Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count
By Matt Griffiths
What a great way to start a new year of birding! Jennie MacFarland and I participated in this amazing count for the first time. It covers a wide swath of the very wild Atascosa mountains, taking in many canyons and open grassland just north of the border with Mexico. This includes such hot spots as Sycamore Canyon and California Gulch among others. Adding to this diversity, the count circle includes Pena Blanca and Arivaca lakes. A fun fact: It has the highest concentrations of Montezuma Quail, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, and wintering Elegant Trogon of any CBC circle in the country. The opportunities are endless and I can't wait for next year!
Anyway, Jennie and I were covering the Corral Nuevo section on what turned out to be a very quite day, bird-wise. Lucky for us, the forest road we were following was also very quiet and the scenery was great! We traversed oak studded rolling hills that were separated by wide drainages that in almost every case contained running water! The high peaks of the Highlands towered over us to the east, and we found a section of hoodoos along our road which was a nice surprise.
An interesting hillside microhabitat of pinyon pine and juniper didn't yield the explosion of birds we had hoped, but our day was still going fine with oodles of Chipping Sparrows, a few Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and great looks at a male Red-naped Sapsucker. Closer to the full Big Tank, we found the hot spot of the day with yet more sparrows including a lone Vesper Sparrow, Spotted Towhees, a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds, but none of the Western Scrub Jays that were found in previous years.
We finished the day exploring the side roads of the area and then listening for owls back up on Ruby Road. Not surprisingly, the owls were quiet but the sunset was amazing!
For all the info on the Atascosa Highlands count run by Rich Hoyer, see his Blog