Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 27 (Day 147) - Nightjars in Madera Canyon

It's 11pm, and I just got back from my nocturnal birding session. I need to keep this short to get some quick sleep before I head back out early tomorrow morning. I want to get off the road by noon since this is what's coming in the afternoon (Wed).

Today I headed 16 miles and 2,500 vertical feet up into Madera Canyon. I spent the hot, middle portion of the day feeder-watching, and in the late afternoon I went for an extended hike that took me an addition distance up into the canyon. Birdwise, it was very quiet today. This was most likely due to the extreme heat we experienced today (see above). I did see some very nice Blue grosbeaks at the feeders, and I had a great look at a Grace's warbler foraging on the ground.
Out and back for 32 miles today

However, it was the continuing Buff-collared nightjar at the mouth of Madera Canyon that really motivated today's expedition. This is another Mexican species that just reaches Southeastern Arizona.  There has been one bird hanging out at a spot called Proctor road. This road essentially demarcates the entrance to the Canyon; Above it oaks dominate and below it is mainly mesquite scrub. The nightjar appears to like this transition zone, and he has been heard calling in the same area for several weeks. This nocturnal and amazingly well-camouflaged bird is not only rare, but it is incredibly difficult to see. I have heard the bird on several occasions but never seen it. I figured tonight would go the same way, and despite getting within 30 feet of a calling bird, I was unable to get a decent look at it. I did see it fly through my flashlight beam, but this "look" is certainly not enough to count as a seen bird as far as I am concerned. Buff-collared will therefore go down as a heard only bird for species #453. Another nightjar, the Common poorwill, was calling all around us as we looked for the Buff-collared. I was unable to see any of these calling Poorwills, so it will join the list at #452 as heard only. I will have more chances to see Poorwill in the next few weeks. I did see several Lesser nighthawks this evening.

Buff-collared nightjar habitat. The main part of 
Madera Canyon is around that rockpile to the right.

The nocturnal descent: 2000 vertical feet straight down!

OK, bedtime. Tomorrow I will head to Tucson to try to pick up Costa's hummingbird and Gilded flicker. I'll try to write a bit more tomorrow since I will have some time.


  1. Hardcore! Did you see any cool night critters on your ride back down?

  2. Hi Dorian:
    Did you cover your gear in a previous post anywhere (specifically bike and panniers). Thanks much.

  3. Keep on truckin', Dorian. You're doing great!

  4. While one's life list is a very personal decision, here's an argument for counting the Buff-collared Nightjar: You saw it and heard its distinctive song. Consider a hypothetical and equally poor view of a singing Alder Flycatcher, where the view itself would not add any additional information to separate it from Willow. For some species such as Empidonax, screech owls, and nightjars, the hearing can be much more important than the seeing. So by that rationale, even a poor view could be considered "good enough" as long as you were sure you saw the bird that was making the vocalization.