorrow will bring.

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Milky Way above our camp in Santa Barbara

eBird Checklist from Arroyo Santa Barbara

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Fleeing the Cold (soon)

Three exams done, two to go. As soon as I achieve blessed freedom tomorrow morning, I will be fleeing the cold, snowy reaches of the Gunnison Basin in a desperate search for warmth and birds. After meeting up with some dear friends and birding badasses in Albuquerque, we will be making the long haul to southern Sonora, Mexico, for a series of Christmas Bird Counts and other adventurous birding chenanigans. Stay tuned for my return to the states sometime around Christmas, you will not want to miss our story!

However, I have news to keep you occupied until that time! If you are on the social medias, head on over to Facebook to reward my procrastination by liking my new page, The Cursorial Birder! For your efforts, you will be rewarded with notices of new blog posts funneled straight into your feed, and additionally all the nuggets of random birding and running awesomeness that are just a bit too small to deserve their own dedicated blog posts.

Thanks for your readership, and Merry Christmas!

Marcel