Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shadow of the Mountains: Get High on Birds in the Lowlands

Offering fantastic birds and cooler temperatures, the canyons and montane trails of southeastern Arizona are rightly lauded as the premier birding destination in the spring and summer months. This is well and good, but the surrounding lowlands should get their shake too, at least if one is looking for the complete birding experience and is an equitable shaker. Patagonia State Park and the Patagonia Rest stop are very well known for their seasonally attractive Kingbirds, but that's just the beginning. 
In fact, instead of showing a predictable Thick-billed Kingbird from that area, I'll show a singing Lucy's Warbler, because Butler's Birds is anything but conventional. 

The Proctor Road grasslands, down mountain from Madera Canyon, are some of the best. This time of year they host vocal Botteri's Sparrow, Beardless Tyrranulets, and Montezuma Quail. Where the mesquite thickets fill in and where there's a bit of water they also attract Flycatchers (Brown-crested in this case) and Yellow-rumped Shy-faced Tanagers.

Yellow-breasted Chats skulk around in the riparian oasis off the Proctor Road trail, along with several Towhee species. The best way to get crushing photos of a Yellow-breasted Chat, of course, is to find a dead one. He's skulking up in heaven now...

The Forest Roads leading up to Florida Canyon are also excellent. One junction is a pretty decent spot for Black-capped Gnatcatcher, and they're also very good for Rufous-winged Sparrow, another localized bird that is, perhaps, underrated because it has a pretty ubiquitous sparrow name. Botteri's and Baird's Sparrows sound like they're uncommon because those names--Botteri and Baird--don't come up much in the bird world, but Rufous-winged can be a tough find and should not be ignored by anyone visiting the area, especially when they're belting out defiance to the gods.
Nate over at This Machine Watches Birds got a nice recording, as he also did of the Buff-collared Nightjar we had off the afore-mentioned Proctor Road.

Of course, by 10am or so the lowlands are pretty scorching and bereft of shade, so sensible birds and birders both head up into the canyons. The liminal space here, were rocky grasslands meet hillsides of scrub oak, brings in the Wrens, Woodpeckers, and plenty of other cool stuff, like crushable Black-headed Grosbeaks, perhaps North America's "Most likely to be seen not in mature plumage bird." 

Butler's Birds will be relocating to Texas for the first couple weeks of June for some advanced birding. Hopefully there'll be another Arizona outing before then. Certainly the bounty of May has filled the reserves and the coffers and whatever else needs filling from one's home state for a fine send-off.