Sky Islands and Sparrows

The backroads to Patagonia Sonoita involved fording a river in full spate. Having been caught out by rental cars that look like 4x4s but are nothing more than 2WDs in chunky dress I almost hit the brakes at the last minute. But the promise of bridled titmouse and whatever else may lurk in the willows along the creek kept me going though.

Luckily the car pushed through, water sloshing the wheel arches.

The gravel road round the back of the preserve was quiet, a woodpecker yaffled from the creek and a few black vultures thermaled above. Rather than jump the fence and go into the closed preserve I settled for a walk along the road. I stumbled pretty quickly on a calling sparrow. Knowing a winter sparrow in AZ could be any of many great birds I scrambled the scope out the car After a bit of pishing and calling I got the bird back, even into the scope.  The little guy was only a rufous-browed sparrow, a lifer and one of the two sparrows I really wanted to see.

This would have been good enough to pack up and head home but a little more wandering turned up my first ever Bridled titmice. 

In keeping with the southern cone place-name theme I headed west to Buenos Aires National Refuge- a lonely wild grassland on the Mexican border, west of Nogales.  The only people I met here were a French couple who had bought a 70s Jaguar in Mexico and were sleeping in it.  This was like a red rag to a bull to the border patrol and when I bumped into them the next day they’d had a sleepless night of angry cops banging on the car windows looking for border runners. 

I made a mesquite fire and camped out, and though the desert temperatures fell off a cliff during the night I got some sleep and woke to the Babquivari peak in the dawn light, which was worth it.

I found my other sparrow, rufous-winged, in the Avianca creek, a breeding pair who were highly inquisitive and territorial in response to song playback. This was a tough sparrow and by late morning even the winter temperatures along the creek had soared into the 90s.

I met some folks from the local Audubon chapter and we scoped a raven, which, with the collective consensus of 10 people, was coalesced into a Chihuahuan raven, but the rictals are pretty evident in this shaky iphone/scope shot. I’d like to think I’d have been confident on my own but it’s good to call it with the locals sometimes.

I left Arizona with 99 species. A last minute drive around the back streets of Ajo to try to lure an Inca dove out of someone's trailer park didn't quite work to get me to 100. And almost got my bitten by a rabid stray.

Now I need a spring-time trip to the fabled Chiricara mountains.

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I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com