At exactly 0530 hours, as planned, Laurens Halsey from Desert Harrier Birding and Nature Guide Services arrived at Joe’s place. Still in mild distress from his date with the dentist the previous day, Joe stayed behind so Corrine did, too. Natalie and I piled into Laurens’ moon rover-vehicle-thingy and moved on with our morning.
One of the most ridiculous adventures in Southeast Arizona birding is the hunt for the Five-striped Sparrow. They BARELY make it into the United States. Favoring brushy hillsides in canyons, one location has come forward as the most reliable place – California Gulch. Basically, that’s it. Sure, they can be found elsewhere on occasion, but still only within a few miles of the Mexican border.
It is often advised that one be totally prepared for this trek. Spare tires. Extra water. Big vehicles. You are in the middle of nowhere and if anything goes wrong, you are so screwed and there is a great chance no one will know you’re there.
Hiring a guide for this bird is the way to go, if you ask me. They know where they are going. They know what they are looking for. And they have ham radios in the vehicle if needed. Forget cell phones. You might as well be on Mars. Play it safe. Get a guide.
90 minutes or so later, we were parked outside the gulch and we began our descent. The hike is not bad at all (remember it is getting there safely that is tricky). Not twenty minutes into the Gulch, we heard and then saw, one of the flashiest sparrows in the United States. Life bird #660. Five-stripped Sparrow.
If you are wondering why the photo looks a little odd, we were looking down on it! The gulch (or canyon or whatever you want to call it) has a rough road along the edge. We descended into the gulch by walking the road. Below us was the stream bed and that is where the bird was feeding.
But the birding didn’t stop there! Knowing we needed other birds, Laurens took us deeper in the gulch. For the next hour so, we had super looks at more Arizona goodies (all of which were new for Natalie) including Gray Hawk and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Unlike the Varied Bunting at Madera Canyon, this bird put on quite a show.
The drive out gave us good looks at Cassin’s Kingbird and a fleeting glimpse of a Zone-tailed Hawk. Natalie wasn’t happy with that look and was hoping for a better look later.
Hoping for a cold drink, we made a quick stop at the Gadsden Coffee Company. Located basically in the middle of nowhere, we secured Canyon Towhee in the courtyard. Ice coffee never tasted so good.
By lunch time, we were back at Joe’s as we hired Laurens for just a half-day adventure.
For the record, if you find yourself needing a guide in Arizona, consider Laurens. He is good, friendly, punctual, professional, flexible, and licensed! Yes, folks, there are lots of guides available in southeast Arizona. But, per the law, some run their operations illegally as they are not licensed to run a guide service in some locations like the Coronado National Forest.
After a casual bite of lunch (somewhat by "lunch standards"), Natalie and I simply ran out of gas. By the time we returned from dining, we were functionally dead. Nappy-pooh time.
After dinner, Joe (feeling slightly better), Corrine, Natalie and I headed back to Madera for more owling. Come on – the place is THAT cool!
Like clockwork, the Elf Owls were back feeding the kids again. At one point, Joe exclaimed “Look at the rail! Look at the rail!” My first thought was “Holy cow, the heat is getting to this man….there are no rails, Black, Virginia, or otherwise, in Madera Canyon…” A moment later, I realized he was talking about the hand rail. There, in all its glory, was the Elf Owl. So small. So incredibly small.