Being quite blessed to spend time again in Sonora this winter, I somehow (!) managed to squeeze in some birding, much of it scouting related to my April 2015 southern Sonora, Copper Canyon tour.
Estero Soldado in San Carlos was our location for much of the trip. Being by the estuary was a delight as always with the daily movements of the various herons, egrets, gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Some wintering Brant in the estuary was a first for me and daily sightings of the local group of Roseate Spoonbills was a treat. Also new for me at this location (perhaps I wasn't listening closely enough in winters past) were several Gray Vireos wintering in the desert scrub habitat. The nearby Bahia San Francisco was entertaining as always, with the highlight being a feeding frenzy one day with various gulls, boobies, and a massive fleet of 80-100 Pacific Loons.
Later we visited the Navopatia Field Station near the Sinaloa border. The drive in to the station, through ag fields and desert thornscrub, gave us great views of several Peregrines and many Harris' Hawks, and a memorable dusk sighting of a Great Horned Owl teed on a pitahaya cactus. Songbird highlights along the entry road were Bendire's Thrasher and a flock of White-collared Seedeaters, a species continually spreading north as more land is cleared for agriculture. Agiabampo Estuary, where the field station is located, was being dredged in some sort of boondoggle project funded by the Sinaloa government. We were able to find large numbers of shorebirds in a nearby finger of the estuary including several flocks of Stilt Sandpipers that were a Sonora first for me. Although only mid January, the local desert species such as Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Costa's Hummingbird had already kicked in to breeding mode, especially the hummer doing its aerial breeding displays, all the while sounding like a dentist's drill!
Leaving the coast, we headed to the Alamos area and then on to Rancho El Guayabo, part of Nature and Culture International's 7 ranch complex in the foothills of the Sierra Madre east of town. The birding was great and the serenity even better. Birding highlights of two days there included a pair of Crane Hawks seen both mornings (apparently a breeder here), Common Blackhawks along the Rio Cuchujaqui, a wintering Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, a very vocal Linneated Woodpecker, and a distant calling Laughing Falcon. I also was fortunate to witness a coatimundi make a run (unsuccessful) on a group of Rufous-bellied Chachalacas-what a commotion as the group of 25 or so birds erupted out of the brush on the hillside. Other wintering Sierra Madre highland species included many Tufted Flycatchers, Painted Redstarts and their equally stunning cousins the Slate-throated.
After 3 weeks of fun and sun we reluctantly headed north to New Mexico and were promptly greeted with a snow storm. Oh well, maybe 4 weeks next winter in Mexico!
This, the 7th Ladder Ranch CBC, had the best coverage so far, as reflected in our new high total of 105 species. New high counts were set for several species including Gambel's Quail (513), Western Bluebird (191), Hermit Thrush (26), Spotted Towhee (105), and White-crowned Sparrow (1174). Apparently, there is a lot of food on Ladder this winter. We also keep adding new species to the count with Northern Goshawk, Northern Shoveler, Lark Sparrow, Killdeer, Rusty Blackbird, Cassin's Finch all being tallied (the latter two species first time ever on the ranch). Historic low counts were American Coot (2), Juniper Titmouse (1), Vesper Sparrow (1) and Eastern Meadowlark (2). First time misses, both head scratchers, were Canada Goose and Cactus Wren. Many thanks to all who drove the long distance to participate.
With two Canadian birders, we headed south from Santa Fe to the desert foothills on the west side of the Sandia Mts. I decided to include a deciduous riparian stop along the Rio Grande River just north of Albuquerque. Among the species typical of that habitat, such as Black Phoebe, Blue Grosbeak, and Lesser Goldfinch, we also found a beautiful adult male Summer Tanager. Somewhat of a surprise as the sighting was a bit late in the season and near the northern limit of where the species occurs in NM. Continuing on to the canyons on the west side of the Sandia Mts, we added a number of desert species including Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Gambel's Quail. My clients' most sought after species, Greater Roadrunner, still eluded us. Although I was aware that we were well past the breeding season, I decided to try playback anyway. Within a couple minutes, a roadrunner popped up among the boulders on a ridge in front of us. We watched it forage for about 15 minutes during which time the bird chased away the local Canyon Towhees on several occasions. Apparently the roadrunner did not appreciate competition for the ripe orange berries on a nearby shrub.
We then moved higher to a spring in Tijeras Canyon finding some typical foothill species such as Plumbeous Vireo, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit and Western Scrub Jay. Still higher up in Ponderosa Pine we encountered other permanent resident birds that were new for my clients-Mountain Chickadee, Steller's Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Townsend's Solitaire. A migrant Townsend's Warbler from the pacific northwest on its way to Mexico was a nice addition.
The trip ended with a swing through prairie habitat near Stanley where we found Western Bluebird, scads of Vesper Sparrows, and a lingering Swainson's Hawk.