Las Cienegas National Conservation Area and the Patagonia Roadside Rest- 16 June 2009

Arising to a shockingly cool June morning, Jake Mohlmann and I departed for Patagonia with hopes of invoking the fabled "Roadside Rest Effect," i.e., the peculiar situation in which the discovery of one rarity leads to another and another. The rarity in this case was a male Scarlet Tanager reported on the 14th. White-throated Swifts overhead greeted us as we stepped from the car. Brown-crested Flycatchers, Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Summer Tanagers and Northern Beardless Tyrannulets were quite vocal as we birded the rest stop and along the creek across the road. Despite some searching we didn't manage to turn up the tanager, however; several nice consolations were to be had including a silent Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher along the creek (neither of us had observed this species here before), a Band-tailed Pigeon calling from the tree tops, a few Thick-billed Kingbirds including a pair at their nest, and up-close views of two Montezuma Quails-- a male and a female. Always a worthwhile stop with good birds and the rugged beauty of the lichen covered spires towering above.

A stop at the Patagonia Roadside Shrine afforded us with great views of Northern Beardless Tyrannulets and Costa's and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. This is a location that one feels that something unusual could be skulking unseen, and indeed, several interesting species have been found here. Maybe next time!

From the shrine, we drove to Las Cienegas NCA, a 45,000 acre site north of Sonoita with a perennial stream with riparian corridors containing towering Fremont cottonwoods, hackberry tangles, a small marsh (cienega), juniper-oak woodlands, and mesquite grasslands. Such diversity of habitats, particularly the riparian areas surrounded by a sea of high desert grasslands makes this location particularly attractive to migrants and breeders alike. We took the South Road Entrance (EC-900) from AZ 82 so that we could survey the small ponds while en route to 49ers Wash-- a seldom visited riparian strip. This is to the northeast of the better known Empire Gulch. The ponds were dry, but Grasshopper Sparrows entertained us as they crossed the road in front of us. From the"Cottonwood" parking lot at Empire Gulch we traveled northeast to the road signed on the left to 49ers Wash. (Note that there is a left fork immediately off the main road, stay right. We drove to a good-sized pullout on the left with the remains of an old campfire. From here we continued about 20 yards towards the wash and were surprised to hear a Northern Parula vocalize from a large cottonwood on the right hand side of the road near the now dry wash. We were able to photograph the sharp-looking male bird as it preened and sang, seemingly oblivious to our presence. This is about 4.4 miles from the "Cottonwood" parking lot at Empire Gulch. A pair of Gray Hawks at their nest peered down at us. We walked about another 100 yards and watched a male Hooded Warbler fly up from the root tangles and perch directly in front of us on a branch above the wash. I was able to obtain sound recordings, but photos eluded us as the bird withdrew shortly after giving us stunning views. Two very nice warblers in close proximity!

With time slipping away from us, we stopped off at Empire Gulch. This site has been host to a good number of rarities recently including the White-eyed Vireo Jake and I found and photographed earlier this month, two Yellow-throated Vireos Gavin and I observed, Gray Catbird and Hooded Warbler. We decided to sit where the water begins to see what would turn-up. Right after settling in, we heard at least one late Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Shortly after that the male Hooded Warbler found by James McKay came in and entertained us for the better part of twenty minutes, alternating between getting chased and chasing a Common Yellowthroat, getting bullied by Song Sparrows and getting spooked by a Desert Grassland Whiptail! A Hooded Oriole, numerous Yellow-breasted Chats, Blue Grosbeaks, Western Pewee, Northern Beardless Tyranulets, Yellow-billed Cuckoo were among the riparian breeders noted. With time pressing, but many more unexplored riparian strips, it was hard to tear away!

Good Birding,
Keith Kamper
Adventure Birding Company

1) male Northern Parula in 49ers wash
2) Thick-billed Kingbird guarding nest at Patagonia Roadside Rest
3) continuing male Hooded Warbler at Empire Gulch (1 of 2 for the day!)
4) Gray Hawk nest in Las Cienegas
5) Bewick's Wren at Roadside Rest unable to resist an imitation western screech owl


Jake Mohlmann

1 comment:

lew said...

Good to see some action on here! And some good pics too of course. Almost makes me want to pack up the car and head west...