With the 2013 Birding Year now drawing to a close, Saturday brought another tense, high-octaine no-holds-barred rarity chase. It was a day of destiny and disappointment, of fortune and failure. In other words, it was a solid day of birding.
At 6:30am Tommy DeBardeleben and I returned to the Tubac/Santa Gertrudis Lane on the De Anza Trail, off the I-19 and about 30 miles north of Nogales, to look for a persisting Green Kingfisher. This would be a much-desired lifer for me, though it had not been seen at all during the previous couple of days, and we also needed to find it quickly so we could take plenty of time in Madera Canyon searching for an Eared Quetzal.
Parking off of the I-19 Frontage Road, we walked down Santa Gertrudis Lane, checking in the massive pyracantha hedges and mesquites for wintering Sparrows and potential vagrants. Such goodies as Aztec and Varied Thrush have turned up here before, though our best birds to start were a secretive Pyrrhuloxia and a few Rufous-winged Sparrows.
It's a short walk down the lane before the Santa Cruz "river" (it's a beautiful wash, but calling it a river is a bit grandiose), and here is where the birding gets really good. No sooner had we reached the bank than Tommy exclaimed that he heard a metallic clicking, a Green Kingfishery type of metallic clicking.
Almost immediately a small bird came darting by the stream, perhaps flushed by our initial intrusion.
The sun was not yet high enough to illuminate the wash, and the low-perching, seven-inch Kingfisher was tricky to pick out, but once we had a bead on the emerald beauty we were transfixed for the next hour.
We kept a respectful distance as she flew back and forth along the Santa Cruz creek, perching on various outcroppings and remnants of a barbed wire fence. The quietude and coolness of the early morning and the lush riparian setting brought a sense of great solace and solemnity. This rare and beautiful bird was perfectly in her element, and, somewhat unusually (at least for me) I didn't feel like I was intruding on that element at all, but was able to fully, neutrally observe it.
There were dozens of Lincoln's, Song, and Lark Sparrows also foraging along the banks, and a family of Black Phoebes constantly endeavored to out-perform the Kingfisher with their own displays.
Eventually Ms. Kingfisher chose a perch nearer the two of us, though she was always careful to keep the sun behind here and stay on the far side of the water. We never had the satisfaction of catching the morning sunlight directly on her, nor could we get sufficient light for sharp photos (much less in flight), but watching the plump bird daintily belly flop into the chilly water and pull out minnows was the sweetest of treats.
It was certainly a good omen--we found our first target in about five minutes and had spectacular views. We were able to point a few other birders in the right direction as we returned to the car, now with more time and morale for a treacherous trek in upper Madera Canyon.