SONORA, EL FUERTE, COPPER CANYON April 08-16, 2015
Our 7th Copper Canyon trip happened a bit later (due to the Easter date). As a result we missed a few regular species that had already headed north but were treated to some migrants we usually don't get a chance to see. Case in point, our short trip offshore from San Carlos provided some first ever (for this trip) encounters. Following a large flock of Bonaparte's gulls, we started seeing the familiar wing pattern of Sabine's Gull. Three adults were mixed in the flock (a life bird for several clients and the local birder who was our boating host). A bit further out we steered toward a group of terns and gulls feeding actively. Soon we spotted almost a dozen Black-vented Shearwaters with several larger shearwaters mixed in which turned out to be Pink-footed. To cap a superb two hours of pelagic birding, we saw several fly by Least Storm Petrels and a lone Black Storm Petrel. Several close breaches by local rays were a highlight as well. Continuing on to southern Sonora, we explored the tropical deciduous forest east and south of Alamos including the Reserva Monte Mojino managed by Nature and Culture International. Their effort to preserve tracts of uncut forest along the headwaters of the Rio Cuchujaqui is well worth supporting. Our birding highlights included Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Crane Hawk, and the best and most prolonged views of Lesser Roadrunner I have ever had. Night birding at El Pedregal Lodge produced Buff-throated Nightjar, Elf Owl, and great looks at Western Screech Owl. Moving into northern Sinaloa, we reached El Fuerte in late afternoon, with enough light to bird from the balcony of Hotel Rio Vista, aka Hotel Oriole as we quickly saw Black-vented, Streak-backed, Hooded and Orchard. Morning had us westbound on the Copper Canyon train. The 4.5 hour ride takes one through the most spectacular scenery of the western Sierra Madre. Departing the train up in pine/oak habitat, we headed to the Hotel Paraiso del Oso outside Cerocahui. Late afternoon birding revealed some local regulars including White-striped Woodcreeper, Elegant Trogon, and Slate-throated Redstart. At night we had brief vocal contact with Whiskered Screech Owl but the bird would not venture closer. We awoke to a steady downpour, unheard of in spring in this part of Mexico so we were grounded until early afternoon. When we did venture out, activity was good on Mesa de Arturo with Crescent-chested Warbler and Olive Warbler topping the list. Looking down into a cloud and mist filled Barranca de Urique was a first for me. Next day we retraced our steps over the mesa for our descent into Urique. Close looks at Mountain Trogon highlighted that part of the trip, while the descent itself turned up White-eared Hummingbird, Spotted Wren and several Thick-billed Parrot vocalizations. Unfortunately, we could not locate the birds. Once a mile lower in the town of Urique, we returned to subtropical habitat. We headed north on the Naranjo road and, at an arroyo crossing, were surprised by an adult Tropical Parula-first one I have seen in the state of Chihuahua. Nearby, a Five-striped Sparrow came in very close giving us a head on view that left no doubt as to how it got its name. Our following morning venture took us south of Urique to Arroyo Hacienda. Immediately I could hear Military Macaws in the distance. We located a group across the valley feeding (often upside down) on fruit. What a show. For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed various numbers of macaws flying out over the valley and back to the original feeding area. 22 individuals in all. Maybe these spectacular birds can survive the omnipresence of humans after all. We started our hike and saw a small group of parrots fly over that turned out to be Lilac-crowned (another Chihuahua first for me). Two members of the group got to view 13 of these magnificent birds perched close up. Further up the canyon, the Brown-backed Solitaires were singing-one of the most memorable songs in the bird world. We then lucked out with close encounters with Golden Vireo-the 5th year in a row the birds have been in this location. Northernmost outpost for this species that I am aware of. Following lunch, we ascended out of the canyon, pausing at the mirador one last time to see the vast and grand view of the western end of the Copper Canyon. Our last day in the high country was a survey of the Rio Cuiteco north of Bahuichivo. This lush canyon is one of my favorite birding spots in Chihuahua. We quickly found Hooded Grosbeak and the dazzling Flame-colored Tanager but had to effort to lure out Gray-collared Becard. Finally a feisty male zoomed in, followed by his very different looking mate. We were unable to find Gray-crowned Woodpecker (first miss in the last 4 trips) but did have nice views of Rufous-capped Brushfinch and Russet Nightingale Thrush. Warblers were on the move including numbers of Hermit and Townsend's headed to the Pacific Northwest. The afternoon return train ride to El Fuerte was as glorious as ever.
Before breakfast on our last full day of birding, we headed to a nearby park along the Rio Fuerte. White-collared Seedeaters have settled in here as they spread up the west coast of Mexico following land clearing. Grayish Saltator gave us good looks as well. As we returned to the hotel, we had to stop to let about a dozen Elegant Quail cross the road. Our boat float on the Rio Fuerte was delightful. On the far shore, a guamuchil bush was fruiting so we had close up looks at a wide variety of birds including Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Northern Beardless Tyrranulet and Yellow Warbler. Nearby a newly returned Tropical Kingbird teed up for us. Further downriver, Felipe, our good natured guide, pointed out Red-billed Pigeon and Groove-billed Ani. Common Blackhawks and Ospreys are common here and certainly a treat to view up close. Just before our boat pull-out we managed to stir up a pair of Northern Jacanas and got to watch them dancing across the lily pads. We then headed to the coast at Huatabampito. After lunch on the ocean (watching the Sanderlings play wave tag), we checked the nearby estuary. Tide was mid way out so we had great scoping from the dunes out on the mudflats. Both Black-bellied Plover and Ruddy Turnstone were in breeding plumage and Dunlin were in mid molt. Another first for the tour showed up as a pair of Least Terns came in and did some courtship moves for us. Gull-billed Tern was here as well. After checking the flats at Yavaros, with literally hundreds of Willet, Marbled Godwit, and Western Sandpiper, we blitzed north to San Carlos, getting to the beach wall behind our condo literally at sunset. Another memorable Mexico trip fittingly capped off!