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MEXICO - SONORA (Baviacora)

November 2001

by Robert Hunt

Decided to get out of town for three days and go south of the border, sort of chasing after the retreating tide of last summer's birds. I drove a loop from Magdalena de Kino to Cucurpe, to Arizpe, down to Aconchi and Baviacora, west to Ures, then north to Rayon, to Opodepe, then over to Benjamin Hill, and back to Magdalena de Kino and the U.S.
I was officially scouting for a trip for SABO, but it was a great chance to get clear of home and wander and get a little birding in. The road to Cucurpe was mellow enough - paved and very scenic with spectacularly abrupt mountains towering above vast stands of Saguaro. I camped outside of Cucurpe, and that night managed to whistle in a FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL.
The next morning I continued on through the mountains towards Arizpe in the Rio Sonora Valley. The pavement ended after a few miles, and I continued with some trepidation on the dirt road in my teeny little Mazda 323 with its aging, leaky motor and nearly treadless tires that were more like driving on four baloons. All went well enough initially until it became much rougher driving. Later that morning, I would commit to driving down hills that I knew I'd never get back up, sliding pell-mell into country I had never driven before.
The mountains rose out of the Sonoran desert habitats into oaks, mesquites and tree acacia and high rolling hills. Higher up, I passed through a spectacular little narrow canyon with water and lush growth. Here, I pished and had immediate results with more birds than I could look at including late migrants such as TOWNSEND'S WARBLER and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER mixed in with YELLOW-RUMPED and BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS. From here on, at any stop, all I needed was a couple of pishes and I'd get immediate responses from BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHERS and BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS. Other birds in the pass included among the usual supects HAMMOND'S and GRAY FLYCATCHERS. Later I decended into a large, lush habitat of sub-tropical thornscrub, where I picked up a NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER in a shrub not 20 feet away. When he gaped, like they seem to like to do, the orange inside of his mouth was very bright.
I was so glad I finally reached Arizpe. I relaxed in the town square and wandered the cottonwood-lined farm lanes watching GREAT EGRETS and GREAT BLUE HERONS perched above the Rio Sonora. Most of the small towns from here that I passed through, including Arizpe, were simply the neatest, most historic, colonial-looking places I have ever visited in Sonora. The central squares in most of them were worth a sit, the streets were clean, the old houses, even the ones with peeling paint, looked cared for. My car rattled through each on cobblestone streets.
I spent the rest of the day and most of the next morning in Aconchi and a little village north of it called San Felipe de Jesus walking along the river and wading in it. The birding wasn't spectacular, but it was relatively busy for this early in the season. I had a lifetime's worth of close looks (15 feet) at a GREEN KINGFISHER. Walked up to an old corral and managed not to spook off the one hundred or so BLACK VULTURES, some of whom were kicking up lots of dust fighting over an old brown, dried dog carcass. Overhead, a small kettle swirled that included Black Vultures, TURKEY VULTURE, a few CROWS (sp.?), CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN,  and to my surprise, a PEREGRINE FALCON. SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS worked the dense corridor of young cottonwoods along the streamside. Odd bird of the day: ELF OWL! Started "barking" at me from dense cover when I imitated a Western Screech-owl to pull in some other birds. I shared the small rapids in the river with some very relaxed SPOTTED and WETSERN SANDPIPERS that didn't bolt until I was within a few feet of them.
I left the Rio Sonora Valley and headed west towards Ures. The drive is through some of the best and lushest thornscrub I have seen in Sonora. The Kapok trees were in fruit, and many of the Tree Morning Glories were in flower and were still in leaf. I stopped to gape into the large canyon the road skirted and pished in a BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, which irridesced gloriously in the high noon sun.
I started north out of Ures on what has to be the best maintained dirt road in Mexico towards Rayon. Rayon is another one of those little well-kept colonial towns snugged into a valley botton, the Rio San Miguel, and surrounded by lots of thornscrub in the mountains. It was here that I discovered that I had a slowly flattening tire. All I had was one of those inadequate little donut-wheels, and it was 50 miles to the nearest major highway. I had no $$$ left to get it repaired, and I was at least another 200 miles drive from the border. I boogied up over the mountains on what was actually another very well-maintained dirt road. I reached a Pemex station and refilled the nearly totally flat tire. I repeatred this at every major town fighting against distance, time and the ominous leak.
Whew!!!! I made it! Got a can of good Fix-a-flat in Nogales (the Mexican stuff didn't work), had just enough gas to make it back to my lair in the No Name Canyon near Bisbee. Cashed in my small handful of Mexican coins, all I had left, and bought a premium beer to celebrate my little three-day adventure. Viva Mexico! Viva los Pajaritos! Viva SABO!
The following are the birds I saw on this trip:
(89 spp.)
Great Blue Heron (drove right up beside this guy at one river crossing, just a few feet away. He didn't budge! Just stood there staring at me).
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Mexican Mallard
Northern Pintail
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Gambel's Quail
Spotted Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Rock Dove
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Elf Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Gila Woodpecker
Red-naped Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern (r-s) Flicker
Hammond's Flycatcher
Gray Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Nutting's Flycatcher
Cassin's Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Mexican Jay
Crow sp.
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Raven
Bridled Titmouse
Cactus Wren
Rock Wren
Bewick's Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Curve-billed Thrasher
American Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler (both Audubon's and Myrtle)
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Lazuli Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bullock's Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Robert Hunt (naturalist)
Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory
P.O. Box 5521
Bisbee, AZ 85603
(520) 432-1388