Date: 11/8/18 2:47 pm
From: Tim Helentjaris <tnhelentjaris...>
Subject: [AZNMbirds] San Rafael Grasslands
A challenging day for a field trip leader, but helped by the enthusiasm from the attendees on this Tucson Audubon field trip to the San Rafael Grasslands as an early winter scouting mission. Had thought that since I had such good luck at the Curly Horse Road entrance to Las Cienegas NWA a couple of weeks ago, we would head down there and work on sparrows. But, they were no where to be found?

Got down before dawn and waited at the northwest entrance, hoping to see a Short-eared Owl, but he was a no-show, just a couple of NORTHERN HARRIERS and COMMON RAVENS off in the distance. But, as always, it was a beautiful dawn and no one was disappointed. BTW, Jennie MacFarland passed me some information that the road to Bog Hole is no longer open, having been closed along the way by a landowner, so for now this area is no longer accessible, major bummer. After quickly checking the tank to the south, empty except for the first of many AMERICAN KESTRELS along the lines to the west, we headed east along the main road. Was looking for sparrows on the fences but none were to be found anywhere? Whereas last year I had seen both Baird’s and Grasshopper just ~200 yds from the northwest entrance, we essentially saw none all the way to the Vaca Corral? I guess what I noticed here that was different this year was that the grass was grazed to the ground along both sides of the fence and there was no where for sparrows along here to hide, perhaps precluding them from this usually productive area? But then this trend continued for most of the morning through the valley, so perhaps a little early for sparrows here or maybe another bad year in general for them in the valley? We’ll have to wait and see. We did pick up one of our best-birds-of-the-day along the fence here, a very cooperative and first of two MERLINS that sat on the fence and allowed us to admire him through the scopes for as long as we wanted.

Turned and headed further south towards the border and Lochiel, stopping first at the Lazy J2 Ranch, meeting a nearby neighbor, Harriet, and her three somewhat friendly dogs. Harriet was exceptionally welcoming and fun to talk with. Didn’t pick up too much here but Karen Vandergrift began her efforts to spot the first of five WHITE-TAILED KITES way off in the distance, a trend that continued all morning. Heading west in that direction along a side road, we did get much closer views of one of these kites perched on a pole and chomping on something. What a beautiful bird.

Continuing south and realizing that the morning was not going to be an exceptional birding opportunity, we took them when we could but headed for Lochiel with the intention of returning back up Harshaw Road in the Patagonia Mountains, since several folks had never been to this area. Stopped first at the De Niza monument for a required history lesson (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about here). Saw just a few interesting birds along this route, including some bright WESTERN BLUEBIRDS. Then back into Patagonia and lunch at the Paton’s, but birding here had also quieted down and we were unable to find the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that had just been seen earlier along with the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. But as always fantastic weather and scenery and the Merlins and kites were well worth it.

Tim Helentjaris
Tucson, AZ

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.”
- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick





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