Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Gift From Mexico

On September 2nd, 2013, Ron Beck discovered a small young wren in Huachuca Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of Southeastern Arizona that turned out to be the rare in North America SINALOA WREN!  Because this was indeed a small young wren, it was also very drab and rather indistinct.  Luckily, the Sinaloa Wren has a very distinctive song and a different "ratchet" call than the similar Bewick's Wren.  The bird gave both of these evidences and through a few good pictures, some of it's key field marks where shown to rule out other species, such as the Bewick's Wren.  Record wise, this remarkable rarity has been found in North America two previous times before this particular discovery, both in Arizona.  The first one was found at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve by Robin Baxter and Matt Brown on August 25th, 2008.  They located the bird by it's distinctive song, which Matt had heard in Mexico numerous times on one of his birding trips.  Matt and Robin were able to find the bird and get photographs to confirm the first Sinaloa Wren in the history of the United States!  The wren continued in the area for almost a year and was very hard to see, due to it's skulking habits.  Many birders had the bird as a heard only.  The Sinaloa Wren even built a few nests and sang relentlessly to attempt attracting a mate.  Had he had been 30 miles south, it wouldn't have been a problem!  Then, on April 14th, 2009, Diane Touret discovered another Sinaloa Wren, this time in Huachuca Canyon.  The bird was photographed and well documented by pictures and song recordings as the first one was.  Four years later, this young bird was then found on September 2nd in Huachuca Canyon once again, giving the canyon 2 of the first 3 records.  As mentioned earlier, if it weren't for voice, this little bird would be hard to identify.

AZFO NOTES:  "Key ID Points for Sinaloa Wren:  It has a pale eyeline, rusty tail contrasting with brown back, gray underparts and a few noticeable streaks on the sides of the neck.  Similar species of wrens with pale eyelines: Bewick's Wren is smaller and slimmer and has a brown tail with white tips.  Eastern Carolina Wren is bright rusty above and bright buffy below.  Mexican/Texas Carolina Wrens are browner above and less buffy below than Easterns but the tail is also browner and does not contrast with the back.  Happy Wren, which occurs almost as far north in Sonora as Sinaloa Wren, has a boldly striped face, bright buffy or rusty underparts and a browner tail.  The song of the Sinaloa Wren is very distinctive and diagnostic.  The third bird that was discovered was young and some of it's key field marks were shown, but were harder to make out than on an adult.  "This is a very dull immature which lacks the characteristic black and white steaks at the side of the neck although a hint of them can be seen.  In addition, the rusty tail does not contrast as much with the back as in an adult.  However, Bewick's Wren would have a thinnner bill and a longer eyeline.  Fortunately, the song of this species is diagnostic and the recordings confirm the ID."

On September 10th, 2013, the Sinaloa Wren continued in the location that it was discovered in Huachuca Canyon originally on September 2nd.   Steve Hosmer and I made the trip down, and we were hoping to see the wren.   It was cooperative for many birders, and has been the easiest of the three Sinaloa Wrens discovered so far.  When driving into Huachuca Canyon, the bird has been in the stream bed by the bridge shortly after the pavement ends on the road when driving into the canyon.  There is a picnic area here, as well as a swing set and campspots.  Steve and I arrived at 7 A.M., hoping to catch a glimpse of the plump little Sinaloan artifact.

Huachuca Canyon

While waiting for the wren, we heard and saw many other birds and cool creatures.  One came in the form of a Montezuma Quail calling from the surrounding grassy hillsides.  We couldn't see the elusive quail, but it was cool hearing it.  Despite the many birds that were around, they weren't very cooperative for photography at all.  Here's a few birds, creatures, and people who were cooperative for the camera.

Acorn Woodpecker

Zena the Malamute

Nashville Warbler

Arizona Sister

Steve Hosmer

There were a lot of other birders present, including expert guide Laurens Halsey. Everyone walked and stood around listening for the bird. At about 7:30 A.M., Laurens got everyone on the bird who was giving it's ratchet call in a dense thicket. We walked up to the thicket. Despite the fact the bird was making a lot of noise, it wasn't immediately showing itself. After awhile, it came out of the thicket and perched briefly in the open. The stubby tail was noticeable even with the naked eye. The bird flew into the area of the stream bed, and briefly delighted us with it's awesome song. Between 7:30 and 11:30, we heard the wren probably 5-6 more times. It still continued to be a skulker, and it was a real challenge getting any sort of a look at it. At 11:00 A.M., I was in the stream bed near the picnic area and away from the other birders. There were dense thickets around me, and I caught movement foraging low. I quickly got on the bird and noticed it was the Sinaloa Wren. There were sticks, small twigs, large twigs, and leaves in the way everywhere were the wren went. It luckily came up into an opening where I got good and clear looks at it for about 5 entire seconds. The 5 seconds beat the .7 tenths-of-a-second looks I was briefly getting a few previous times of the bird. Here I was able to see the bird well. I could make out the faint distinctive lines on the side of it's neck, I saw it's rusty wings and tail. I then got a rather poor picture of the bird. I seriously felt like I was in Sinaloa, Mexico itself!!!! There were also three Bewick's Wrens around, and the differences between the Sinaloa and the plain and gray Bewick's Wren was evident.  It wasn't the nice looking adult Sinaloa Wren, but hey, it's still the species, and a heck of a good ABA rarity and life bird for Tommy.

Sinaloa Wren (my "shots")

After spending 4.5 hours on the Wren search, Steve and I headed for the Benson Sewage Treatment Plant to look for shorebirds.  One of the ponds had great shorebird habitat, and had 2 Pectoral Sandpipers (one of the coolest!), 2 Baird's Sandpipers, and a few Red-necked Phalaropes and a Semipalmated Plover among the more common shorebirds.  It was great to get good looks at Pectoral Sandpiper.  

Pectoral Sandpiper-it looks like a giant compared to these Western Sandpipers it is with!

Baird's Sandpiper w/ smaller Western Sandpipers

What shorebirds can you pick out of this shot?

Benson STP

Steve and I then headed over to Madera Canyon to search for a Beryline Hummingbird that had been visiting the feeders at the Chuporosa Bed and Breakfast.  Well, the hummer called it quits on the location and the last it was seen was the day before we got there.  In over an hour of waiting, the Beryline outwitted Steve and I.  These Yellow-eyed Juncos were very entertaining though!

Yellow-eyed Junco

As the trip came to a close, Steve and I both agreed the day was a great success.  It felt like the three birding stops were so little compared to the distance we traveled-550 miles.  But when one rarity hunts, that is often the case!!  As I always tell my birding buddies: "any day when you get a lifer, it's a great day of birding."

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