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August 19th, 2011
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Las Cienegas

I led a very pleasant field trip to Las Cienegas this morning, as part of the Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival. My inane ramblings were tempered by the insight of BLM’s Karen Simms, who discussed some of the excellent conservation work being done on this important chunk of habitat.

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Las Cienegas

We began in the grassland where we got nice views of BLACK-THROATED, CASSIN’S and in particular BOTTERI’S SPARROWS, as well as a few LARK SPARROWS and LARK BUNTINGS, BLUE GROSBEAK, a male NORTHERN HARRIER, SWAINSON’S HAWK, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (my 6th summer location in six weeks), a migrant CHIPPING SPARROW and a surprise juvenile/1st-winter YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD.

We had prolonged close views of a large male PRONGHORN, replete with impressive antlers. We watched him squeeze under the wire fence and cross the road in front of us. Karen took us to one of the colonies of reintroduced BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOGS which was a real treat.

We birded the trail by the Empire Ranch HQ and also the flowing creek adjacent to the ‘giant cottonwood’ parking area in Empire Gulch. Summer residents in this riparian habitat included COMMON GROUND-DOVE, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO and calling GRAY HAWKS, whilst migrants were represented by OLIVE-SIDED and PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, LAZULI BUNTING, WESTERN TANAGER, a NASHVILLE WARBLER moving through mesquites near the HQ and multiple WILSON’S WARBLERS. Also in the riparian zone, RUFOUS-CROWNED and BOTTERI’S SPARROWS which were coming to bathe and drink in the creek before heading back to the grassland.

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Las Cienegas

Karen showed us the BARN SWALLOW nests in the ranch building’s courtyard. One nest was intriguing. I’d never seen a Barn Swallow nest quite like it. Apparently it had been built on top of an existing ‘cup’ nest and then, for good measure, enclosed so it had an entrance hole.

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Barn Swallow nest

On the way back, a PRAIRIE FALCON was perched on a pole alongside I-10 near Tucson.

So far the festival has been a *huge* success! Looking forward to tomorrow…

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