There be no Seagulls here

Hello everybody,

I know it’s been awhile. Believe me, I wish I could have written here throughout the past few months, but the thing is, I haven’t had access to either a desktop computer, or any of my photos, for quite awhile. Now, I have an awesome new computer to show for the patience, but sacrifices to a number of media platforms had to be made in the meantime.

On the bright side, I’ve got so much juicy material to write about now, and we’ll see how quickly I can get back up to date on this blog. I still have a lot of photo editing to do, but I gotta start somewhere, so here I begin again, chronologizing the first of many adventures, with the glorious Camp Chiricahua. For those who don’t know, Camp Chiricahua is a summer camp specifically for young birders, run by VENT and lead by Michael O’Brien and his wife Louise. It’s much like Camp Colorado, the camp I did last year with the ABA, only slightly longer, and in Southeast Arizona. 

So, where to begin? On Tuesday, July 11th, 2017, I boarded an airplane to Tuscon with my mom and Oscar Moss, another SF young birder who was also attending Camp Chiri. Once in Tuscon, it was awesome to see Eddie, Cameron, Ryan, Luke and Jake, whom I knew from past camps/travels, as well as Kai, Isabel, and Oscar W., whom I’d never met in person, but had talked with online. There were also new faces: Canyon, Jack, IT, Prez. All in all, it was everything I could expect from a YB Camp socially. The only thing left was the birdlife.

But before that…Wendy’s. It had been awhile since I’d had some nice, greasy fast food, and I enjoyed the queasy feeling that followed my “Bacon-bacon Cheeseburger”. Even better were the Kingbirds; both Western and Cassin’s perching on the same telephone wire! Actually, it was kind of underwhelming, but kingbirds are cool so whatever.

And then, we headed off, bound for Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. Because of wildfires on Mt. Lemmon, we were unable to camp as planned, but there were no complaints from the van of birders in Southeast Arizona. There was no time for complaints anyways, because within minutes, we had our first Gila Woodpecker of the trip, a life bird for many. While it wasn’t a lifer for me, I enjoyed the moment of seeing such a localized bird nonetheless. Just a tad father down the road, we stopped in a dusty neighborhood to try and see a Gilded Flicker. As we pulled up, we saw a flicker on a palm tree from the van. No one could confirm it as a Gilded, but the probably was high. Walking around, we were able to find a group of Harris’s Hawks, a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers, a Rufous-winged Sparrow, and a Pyrrhuloxia, all lifers for me!

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This is a young Harris’ Hawk
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And this is an adult. Turns out, the birds in this group were the only Harris’ Hawks we saw over the entire trip!
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Epic photo documentation of my lifer Curve-billed Thrashers!

And now, naturally, must come the painful bit. When we sighted the Pyrrhuloxia, I was ecstatic. One of the most ridiculous birds in the U.S., I was enthralled watching this Cardinal hop around in the mesquite. And thus, I missed the only surefire Gilded Flicker that we saw over the course of the trip. The possible bird earlier only squeezed lemon juice on the wound. On the “bright side”, I think I got better looks at Pyrrhuloxia than almost anyone else on the trip. Huzzah.

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I gave up a Gilded Flicker for this. Glass half full, fellas

If I were in anywhere other than Southeast Arizona (or perhaps the neotropics) I might have dwelled on this loss for days to come. Thankfully, there was so much to keep me busy at the time, that I really didn’t have the time to be disappointed about anything. As soon as I’d realized what happened, two Broad-billed Hummingbirds whipped by, another lifer for me.

Campers were bubbly throughout the rest of the ride to Madera Canyon. We didn’t see anything all that amazing from the vans, although the scenery was stunning. Arizona is a land of extremes, with desert and mesquite that stretched for miles, and mountains that seemed to rise up from nowhere. The land was a collage of green and brown under a volatile sky, alternating between blue skies and rain clouds. Piñion-junipers grew in thick forests along the road, sporadically growing either in the masses or becoming almost nonexistent. I barely even talked to the others; I knew I’d be seeing no one else for the next week, and just took it all in. Southeast Arizona is one of the most untouched places I have ever been, and it held vague resemblances to the Mojave desert, adding nostalgia to the awe.unnamed.jpg

When the vans pulled to a halt at Santa Rita Lodge, I had no idea what I was in for. I assume Michael must have known, and yet he still attempted to give us all an orientation speech whilst Mexican Jays and Bridled Titmice dripped from the trees above us, both lifers for myself and for most of the others. Off to the left, we could see a group of feeders, and dozens of hummingbirds zipping around them. As soon as Michael let us go, we all punted out bags into our respective cabins and ran for the woods and feeders. Holy. F—in’. Crap. It was absolutely insane. At the feeders, 30 or so Broad-billed hummingbirds whizzed around our heads. Mixed in with them were Black-chinned, Rufous, Anna’s, and Rivoli’s Hummingbirds, along with a single Violet-crowned, a local rarity. On the ground, a group of Wild Turkeys sat around, their bulbous carcasses providing little distraction from the important stuff (the only way I like Turkeys are with gravy). In the brush piles below the feeders themselves, Varied and Lazuli Buntings hopped to and from the cover, along with a number of Blue Grosbeaks. White-winged Doves sat on everything that had the potential to be sat upon. I found myself thinking over and over: Why didn’t I realize this place existed before? How could I have been so oblivious to a place so close to myself? I never imagined I’d ever experience something like that in the States, and that first evening will be imprinted upon me for the rest of my life.

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A Violet-crowned Hummingbird hovers above a feeder, joined by a Black-chinned Hummingbird
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A male Varied Bunting sits on a piece of brush, looking like a Wild Berry Twist pack of gum
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Broad-billed Hummingbird. Gorgeous thing.
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This is the best I got of a male Black-chinned Hummingbird. Those things never stop moving.
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A Bridled Titmouse needs nothing more than to exist to be cool
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Rivoli’s Hummingbirds are freaking HUGE

After I’d watched the feeders for a good while, I noticed Canyon, another Cali kid from Yuba County, watching the forest. I asked him what he’d seen, and he let me know that he’d just had Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatchers. Amazed, we all set out in pursuit, like mindless sheep. It was low birding, kind of like chasing a Chestnut-sided Warbler here in San Francisco, and yet we needed the lifers. Fittingly, we didn’t see either of the flycatchers right there and then, although we did see many more later that night and over the course of the trip. However, a slightly more uncommon bird was an Arizona Woodpecker that Canyon was also able to pick out. I got some sweet looks, and managed one bad photo, but no one else besides myself and Canyon got to see the bird that day, so I felt special nonetheless.

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Hehe
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A depressed Turkey Vulture waits for the inevitable to come, an ironic end to a scavenger of roadkill

Dinner that night was hot dogs, and it felt to me as though that was the moment we were officially welcome to Arizona. Post-dinner birding brought me three more lifers as well, those being Brown-crested Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and a heard-only Elf Owl, which ran jitters of excitement down my spine.

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A Dusky-capped Flycatcher yodels its nightly farewell to the hills beyond.

Can you guys believe all that was just the first day? Really just an afternoon. Imagine how long I’ll take to write about 12 days of this sh*t!

well, that’s all for now,

Jonah B.

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2 comments

  1. “Seagulls”? Funny how often we use that word when we actually mean “Gulls”. Know what you mean but birders need to use the correct name, don’t you think? Intended as humour. Please take it that way;-)

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    • I find comfort in the term “seagull”, as it removes all ambiguity from anything in the genus larus. Similarly, I can confidently call out many flycatchers as “empids”. It’s not that I don’t embrace the challenge of a difficult ID, but sometimes a bit of confidence is just what I need on a long day 🙂

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