Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sonora, Mexico Christmas Bird Counts

I just returned to Tucson after a great few days in Alamos, Sonora, where I participated in a couple Christmas Bird Counts. I'm not the official compiler for these count circles, so for complete details or numbers and species you'll have to wait for the CBC publication. Anyway, here's a little taste of the events from my perspective:

Alamos's count was on January 2nd, so Jay Taylor, John Yerger, and I took the overnight bus down the night before and arrived just in time for the count. John and Jay headed off to the upper Mentidero Wash area, where they had a good day with some good birds, including several Buff-breasted Flycatchers and the count's only Grasshopper Sparrow. Mingo (a locally trained bird guide) and I took a group of birders up to upper Aduana Wash (above the village). We ended up having a great day in there. Highlights included 12 White-eared Hummingbirds, a surprise Broad-tailed Hummingbird, two Russet-crowned Motmots, and an amazing mixed flock with almost 30 species in it, including Tufted Flycatcher, several Slate-throated Redstarts, several Elegant Trogons, and ten species of warblers (including several Rufous-capped Warblers). Rufous-backed Robins were thick in the fruiting figs -- we had upwards of 55 by my count. Mixed in were a few White-throated Robins.

The Alamos count had an astounding 40 participants this year, more than doubling the previous high number of 19. Not surprisingly, we broke the count's species high count with 172 species seen/heard on count day (the previous high count was 169). I suspect that the count week total will probably be ten or so species higher than that. Seven Mexicans participated, which is a great turnout of local talent.

The second count we participated in was a brand new one up in the mountains to the east of Alamos. The count circle is officially called the REMM (or Rancho Ecologico Monte Mojino) count, but everyone referred to it as the Santa Barbara count for the small village up in the mountains within the count circle. This count was a huge logistical challenge, so kudos to Suzanne Winckler, David MacKay, Stephanie Meyer, and others for setting it all up. The circle was set-up to encompass a lot of varied habitat on the edge of the Sierra Madre, and included stretches of pine and oak habitats. Several of us had sections high up in the mountains, which we accessed by driving up to Santa Barbara the day before via a very rough 32-mile road that took 5 hours to drive. It was an adventure all in itself. On the way up we had amazing looks at Colima Pygmy-owl and Masked Tityra.

A few people stayed the night up at Santa Barbara to be in the oak habitat there during the count, and scored great birds such as Black-headed Siskin, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, and Spotted Wren. My group, which included Jay, John, David MacKay, and three locals from Alamos -- Alejandro, Mario, and Mingo -- hiked down into an amazing barranca (steep sided canyon) to spend the night. Our first birds for the count day were calling Mottled Owl and Colima Pygmy-owl. David, Jay, and Mario headed back up-canyon for their section, while Alejandro, Mingo, John, and I went into Arroyo Verde, an unbelievable side canyon off of the main barranca. Arroyo Verde is only 600 meters long or so, but has some of the most amazing habitat I've seen in Sonora. It was full-on Tropical Deciduous Forest (TDF), and the birds were thick and diverse. Some of the more exciting birds were Masked Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, scores of Brown-backed Solitaires (there were so many singing it was sometimes hard to hear other birds), Orange-billed Nightengale-thrush, Tropical Parula, Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, White-striped Woodcreeper, etc. At one point we found a tree that was swarming (literally) with redstarts -- at least 30 Slate-colored and Painted Redstarts were up in the canopy. While we were watching this, we heard the unmistakable "Squee-chuck" of an Eared Quetzal. We spent 20 minutes following the sound up and down the canyon (I seriously think they can teleport) without seeing the bird, until one suddenly alighted in the tree above me. I called for John and as he and Alejandro were hurrying up, the bird flew and landed closer to where they were -- and it was followed by another, then another, then another.... At one point we had 6 Eared Quetzals all in the same tree and all vocalizing.... If that's not a birding highlight I don't know what is. It was amazing. The birds all appeared to be male, which was interesting. In addition to the quetzals, we tallied over 30 Elegant Trogons in the canyon.

Closer to the bottom of the canyon Mingo discovered a Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow - a lifer for me. Once back into the main canyon, we also added Rusty Sparrow, Northern Waterthrush, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Lineated Woodpecker to the tally. Once we had hiked out to the road, we also added Laughing Falcon.

The compilation dinner was at a rancho owned by Nature and Culture International, and Stephanie Meyer hosted the meal. Good food and ronpope (eggnog) were had by all. Of the twenty-five or so volunteers for this count, almost half were Mexican -- a wonderful show of local talent and support and an example of the growing environmental awareness in parts of Mexico. A yowling mountain lion in the middle of the night was another highlight. The species count total for the Santa Barbara count was 144. And best of all, not a single House Sparrow, Rock Pigeon, European Starling or Eurasian Collared-dove were seen!

A third count (and one I wasn't able to participate in) took place on the coast at the Navopatia Field Station, a remnant tract of pityal cactus forest. Definitely consider checking this area out as well if you are down this way. http://www.alamoswildlands.org/NavopatiaFieldStation.html

For additional photos of my trip, please see:


For information about next season's Sonora Christmas Bird Counts, please email David MacKay of Solipaso Tours at info@solipaso.com. Their website is http://www.solipaso.com/.

For more information on the conservation efforts in Southern Sonora by Nature and Culture International, please see http://www.natureandculture.org/htm/mexico/mexico.htm.

I encourage anyone interested in these counts to consider coming down next year. It was a great time!
-matt! brooks

Tucson, AZ


  1. Do you know when the Christmas bird count will be held in Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) in 2013 and who to contact if I wanted to join them?


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