Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Other Great Birds You see on a Quetzal Chase

On November 9th, Laurence Butler and I headed to southeastern Arizona.  I think I've lost count on how many times we've come to Southeastern Arizona this year, but all I can remember is that all visits have been beyond awesome.  And this one was awesome as usual.  What really brought us down here this time was an Eared Quetzal found above Madera Canyon 1.5 miles up on the Carrie Nation Trail.  Laurens Halsey found the bird several days before our trip, and we were hoping to see it.  However, since Laurens discovered the remarkable bird, that remarkable bird turned into a remarkable hider.  No birders had located it since.  But we headed down anyways, with another strong target we were after and a handful of other previously reported goodies.  Because the rare trogon hadn't been reported since we got there, we went after the other strong target first, and the elusive Quetzal later.

A Green Kingfisher was found along the Santa Cruz River right were Santa Gertrudis Lane crosses the river.  Laurence and I wanted this bird very bad, and it was a lifer for Laurence and was only the second time I was attempting to see one in my time.  That is if...we saw the bird.  Santa Gertrudis has hosted a handfull of rarities over the years, especially along the berry bushes near the entrance to the Lane.  We checked for a rare thrush feeding and getting high of the berrries, and we didn't find one.  As we approached the river, I was shocked to hear the "clicking" call of the Green Kingfisher!  I was ahead of Laurence, and I yelled to him that I was hearing our hopeful target.  We rushed down to the river, and started to head down the river, just south of Santa Gertrudis Lane.  I told Laurence how low these little green birds like to perch as we started down the river.

Santa Cruz River (is the Kingfisher around?)

Just seconds after I mentioned the birds low behaviors, the Green Kingfisher blew out beneath us and flew shortly down the river.  The Green was a female bird, and she perched in plain view for us and started to successfully fish in the river!  It was quite the show!

The Green Queenfisher was one nice looking girl!  She flew down to a fence and perched right in front of us.  It seemed as if this fence was one of her very favorite fishing spots.  We watched her plunge into the water several times, and she captured some of Santa Cruz's tiny fish.  Anything larger than a small minnow would probably choke her to death.  

After leaving the fence, she flew right by us north along the river, just feet away.  She then crossed the lane an was barely north of Gertrude.  We got to enjoy her even longer.  After saying each perch she landed on was probably her favorite, we then concluded all of the perches were her favorite.  The tiny Queenfisher was one active bird.

We spent an hour in the immediate area of the Kingfisher, and how awesome it was!  The area was also filled with hyper Black Phoebes, who were also excited to add the Green Kingfisher to their year and life lists.

After seeing the Queen of Gertrudis, we headed up into the Santa Ritas to search for the Eared Quetzal, or at in the area.  Nice looking woodpeckers are always worth a stop along the way, and we had that option.  We decided to look at one of them, and we soon got carried away with how cool it was.

It's a Red-breasted Sapsucker, which is a birder's piece of eye candy.  This bird has been hanging out in the White House Picnic Area in the beginning stretches of Madera Canyon. It was a rather exciting life of drilling sap wells and feeding on insects.  A kind woman showed Laurence and I the sapsucker, and we eventually crawled within 10 feet of the Sapsucker!  He didn't want to leave his precious wells, so he didn't really care too much about us.  

After the Sapsucker, we then headed up canyon to the Carrie Nation Trail.  We both had the gut feeling that the Quetzal bird was gone, at least from the original spot.  Was it somewhere in the Santa Ritas, of course.  We weren't really wanting to go wait with the other birders, so we pretty much pulled a Kenny Bostick move.  After seeing the first birders come down canyon who were stationed there for hours, we got a simple "NO" and moved on.  Kenny Bostick let the other birds do that in the Big Year, hence he never really did any of the work.  Laurence and I are usually hard working birders, but not this time.  There were Rufous-capped Warblers to be seen.  After a trek up and down the neighboring Florida Canyon, all we got out of the Warblers was a Laurence quick glance and a Tommy heard only.  Boo!  But the Golden Eagle and the Raven showed up overhead.

Time was flying by, and we wanted to bird the Santa Cruz Flats on the way home to hopefully see Crested Caracara and Mountain Plover.  By the time we reached the Flats, it was late and we had 40 minutes to speed through the area.  With Laurence's well placed navigational and professional driving skills, it wasn't a problem at all.  We started with the Caracara as the first search.  There is a traditional spot on Baumgartner Road at an ugly farm where Caracaras often gather to feast.  It's not a pretty spot, but if there's a neat bird, than who really cares!  As we drove up, Laurence spied the silhouettes we were strongly hoping for...

There are five Crested Caracaras in the above photo.  Neat birds, but a dump of a place.  That cow accounts for 90 percent of the dump after he dumps it out.  We looked at the Caracaras with extreme satisfaction.  It was a year bird for both of us, and only the second time I have ever seen this species in my life, so it was a huge deal for me.  We had decent looks, but our greedy birdy ambitions drove us to get closer than our average looks.

As we went into the heart of Caracara Country, we were amazed.  There were several of them close by!  This younger Caracara was obliging.  We mentioned that this bird looks like a cross between a Vulture and an Eagle.  But oddly, it is in the Falcon family.

We were so shocked at the sight of the birds, that Laurence accidently drove off the road and landed right by the Caracaras!!!!  One of the local scare crows scared us off ironically just after that, and we had to leave the Caracaras behind, simply because there was one more awesome bird to be seen.  Until next time, later Crested Caracaras!

Our last awesome bird of the day was the Mountain Plover.  As we drove up to the Western Sod Farms, we quickly spied this unique birds running around and chillaxin right by the road.  This is what I mean by right by the road.  

The Plovers were cooperative, and I enjoyed this species for only the 3rd time in my life.

As the Mountain Plovers took off into the barren dirt, we decided to head back to Phoenix.  The Mountain Plovers were an excellent ending to another fun day of Southeastern Arizona birding.  Thank you Laurence for a great trip!

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