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5 Places You Should Go Birding In Utah This Year

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, February 28, 2014 

Chances are this weekend you are going to hop in your car and go birding--if you are of course a birder.  And if you live here in Utah you’re likely going to head out to one of the familiar places you go birding week in and week out.  Along the Wasatch front it’s probably the Causeway, or Farmington Bay--maybe Bear River, Lee Kay, or even Willard Bay.  In Utah County it could be Utah Lake State Park, River and Swede Lane, or anywhere around the south end of Utah Lake.  In St. George it could be Tonaquint Park, Springs Pond, Sand Hollow, or if you’re up for a little drive--Lytle Ranch.

This is how most days of birding go for us--the usual places to look for the usual suspects.  It also lends to the the Patagonia Effect happening--if more and more people go to said spots, the likelihood of a rarity being found increase.  It’s a science ;)

But I have a challenge for you in 2014, don’t just spend a great deal of time at the regular hotspots--this spring, summer, and fall take some time to explore some of Utah’s less popular, more out of the way, and what I would call most amazing birding locales.  Some you may have never heard of, others are just a bit out of your normal range--but they all are 5 places you should go birding in Utah this year.

• • •

41.3482° N, -113.9050° W

Great Photo ops for birds like Yellow-breasted Chat 

Lucin is and abandoned railroad watering station, located about 40 miles north of East Wendover, Utah, just inside the Utah/Nevada line.  A large spring surrounded by tall cottonwoods, willows, and other trees and shrubs provides a great migrant trap in the middle of the barren desert.  Lucin has a number of remarkable bird sightings, notably eastern vagrant warblers, thrushes, other songbirds.  As a migrant trap, it means birding at Lucin can be hit or miss--and if you go a couple times in a year you are likely to have hits and misses.  The misses can be painful--a half dozen birds--not species, in a few hours scouring every inch of habitat.  But the hits can be unbelievable.  Birds dripping from trees--constant movement, and colors, grabbing your attention and making you want to keep walking around the small pond in hopes of picking out something that’s been hiding amongst the throngs of birds.  The best times to go are from Mid May through early June and again from early September into October.

Sunset over the west desert from Lucin

You can camp just about anywhere in the desert out here, or stay in Wendover and make the 40 mile drive north on the days you go.  I like to spend a couple days hitting other migrant traps in the desert and giving yourself a chance at some turnover each day.  Lucin can be reached from the north via highway 30, or as mentioned earlier from Wendover to the south.  It takes about 3.5 hours to get there from Salt Lake.  At night the road from Wendover can turn up good number of Common Poorwills, Burrowing Owls, and Short-eared Owls.  During the day look for warblers, wrens, thrushes, sparrows, orioles, tanagers, and almost anything that migrates.  Lucin has the potential to turn up something really rare!

• • •

Dolores River/Rio Mesa Center
38.8119° N, -109.3023° W

Great Camping along the river

This place falls in the you’ve probably never heard of it column.  The Dolores River flows into the Colorado about 35 miles upstream from Moab.  By Utah standards it’s a pretty big river, and during the runoff it can be a real beast.  If you take the road to the south off Route 126 that follows the Colorado, you start off along the Delores and then drive off into the hills, only to drop back into the river bottoms, lines with thick willow patches, and plenty of Fremont Cottonwoods to attract a variety of birds.  This river is a natural migrant route, and provides lots of food, and obviously water for migrating songbirds.

Blue Grosbeak along the rive rand super cooperative

Slightly further up River is the Rio Mesa Center which conducts bird banding and in recent years have banded a number of mega-rarities for Utah here.  Spring and fall are both fantastic here--from late April to early June and mid-august to October you could turn up just about anything here.  Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker have all been reported from along the river here.  There are plenty of places to camp, which can mean lots of people on busy weekends.  It can also be a ghost town great for birding!

• • •

Capitol Reef National Park
38.2000° N, -111.1667° W

"Southwest" Willow Flycatcher along the Fremont River in 2007

I had mixed feelings about including Capitol Reef, but the fact is few northern Utah Birders ever venture to this lesser known park in south central Utah.  Admission is free, unlike other national parks, and the Fremont River trail, along with the Fruita Orchards provide excellent migrant trap birding.  The picnic area near the park headquarters is a great place to start birding here, with huge Cottonwoods and ample habitat for songbirds.  From May into early June and August through October this migrant hotspot could turn up just about anything as well.

Philadelphia Vireo found here in 2007 was a state 2nd for Utah

Pick a patch of trees anywhere in the park and you will find birds.  Chats, Catbirds, Flycatchers, Buntings, Orioles, and Warblers are all abound.  Rarities here are expected--including some big ones like Black-billed Cuckoo, Philadelphia Vireo, Orchard Oriole, and an impressive list of eastern warblers.  You can camp at the campground here, making it easy to access all the birding sites over a number of days!

• • •

Leidy Peak
40.7680° N, -109.8330° W

You’ve probably heard of this one, you may have even been. It’s one of the most reliable locations for White-tailed Ptarmigan in Utah--it also happens to be an epic birding location, not to be overlooked for the wide variety of species that can be seen in the vicinity.  Aside from the talus slopes where ptarmigan, American Pipits, and Black Rosy-Finches forage, the forests below leading all the way back to Vernal provide habitat for nearly 100 species of birds.  The high elevation conifer boasts Northern Goshawks, Three-toed Woodpeckers, crossbills, finches, sparrows, warblers, Gray Jay, and Pine Grosbeaks.  Through each habitat zone leading down to Vernal you can find more and more--in the mid-elevation conifer, mixed conifer and aspen, aspen, and finally shrubsteppe.

Black Rosy-Finch are fairly common here

A couple days here can provide you with some excellent birding, and camping away from crowds of people.  Hacking Lake is a good spot to camp, is is just about anywhere off the road.  It gets chilly here at night and the weather can be unpredictable.  Snow in mid August, temperatures routinely in the low 30’s at night in the summer--lightning storms that are mighty impressive--and rain and wind for hours sometimes.  But it makes for an adventure!  About an hours drive north from Vernal into the Uinta’s the peak stand just over 12,000’--the birding is best in late summer into the fall--until snow sets in and that’s it for the year!

• • •

Powell Lake (not Lake Powell)
40.3828° N, -111.9029° W

During the spring of 2013 a little known “lake” in northern Utah County proved to be one of the hottest birding locations of the year.  In the middle of a subdivision in Lehi, Powell Lake, is actually a pair of ponds split by a road.  The location along the Jordan River makes it a natural migration route and last year the birds seemed to pour in here.  24 species of shorebirds in 5 weeks, Glossy Ibis, a overly cooperative Least Tern, gulls, ducks, waders--you name it waterbird wise and it was probably found here in 2013.  It isn’t known if this is the way things have always been here, or if 2013 was a fluke--but I know that in 2014 this will again be part of my regular spring birding stops, fro the chances that something good might turn up.

Vagrant Least Tern at Powell Lak ein 2013

The photo ops are also amazing here--great light early and late in the day, and paths along much of the lakes shore.  If you didn’t check it out in 2013, I would suggest stopping by between April and mid-May to see what’s using the waterway--my hopes are lots of birds, and lots of birders!

If you're not quite sure where these places are check out this link to see them on the map.

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Utah Winter Gulls Matrix Part 1

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, February 20, 2014 

As we near the end of gulling season here in Utah, it often becomes the best time of year to find rare and uncommon gull species.  With water starting to open up and more food available, the large ocean-favoring gulls show up with more frequency, or at least become noticed more.  In a short month from now, the vast majority of these birds will be gone, and we won't seem them again till November.  There have been a few identification requests for gulls lately, so I thought I would take a second and give a crash course on the basics for helping narrow down the possibilities when you see a gull you don't recognize using a matrix.

This is only for Adult Gulls however, so I will be working on similar matrices for each other age as well.  As a disclaimer this is NOT 100% accurate in all cases.  Measurements, relative sizes, colors, eyes, bills, etc are all somewhat averages.  If you think something is drastically off or could be improved please contact me to talk about it.  I would like these to be as useful as possible.  With that said I wanted to throw some numbers around.

The best way to recognize the not so common stuff is to really know the common stuff well.  This means getting to know our State Bird--the California Gull, and its smaller relative the Ring-billed Gull very well.  I went into eBird and did some quick data compilations to show how common these two are in relation to everything else.
Between November and February there have been 711,265 total reported gulls in the database (rough estimate).  

This is not total number of actual birds, this is total number of birds reported--so multiple people may have submitted checklists for the same birds.  Of those, 14,643 were hooded gull species (Sabine's, Franklin's, Bonaparte's, and Little) so I removed them from the total to end up at 696,622 total white headed gulls reported during the gulling season into eBird (all time). 

California and Ring-billed account for about 680,000 of these individuals, or roughly 97.3% of all gulls reported in eBird in Utah between November and February.  

That means the other 8 species that you might encounter make up just 2.7% of all the gulls reported--roughly 16,600 individuals--still a pretty hefty number, but at least you know the odds are in the favor for the 2 most common birds.

So let's break it down a little more--aside from those two species, the other 8 most likely species you can encounter in Utah in the winter from most common to least:

Herring Gull -- 15,000 reported
Thayer's Gull -- 780 reported
Lesser Black-backed Gull -- 299 reported
Glaucous Gull -- 183 reported
Western Gull -- 176 reported
Mew Gull -- 96 reported
Glaucous-winged Gull -- 56 reported
Iceland Gull -- 29  reported

Using the matrix above, with a little practice, you can learn to narrow down the possibility of the species you are seeing based on the included attributes.  The colors in the matrix may not be exact but for most adult birds its a good starting point.  click on the above image or link below to download a high resolution version to your smart phone or iPad.

Check back soon for the matrices for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd winter birds, as well as another for hybrids.

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Panama: My Top 10 List

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 

Another trip and another list of birds I want to see. This year I am splitting the difference between Peru and Costa Rica and going to Panama.  That means a combination of species from both Central and South America, including a number of species not found in either Peru or Costa Rica.  However given my past forays to the tropics, the numbers of possible life birds here has dramatically decreased, somewhere in the tune of 230 some odd possible lifers this go around. That means that if I am able to track down 40% of these birds I will snag about 90 lifers; 50% means 115 or so lifers; and 60% would be about 140 lifers.  

That would also mean just getting 4-6 of these beauties below. Despite the decreased chances of new birds, it’s still in the tropics, which in general means the birding is incredible, and even the common stuff leaves you in amazement.  But let’s talk about the top 10 I want to see on this trip--my prize birds!

• • •

 10. Sapayoa

 Sapayoa by Dusan Brinkhuizen

 The Sapayoa is an enigma--no seriously, as its scientific name suggest, Sapayoa aenigma, “the enigma”, is a bird in its own class.  To date there is no clear relationship to other families of birds and it may just be a literal one-of-a-kind.  It’s fairly common but easy to overlook--I don’t know if I will actually see this bird, but with such an interesting back story I thought it worthy of making my top 10 for this trip.

• • •

 9. White-tipped Sicklebill

White-tipped Sicklebill by José Loiza

 By no means is this hummingbird the most colorful or brilliant patterned, but the sharply decurved and specialized bill which is used to feed specifically on the heleconia flowers is just freaking awesome.  Apparently this is all but a sure thing at Cerro Azul where I will spend the better part of my first day in the country birding.  At #9 I hope this thing is a slam dunk--because it’s an awesome bird.

• • •

 8. Black-and-yellow Tanager

Black-and-yellow Tanager Illustration by Joseph Smit

 I had to get at least one tanager on the list and this one drives me nuts, because it doesn’t look like a tanager--or I should say it doesn’t look like a Piranga--which is one reason I’m really interested in it.  It’s part of the Chrysothlypis family but currently still referred to as tanagers.  This is one of those groups that eventually might get changed all together.  Regardless, the brilliant yellow and black pattern really makes this a standout species.

• • •

 7. Emerald Toucanet

Emerald Toucanet in Costa Rican Aviary by Tim Avery

 Toucans, toucanets, and barbets are some of my favorite tropical birds.  I’ve seen a number of species, but only got to look at this gorgeous species in an aviary in Costa Rica.  In Pananama this bird is a recognized subspecies  called the Blue-throated Toucanet--that may eventually get it’s own listing.  Regardless of that I really just want to watch these hooligans of the bird world hop around the trees and put on a show.

• • •

 6. Bran-colored Flycatcher

Bran-colored Flycatcher by Dario Niz

 Taking it back to 2011--this bird was on my first travel top 10, and I struck out then. Its name brings to mind cereal for me, and I don’t know why but that makes it interesting. It doesn’t have an interesting pattern, or bright colors, but the subtle browns, along with the streaked breast, and yellow crown make it unique.  My chances should be increased for seeing one this go around as it is found throughout the country where it is fairly common.

• • •

 5. Spot-crowned Barbet

Spot-crowned Barbet Illustration by Gossipguy

 My affinity for Barbets and Toucans continues.  This funky bird is mostly black and white, with a speckled crown, and a yellow-orange wash for a breast band. I just find the barbets to be really intriguing.  They’re not quite toucans, but close enough--the smaller size may be what really makes them interesting for me.  I’ve struggled with this family in the past, so I’m hoping for some good luck this go around.

• • •

 4. Tiny Hawk

Tiny Hawk by Keith Bowers

 Here’s yet another throwback to my first trip to the tropics--I had it on my top 10, but never really got into good habitat for a chance to see it.  However, this time around I should have better luck as it is far more widespread in Panama.  It’s tiny, and it’s a hawk. Only slightly larger than an American Kestrel, it looks sort of like an accipiter but is either all dark gray, or all rufous brown in markings and pattern—never combining the two like our North American accipiters.  This bird is a remarkable little hawk.

• • •

 3. Blue Cotinga

A not so blue immature Blue Cotinga by Dominic Sherony

 A very impressive near endemic. I am yet to see a cotinga--in 2011 I hoped to luck upon an endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga in Costa Rica--I didn’t.  This time I should have a better opportunity with this species that is far more common than that cousin. With it’s shiny blue body, and purple belly and throat this beauty would be an excellent find for this trip.

• • •

 2. Snowcap

Snowcap by Michael Woodruff

 One of the most stunning hummingbirds in the world.  Any time you can see a hummingbird that isn’t primarily green and white in coloration you should get excited.  The Snowcap is mostly purple/maroon with a “snowy” cap.  It’s a tiny and stunning hummingbird found at Anton de Valle where if the stars align I will be able to add this bird to my life list.

• • •

 1. Speckled Tanager

Speckled Tanager in Costa Rican Aviary by Tim Avery

Going back to 2011 when I made my first trip to the tropics and this was my #1 target bird, I had to put it back at the top of the list for Panama.  It also happens to be my favorite new world species of bird, making it a top priority to see. I saw one in an aviary in Costa Rica but not in the wild--similarly I missed its sister species the Spotted Tanager in Peru.  Our first day in Panama we will travel to Cerro Azul where Speckled Tanager are reported frequently and I believe I will have my best shot to finally lay my eyes on this gem in the wild.

Fingers Crossed and camera ready--this will probably be my last trip to the tropics for a little while, so I hope to make the most out of it and pick up as many of these birds as I can!

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Arizona Day 2- Trogons Trogons Everywhere

posted by Kenny Frisch at
on Monday, February 17, 2014 

As I was waking up at sunrise in the parking lot for the Florida Canyon trailhead, I was looking forward to some familiar birding.  Day 2 would represent the only day in which I would be traveling to places that I had visited the year before.  However all the locales were legendary birding hotspots where many North American first records have happened, that have unique Mexican species that only occur in southeastern Arizona and have the potential for other rarities.

Gorgeous Florida Canyon in the morning

My first stop on the day was scenic Florida Canyon where I luckily didn't have to go far from where I slept the night before.  My targets for the canyon were Elegant Trogon- a bird I had only heard last year but frustratingly never got to view, Rufous-capped Warblers which I had seen here a year before and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  As I was getting ready to hike, another birder drove up.  We discussed possible birds we might find, where were were from (he was from Louisiana) and I headed up the trail ahead of him while he waited near a stream bed to see if any trogons would show up.

Walking up the trail I could hear birds everywhere but sometimes seeing them was difficult with the leaf litter and undergrowth blocking them.  I had a bird hiding on the other side of a yucca and I managed to finally get a look, the bird proved to be a Rufous-crowned Sparrow, one of many I would see in the canyon thanks to its rocky, grassy hillsides.  Many other sparrows enjoyed the same habitat including Rufous-winged and Black-chinned.

 Rufous-winged Sparrows are a Southeastern Arizona specialty

 They can also be quite skulky

Black-chinned Sparrows lack their black chin in winter

I continued on the trail  up to a small ridge overlooking the stream and started to scan the area when my eyes were drawn to a thick patch of branches and a large bird sitting in the middle of them.  I didn't even need to put my binoculars on the bird to know what it was- an Elegant Trogon!  This almost seemed too easy after the hour I had searched last year for one that had called.  I snapped a few pictures and went to get the birder from earlier and in another moment of luck, it turned out he was already heading up the trail.  I let him know what I found and we hastened to the ridge and the trogon was still hanging out.  It made a few passes for insects before disappearing into the foliage.  I rejoiced in my first ever trogon sighting.

My first ever seen Elegant Trogon- an immature

We excitedly headed up the trail and saw some other skulky birds including Curve-billed Thrasher and Green-tailed Towhee.

 Green-tailed Towhees were common in Southeastern Arizona

Curve-billed Thrashers were everywhere on my trip

We paused at another spot giving views of the stream which was filling up with birds.  Many robins were drinking in its water and it was attracting other birds including Curve-billed Thrashers.  Something caused the birds to flush and a large green bird flew out of a spot that I couldn't see.  The bird perched on a low branch in a sycamore and it was another Elegant Trogon, this one a male.

The second Elegant Trogon I saw in Florida Canyon

We watched this bird too until it too disappeared into the leaves.  Trogons have an amazing ability to hide in the open and not be seen when they don't want to and these ones proved to have that power.

We headed up canyon to look for our next target, Rufous-capped Warblers, a rare Mexican visitor that could be seen anywhere in the canyon.  We found a nice sunny spot near a bend in the creek that allowed great views of a large part of the canyon.  On one side was a rocky hillside with some grasses, cacti and shrubs that would prove to attract birds as did the riparian zone around the stream.  The other birder set up his large camera in a prime picture location.  I decided to venture further up the canyon to a spot and another bend where I had seen them last year.  This time there was no sign of the warblers but from this vantage point I saw a Coue's White-tailed Deer, a small race found only in Arizona and a Canyon Wren foraging along some rocks.

This wary Coue's White-tailed Deer is smaller than most other deer

I went back to the bend where the Louisiana birder was still waiting and he reported no signs of the warblers.  For the next half hour though, we were rewarded by many great looks at some of the area's specialty birds that were using this sunny patch of canyon.  I was looking through every woodpecker for a certain species, but for a while all the woodpeckers turned out to be either Acorn, Gila or Ladder-backed Woodpeckers with an occasional Northern Flicker thrown in.  But finally I spied something brown moving on a n oak 20 yards away.  The something turned out to be an Arizona Woodpecker, a unique species with a brown plumage instead of the typical black.  I got tremendous views of this life species for me for almost 20 minutes.  That's how you get a lifer.

The uniquely brown Arizona Woodpecker

The brown spot on an oak

 A brown spotted belly is another cool feature of this woodpecker

The Ladder-backed Woodpeckers also gave good lucks, Pyrrhuloxias showed off their beautiful looks and even Cactus Wrens came in close and sang one of the sounds I most associate with the desert.

 A male Ladder-backed Woodpecker trying its best to blend in.

 This female Ladder-backed Woodpecker stands out on this yucca stalk

 The Pyrrhuxolias likes to put some vegetation in between you and them

 This Cactus Wren was singing nearby

By this time, another birder had joined us.  He was also from the Southeast, but he was from Alabama.  We kept our vigil but the warblers didn't show.  The man from Louisiana then realized that he was just about space on his camera's memory card and decided to go to his car for another one.  The other southern gentleman chose to leave as well since he was going to meet his wife and was going to come back the next day as well.  About a few minutes after both had left, I started to hear some odd call notes coming about 30 feet up the trail.  As I got close to the repeated chik notes, my heart dropped for my earlier companions.  Here were the two Rufous-capped Warblers they were looking for.

 Here is one of the Rufous-capped Warbler people were searching for

The warblers ended up giving me amazing looks at times no farther than 5 feet away.  Last year when I saw them, they acted skulky and were unwilling to permit good views.  This year was the opposite as the fed in the various shrubs for the next 10 minutes in plain view until I stopped following the warblers as they went around a bend.  My excitement was tempered by the fact that I would have to tell the Louisianan that he had missed out on the warblers that he was looking for.  I'm not even sure if he would have been able to get pictures as close as the warblers were with his long lens.

 The Rufous-capped Warblers ended up being quite photogenic

 I love their colorful faces

 Another striking pose

This one tried to be skulky at times

After I got my fill of the Rufous-capped Warblers, I headed back towards the entrance.  After a few minutes I met back up with the other birder and delivered the bad news.  He took it in stride and remained hopeful especially with a birding field trip ahead of him that might be able to help him locating the birds.

I got back into my car and headed the short distance on to Madera Canyon, another amazing birding spot in Southeastern Arizona.  On my way, I saw several Loggerhead Shrikes and a few even let me stop my car next to them for looks.

Usually Loggerhead Shrikes don't let me get this close

My first stop in Madera Canyon was the Whitehouse Picnic Area.  I found a nice mixed flock of Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  I pointed them out to an older couple who seemed particularly interested in the seeing the nuthatches.

 This White-breasted Nuthatch is eyeing me up

 Brown Creepers seem meant to blend into Alligator junipers

Bridled Titmice proved hard to photograph

I headed up canyon towards the Santa Rita Lodge and Madera Kubo, two lodges that cater to birders and also put out feeders for the public to view.  I walked to Santa Rita first where I found it full of turkeys with at least a dozen walking around on the grounds.  When one of the employees of the lodge went to fill the feeders the turkeys barely got out of the way as if they were pets.  There was a large flock of Mexican Jays coming to the feeders and quickly emptying them.  A stunning male Hepatic Tanager put in a cameo in the trees around the feeders.  After a careful search of a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows, I managed to pick out a Yellow-eyed Junco.

 A flock of Mexican Jays at Santa Rita Lodge

 The Mexican Jays were pretty tame

 Some of the many turkeys at Santa Rita Lodge

 A good view of the turkey's iridescent plumage

 A colorful male Hepatic Tanager

I finally managed to see this Yellow-eyed Junco

After I got my fill of the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, I headed down to a path in the forest and walked up to the feeders at Madera Kubo.  Along the way, I had some close encounters with my second ever Arizona Woodpecker, a Mexican Jay hiding some food and an Arizona Gray Squirrel.

 My second ever Arizona Woodpecker

 A good view of the Arizona Woodpecker's spotted belly

 This Mexican Jay was hiding some food for later

An Arizona Gray Squirrel feeds on something a Mexican Jay may have stashed

Up at Madera Kubo, the feeders were slower than at the Santa Rita Lodge but there were some nice specialties there.  A large Magnificent Hummingbird held down the area around the hummingbird feeders.  I could hear a Painted Redstart in the area but was unable to locate it. There were a few tree-clinging species in the area including Acorn Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch.

 A young male Magnificent Hummingbird

Some of the bright colors on the gorget could already be seen

I had to drag myself away from Madera Canyon since I had more birding planned out and headed back to the highway.  I stopped for gas in the nearby town of Green Valley and while fueling my car I head the song of a thrasher across the road.  I filled the tank and parked my car and walked over to find the thrasher.  I followed its songs until finally spotted it, a nice Curve-billed Thrasher.  He didn't seem bothered by me and I approached close to him and got amazing looks from a species that usually doesn't let you get to see it. 

A very cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher

 Not the most flattering shot of the thrasher

 Singing away

 Side profile of the thrasher

A barrel cactus in the thrasher spot

A video of the Curve-billed Thrasher singing

I got back to my car and headed to my next spot, Patagonia State Park, the site of my missed trogon last year.  Before I got to the park, I drove some side roads looking for Botteri's Sparrows which had been seen in the area.  I thought I had one when a sparrow popped up from some shrubs and got my hopes up, but the sparrow ended up being a Rufous-crowned and I ended up striking out on the Botteri's.

While not a Botteri's, I still enjoyed this Rufous-crowned Sparrow

At Patagonia Lake State Park I headed straight to the Sonoita Creek trail.  All the spots were taken at the trailhead so I had to park a little farther away and walk.  On my walk I ran into a couple who mentioned the good birds they saw and also that they had just ran in to Victor Emanuel birding tour near the trailhead.  I thanked them and hurried to get ahead of the tour group.  I found them about 100 yards in and got in front of them and had great views at a Bewick's Wren at my feet, a male Ladder-backed Woodpecker hammering on a branch and a pair of Mexican Ducks on the lake in a flock of shovelers and teal.  There were other interesting birds on the lake included Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked and Ruddy Ducks.

 A mohawked Ladder-backed Woodpecker

'Mexican' Mallards on Patagonia Lake

While at the lake shore, I heard the distinctive call of an Elegant Trogon and was excited for the prospect of seeing another trogon.  I went back to tell the leader of the field trip what I heard and told him that it was either a trogon calling or someone playing a tape of trogon.   He thought it may be the latter given that trogons rarely call in the winter.  I went back to follow the creek where I heard the call and I heard a strange call.  I looked up for its source and right over my head was gorgeous male Elegant Trogon.

Amazing views of a stunning tropical species

I managed to take a few pictures before I ran back to the birding tour and announced that I had found the trogon.  Most of them grabbed their scopes as I led them towards where I had seen the trogon, hoping the whole time that it would still be there.  At least I had a few pictures.  As we neared the area where I saw the trogon it wasn't in the place I left it, but I was relieved to find it about 20 yards from the original spot and about 20 yards away from us!  This one didn't seem to mind all the people and stayed in the area for a while.  I got the tour on the bird as they oohed and aahed as the bird put on a show.  It flycatched several times, one time it flew right over our heads and another time it caught a giant grasshopper-like bug that was almost as big as its head.  It still managed to each it and gave everyone in the tour lifer views of this spectacular species.  It even stuck around after a Great Horned Owl flew through the area.

 The Elegant Trogon was relaxing even with many people around

 Such beautiful colors

 It caught this giant bug...

 And managed to eat it whole!

 Here is a video of the trogon with the giant bug

After viewing the aptly named Elegant Trogon for over 20 minutes it flew back into the woods and I saw this as sign that I should get going myself.  I hiked in the direction of where the owl flew but I couldn't locate it.  There were some flycatchers around including a Black Phoebe and a Dusky Flycatcher and also some woodpeckers.  There were many Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and some Red-naped Sapsuckers and even a rare juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

 A fresh looking Dusky Flycatcher

 A very camouflaged juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

There were many Black Phoebes at Patagonia Lake State Park

I dodged some open range cattle blocking one path and continued back to the trailhead.  There weren't too many species on the walk back and once back to my car I headed to the visitor center where there were a few cool feeder birds including another Ladder-backed Woodpecker and an Anna's Hummingbird.

This photo shows why this male Ladder-backed Woodpecker got its name

This male Anna's Hummingbird isn't as colorful on a cloudy day

From the park I headed towards the the town of Patagonia where I would venture to the San Rafael Grasslands, one of my favorite locations in Southeast Arizona due to its big sky and great views plus the birds aren't that bad either.  This is one of the best spots for the Southwestern subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark aka the Lillian's Meadowlark and they were common.  Coming over my first rise I was surprised to see a White-tailed Kite sitting on a fence post 40 yards away and it seemed surprised to see me too as it took off before I could get a picture of it sitting.  Another kite flew overhead making these two birds on the 3rd and 4th White-tailed Kites I have ever seen.

 'Lillian's' Eastern Meadowlarks were common in the grasslands

 I accidentally scared this White-tailed Kite. Oops

This kite helps show why they used to be named the Black-shouldered Kite

As I drove around the grasslands I saw many Vesper and Savannah Sparrows and once again missed my target, the Baird's Sparrow which winters in southeastern Arizona,  There were some other raptors around here including Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel.  I also missed Chestnut-collared Longspurs but had hopes to see them the next morning in Willcox. 

I drove back to the town of Patagonia and had dinner in a new pizzeria named Velvet Elvis where I had a delicious calzone and celebrated an amazing day of birding with the beer that I associate the most with birding, Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA due to me having it with lunch after mornings of birding Cape May.  I highly recommend that anyone in this area visit this tasty local establishment. 

After dinner I drove into unfamiliar territory and ended near Willcox where I found a nice place to sleep near Lake Willcox.  As I drifted asleep I thought about the 86 species I saw that day and the incredible encounters I had with some memorable birds.  It was fun visiting areas that I was already familiar with but seeing new birds at them.  Hopefully Saturday would be more of the same.

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