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Sonora, Mexico January 8-26, 2015

Being quite blessed to spend time again in Sonora this winter, I somehow (!) managed to squeeze in some birding, much of it scouting related to my April 2015 southern Sonora, Copper Canyon tour. Estero Soldado in San Carlos was our location for much of the trip. Being by the estuary was a delight as always with the daily movements of the various herons, egrets, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Some wintering Brant in the estuary was a first for me and daily sightings of the local group of Roseate Spoonbills was a treat. Also new for me at this location (perhaps I wasn't listening closely enough in winters past) were several Gray Vireos wintering in the desert scrub habitat. The nearby Bahia San Francisco was entertaining as always, with the highlight being a feeding frenzy one day with various gulls, boobies, and a massive fleet of 80-100 Pacific Loons. Later we visited the Navopatia Field Station near the Sinaloa border. The drive in to the station, through ag fields and desert thornscrub, gave us great views of several Peregrines and many Harris' Hawks, and a memorable dusk sighting of a Great Horned Owl teed on a pitahaya cactus. Songbird highlights along the entry road were Bendire's Thrasher and a flock of White-collared Seedeaters, a species continually spreading north as more land is cleared for agriculture. Agiabampo Estuary, where the field station is located, was being dredged in some sort of boondoggle project funded by the Sinaloa government. We were able to find large numbers of shorebirds in a nearby finger of the estuary including several flocks of Stilt Sandpipers that were a Sonora first for me. Although only mid January, the local desert species such as Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Costa's Hummingbird had already kicked in to breeding mode, especially the hummer doing its aerial breeding displays, all the while sounding like a dentist's drill! Leaving the coast, we headed to the Alamos area and then on to Rancho El Guayabo, part of Nature and Culture International's 7 ranch complex in the foothills of the Sierra Madre east of town. The birding was great and the serenity even better. Birding highlights of two days there included a pair of Crane Hawks seen both mornings (apparently a breeder here), Common Blackhawks along the Rio Cuchujaqui, a wintering Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, a very vocal Linneated Woodpecker, and a distant calling Laughing Falcon. I also was fortunate to witness a coatimundi make a run (unsuccessful) on a group of Rufous-bellied Chachalacas-what a commotion as the group of 25 or so birds erupted out of the brush on the hillside. Other wintering Sierra Madre highland species included many Tufted Flycatchers, Painted Redstarts and their equally stunning cousins the Slate-throated. After 3 weeks of fun and sun we reluctantly headed north to New Mexico and were promptly greeted with a snow storm. Oh well, maybe 4 weeks next winter in Mexico!

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