Two Days of Target Birding: Pima and Cochise Counties, Arizona

April 1, 2017
When I saw the Rare Bird Alert on Wednesday, March 29th, for a WHITE WAGTAIL in Ajo, Arizona, I needed to see the photo to assure myself that a bird by the same name that I saw in the Netherlands five years ago was, indeed, the bird being reported. It's a Eurasian bird, but this WAS that bird (species).

The American Birding Association (ABA) ranks the scarcity of birds in its area from 1-5 with 5 being the most rare.

Because the WHITE WAGTAIL visits the northwestern coast of Alaska and has, on occasion, been viewed south  of there, it was a Code 3 bird. But to most Arizona birders it seemed like a Code 5!! (I've been birding for only five years.) Research shows that the WHITE WAGTAIL's appearance in Ajo is the second sighting in AZ for as long as records have been kept. 

Thus, two days after Doug Backlund reported seeing it at the Ajo Sewage Ponds and had provided photographs to assure its identity, I picked up Glenda J. for a round trip visit to Ajo, Pima County, Arizona.

Arriving a little after 8 a.m., on Friday, March 31st, we joined a group of about twelve birders (two from California) standing outside the chainlink fence (topped with barbed wire). Birders needed to stay outside the two ponds within the berms. Doug Backlund, a tall quiet birder who had originally reported the mega find, was also present.

Glenda, in blue jacket, sharing Rob's sturdy bench to take photos. 
Among the methods for getting the best views of the bird: 
1) back a pick up truck to the fence and let people with spotting scopes and/or cameras stand in it;
2) bring your own step stool/ladder;
3) bring a good solid bench to stand upon.

Local Phoenix birder, Rob, had set up his sturdy folding bench and welcomed Glenda to share it. Both of them being tall, they were able to catch a few good photos of the ever-moving WHITE WAGTAIL.

WHITE WAGTAIL leaving its perch on the pipe in the water to fly closer to us!  Yay!  [Photo: Glenda Jones]

Winds were high and I was low.  It was difficult for me to see over the berm and into the water when the bird was close to the pond's edge nearest us; it was better for me when it was farther out on the pipe where I could see it fairly well.

But, then, it made all of us a bit giddy. The WHITE WAGTAIL flew up to the top of the berm!

WHITE WAGTAIL on berm between ponds lined with thick gray plastic. Note its long tail, black chin and head with dark eyeline on white face. Its back was dark but it had a big white wing patch. Its belly is also white and the dark tail shows white outer tail feathers when it flies. [Photo: Glenda Jones-above & below']

After visiting with the WHITE WAGTAIL until it flew farther out on the pond again, we turned for home again. [Note: by Sunday, no White Wagtail showed up for the birders hoping to see it. It's gone.]

The next day, Saturday, April 1st, we departed AJ early again to return to Sierra Vista where we had visited just two weeks ago. This time, an ABA Code 5 bird, the TUFTED FLYCATCHER from Mexico, had been reported at the high-elevation campground in Carr Canyon's Reef Townsite right after we had returned home.

I knew of the bird because it had been located in Ramsey Canyon (next canyon over) two years ago (2015) but was a difficult 2-mile hike UP from the Visitor's Center there. Not for me anymore.

Pulling into Carr Canyon campsite at 9:15 a.m., we saw a handful of birders over at the ravine. They told us the rare bird was still present; it had flown right into a close limb as if to show off for photos. Mindful that is was April Fool's Day, I looked them in the eye and asked to see some of the pics. Yes!

Since these birders had already gotten the closest look at the flycatcher that they'd probably ever get (landed 5-10' in front of them), they were socializing. So, I wandered off and motioned to Glenda to follow. I wanted to get away from there to check out the campsite opposite the ravine (and restroom) where we had been two weeks ago.

Sure enough! Such a gorgeous bird! Small, sprightly, upright and purposeful. It perched on open limbs, flew off for insects and returned to the perch it had departed. Be still my heart!

I took numerous photos of course, but am posting these below of this Code 5 TUFTED FLYCATCHER with its ochre-orange breast. Life Bird for each of us.

Thrilled with our two very rare sightings in two days, we couldn't tarry long. Glenda will be returning to Toronto in a couple days and I have a trip coming up next week, too. 

We need to stop birding this wonderfully birdy state long enough to manage our respective lives.

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  1. Lots of driving for great birds! What a week! But I'll be honest. I am exhausted from the White Wagtail. Kinda took a break from birding this weekend which has been nice. Congrats on the Tufted! I think as the years go on, we'll see these birds more and more with climate change.

  2. I agree! Also why we went for the WHWA first, thinking it could take off at any time but the TUFL would probably stay around for a while, if not to nest there. Wouldn't that be awesome?!