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Copper Canyon Adventure

21-31 March 2003

Day 3: El Fuerte River Valley

All photographs ©2003 by Mary Beth Stowe

The next morning we had a terrific buffet breakfast before heading out to Brand Ranch, where we might find some more typical lowland thorn forest birds. On the way out we had a couple of Harris’ Hawks among all the Black Vultures, plus a nice Caracara on a cactus. We drove up towards the dam in search of Elegant Quail, but no such luck, so we headed up the road to the ranch (thankfully the driver was willing to take the bus in cuz sometimes they evidently aren’t). Along this road we hopped out for some flycatchers that turned out to be very cooperative Nutting’s! It turned out to be a very birdy spot, cuz we also had a bush with both Broad-billed and Rufous Hummers, a Hooded Oriole, and the real treat: a nyeping Black-vented Oriole! He was great! (In fact, one just called outside my hotel window as I was writing this!) I almost tuned out the calling Ash-throated Flycatchers in the same area, but Barry wanted to try for the Russet-crowned Motmot, so he poked down into the gully to play the tape. Shortly we had one respond, and with a little coaxing, two came out and eventually gave just cracking looks, especially through Mark’s scope (tried shooting it through that one)! What a bird!


L-R:  Habitat on the way to Brand Ranch, Harris' Hawk, Sinaloa Crow, and female Broad-billed Hummer


L-R:  Nutting's Flycatcher, Hooded Oriole, and Black-vented Oriole


Barry draws out an endemic Russet-crowned Motmot!  

We finally tore ourselves away and headed down to the river, which was just alive with Cassin’s Kingbirds over the bridge and several Ospreys to boot! A pair of Vermilion Flycatchers performed nicely in response to the owl, and the normally skulky Northern Beardless Tyrannulet came right in, along with a Dusky-capped Flycatcher! A huge adult Tiger Heron lumbered by, and a lost Eastern Phoebe fly-caught from the wires along with the kingbirds. Among the Roughwings Barry found some Sinaloa Martins, which was a life bird for him! There were also some Violet-green Swallows there, new for the trip.


L-R:  Dusky-capped Flycatcher, female Vermilion Flycatcher, Osprey, lost Eastern Phoebe, and Northern Beardless Tyrannulet


On the trail...  

Moving down the trail, we interestingly had both Happy and Sinaloa Wrens singing side by side! We finally coaxed the Sinaloa out, looking a lot like a Bewick’s Wren, especially under the tail. We also had a cooperative Pacific-slope Flycatcher come in, and in the meantime Rodrigo had found a Gray Hawk and set the scope up on it! A Green Kingfisher shot from the shoreline while a bigger Belted rattled ignored. Someone found a coot for the trip, and Barry spotted a Gray Flycatcher ahead of us. But a few blessed folks saw the Rufous-vented Chachalacas taking off from the giant cottonwood ahead of us! (I got an uncountable glimpse of one...) I guessed Magpie Jay on a strange sound which turned out to be the case...


Pacific-slope Flycatcher along the El Fuerte River

We arrived at the fenceline and were about to turn back when Barry spotted a Blue Mockingbird! It finally hopped up on a branch, and everyone got superb views of this skulky guy! We finally tore ourselves away from there and dragged ourselves back to the bus, where we enjoyed cold drinks and a female Varied Bunting, and White Pelicans so high I couldn’t even spot them!


Barry finds us a Blue Mockingbird!


Female Varied Bunting and Neotropic Cormorant with nesting material

Back at the ranch I heard Ruddy Ground Doves in the garden area, and after lunch a few of us went out back to try and refind the Rufous-backed Robin that was hanging out there. We finally got a good look, and while Vivian was watching him she stumbled across a Brown-backed Solitaire! Needless to say the whole crowd rolled back in for that—he was gorgeous!


L-R:  Brown-backed Solitaire, Broad-billed Hummer at the feeders of the hotel across the street, and Rufous-backed Robin

I ended up taking a nap, but then visited the feeders at the hotel across the street where a knockout Broad-billed Hummer came in! Talked with a pair of captive Military Macaws before meeting the crew to go back up to Miguel Hilgado Lake. On the way we stopped at "the dump" where a Bronzed Cowbird was in with the "unclean birds" and an orange had us fooled into thinking we had a Yellow-headed Blackbird at first!

It was kind of a hairy road up to the dam, but what a view! Way out there we could see lots of gulls and herons, but were able to pick out both Brown and White Pelicans, and Bonaparte’s Gulls for the trip. One first-year bird was ID’d as a Herring, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell it from a California, so I personally let it go. Over on the spillway side you got a spectacular view of the river and rookeries therein, where Mark found what was probably a night heron, but again I couldn’t see it well enough to tell. There was a pod of Ring-necked Ducks in a little cove and a single scaup in with the Bonies. We were getting ready to leave when Mark said he had flushed some quail (and Elegant is the only one there), so we all piled in the bus and drove up the road where we piled out again and hiked around the monument area, but couldn’t find them; Barry went scrambling down the hill and did flush them, but they went down and out of sight.


Miguel Hilgado Reservoir and the dam that you drive over


View of the El Fuerte River from said dam

After an adventurous climb down the stairs of the Aztec water god, we finally headed back and stopped at a little wash where we had lots more Black-capped Gnatcatchers, but a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows came in to Barry’s tape, giving great looks! Heading on we stopped past the dump for one last try for the quail, and got cracking looks at Cactus Wren and a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers instead. After that we went home where I showered, washed clothes, and then headed to dinner where we all shared stories about various trips before turning in (and I can’t remember any of said stories, naturally...)


L-R:  Rufous-winged Sparrow in the shadows, White-winged Dove, and Curve-billed Thrasher 

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