Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Quest for a Rarity

Arizona is known for being a state where many birds whose range is normally in Mexico might show up from time to time.  When one of those birds native to Central America and Mexico do happen to cross the border and show up in one of the southwestern states and is discovered, the new social media outlets can really enhance the chances of finding the bird yourself.  Such is the case with the most recent finding in Arizona. 

The Slate-throated Redstart, which has a range from Mexico south into South America showed up in Arizona for the second time this year.  Most years, this species is not seen anywhere in the United States, so it was a rare treat for this bird to show up in the Chiricahua Mountains of extreme southeastern Arizona in May of this year and then to have a second one show up in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista was too almost too much of a good thing.  A good friend and greater birder and photographer, Muriel Neddermeyer contacted me and wanted to know if I might be interested in trying to locate this bird on Saturday July 27th.  We left from the suburbs of Phoenix at 4:00 am and arrived at our destination a little before 7:00 am at Huachuca Canyon and the gate was still locked and closed.  Shortly after we arrived a police officer also arrived and unlocked the gate for us and we were the 2nd vehicle to get access followed by another vehicle.  We hiked up the trail to the first 'dam' area and we started checking out all the Painted Redstarts when 2 birds flew into a bush near us and at almost the same time, Muriel and myself noticed that our target birds was one of those 2 birds.  So we were quite pleased that we first found it on our own without the assistance of others.  Photos of this bird were a real challenge as it is typical of most warblers, very active and not sitting still and of course we were dealing with heavy shade.  But we both came away with an awesome bird to add to our lists and some identifiable photos.  This bird is a juvenile, not an adult. Since then they have closed the canyon due to some bear sightings, so we got there in time.

 Slate-throated Redstart

Slate-throated Redstart

On our hike back down the canyon we were hearing the callings of multiple Elegant Trogons which is another awesome bird to find in Arizona and we caught glimpses of a couple and at one point one brightly colored male flew in from the north and landed on a tree right out in front of me, and is my best viewing to date of this awesome bird.  Always a pleasure to observe.

Elegant Trogon

One of the most common birds that day along the trail that day was the Western Wood Pewee as they were calling everywhere.  Love seeing these birds during the summer in Arizona.

Western Wood Pewee

Other creatures along the trail were a damselfly, most likely a Violet Dancer, and a Yarrow's Spiny Lizard.  The Yarrow's Spiny Lizard is the only spiny lizard with a complete black collar around its neck.

 Violet Dancer Damselfly

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

From there we ventured to the San Pedro House along the San Pedro River.  The river was flowing with more water in it than I have ever seen.  The water was very muddy which was evidence of recent monsoon rains in the area.  Common Ground Doves were very 'common'; more than I have seen in one location in Arizona.  Guess I captured more photos of other critters at this location than I did of birds, including a very fat and well fed Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Seems it had found a good food source by lying in wait beneath one of the bird feeders.  The personnel decided to stop using that bird feeder due to the fact that it was a bit scary adding birdseed and they were hoping for it to move away and give the birds a chance to feed.

 Leaf Beatle

 Common Ground Dove

 Sonoran Whiptail Lizard

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

From here we headed to Cochise Lake near Willcox.  Usually a great place for shore birds and we were not disappointed this time.  Many regular shore birds were found, but also mixed in were a few of the uncommon migrants that had started showing up.  It is always a treat to photograph some of the more uncommon species such as Baird's Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper.

 Baird's Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper, among some Wilson's Phalaropes

Another great day of birding with a couple of new life birds for myself and Muriel was able to add a couple to her list as well.


  1. Sweet stuff Gordon, glad y'all got the Redstart too! What a great migrant, and at this time of year. The perfect thing before shorebird migration!

  2. Most excellent finds and photos:) Good work on the Redstart!

  3. Great birds. Love the Redstart and the Trogon, especially. We don't see them in Iowa!

    1. Moe,
      Thanks for the comments. I know exactly what you are thinking as I am originally from Nebraska, obviously close to Iowa! Since moving to AZ, I have really discovered the diversity of birds that can appear down here near the border of Mexico. If you ever head down this way, let me know, maybe I can help you locate some target birds.