Our 11th Sonora/Copper Canyon tour began with an evening viewing at Estero Soldado just outside San Carlos. Light was favorable as we watched the action teeming on the estuary. The mass of Elegant Terns, conservatively in the 2-3,000 range, swirled above the estuary with frequent break offs of aerial courting pairs. At one point, the whole group of terns erupted en masse and circled before us. We were reminded of many memorable past viewings of Snow Geese rising from ponds at Bosque del Apache NWR in Socorro, NM. Other highlights included foraging Roseate Spoonbills and numerous Black Skimmers rippling the water at close range with their extended lower mandibles. An added bonus was a close encounter at the edge of the nearby mangroves with a pair of Ridgeway's Rails. Any rail sighting is noteworthy and this was especially so as both birds gave us views at close range.
Next morning, we were off to nearby Nacapule Canyon. On our approach, we had great views of Rufous-winged Sparrow. At the canyon mouth itself, we heard wintering Gray Vireo without being able to track down the bird. We did, however, have great views of a territorial male Costa's Hummingbird. As we departed, a flock of White-throated Swifts were swirling above the canyon walls.
Heading south to Alamos, former colonial capital of Sonora, we experienced our first view of the tropical deciduous forest. Seeing the likes of Black-throated Magpie Jay, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Social Flycatcher we knew we were in another world.
Off early the next morning, we headed to nearby Aduana Arroyo. Many new species were in evidence, not the least of which was the local Russet-crowned Motmot. Hard to see but very rewarding when one finally glasses it with its raquet tail and subtle colors of the chest and head. Further up the arroyo we had brief flyovers of White-crowned Parrot. We persisted higher and lingered with a brilliant Linneated Woodpecker, head feathers blazing in the sun. After an extensive chase, we were able to view a group of Scrub Euphonias, here at the extreme northern edge of their range.
Afternoon found us heading east to Reserva Monte Mojino, a Nature and Culture International project of ranch reclamation.
Overnight we heard Buff-collared Nightjar, Elf Owl, and Western Screech Owl near the ranch hq.
Morning found us listening, but not viewing, a loud Bright-rumped Attila near camp. We needed to hustle back up to the base of the nearby cliffs to view the launching of several pairs of Military Macaws. To be viewing such a tropical treat of a bird this far north is quite a treat. Later we returned to the Rio Cuchujaqui for a great view of Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Further up the drainage we found Zone-tailed Hawk and a wintering Merlin.
Next morning, a return trip to Aduana Arroyo produced distant views of Crane Hawk and close views of Mexican Parrotlet and Plain-capped Starthroat. Later, we were off for our 3 hour drive to El Fuerte, our jumping off destination for our journey up into the Copper Canyon. An evening visit to a site on the Rio Fuerte east of town gave us great looks at Northern Jacana as well as Ferruginous Pygmy Owl and Common Blackhawk.
The train ride up into the Copper Canyon region is one of the most astounding experiences. Such an engineering feat. Afternoon found us in pine oak habitat near our base of operations, Hotel Paraiso del Oso. We were greeted by the likes of Spotted Wren, Painted Redstart, White-striped Woodcreeper, Elegant Trogon, and Rivoli's Hummingbird. Night near the lodge seranaded us with Mexican Whip-poor-will and Whiskered Screech Owl.
Our goal the next day was the town of Urique, at a mere 1,900' elevation. First we needed to go over Mesa de Arturo which would bring us to an elevation of 7,500'. Great mix of birds on the mesa including Mountain Trogon, Olive Warbler, Crescent-chested Warbler, Pine Fly catcher, and Slate-throated Redstart. An early Red-faced Warbler moving north was quite a treat. As we descended through the oak zone we had great looks at both Black-headed Siskin and Red-headed Tanager.
Late afternoon we birded the Naranjo Road north out of Urique. Colima Pygmy Owl and Blue Mockingbird were the highlights of that evening.
We headed south the next day to Arroyo Hacienda, a towering slot canyon south of Urique. Five-striped Sparrow, Berylline Hummingbird, Varied Bunting, Golden Vireo, and Orange-billed Nightengale Thrush were all highlights of our hike. A flyover of three Military Macaws was icing on the cake. Our afternoon ascent out of the canyon gave us a great perspective of the massive reach of the Copper Canyon region.
Our last full day in the high country featured a traverse of the Rio Cuiteco canyon. Although we missed a few specialties, we had great looks at Rufous-capped Brushfinch and several encounters with Gray-crowned Woodpecker. A White-eared Hummingbird, our first of the trip, paid us a visit as well
The descent back to El Fuerte on the El Chepe train the next day featured several "from the train viewings" of Military Macaw and Lilac-crowned Parrot. As we cruised the coastal plain on our way into El Fuerte, the evening sunset did not disappoint.
Nearing the end of the tour, we headed north out to the sprawling estuary at Yavaros. Our timing was good as we hit the recently receding tide. The whole cast of shorebird characters were in evidence including, Sanderling, Wilson's Plover, hundreds of Marbled Godwits, Ruddy Turnstone, and a considerable number of that rare and declining shorebird, the Knot.
Among the terns present were the seldom seen Least as well as one flyover Gull-billed. With time running short, we reluctantly headed north to our night's stay at Hotel Playa de Cortes in Miramar.
Last morning in Mexico and we were on the boat in San Carlos Harbor by 7:15am. Rough seas outside the harbor hampered our viewing but we were able, nonetheless, to view both endemic Storm Petrels, Least and Black, as well as a few fly by Black-vented Shearwaters and a passing Pomarine Jaeger. On our way back to the harbor, we viewed a great congregation of Blue-footed Boobies on a rocky outcrop. Our drive back to Arizona featured one stop in the desert north of Hermosillo, where we had great looks at Bendire's Thrasher. Always bittersweet to depart Mexico, our great neighbor to the south.