Friday, June 5, 2009

Whirlwind birding Pt 2: The rarest of the rare, section 2: tracking down the rarest nightjar in the country

After leaving Paton's house, we hopped it down to the Huachuca Mountains. 
The Huachucas have some of the best birding in Southern Arizona. They also had 3 birds that we were looking for.  Our first stop was at Beatty's guest ranch where we sat at the hummingbird feeders. Our target bird? Berylline Hummingbird.  The only one known to exist in the USA at the time.  We sat at the feeders for half an hour with no luck. Then, Tom Beatty Jr told us about a Flame-colored Tanager that had been reported farther up the canyon. We walked down the hill, across the canyon and up to the gate. We were just about to enter, when Tom yelled "Berylline's up!"  We ran back across the canyon and up the hill to the feeders. 5 minutes later, the bird came in again. It was a life bird for both of us! 

While we were sitting at the feeders, the bird that makes Beatty's famous also came in: 

This is one of 4 known White-eared Hummingbirds currently present in the USA. The population estimate is under 10 individuals throughout the USA. 

After seeing the Berylline, we hiked up Miller canyon looking for the Tanager.  This was the only Tanager we saw: 

A very beautiful male Hepatic Tanager.  Jacob and I figured out that if you crossed Summer Tanager and Hepatic Tanager, the only logical mixed name would be "Satanic Tanager."   
We figured on Satanic because if you cross "u" and "e", you get an "a" sound and Satatic Tanager doesn't sound good. Therefore it has to be Satanic Tanager. Cool eh? 

Our next stop was for one species Mary Jo's feeders at Ash canyon where were in and out in less than 2 minutes. We walked in and sat down and a female Lucifer Hummingbird flew in for a minute and then left. Being on a tight schedule, we also got up and left.  I don't normally like "twitching" birds but that one was necessary since it was only a year bird and nothing more. 

Having a little extra time, we headed to the San Pedro house where we picked up Say's Phoebe and Tropical Kingbird.  A check for the resident Barn Owl revealed that it wasn't home, and we couldn't stay and wait for it.  Having nothing else to look for in the Huachucas, we hopped on the road, headed to the famous California Gulch. Home of our both rarest sparrow and our rarest nightjar.  

After dinner in Nogales (The city that is home to the only US interstate highway that has mileages written in Kilometers instead of Miles) We arrived at California Gulch shortly after 7:30pm.  
We drove into the gulch and parked in the small parking lot next to another car (found out later it was Stuart Healy with some clients). As we pulled in, we could hear the nightjar calling from just up the hill. We walked up the hill and stood for a second to pinpoint it. I said "it should be right about here." and turned on the spot light at the same time. The bird was sitting in a bush a few feet off the ground, in plain view. You could see the Buff-collar without binoculars. The bird stayed for only a few seconds before it flew, but we managed to get spectacular views of it.  We turned right back around and drove out before it was properly dark.  On the way out, we hit the really steep hill. The hill had a lot of gravel on it which made it slippery. We made it almost to the top before the gravel took over and the wheels started spinning. Despite some fancy maneuvering, the car would not go any farther.  Jacob put it in 1st gear to no avail. The car was stuck.  I told Jacob to go push and hopped in the drivers seat. I know a few tricks for slick slopes. I backed the car slowly downhill (in the dark mind you) until it was slightly flatter and the put the car in 1st gear. Then I gunned it all the way up, zig-zagging 
as I did so to create more friction. Even so, I just barely made it over the crest of the hill, leaving Jacob in cloud of fine rock dust.  I hopped out and called to him so he could find his way out. The dust was so fine and thick that you couldn't see in front of your nose. 

Since the gulch is full of illegals, drug smugglers and crazy white guys at night, we spent the night in the nearby town of Arivaca where we picked up Cactus Wren as our 108th species of the day. 

We awoke at 4:30 on Sunday morning and drove back into the gulch. This time a bit farther than the Nightjar spot.  At the highest point of the road, we found two Five-striped Sparrows, just 8 feet down the hill:

The birds posed only for a second and then headed downhill.  Instead of driving to the Mexican border, we turned around and drove out again. This time, I drove and I put the car in 1st gear the entire way. We made it out unscathed. 

To be continued in Pt 3 of Whirlwind birding: Nogales to Phoenix, chasing a 9 lifer weekend.

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

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