Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Sinaloa Wren in Arizona!

On August 25th, I was at a business meeting at the Circle Z Ranch south of Patagonia when I started to receive email and phone messages from a birding friend of mine simply stating that there was a really rare bird in Patagonia and asking if we were around to try to document it with pictures and digital recordings. It turns out it was a Sinaloa Wren that had been found that morning by Matt Brown and Robin Baxter. The two had managed to get a single photo and a crude recording of the bird but were hoping to track it down again for further documentation. My colleagues and I met up with Matt, Robin, and friends that afternoon. We searched for the bird for a few hours but could not relocate it. It went unseen for the next two days. Then on the morning of the 28th, Matt relocated the bird. It had moved a bit from its previous location and again was proving hard to see well. So on the 29th, I decided to try once more to see if I could locate it. When I arrived in Patagonia, there were already a number of birders assembled. No one had seen the bird yet, and folks were spread out along the road listening for the wren. As luck would have it, the bird began singing nearby and we were able to hear its distinctive song. Amazingly, I caught sight of it foraging in a cottonwood tree inside the preserve and I was able to get a lot of folks on the bird and still find time to get some recordings and a few photos. It was the only time the bird was actually seen this day. This is a species that was long predicted to occur in the state (and in fact may have back in 1989 when one was seen by a single observer along the San Pedro River). The making of great Arizona birding lore!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another short tale of Short-tails

It was one of those great moments in Arizona birding. The year was 1999. Just a couple of days after searching unsuccessfully for a pair of birds in upper Miller Canyon, I was fortunate to see a light morph Short-tailed Hawk sail past me and my group in the Chiricahuas. This was a species I had been hoping to see for years in Arizona, and aside from two much older sight records from the Huachucas and Chiricahuas in the 1980's, Short-tailed Hawk was essentially unknown in Arizona. In April of 1999, Mike Lanzone had spotted what was no doubt the same bird in the Chiricahuas that I had just seen.

Fast forward to 2001, when the Chiricahuas again hosted Short-tailed Hawks. It was this year that juveniles first began being detected. On two consecutive days I saw young juveniles flying above Carr Canyon in the Huachucas and in the Chiricahuas. And so it has continued every year. Short-tailed Hawks have been found at a few additional sights including one that wintered in the Tucson valley. Nesting was confirmed in 2007, though the evidence was overwhelming long before an actual nest was detected.

Since that time, the unimaginable has happened.  I can no longer keep track of the number of Short-tails I have seen in the state. The juvenile photographed above was seen on August 8, 2008 and represents another year's breeding effort from birds in the Chiricahuas. It makes me happy just knowing that this species patrols the skies of Arizona.