Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Friday, August 30, 2013

Patagonia Lake & San Rafael Grasslands

The awesome show from the Blue-footed Booby was not the only show in town on this day.  Tommy, Muriel and I also got photos of a lot of other great birds and some other critters as well.  On the road into Patagonia Lake, we stopped along the road and got to see and hear, both Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows.  What was odd, was the fact that the Botteri's Sparrows seemed to favor one side of the road and the Cassin's Sparrows favored the other side.  I have seen Botteri's Sparrow before but have never gotten very good photos.  The Cassin's Sparrow was a new life bird for me and they we performing their skylarking displays which was really cool to watch how they would flutter up into the air about 10 to 15 feet and then glide down into the grass and then disappear.  They were singing all the while.  The Botteri's Sparrow has a song a bit similar to the Black-chinned Sparrow, but totally different in appearance.  Both birds are little brown birds that are fairly drab in appearance, still great birds to add to one's bird list.

 Botteri's Sparrow, juvenile below and adult above

Cassin's Sparrow

And while we are looking at little brown birds, another sparrow species was quite plentiful near the far western part of the lake; the Rufous-winged Sparrow.  A little more distinctive than the first 2 species, but one that can only be found in the United States in southern Arizona as a regular breeder.

Rufous-winged Sparrow

While we were waiting for the Booby to return to the dock area, we also had a fly-by of a Black Vulture.  Not a rare bird by any means, but definitely not as common as the Turkey Vulture.  This was the first time I was able to capture photos of one in flight.  They are definitely much different in appearance and structure than a Turkey Vulture and their flight pattern is much different.

Black Vulture

While we were at Patagonia Lake, we met Kelly Rishor, another birder that we knew only through Facebook and she joined us as we then headed to the Patagonia Rest Stop and then on to Harshaw Canyon and on up to the San Rafael Grasslands.  At the Patagonia Rest Stop we found another specialty bird that is hard to find elsewhere in the United States, the Thick-billed Kingbird.  This photo really points out how big and thick that bill is on these birds.

Thick-billed Kingbird

Next area of birding was Harshaw Canyon on our way to the San Rafael Grasslands.  This is a great place to find Eastern Bluebirds which is not a bird that too many people are aware even exists in Arizona.  The one in Arizona is a subspecies of the more common bird seen in eastern the United States and is much paler in coloration.  We had a pair of these birds feeding recently fledged babies and the babies are very different in appearance than the adults.  

 Eastern Bluebirds, adult and juvenile

Eastern Bluebird, juvenile

Finally we reached the San Rafael Grasslands and with the monsoon rains that have been taking place this summer, the grasslands were plush with vegetation and the Grasshopper Sparrows were in full breeding mode. We saw more of these birds than I have ever seen before; they were lining the fences and were obviously feeding some young in nests that were well concealed in the grass.  One of the photos has more than its share of bugs in its beak!

 Grasshopper Sparrow

  Grasshopper Sparrow

 Grasshopper Sparrow, kind of a glutton if you ask me!

After leaving the grasslands, we headed back down Harshaw Canyon and once we reached the paved area of the road, I noticed a rattlesnake in our lane of the road and Muriel drive over it by straddling it with the car.  We turned around and went back to check it out and it was totally motionless and we thought it was dead or mortally injured by maybe another vehicle driving over it.  Tommy tossed some water on it and it flicked its tongue out, so then we knew it was not dead, but it sure was not disturbed or agitated in any way.  I gave it a very gentle nudge with the end of my monopod and it reared up into a striking pose, but still was not agitated and did not use its rattles.  After watching it and getting photos, I gave it one more gentle nudge and it took off and slithered quite rapidly into the grass on the side of the road.  I was concerned that if we left it on the road, the next vehicle to pass by might not have been quite so kind.  I prefer to let them live as they were inhabiting in this land long before we came along.  

 Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

 Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake

Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, has a few rattles to the tail!

The photos below will show the lushness of the grasslands, plus we have photos of the the foursome.  The photos will show that Arizona is not all desert and sand dunes!    

 San Rafael Grasslands

 Muriel, Tommy, and Kelly

Muriel, Tommy, and myself

Have a lot more to share, but am going to create another post to cover some of the other great birds we saw.





  1. Wonderful! Boy that Thick-billed Kingbird sure is impressive. You must've left off the other 'code 4' bird!!! Gordon, I want to seriously thank you for the hospitality. I had a fabulous day. So many birds, so little time. Until next time...

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  3. Enjoyed your blog. We camped in Harshaw Canyon six years ago. The birding was excellent there. We plan to camp again late this month (March)
    Reed Cundiff