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In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Southeast Arizona – Day 5

Sunset at California Gulch in Southeast Arizona
Sunset at California Gulch in Southeast Arizona – photo by Greg Miller


Today was a loooooong day with many stops, lots of driving, and stifling heat. But, wait until you hear the stories! We began our day at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve where we missed seeing any Thick-billed Kingbirds. That was a first for me. I have always been able to see them there. And there were no Varied Buntings. Wow #2. Vermilion Flycatchers were in good supply as were Cassin’s Kingbirds. We added a Black Vulture for the trip list. Our next stop was Paton’s Yard where Violet-crowned Hummingbirds put on a show. A Yellow-breasted Chat came in for a bath, and both Inca Doves and Common Ground-Doves were in the yard. And Gray Hawks were calling often.

We had lunch in Patagonia and then went to the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest. We easily ticked Thick-billed Kingbird and Varied Bunting. After that we drove to Kino Springs where we saw our first Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. A Cinnamon Teal was also present and a Gray Hawk flew overhead. On our way west we stopped briefly at Pena Blanca Lake which was quiet. The campground was also slow. We stopped briefly at Sycamore Canyon and saw Black-headed Grosbeaks and Phainopeplas.

Finally we committed to the long drive on Ruby Road to a tiny dirt and stony road to California Gulch–only a 1/2 mile from the Mexican Border. The big draw at the gulch is a very rare Mexican species that nests in small numbers in the U.S. We saw numerous Border Patrol vehicles along the way. The road was in better shape than I last remember it. It took us about 1.5 hrs to make the trip from Nogales to California Gulch. It’s an arid valley with habitat that is far more like Mexico than the U.S.

It didn’t take us long after we parked to hear our first Five-striped Sparrows. We set up telescopes and the whole group got good looks at this handsome and rare species. But we weren’t finished. We found a Black-capped Gnatcatcher, another Mexican species that only sporadically appears near the Mexican Border. Bam! We had a beautiful sunset and waited for darkness to set in. Our next target was another Mexican species. It is related to our Whip-poor-will. It is called a Buff-collared Nightjar. It has a very distinctive call. We waited for 1.5 hrs after sunset but never heard a peep out of the nightjar. Was it there? We’ll never know.

It was a looooong drive to Green Valley this evening. It’s late. And tomorrow is our last full day of birding. Sigh. This area of the country is so special that time literally just evaporates. I love Southeastern Arizona. It holds so many wonderful birding memories for me. And the scenery always dazzles me. Tomorrow we will visit one of the most popular birding destinations in the United States–Madera Canyon. Hopefully, the Plain-capped Starthroat (a large Mexican hummingbird) will put on a show for us. But if not, we are going to have fun birding in this magical place. We will probably finish the day with a drive up Mt. Lemmon and return to Tucson for the night.

Oh, as of last night our Big Year Tours total for the year was at a whopping 480 species. I don’t know how many species we added yet. That comes next. Or sleep may interrupt me. Tonight will be very short.

[update]: as of the end of Day 5 of Southeastern Arizona we are at 488 species total for the Big Year Tours. We have added an amazing 66 species to the 422 species we had going into this week. And now sleep calls loudly and I will answer.


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