Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pining for Some Santa Rita Rarities

So maybe you've heard, but there is a nesting Pine Flycatcher at the Aliso Springs campground on the east side of the Santa Rita mountains. With this being both a first ABA record and a nesting record, it's kind of a big deal. For better or worse (probably for better), this bird happens to be nesting at the end of a remote 9-mile road that rife with steep climbs and descents, deep washes, loose rock, and various other perils. It is very do-able in a 4wd high-clearance vehicle, this is one chase that takes care as well as back up. At least there is no shortage of good birds along the away, including Botteri's Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, and Northern Pygmy-Owl.

I was fortunate to get in on a 5-person mission from Phoenix to chase the bird. We went split-skies on a rental rocked the kazbah down to Aliso Springs. After the drive the bird was easy (and also surrounded by a dozen other birders).

The PIFL looks more or less like other empids. Its lower mandible seems to show more yellow-orange while the body and tail gave an impression of being slightly longer and skinnier. The single note calls were recognizably different from other empids however, but even so, mad props to Dave Stejskal and the AZ bird police for getting excellent documentation and researching the ID.
PIFL was on many the informed birder's radar as a potential ABA 1st, but I must admit that for me it was not a bird I had heard of before. Unfortunately the preponderance of people precluded some of the really good and crushy photo-ops the early birds(ers) had a week before, but one is not entitled to very much complaining when hanging out with an ABA record, is one?

The Aliso Springs campground area was very nice with the springs running. While hoping for a close PIFL perch, we were also treated to Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, and Blue Grosbeaks. It was another interesting instance in which the rarest bird, the chase bird, was both the most and least remarkable.

A Red-headed Woodpecker, a pretty rare and awesome bird for Arizona in its own right, was in another canyon nearby, definitely worth a detour on the way back out, especially to flush Montezuma Quail from the surrounding grassy hills.

From east to west, we cut through the Santa Ritas to Madera Canyon, whose Carrie Nation Trail had been hosting an Aztec Thrush up to two days prior to our arrival. Apparently the bird was flushed by some over-eager beavers and did not return, though to be fair this probably was not the first time it was flushed and it might have been on its way out anyway.
As the bird had not been re-found along the trail, I followed the creek up canyon where water pools might attract Thrush species. We picked up HETH and AMRO, but no Aztec.

The birding was solid and the herping was very good. Yarrow's Spiny Lizards abounded along the creek and we found a young Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake at trail's end by the old mine shaft. The Rattler was a lifer and 4th species of its kind I've seen in AZ.

A calling male Trogon towards the base of the trail was further consolation. A day when an Elegant Trogon is like the 3rd best bird is a very good day, even when dipping on AZTH (again).