Sunday, June 14, 2009

Birding in Rio Rico

Gray Hawk at the De Anza Trailhead in Rio Rico 6-12-09

It has been longer than 2 months since Gus and I have visited Rio Rico. We first took a trip down to this small town last September. We have never been here at this time of year. I am wondering what birds will be there now, so early on Friday morning we hop in the car and head south. It is 6 a.m. when we stop in Green Valley at the McDonald's on Continental Road for a quick breakfast sandwich and some coffee. By 6:30 a.m. we are standing on the side of the San Cayentano Mountains overlooking the Rio Rico Valley below. From here you can see the green stripe of vegetation that grows wide along the banks of the Santa Cruz river. From here we can see Nogales, Mexico and the Tumacacori Mountains. From here, high on the side of the mountain the world is spread out below us with the sun at our backs and the wind blowing wild over the mountain ridges.

Ash-throated Flycatcher San Cayentano Mountains 6-12-09

While Gus is enjoying the view and forming a dream in his mind I am counting birds. I see my first Phainopeplas at this location as well as white-winged doves and a pyrrhuloxia. I wander about for an hour counting birds, then Gus comes and gets me with the car and we drive farther up the mountainside where the view is even more spectacular. Suddenly an ash-throated flycatcher lands on the mesquite about 10 feet away from me. I carefully raise my camera and snap off a few shots before it flies away.

Ocotillo glow 6-12-09

Behind me the rising sun back lights the ocotillo causing it to glow lime green against the shadowed mountain. Though I have thought of this plant as a cactus, I recently learned it belongs to the Candlewood family of plants. It looks like a flaming candle when it is in bloom and numerous birds and insects are drawn to the bright orange blossoms for nectar and food. Recent rains have made the plant put forth leaves but if new rains do not fall soon the tiny green leaves will turn yellow and drop like golden coins to the desert floor. When the monsoon comes this drought deciduous plant will flush with green once again.

Black-bellied whistling ducks at Rio Rico Pond 6-12-09

We leave the mountainside and drive down to Rio Rico Pond on Rio Rico Drive. This small pond sits alongside the road in a mesquite bosque bordered by pasture. Everytime I come here I see different birds and today is no exception. Gus pulls the car off onto the dirt shoulder and I am excited before I even leave the car for I see a snowy egret feeding in the shallow pond. As I draw near it flies a bit farther off revealing the yellow feet that are distinctive for this bright white bird. And then, I start to shake with excitement for there at the far end of the pond is a species of bird I have never seen before. A flock of 35 Black-bellied whistling ducks is feeding and roosting in the shade of the mesquite trees. This is Life Bird number 348 for me. After I calm down a bit I count the rest of the birds I am seeing, including a green heron and numerous barn swallows. We stay at the pond about 20 minutes before we move over to the De Anza Trailhead just around the corner.

Gray hawk 6-12-09

Gus rests in the shade of a picnic ramada while I wander off to see what I can see. I am hearing all kinds of birds down by the river but the thick green foliage is preventing me from seeing most of them. I spot a family of black phoebes in the trees along the bank, but I hear more birds than I can see. I start searching for a way to get down to the river bank which is 3 feet or more below me down a steep rock wall. I spot a young Inca dove in one of the trees along the bank. Its scaly feathers still have a bit of down fluffing out in spots. It watches me with dark red eyes and flies away before I draw too near. I finally find a place where I can climb safely down and and right away I start seeing birds. I spot a song sparrow along the shore and a vermilion flycatcher on the opposite bank. It is a young male all blotched red and white as it gains its adult plumage. A female vermilion flycatcher flits from branch to branch nearby and another black phoebe flies onto a branch right in front of me, but I am quickly distracted by the call of a hawk. Eee-o-0-0 it cries to me. Eee-o-O-O! I scan the sky looking for it. It lands on a dead snag nearby high above me. I try to focus through the sticks and twigs as it calls and flies away. The barred gray body and white bands in the tail tell me what I am hoping is true. This is a gray hawk, a species of raptor many people travel to Southeast Arizona to see. It is only my third time seeing this species of hawk and I am thrilled! I have to tell myself to keep my feet in place and watch where I am steppig for I do not want to step off the bank and into the river below which is flowing with treated effluent from the Nogales wastewater treatment plant farther south. The Santa Cruz River flows north from here to Tucson before turning south once again. This water will never reach Tucson, however, but here in Rio Rico it turns the landscape green.

I think that I have seen my fill, but then it flies by again, over and over my head. But now the towering trees along the river bank obstruct my view as I get glimpses between the trees. I try to focus in the small blue patches of sky where it flies into the open but soon it dips below the treeline again. Then I see another smaller falcon chasing this larger bird of prey. An American kestrel is trying to chase the gray hawk from its territory! Around and around the two birds circle, the kestrel diving at the larger bird. The gray hawk lands in the nearby tree again, then lifts off on broad barred wings.

I climb up out of the river bank into the open parking area and now I can see it easily as it circles overhead. My heart is pounding with the views I am getting and the excitement of witnessing this battle between hawk and falcon. Finally I walk away, back to the car where Gus is waiting to go home. He has been very patient with me, but the sun has risen higher and with it the temperature. His hand and elbow are getting tired from his recent carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve surgery and he is ready to go home. I climb into the car reluctant, but happy. It is only 10 a.m. as we head home, but I have had such a fun day! Later on when I submit my bird counts to eBird I discover I have added 1 new species to my life list, 2 species to my Arizona Life List, and 6 species to my Rio Rico list! I discovered that birding is very good in Rio Rico at this time of year.

And that is My World Tuesday. I hope you can come see it for yourself!

Birds seen in Rio Rico 6-12-09
  1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck*
  2. Gambel's Quail
  3. Gray hawk
  4. American kestrel
  5. Black Vulture
  6. Turkey Vulture
  7. Mourning Dove
  8. White-winged dove
  9. Inca dove
  10. Green heron
  11. Snowy Egret
  12. Gila woodpecker
  13. Barn Swallow
  14. N. rough-winged swallow
  15. Vermillion flycatcher
  16. Ash-throated flycatcher
  17. Dusky-capped flycatcher
  18. Western kingbird
  19. Black Phoebe
  20. Phainopepla
  21. Verdin
  22. Cactus Wren
  23. Curve-billed thrasher
  24. Starling
  25. Song Sparrow
  26. Rufous-winged sparrow
  27. Black-throated sparrow
  28. Red-winged blackbird
  29. Brown-headed cowbird
  30. Great-tailed grackle
  31. Pyrrhuloxia
  32. House finch

*Life Bird (first time I have seen this species of bird)


Gaelyn said...

Kathie, I love your bird outings. The hawk captures are awesome. I'm beginning to understand the excitement of adding a lifer to your bird list.

bobbie said...

I do enjoy your vivid descriptions of what you see on these outings. Your photos are always wonderful.

Doug Taron said...

>we stop in Green Valley at the McDonald's on Continental Road for a quick breakfast...

Heh, been exactly there and done that many times. The pond off of Rio Rico Drive is often a great place to collect aquatic insects. I enjoyed the hawk photos.

Deborah Godin said...

I always love your photo reports and notes on what you see, since we live in such different habitats! Great stuff!!

Mary Elizabeth said...

Great commentary. Love your world.
Now and Then

Guy D said...

Excellent selection of photos, thanks for sharing.

Have a great week
Regina In Pictures

SandyCarlson said...

Your photography is marvelous!

Marja said...

Fantastic pictures What a lot of birds overthere I don't even know all of them

Marja said...

Fantastic pictures What a lot of birds overthere I don't even know all of them

Marites said...

Your pictures are really beautiful and i so love the first one. He/she looks so gracefully beautiful.

My world is here

Paul said...

your pics of these birds are amazing. I can't ever get a good one one them inflight.

James said...

Wonderful pictures and so is the one in your title header. I recently discovered that I really enjoy watching birds but I don't know their names.

Martha Z said...

A great day of birding indeed. The pictures of the gray hawk are wonderful, crisp and clear.

Oman said...

if i need an avian fix, ur blog definitely is the best out here. thanks for sharing.

ninja said...

Oh I'd love to take a stroll there.

Arija said...

Glad to see Gus recovered enough to go out with you, even though I am sure he still needs plenty of rest.
Wonderful sightings of birds for you Kathie, and lovely photos.

Unknown said...

Wonderful shots of the birds..

I really like that first one ..of the hawk in flight against the blue sky..

Barb said...

What a wonderful journal of your birding outing - with great pictures to illustrate! Glad you got to see the Black-bellied Whistling Duck! The "battle" between hawk and falcon must have been exciting, too.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Such a colorful place, Kathie. And I would have taken a picture of that Ocotillo, too--wow, such texture and form against the sky, it's magnificent!

Mary said...

Wonderful photos! I agree with Nina on that Ocotillo. Perfect.

Quiet Paths said...

Wonderful narrative of your birding adventure. What a list. And the photos as always I love.

Celeste said...

Congrats on your new life bird Kathie, I bird vicariously through your wonderful trips and great descriptions :) Your image of Gus waiting patiently, looking at the scenery sound exactly like me and my husband when we go somewhere that has good birding - aren't we lucky to have such understanding partners?