Southern Sonora/Copper Canyon March 29-April 7, 2016
DAY 1: Our 8th Copper Canyon trip began in San Carlos, where we hoped to find some overwintering species still lingering. Desert and grassland forays produced Cassin’s, Brewer’s, and Clay-colored Sparrows, Lark Bunting, and Gray Vireo. An attempt for Ridgeway’s Rail in the mangroves around Estero Soldado not only triggered several return calls but prompted an individual to trot across an open space directly in front of us. Checking a nearby rocky headland, one of the clients managed to spot a Black Turnstone-a bird we had not seen on this route for many years. Another desert stop on our way south led us to several Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and a Gilded Flicker. On our way to Alamos, we stopped at Bahia Guasimas. Besides numerous shorebirds and a flock of Black Skimmers, we encountered a bold group of Large-billed Savannah Sparrows at a local eatery. They were outcompeting the local House Sparrows for leftovers. Go figure.
DAYS 2-4: Our stay in the Alamos area started with a morning hike up Aduana Arroyo close to town. The first fig tree we encountered was loaded with fruit and birds. Rufous-backed and White-throated Thrushes, Yellow Grosbeak, and Squirrel Cuckoo got us off to a great start. Further up the drainage we heard Russet-crowned Motmot. It stayed concealed for a while until appearing at eye-level directly across the arroyo from us. What an impressive combo of colors. Heading for a spring higher up we found Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Trogon, Five-striped Sparrow and Scrub Euphonia along the way. At the spring, one of the clients noticed a bird working furtively in the underbrush that turned out to be the previously reported Fan-tailed Warbler. Very early for that breeder but fascinating to watch it work the leaf litter. Our morning was capped off with great looks at a group of 18-20 Lilac-crowned Parrots that kept circling and landing near us. Largest flock of that species I have ever run into.
Later in the day we headed east to the Reserva Monte Mojino, a conservation and research effort of Nature and Culture International. Arriving at Rancho Palo Injerto close to sunset, we watched a pair of Military Macaws search the high cliffs for a perfect roosting spot. After sunset, we were treated to views of both Elf and Western Screech Owls, plus several vocalizations from a hidden Buff-collared Nightjar. Next day as we departed camp we heard the loud song of a Bright-rumped Attila which some of us managed views of. At the trailhead for the Rio Sitorijaqui, we heard but could not locate, one of the local Laughing Falcons. Later in our hike, we were followed by the local sheriff’s posse of Black-throated Magpie Jays. We two-leggeds certainly stirred up a lively conversation among the jays. Then one of our target species, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, came in nicely to tape. On our return walk, after seeing a Rose-throated Becard, we were treated to great views of the local macaws as they flew in the valley below.
Before we departed Alamos the next day we were fortunate to get close to a local band of Purplish- backed Jays, a flock of White-fronted Parrots, and even a pair of Mexican Parrotlets-a species that often blends perfectly into the foliage around it.
DAYS 5-8: We boarded the Chihuahua al Pacifico train early for our ride up through Barranca Septentrion to the high country. Afternoon birding in pine/oak turned up some regulars such as Painted Redstart, Mexican Chickadee, and Olive Warbler and some trip one-timers such as Pygmy Nuthatch and Townsend’s Solitaire. Next day we traveled over Mesa de Arturo, adding specialties such as Crescent-chested Warbler, Mountain Trogon (stunning bird), and Spotted Wren. We then descended a vertical mile into the Barranca de Urique, the deepest of the five canyons in the region. Late afternoon birding along the Naranjo Road brought brief but clear views of Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush and, after a lengthy search, close views of a persistently calling Colima Pygmy Owl.
Our next day journey was on foot into Arroyo Hacienda just west of the town of Guapalaina. Birding was a bit slow until we reached a fruiting fig that enticed us to sit down and watch the show. And what a show. Over the next hour the parade of birds using the tree included Flame-colored Tanager, Brown-backed Solitaire, Gray Silky, Elegant Trogon, White-throated Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Streak-backed Oriole, Yellow Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, and our most sought after bird in this location-Golden Vireo. Later, within the towering walls of the slot canyon, we added close looks at Blue-throated Hummingbird.
The final day in the highlands was spent mostly on foot, walking the Rio Cuiteco near Bahuichivo. This lovely, shaded canyon is one of my favorite birding spots in the state of Chihuahua. We began by having an escort of several pairs of Rufous-capped Brushfinches. Slate-throated Redstarts were everywhere and we had several encounters with White-striped Woodcreepers and Tufted Flycatchers. After much tape playing, I was able to coax in a male Gray-collared Becard who hung around to put on an impressive crest-flairing, tail fanning show. Later we persisted in finding the Russet Nightingale Thrush at its usual spot. We were then graced with a close and boisterous Gray-crowned Woodpecker here at what I believe is its northwest most location. Although we searched in vain for Hooded Grosbeak, a species seen here thrice before, we managed to call in a new species for the location-Rusty Sparrow. The confiding individual came up on a rock 6 feet away and even sang for us. Further up the creek we were surprised by a spirited pair of American Dippers.
DAY 9: Having returned to the lowlands by train the evening before, we had a few spots to bird around El Fuerte before heading to the coast. A reserve just outside town gave us great looks at Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Northern Jacana, and even a bold Virginia Rail. As we drove west through ag fields, we stopped and found White-collared Seedeater and several male Orchard Orioles in full breeding plumage. Continuing on to the coast we came into the town of Yavaros at almost high tide. Good fortune for us as this extremely shallow bay can place bird viewing at an untenable distance. Right away, amid the hundreds of Marbled Godwits, we found a dozen Red Knots-a shorebird species in steep decline. The array of Willets, Whimbrel, Western Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, and the godwits was impressive. At our lunch spot from the restaurant back deck, we noted 7 species of gulls including about 35 Bonaparte’s all still in winter plumage. Before heading north ourselves, we found dozens of Wilson’s Phalarope in saline impoundments on their northbound journey from alkali lakes high in the Andes. I am humbled by the annual journeys of some species of shorebirds.
DAY 10: Last day in Mexico and our plan was to venture out from San Carlos into the Sea of Cortez. This was the second time for a “pelagic” trip and, I suspect, not the last. As we cleared Bahia San Francisco from the San Carlos marina, we encountered large flocks on the now rain spattered surface that turned out to be migrating Red-necked Phalarope. We then began to see Black Storm Petrels, but always just a single bird. It’s lazy, somewhat bat like flight is distinctive. Several shearwaters appeared, mostly Black-vented but one larger Pink-footed banked in as well. The rain was steady now but we were undeterred. Soon we found our most sought after pelagic (and a life bird for yours truly)-Craveri’s Murrelet. Three individuals allowed us to come quite close before one dove and the other two flew. Odd to see an alcid this far south. After several distant viewings of Least Storm Petrel (seemingly the size of a martin), we turned for shore. A small cluster of birds ahead caught our eye so we sped in that direction. At first it seemed to be simply a gathering of Heermann’s Gulls, but as we closed, a larger all dark bird took flight. When I saw white in the primaries, I knew we had a jaeger. Fortunately, one of the local birders had joined us and took photos of everything we saw. After forwarding the pics to Steven Mlodinow, I received confirmation of my original thought that the bird was a dark morph, first year Pomarine and, coincidentally, my 600th Mexican bird. What a great birding note to end our Mexico trip on-and our first trip that we exceeded 300 species.