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Copper Canyon Adventure

21-31 March 2003

Day 1: Los Mochis

All photographs ©2003 by Mary Beth Stowe

What a travesty! My first and only Mexican bird on the first day was a stupid little House Sparrow! (Might have had a Turkey Vulture at Hermosillo, but he got away before I could get the bins on ‘im...) But everything else was a tremendous answer to prayer: security was a breeze at the airport (I overheard one guy speculate that people were too afraid to fly because of the war), got into Phoenix in plenty of time, and even caught a friend at home to have a nice chat (and even got my 50¢ back!).

The flight to Hermosillo was fine (was able to sneak my second carry-on both flights), and again had plenty of time between connections (and customs was a breeze! They even had a corny little stop light that turned green when you pushed the button. I found out later that it was actually used to select people at random to search...)

The plane to Los Mochis was a puddle-jumper, though, and I had to throw my wheelie-bag in the hold, which was fine once I transferred all my documents and walkman, but once on the plane I realized that the wad of money to pay the driver the next day was in there and unsecured! I had visions of myself pleading tearfully with the baggage guy to let me take it into the terminal myself (they were gonna shift all the luggage onto the belt), but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), one of the American fishermen on the plane also insisted on taking his bag full of expensive gear, and he was giving the guy such a bad time over it (his claim tickets didn’t match) that the poor luggage guy was in no shape to argue with me (and my tags did match), so I thanked him profusely and explained that the rest of my "dinero" was in there! Fortunately he seemed to laugh it off...

After getting my other bag and finally getting out of there (they’re definitely not as strict as the States) I found a driver named Gonzalo, and as my friend advised me, I asked before we left how much it would be to the hotel! So we tootled off in the dark, and I made a vain attempt at conversation (he spoke no English at all, and I knew enough to be dangerous, as they say) as we made our way through the rough part of town and then finally to the very nice Santa Anita Hotel (about a two-star room by AAA standards, but they actually had shampoo and room service)! Took a shower, and waited for dinner (a scrumptious roast chicken dish) to arrive.

Next morning Rodrigo, who was to be our Mexican guide throughout the entire trip, met me in the lobby with his backpack, and while the scheduled driver never showed, he found us another taxi who agreed to take us around for a much cheaper price (he charged by the hour). His name was Victor, and spoke no English, so I’m glad Rodrigo was along!

The first thing to assault our ears upon arrival at the Sinaloa Park were Great-tailed Grackles, which were all over! Also all over was the trio of Eurotrash, plus White-winged and Inca Doves, along with House Finches, which are much redder than ours! We basically weaved our way in and out of trails, and eventually kicked up other things besides grackles, including displaying Kiskadees, a group of sunning Groove-billed Anis, and a young Gray Hawk perched in the open allowing us to walk right up to him! Deeper in the woods we caught a Rufous-backed Robin on the ground, but I got distracted by a closer bird that turned out only to be a female Summer Tanager. Orange-crowned Warblers were all over, and at one spot Rodrigo said, "Here’s a bird!" Practically within touching distance (which I walked right by, naturally) was a female Elegant Trogon! What a weird place for one! (Barry Lyon, our tour leader, was terribly jealous when I told him about it...) Also had something calling that sounded like a White-throated Flycatcher, but Barry said he wouldn’t expect them there; I was hoping that whatever it was would call again when the group went the next day, but it wasn’t to be.


L-R:  Inca Dove, Great-tailed Grackle, Great Kiskadees (displaying on right)


L-R:  Young Gray Hawk, Groove-billed Anis, female Summer Tanager

Victor herded us toward the botanical garden, where I heard something totally unexpected: a Grayish Saltator! Later Barry told me that they do indeed occur there; the "Howlin' Webb" shows their northernmost range a bit south of here! We also had a young male Bullock’s Oriole in there, plus a singing Solitary Vireo; I’m assuming Cassin’s (even though it’s not on Barry’s list) because it looked awfully green to me, but it could have been the leaves reflecting green, too. An odd-looking shape in top of a tree turned out to be a Red-billed Pigeon holding his tail fanned at a strange angle!

The vultures that had been sunning in the palm trees were up as we made our way past an open area, and with them was a Swainson’s Hawk! Near the golf course a chirping hummer turned out to be a Violet-crowned, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher buzzed unseen along with a Lesser Goldfinch. In another grove had a flock of Western Tanagers move through, and a Happy Wren scolded and then thankfully sang (never did show itself, though...)!  Gila Woodpeckers were all over, and had a Merlin whiz by as well. Along a more disturbed fenceline a Cardinal zipped by, and a saltator actually showed himself!


L-R:  Sunning Turkey Vultures with morning meditation, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and Red-billed Pigeon against the moon

After that we were off to Topolobambo Bay, and the lagoons going in there were terrific! A scope would have indeed been nice but not absolutely necessary; we had good looks at Brown Pelicans, Great and Little Blue Herons, Reddish and Snowy Egrets, and a Marbled Godwit in the shorebird department. At other stops we added Caspian and Forster’s Terns, Laughing Gull, White Pelicans way out there, Stilts, Willets, both curlews, and my personal favorite, a pair of American Oystercatchers! Verdins and Cactus Wrens sang from the cactus-covered hillside, and we did manage to get a Mangrove Warbler to at least sing (scared up a Green Heron in the process). The best dickey of all, though, was a Large-billed Savannah Sparrow who was actually singing, and he does sound a little different (but still obviously a Savannah song)! He even let me get his picture!


 Cactus-studded hillside on the way to Topolobambo Bay


L-R:  Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Ring-billed Gull


L-R:  Brown Pelican, Little Blue Heron, and Caspian Tern


The aptly-named Large-billed Savannah Sparrow breeds here and winters at the Salton Sea in the U.S.   

From there we headed straight to the Bay so the guys could get something to eat, while I looked around. Picked up California and Heermann’s Gulls on the beach, and plenty of frigates overhead. The highlight was an Osprey nest right in "town"; "Pop" even wanted to mate, but "Ma" shooed him off her back... Also had great looks at several Mangrove Swallows.


Mangrove Swallows and Magnificent Frigatebird


This series of Osprey shots shows that the "not-tonight-I-have-a-headache" scenario isn’t limited to humans!

Victor was snoozing so I joined Rodrigo in the open air restaurant for a coke and some chips and talked a little about where else I had been in Mexico. On the way out Victor swung around some beach areas where we added Western Gull and a great look at a Whimbrel. Picked up a Tricolored Heron on the way out, and a stop at the airport added a ton of Cliff Swallows! The ponds my friend Ted had told me to be sure to check out were dry, so since we had covered all the areas, we were essentially done! I heard a Bell’s Vireo singing from some willows at one intersection, and when we pulled over to look at some Black Vultures, I heard Killdeer off to the side, so we snuck over to a hidden canal where there were more Stilts, a couple of Least Sandpipers, and a Moorhen! A quick stop at the plaza produced nothing but grackles, but a hummer on a wire on the way out turned out to be a Broad-billed!


L-R:  Black-necked Stilt, Western Gulls, 3rd-year California Gull (often confused with Ring-billed), and Whimbrel


Rodrigo (left) and Victor (right) at the Plaza in Los Mochis (every Mexican town has one; it’s “the place” to gather)

We definitely headed home after that, where I took a shower and then went to the restaurant, where after awhile Rodrigo showed up with Barry! That was when he told me about the saltators and announced that we would return to Sinaloa Park the next a.m.! So after lunch I went back up to the room to do the list and catch up on the journal; 74 species ain’t bad for the morning!

After bawling through an HBO movie called Wit (about a snobby literature professor who has to re-evaluate her life after getting cancer) and OD-ing on Animal Planet (everything is in Spanish, but you could still enjoy the films), I joined the rest of the crew for orientation and dinner. Poor Brian Gibbons, our co-leader, lost his bag (or rather, the airline lost it), so we were hoping it would catch up with him soon! We had a full crowd, and initially got to know Andy Brumbaugh from Carlsbad, who ironically had attended my sparrow program at the San Diego Bird Festival!  Other members of the group included David Lepannen and Teresa Williams, who had also gone to Sinaloa Park along with Teresa’s mom Ethel (don’t know why I didn’t make the connection with two people named "Williams") and had gotten a Streak-backed Oriole!  Helene Weiss and Sue Ormsby came together, both from "New Yoak" originally, and were both fun people. Valerie and Charles Zecca were from Temecula (almost neighbors!); they spend a lot of time at Santa Rosa Plateau and are quite involved there. Anne and John Donovan were from Dallas, along with their friend Barbara Anderson.  Walt and Nancy Childs from Virginia ended up kind of "adopting" me and were great people; Mark and Judy Scarff from Massachusetts had a knock-out Leica scope that was great for "digi-scoping"!  Dinner was fabulous, after which we all hit the sack.

Continue to "Los Mochis to El Fuerte"