Friday, December 2, 2011

Road Trippin' to my 1000th lifer

I recently started a job as a banding intern at Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) just north of San Francisco.  From Nov. 8th through 15th my friend, Chris Bush, and I drove across the country, and I birded along the way stopping in Big Bend National Park, TX and Southeastern AZ.  Although my time in these areas was limited, I was able to pick up many good birds and lifers, ultimately bringing my life list to over 1000 species.
Acorn Woodpecker, Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, AZ
We arrived in Big Bend NP on 11/10 ( after dark thanks to some harassment from the TX state police), and began birding the next morning.  After taking down our camp at the Rio Grande Village campground we birded around picking up lifers # 986 through 990 Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Chihuahuan Raven among other species such as Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Rock Wren among others.
Lifer # 987, Pyrrhuloxia, at Rio Grande Campground, Big Bend National Park, TX
AHY male Vermilion Flycatcher, Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park, TX.  Only a couple adult males hanging around with the dozen or so females and HY males.
From there we headed all the way west across the park to the Cottonwood Campground near Castalon.  Here I picked up lifer # 991, Inca Dove, among other good birds like Great Horned Owl (catching rodents in daylight), Orange-crowned Warbler, Pine Warbler (fairly unusual in the park), and Clay-colored Sparrow.  We paused for some time to watch javelinas (AKA collared peccary) feeding in one of the campsites.
This Pine Warbler was hanging out at the campground, a good bird for Big Bend.
Young collared peccary, Cottonwoods Campground, Big Bend National Park, TX
We got back on the road and headed to the middle of the park up in the Chisos Mountains, and birded the basin around the campgound and lodge picking up lifers 992-994 Mexican Jay, Black-crested Titmouse, and Canyon Towhee as well as Cactus Wren,  Clay-colored Sparrow, and a brief glimpse of an Empidonax spuh that I was never able to ID.  We camped the night at there and headed NW the next morning for SE Arizona.  We picked up my lifer #995, Scaled Quail, on the way out of the park.
Clay-colored Sparrow in Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, TX.  The pale lores, bold white lateral crown stripe, relatively small bill, and contrasting facial markings help separate this species from Brewer's and Chipping Sparrows.
We stayed the night in Willcox, AZ close the famous birding area known as the Sulphur Springs Valley.  The next morning we set out south picking up waterfowl and shorebirds at Lake Cochise including Pectoral Sandpiper, American Avocet, and just about every species of duck expected.  Along our path further south we picked up my lifers # 996 and 997, Cassin's Kingbird and Bendire's Thrasher also getting hundreds of wintering Lark, Brewer's, Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, Prairie Falcon, Feruginous Hawk, Loggerhead Shrikes, Vesper Sparrow, huge flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbird at Whitewater Draw, and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes flying from their roosts into the corn fields around the area.  This area is known for its large number of wintering raptors and high population of Chihuahuan Ravens which were also abundant.
Lifer # 996, Cassin's Kingbird (and Cactus Wren beneath) in the Sulphur Springs Canyon, Cochise County, AZ.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Whitewater Draw, Cochise County, AZ
We then headed west along route 82 to the infamous Patagonia for some more SE AZ specialties.  Our first stop was the well-known Paton's Yard.  The Patons keep their yard open to birders to come watch their feeders year-round.  Here I picked up lifer # 998, Broad-billed Hummingbird, along with Inca Dove, Lesser Goldfinch, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Gila Woodpecker, Anna's Hummingbird, and Lincoln's Sparrow.  After a nice lunch at a cafe in Patagonia, we headed to the Patagonia roadside rest area and picked up my lifer # 999, Phainopepla.  Not much else at this location, other than some Northern Cardinals, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a lone Pyrrhuloxia.
Lifer # 998, Broad-billed Hummingbird, at "Paton's Yard," Patagonia, AZOne of these was caught and banded at PRBO earlier this fall!
Patagonia Lake State Park was only a few miles down the road, and known as one of the most reliable places in the state for Neotropic Cormorant.  We hiked into the park and along the eastern edge of the lake.  On our hike in I picked up my thousandth lifer, Verdin, and after some hiking on the other side of the creek I got # 1001, Bridled Titmouse.  Despite this area's known ability to attract vagrants and rarities, though, we weren't able to pick up anything too rare.  We hiked until nearly sunset looking for the previously reported Black-capped Gnatcatcher, but couldn't get it.  No Elegant Trogons or Ruddy Ground-doves either.  But on the plus side we were able to get good looks at Western Grebe, and several species of waterfowl.  We got back to our car just before dark and headed out of the park.  On the way out of the park a Common Poorwill flew from the road and we were able to get good looks at it along the roadside.
Lincoln's Sparrow at Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ
The next morning we set out from Green Valley, AZ to the Santa Rita Mountains and the Madera Canyon.  Along the way into the canyon I picked up lifer #1002, Rufous-winged Sparrow, and after birding the canyon thoroughly I added six more lifers and lots of good birds.  Painted Redstart, Olive Warbler, Black-throated Gray and Townsend's Warblers, Brown Creeper, Arizona and Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Hermit Thrush, and Western Bluebird were a few of the species found here.

Bridled Titmouse at Madera Picnic Area, Madera Canyon, AZ

Lifer # 1005, Painted Redstart, at Madera Picnic Area, Madera Canyon, AZ

So I made it to 1000 species!  Now that I'm in California, expect more good birding logs from Cory and me.  Recent birding trips around here have included three Loon species, Eurasian Wigeon, both Clark's and Western Grebes, Yellow-billed Magpie, Lewis' Woodpecker, and three species of owl.

Photos and story Luke Musher


  1. Great post! Cool shot of Broad-billed Hummer and congrats on feasting your eyes on 1000 birds :)

  2. You are by far the best birder I have ever seen!

  3. Where is the picture of the golden breasted finch?

  4. Best birding blog I have seen in the last 2 years! Keep up the good work, I can't wait to see what's to come!

  5. Thanks for the support, spread the word!