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An outstanding day and night of target birding, with 88 species, lots of specialty birds and some really fabulous moments.
A good start – five BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS flew over the truck stop at first light, my first of the year.
We couldn’t find the Ruddy Ground-Dove that my friend Jennie had found on her Elegant Trogon survey, but we did see COMMON GROUND-DOVE, ‘AZURE’ EASTERN BLUEBIRD, WESTERN TANAGER, and BRONZED COWBIRD.
Peña Blanca Canyon:
A group of COLLARED PECCARIES (JAVELINA) crossed Ruby Rd just as we arrived at the canyon. Soon after, a GRAY FOX ran ahead of us. I’ve seen more foxes this year than ever before. It’s the year of the fox! 😀
There were more birders in the canyon than normal and it took us a while to get views of our first target bird, an ELEGANT TROGON. We eventually saw the male whose nest hole I found during the trogon survey last week.
We also enjoyed calling MONTEZUMA QUAIL, GRAY HAWK, nesting ZONE-TAILED HAWKS, GREATER ROADRUNNER, calling WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, ARIZONA WOODPECKER, PEREGRINE FALCON, NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET, PACIFIC-SLOPE, DUSKY-CAPPED, ASH-THROATED, and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, HUTTON’S VIREO, singing CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (I’m still surprised by this), PAINTED REDSTART, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW, HEPATIC and SUMMER TANAGERS, LAZULI BUNTING, and HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES.
Peña Blanca Lake:
A pair of COMMON BLACK HAWKS is nesting somewhere nearby, and we had hoped to see one over the lake. We were in luck! Just a few minutes after arriving, I heard the distinctive, plaintive cry of a black hawk, as the pair flew over for some nice flight views.
We didn’t stay long but we also heard another calling MONTEZUMA QUAIL, and saw BLACK VULTURE, ZONE-TAILED HAWK, a few late ‘AUDUBON’S’ YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and SUMMER TANAGER.
We were trying to get a view of a MONTEZUMA QUAIL and while we heard more calling, we just couldn’t get views of one in the first half mile of the canyon. We did see GRAY HAWK, a migrant SWAINSON’S THRUSH, a late GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, and RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW, as well as the endangered CHIRICAHUA LEOPARD FROG.
A quick visit to this often overlooked but productive site, which is just down from the California Gulch Dam along California Gulch Rd, gave us views of ‘MEXICAN’ MALLARD, an overhead GOLDEN EAGLE, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, SUMMER TANAGER, BRONZED COWBIRD, and PINE SISKIN, as well as three basking SONORA MUD TURTLES.
Confluence of California Gulch & Warsaw Canyon:
A pair of BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS was easy to find in the usual spot, among thick mesquites, hackberries and acacias.
By now the wind, which has been blowing all spring it seems, had really built up, making birding hard. Try as we might, we couldn’t rustle up a Five-striped Sparrow, which was frustrating. We did find WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, DUSKY-CAPPED and BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW, VARIED BUNTING, and HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES.
As the sun went down we headed to one of the Buff-collared Nightjar spots to begin our night birding. We thought our day birding was done, but a THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD popped up to give us a great end to our daytime birds.
Thankfully the wind had subsided and a male BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR had already started calling, earlier than usual and before it had really got dark. As we listened another birder arrived and told us he’d just seen a FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW by the junction of the Warsaw Canyon Rd. We sprinted (almost) to the spot and managed to get views in the gloom – what a result!
By now it was properly dark and we turned our attentions to the BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR show. We never got classic views or photos, but fully enjoyed following one male around in particular, as he moved fitfully from tree to tree in pursuit of a rival calling male. We saw at least four birds in all, and at one point watched a fantastic aerial battle in the flashlight as three nightjars chased each around a large hackberry tree.
We also had reasonable views of an ELF OWL, and heard calling COMMON POORWILL.
We stopped at the parking lot for much better views of ELF OWL, and more calling COMMON POORWILLS.
Our final stop was some large oak trees by the roadside, where we quickly located a cooperative WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL to end a memorable day in Santa Cruz County.