Copper Canyon Trip Report March 2009
Our tour began in southern Sonora at the earthy and gracious El Pedregal-a newly opened B&B located in tropical deciduous forest on the edge of Alamos. A morning walk close to the cabins brought us Thick-billed Kingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, and a great view of my favorite skulker, Blue Mockingbird. After lunch, we were off to Rancho San Jose, 40 minutes south of town at the foot of the Sierra de Alamos. Some birding highlights there included a raucous group of Purplish-backed Jays, the magnificent Black-throated Magpie Jay, and the flamboyant Linneated Woodpecker-a bird at the northern edge of its range.
We then traveled south to El Fuerte, stopping at a coastal estuary in Yavaros. Thousands of herons, pelicans, gulls and shorebirds jammed the bay. Highlights included hundreds of wintering Brant and two dozen Roseate Spoonbills, complete with vivid breeding color. Next we headed inland to the colonial town of El Fuerte, former capital of the state of Sinaloa. More sightings of species near their northern limits included Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Russet-crowned Motmot, and Rufous-bellied Chachalaca. For such a large and loud bird, the chachalaca remains well hidden in dense vine tangles. At dusk, we headed out on a nightjar trek and were treated to a milling group of Pauraques with one Buff-collared Nightjar mixed in.
The next morning we were at the train station waiting for #74, the always late eastbound train. We made good use of our time, however, by spotting a group of Rufous-winged Sparrows singing away in nearby thornscrub. 4.5 hours later after being scooped up by El Chepe (short for Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad), we found ourselves high in pine/oak country at Hotel Paraiso del Oso. Early evening birding gave us a chance to find White-striped Woodcreeper, Brown-backed Solitaire, and Slate-throated Redstart. The next morning we were off early for the climb over Mesa del Arturo and the eventual descent to the bottom of Barranca de Urique-the deepest of the five drainages in the Copper Canyon system. While climbing over 7,000’, we encountered some high altitude species including Mountain Trogon and Crescent-chested Warbler. As we descended into the canyon, our driver stopped at a White-eared Hummingbird spot. A beautiful male was waiting for us but in the oak behind I spotted an even more beautiful male Red-headed Tanager, yet another bird pushing the northern limits of its range. A family of Spotted Wrens nearby were quite confiding and gave us great photo ops. Reaching the canyon bottom (at 1,900’), we began to adjust to the 25 degree hotter conditions. The birds had changed as well as we were welcomed by Streak-backed and Orchard Orioles, Rufous-backed Robin and Broad-billed Hummingbird. Next day we headed south to a spectacular side canyon at Guapalaina. White-tipped Dove, Elegant Quail and Berylline Hummingbird greeted us at the parking area. Hiking up canyon, we found Rufous-capped Warbler, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Golden Vireo-the latter for only the second time for me in the state of Chihuahua. Returning to the car, and just like last year, three Military Macaws passed squawking overhead. Seeing these majestic birds framed against steep canyon walls is a treat indeed. After lunch, it was time for the long haul back out of the canyon with a close up look at Five-striped Sparrow along the way.
Our last morning in the high country lead us to a lush side canyon near Cuiteco where we found Russet Nightingale Thrush, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Elegant Trogon and Hooded Grosbeak (a life bird for the guide!). The westbound train was close to on time at the Bahuichivo station and we were headed back down to El Fuerte. The late afternoon light enhanced all the colors of the tropical deciduous forest as we descended. Our drive north began early the next morning as we had two full days to return to Santa Fe. Roadside birds that brightened the trip included Rose-throated Becard soon after leaving El Fuerte, and Harris’ Hawk and White-tailed Kite further north. After lunch in San Carlos, we drank in one last look at the ocean, complete with soaring frigates, before hitting the desert haul to Santa Ana. The last day of the tour found us at the border early to minimize the crossing time, and soon we were having breakfast in Patagonia, AZ. Memories of the Barranca del Cobre kept us going for the rest of the day to Santa Fe.
260 Species Found