Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nov 4 (Day 308) - Getting ready for a wrendezvous

Sinaloa wren is a Mexican species that has appeared 4-5 times in Southeastern Arizona over the course of the last ~5 years. Interestingly, several of the individuals that have been located have stayed for many months. I actually looked for one of these "long-staying" birds at Fort Huachuca earlier this year. This particular bird, originally discovered by Ron Beck in September of 2013 during his Cochise Country bicycle big year, stayed put through May 18 of this year. As I approached the area during May 20-24, I could see that the eBird reports of this bird had stopped coming in. I also knew that there were many capable observers that had been looking for this bird during those days. I figured that the bird had moved on, and I decided not to spend more than a casual morning looking for it. It turns out my assumption had been correct as this bird was not seen again that spring. It was, however, relocated this fall before disappearing again.

A similar story surrounds another Sinaloa wren based in Tubac. So far as I can surmise from eBird records, this bird was apparently found in September of 2013 and stayed in the vicinity until early May of 2104. This bird was missing in action for the rest of the spring and summer. It reappeared in September, and it has been seen consistently since then. It was for this bird that I would be searching over the next few days. I mentioned that it had been eBirded on October 29, and I found out today that the bird was seen and heard my multiple observers this morning. It was nice to know that I would at least have a chance of finding this bird!

Before I could search for the bird, I had to bike the ~65 miles south from the side west of Tucson to Tubac. As I mentioned yesterday, my morning would start off with a ride through the amazingly beautiful Saguaro National Park. The roads through the park were quiet, and the scenery was just perfect on this slightly chilly morning. The afternoon segment took me south past the same Santa Rita mountains that I passed in May on my way north.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Santa Rita Mountains

67 miles total

I arrived in Tubac at 2:30 and immediately headed to the wren spot. Dead does not even begin to describe the birding at this location at this hour. For the next two hours, I paced the areas around the power line cut where the wren has frequently been seen. The bird is normally found when it gives its characteristic "ratchet" call. Otherwise it is incredibly hard to find as it slinks about the low foliage in the Santa Cruz River wash. If the wren doesn't call, you can essentially forget about finding it. I was reminded of this with each passing moment of silence this afternoon. There were essentially no birds from 2:30 to around 4:45. The only excitement was the appearance of a wren that turned out to be a Bewick's. As the sun started to set, bird activity picked up a bit. A feeding group of assorted warblers and Bridled titmice passed through the wash. They were making a fair bit of noise. At around 5, I thought I heard the wren call through the noise of the other birds, but it quieted down before I could make certain. I was resigning myself to returning to the sport tomorrow morning to continue the search. I decided to give it a few more minutes. This was a good decision as I soon heard the wren call definitively from a position much closer than from where I thought I heard it previously. Springing into action, I strained my eyes to look for the wren that sounded like it was not more than 20-25 feet in front of me. Try as I may, I could not find the wren before it quieted down and presumably slinked off to some other location.

Year bird #584 was on the books! It will go down as heard only, but I have plans to return to the spot tomorrow morning to resume the hunt. Sinaloa wren is a Code 5 rarity. This means it has been seen in the ABA area only a handful of times. This is a bird that I want not only for my year list but also for my life list. I think it is worth pushing a bit more time (i.e. another day) into this bird is worthwhile. These are the thoughts that went through my head as I finally gave up on the wren today. 

Literally, as I turned to walk back to my bike, I saw a small shadow move under a stick. I binoc'd up to see a wren running along the ground like a mouse! Holy crap - could this be the bird? I gave chase and eventually got a good enough look to identify it as the Sinaloa! Incredible! At this stage this bird seemed not to take too much notice of me. Maybe it was because it was getting so dark so fast and he didn't see me all that well. Whatever the reason, he permitted quite close approach. Given the lighting conditions, the camera's autofocus was rendered useless. I flipped into manual focus, dialed up the ISO as high at it would go, opened the lens all the way up, popped up the flash, held my breath, and hoped for the best. Given how incredibly bad the lighting conditions were as the sun set (oh yeah, I was under under trees too!), I think the last shot is miraculous!

#584 Sinaloa wren ! Highest quality bird of the year!

Streaked face, white throat


1/30 (no IS), f/5.6, ISO 6400, flash in near darkness!

This is an incredible addition to the year list. It is equally amazing with what relative ease I was able to find this bird. It only took 3.5 hours! I was willing to allocate a few days to this bird, but now I can immediately turn my focus to Baird's sparrow. I will tomorrow ride the short 40 miles to Patagonia where I will spend the night. From there I will ride into the San Rafael Grasslands very early on Thursday morning to search for the sparrow. Hopefully that search will go as well as this one!


  1. Amazing ... great work. Congratulations!

  2. Great story. It's fantastic that you had the help to at least put you in position to know roughly where to look for the wren, and then memorizing its call sure helps too. Good luck on 600.

  3. Code 5!!! And kick-ass pictures given the circumstaces! Well done, man.