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Our 2024 tour started in Santa Ana Sonora. We headed south on 15 to San Carlos, stopping on the Carbo Road for desert birding. Rufous-winged Sparrows were in breeding mode and an obliging Harris's Hawk posed on a nearby columnar cactus. We arrived at San Carlos on the coast late morning. Estero Soldado always holds an array of estuary species and we enjoyed the Roseate Spoonbills, Long-billed Curlews, and a somewhat off course female Common Merganser in with the rafts of Red-breasted. After checking in at our condo, we explored Creston Beach, a rocky section of coast exposed at low tide. Although we hoped for Black Turnstone, instead a lone Surfbird appeared, inspecting tide pools after each wave receded. Then we visited the other side of Estero Soldado enjoying a wide spectrum of shorebirds and waders. In the mangroves we had close looks at the maroon headed subspecies of the Yellow Warbler and heard several responses from Ridgeway's Rail

Day 2 was a morning for hiking a bit in the Sonoran Desert just north of town. Arroyo Pirinola is a broad valley located between two sets of high volcanic cliffs. Wintering western US species, such as Ash-throated and Gray Flycatchers and Brewer's Sparrow, mixed with resident Verdin and Pyrrhuloxia. Of special interest were the number of Gray Vireos, here at the heart of their wintering range. This species is known for setting up food territories during winter and we heard many individuals calling to stake their claims. Always a treat at this time of year, displaying male Costa's Hummingbirds were much in evidence.

We headed south to Alamos but stopped roadside at Empalme Estuary outside Guaymas to take in the waterbird spectacle. Big groups of Black Skimmers were resting on the flats and we were treated to a close fly by from a somewhat far north Gull-billed Tern. The local Mangrove Swallows seemed drawn to the white cross of a bayside shrine. After the 3.5 hour drive, we were welcomed into Alamos by a lovely Short-tailed Hawk flying over the main road.

Day 3. After early breakfast at El Pedregal and watching a suite of orioles (Black-vented, Streak-backed, Hooded) outside our cabins, we headed back west to Aduana Arroyo. This drainage, on the northeast end of the Sierra de Alamos, is a favorite hike for most groups that visit Alamos.

Our first Squirrel Cuckoo, the "on steroids" cousin of our temperate latitude cuckoos, posed nicely. The iconic Black-throated Magpie Jays escorted us up canyon and several Elegant Trogons announced their presence, with one female giving us a clear view. Higher up, we first heard, then saw, a swirling flock of the endangered Lilac-crowned Parrots. Some altitudinal migrants from the Sierra Madre Occidental, such as Greater Pewee and Tufted Flycatcher, paid us a visit. While resting under a massive fig at the high point of our hike, I heard a Laughing Falcon calling further up the canyon. This is a spectacular tropical raptor that is very scarce at the northern edge of its range in southern Sonora. After playing tape I concluded the bird had moved on. Then it zipped over us at tree top level heading down canyon. Never saw it again.

Later the same afternoon we visited Arroyo Aguamarina in hopes of viewing the Pale-billed Woodpecker that was present last spring. No luck in that department but another member of the ultra large woodpecker group, the Lineated, put on a fine display for us. These large-billed beauties almost seem like a relict from a bygone era when there was no shortage of large trees. As we headed back to the car we were treated to an increasingly rare visit from 3 Purplish-backed Jays. Perhaps they are just keeping a low profile around the much more common magpie jays,

Back at Pedregal after dinner we called in a Buff-collared Nightjar several times but only had glimpses of the bird as it zipped close by our heads.

Day 4 found us heading about 12km east of town to Rancho El Guayabo, part of a regional project spearheaded by Nature and Culture International set up to preserve a large area at the headwaters of the Rio Cuchujaqui. This wild area on the border with the state of Chihuahua is still home to the jaguar and mountain lion. Our visit was well into the dry season so water flow was intermittent with the remaining pools located below the stands of Sabinos (Mexican Bald Cypress). These massive trees are home to pairs of Common Blackhawk. As we walked in the shade of the Sabinos, the dense understory harbored several Blue Mockingbirds. Although difficult to see, these birds are a most impressive member of the mimidae group. We also heard another skulker in the same habitat, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, but were unable to get a visual. Our first Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (and first of three species of pygmy owl we would encounter) posed at close enough range we could watch its throat pulsing as vocalized toward us. Often when pygmy owls are encountered they end up attracting the attention, and ire, of the local songbirds and hummingbirds. This owl was soon surrounded by 4 species of hummingbirds, including Berylline, as well as an array of vireos, warblers and gnatcatchers. At the turn around point of our hike beside a pool shaded by tall Sabinos, we were entertained by a pair of Green Kingfishers zipping low above the water.

Next morning we were on our way to El Fuerte to catch the Copper Canyon train but not before a morning at Rancho Las Mercedes south of Alamos. This historic ranch is located on Alamos Arroyo, a major tributary of the Rio Cuchujaqui. A lush, deciduous riparian corridor with a few remaining surface pools is a recipe for bugs and birds. Social Flycatchers and Thick-billed Kingbirds greeted us near the main house, as well as another group of Purplish-backed Jays, this time a group of eight. A Plain-capped Starthroat, which turned out to be our only one of the trip, hovered over a pool snagging midges out of the air. Elegant Quail were numerous but stayed well hidden. A surprise Black-and-white Warbler popped out, a bird not to be expected this far north on the west coast of Mexico. Reminiscent of the very common Black-throated Gray Warbler, its nuthatch like behavior gives it away. Both Happy and Sinaloa Wrens sang duets from the dense shrubbery while an all too fast, chittering fly by of Mexican Parrotlets did not allow us a look.

Following lunch, we thanked our host, Craig Leonard, and headed south for El Fuerte. A mid afternoon stop at Centro Recreativo, with its always friendly host Estevan, provided us with a number of new birds for the trip. Bare-throated Tiger Herons were patiently working the reed and lily pad covered edges of the pond. Common Gallinules were patrolling the same edge habitat. A lone White-faced Ibis, which avoids the mangroves and esteros, seemed right at home on a lily pad island in the middle of the pond. Nearby, a lone Bonaparte's Gull pondered its northbound options. We then pressed on to former Spanish colonial capital of Sinaloa, El Fuerte located on the Rio Fuerte which drains the five major canyons of the Copper Canyon region.

With the lowland portion of the tour largely finished, we boarded El Chepe (the Copper Canyon train) the next morning for a 4 hour ride through the most spectacular part of Barranca Septentrion that the train runs through. Our arrival in Bahuichivo found us in the much cooler pine/oak zone. After our transfer to our high country base of operations, Hotel Paraiso del Oso, we had a late afternoon stroll along the creek behind the lodge. Besides regulars such as Painted Redstart, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Acorn Woodpecker we crossed paths with a migrating Louisiana Waterthrush. Quite impressive to think of this species wintering on the west coast of Mexico and then crossing the Sierra Madre to reach its breeding grounds in central and southeast US. After dinner, a foray into the back end of the property gave us a glimpse of the local Whiskered Screech Owl.

Our high altitude birding continued the next day with a trip to the Rio Cuiteco drainage. This shady canyon is home to a variety of pine/oak species. After a cold, slow start we found several Rufous-capped Brushfinches, a pair of territorial Rusty Sparrows, and Slate-throated Redstart. Further up the canyon a Gray-crowned Woodpecker sounded off with its rapid fire trill. After considerable searching we located a Russet Nightingale Thrush, the shy and diminutive cousin of our Hermit Thrush.

The following day we departed for our descent into the deepest of the five canyons that make up the Copper Canyon region-Barranca de Urique. But to get there we first had to ascend about 2,000' over Mesa de Arturo. This gave us the opportunity to sample the avian denizens of the highest life zone in this part of the Sierra Madre. Mexican Chickadee, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Hutton's Vireo were present at most of our stops. In some open fields on top of the ridge we found Eastern Bluebird, the default bluebird species in this region, a singing Scott's Oriole, and an obliging male Rufous Hummingbird, heading north a bit early from its winter haunts further south. Our most sought after species, Mountain Trogon, quickly responded to tape and gave us multiple clear views. Before beginning our vertical mile drop into Barranca de Urique, Olive and Crescent-chested Warblers as well as White-eared Hummingbird came in to send us off.

The road to Urique leaves mixed conifer habitat, weaves through the oak zone, passes through a local version of tropical deciduous forest (albeit somewhat meager), then a band of thorn scrub before finally reaching the sub tropical climes of the town of Urique itself. We visit in early spring before the crushing heat of late April through June when the temps can soar over 50 degrees Celsius! After a break at our hotel, we ventured north on the Naranjo road. In the welcome shade of late afternoon we encountered a wintering Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush in dense riverside shrubs. Unlike its cousin the Russet, this bird is an altitudinal migrant, preferring to winter at low elevation before returning to its high altitude breeding spots. We practiced patience until it pauses in an opening for all to see. At the Mescalero crossing, a Five-striped Sparrow responded nicely as well as a cooperative Colima Pygmy Owl. As the light in the canyon bottom became dim, we could see a group of swifts high in the last rays of sunlight pursuing insects following the diminishing light. Too distant to ascertain identity although apparently too small for White-throated. Sometimes the shroud of mystery in our endless quest to know our avian friends does not get lifted.

After our hosts at Hotel Escondido agreed to provide early breakfast, we headed south along the Rio Urique to Arroyo Hacienda-a spectacular slot canyon draining in from the west. Hummingbirds were much in evidence this morning with numbers of all three local species-Broad-billed, Violet-crowned and Berylline. Several Gray Silkies perched high in the open for us to appreciate. Sinaloa Wren, Nutting's Flycatcher and more Five-striped Sparrows joined in. In the midst of all this activity I heard a different call down near the creek which I realized was a Golden Vireo. Play back reeled the bird up to our spot on the hillside for close views. We had discovered this species in Arroyo Hacienda almost a decade ago but failed to relocate it on our 2023 tour. I was pleased to find it back in its northernmost haunt.

Once we entered the high walled portion of the canyon, we relaxed in the full shade. While being serenaded by a couple Brown-backed Solitaires, we noticed action at a fruiting tree across the creek. White-throated Thrushes busy making forays were joined by several Flame-colored Tanagers. In the midst of this delightful activity, one of the trip members called out "what's this bird?" Turned out to be a male Red-headed Tanager, a diminutive tanager endemic to west Mexico and a species we see less than half the time on this itinerary. Quite a treat for us before our long hike back to the van and our long drive back to Hotel Paraiso del Oso.

Due to a change in the train schedule, we had an extra day in the high country so we hiked nearby El Cajon on our last day in pine oak habitat. This lush side canyon always has water even now nearing the end of the dry season. Although we dipped on our effort to find Gray-collared Becard, we were able to add Mountain Pygmy Owl, White-striped Woodcreeper, Elegant Trogon, and Blue-throated Mountain-gem. A singing Townsend's Solitaire at our turn around spot was a bit of a surprise, normally scarce even at higher elevation. As we returned to the van, an empid came in less than 10' away allowing us to confirm it as a Pine Flycatcher, another Mexico endemic.

Next day we bid farewell to the fine folks at Hotel Paraiso del Oso and boarded El Chepe for our return to the lowlands. We birded along the Rio Fuerte the following day enjoying the profusion of birds drawn to the river. Black-vented and Hooded Oriole, Great Kiskadee and Social Flycatchers, and numerous Cinnamon-bellied Saltators all reap the insect bounty along the river. A lone Rose-throated Becard showed nicely. After much searching, we were finally able to get a close up view pf Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater. Pausing at the Baroten bridge on our return to the hotel to view an egret/cormorant rookery, one of our sharp-eyed members spotted an early Yellow-winged Cacique zipping into dense riverside cover.

Our last full day of birding in Mexico was focused on the massive estuary at Yavaros, southwest of Navajoa. The vast mudflats there are an important wintering area and migration stop over for numerous shorebirds. Hundreds of Marbled Godwits plus an assortment of Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, and Short-billed Dowitcher scurry in all directions. Of special interest, Red Knots, a severely declining species, are present here every year with this year's total of almost 50 being the most I have seen. On a side salt pan near town, we saw many Wilson's Phalarope, returning from their South American wintering grounds, as well as Lesser Yellowlegs and several first ever for the itinerary Stilt Sandpipers. We then headed for the pilings and rocks at the end of the peninsula. A bunch of Blue-footed Boobies were loafing there with Ruddy Turnstones and a lone Surfbird feeding on the rocks below. Out in the channel, I noticed a dark, smallish bird flying erratically. I expected, as it flew closer, to turn out to be a Black Tern. Instead we were treated to an entirely novel viewing of a Black Storm Petrel which had ventured well into the bay. As the bird flew back and forth off the end of the pier I, once again, remembered the allure, and privilege, of being able to peer into the world of birds. A blessed end to another Mexico birding adventure.


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