Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tubac Succor: Birding Alive and Well

Southeast Arizona is regarded as one of North America's premier birding hotspots. This is known. The Catalina, Santa Rita, Huachuca, and Chiricahua ranges, as well as other "Sky Islands" offer continuous habitat for many tropical species that otherwise would not stray into the ABA area. But this year the lowlands and riparian corridors in SE AZ have been holding their own as well, turning up some nice vagrants with migration and also holding down some fantastic, long-staying ABA codes, the kind that people on Big Years spend outlandish money to go see. 

Sinaloa Wren (1+ individual) and Rose-throated Becard (1-2 pairs) are both established as nesting along the Santa Cruz river in Tubac this spring. Rufous-backed Robins have also been over-wintering (over-springing?) and are still being seen off and on in the area. Throw in breeding Gray Hawks, Kingbirds, and the possibility of an errant Green Kingfisher and one could forget all about Madera Canyon.

In these tangles...legends are made.

Also as a bonus, you can be on the ground birding in Tubac within 2 hours of leaving Phoenix, not bad by birding-commute standards. B's Bs Sr. and I headed down to try for the Becards and whatever else came with time permitting. Even the parking area off of Bridge Road was absurdly birdy. We logged between 20 and 30 species, half the day's total, in the first ten minutes while crossing the bridge. Flycatcher numbers in the early morning were especially remarkable and made it hard to keep eyes on the prize. 

Also remarkable was the tameness of the local javelina, and the size of the local bullfrogs. Neither of these things would prove to have further relevance to the day however.

This was also my first time being out and proper birding in proper habitat this spring, which meant this was a time of reacquainting with Tanagers and Chats. While I did not do much crushing on this trip (more on guide duty), it was a fillip all the same. Has anyone else noticed how good Chats are at sounding like 4 other kinds of birds? 

Thanks to some extremely detailed directions from the AZ listserv (thanks Tim Helentjaris), we located the Becard nesting spot quickly. It was a massive and messy structure, not what I was expecting at all for this type of bird (which shows what I know).

The cottonwoods in this area were among the tallest I have ever seen, and even knowing we were in the right spot, it took a long time to find anything. If I were a Becard, I would build my dream home here too...though there are a lot of peeping toms.

We finally latched on to the female, getting some pretty nice looks and structural comparisons for this tropical false flycatcher with the Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatchers in the area. However, the male Becard never showed that morning. We stayed for a few hours, as did several other birders whom we ran into later in the day, and they reported that despite playing tape the female stayed silent and the male never materialized. Both birds have since been photographed so I guess we were just rusty (Ferruginous) or unlucky (Plumbeous?). To bird is to suffer, sometimes.

The female Becard was still Class-A and gave me the best looks I've yet had of this species, but we also lost a lot of time--prime time--in the waiting. When we finally capitulated and traipsed to the general area where the Sinaloa Wren and Robins had been seen, the birding activity had severely dropped inverse to the temperature, and we did not pull any more target vagrants. Thick-billed Kingbirds swopped in with consolation, however...giant, front-heavy, awesome consolation.

There was also a Swainson's Hawk doing a nice Peregrine imitation (or perhaps a Peregrine doing an even better Swainson's impression).

Damn. I really need to work on my photography--the quality has taken a nose-dive the last several posts. I am ashamed. I am not sharing this looking for platitudes, just saying that I see it to...gotta find that ol' bar and raise it up again. At least there's still one foot in the field.