Birding Without Borders

Day 143: Border Birding

A rare bird is too tempting to pass up.

May 23, 2015, Tucson, Arizona — Yesterday, a birder in southeast Arizona went for a hike in Ramsey Canyon, near the Mexican border, and discovered a Tufted Flycatcher—a bird that had been seen just seven previous times in the U.S. (with records from Arizona and Texas). The news went out over national rare bird alerts and email lists, and this morning a bunch of people went looking for it.

I’ve already seen many Tufted Flycatchers this year (in Mexico, mostly), but, as we were planning to be in that area today anyway… Well, why not? Scott, his wife Erin, John, another friend Jake, and I hatched a plan to walk into Ramsey Canyon via a side trailhead in Carr Canyon this morning, which would give us a six-mile roundtrip hike to the flycatcher spot. En route, I could look for Virginia’s Warblers (a common breeding bird in that area), which would be new for my year.

This was an ironic “chase” as it illustrates perfectly the type of border-driven birding that I’ve been avoiding lately. In a global context, making a special trip to see a Tufted Flycatcher in Arizona seems a bit silly—there are thousands of them just a little ways south, in northern Mexico. Still, it was exciting to go for it today! The five of us hiked in through a beautiful canyon, with Grace’s Warblers, Red-faced Warblers, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Greater Pewees, Arizona Woodpeckers, my wished-for Virginia’s Warblers, and other southern Arizona specialties lining the route. 

When we arrived at the spot, after three miles, I sat down to eat a Subway sandwich. Before I’d eaten two bites, John yelled “I’ve got it!”—and, sure enough, the Tufted Flycatcher was flitting around right over our heads. I wish all birds were that cooperative! In fact, there were probably two flycatchers; another birder showed us a picture he’d just taken of one of them sitting on a nest, which would represent the first record of a Tufted Flycatcher nesting anywhere in the U.S. We ran into a couple dozen others on the trail, and I ran into one guy I hadn’t seen since we were on an Ivory-billed Woodpecker search crew together in Florida, about 10 years ago! All were satisfied with a successful search. 

On the way back to Tucson, we stopped by the house of Bob Behrstock to try for a Lucifer Hummingbird that has been frequenting his backyard feeders, and, after an hour, the hummer flew in with its gorget glinting in the sunshine. A glittering end to another awesome day.

New birds today: 6

Year list: 2619

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