Thursday, February 7, 2013

Birds on a Mission

Lark Sparrow 
In Santa Cruz County of southeast Arizona lies a hidden gem of birding and history. It is called Tumacacori National Historic Park and it is one of my very favorite places to visit and to bird. The mission itself dates back to the 1600's. The birds have been here even longer than that! For me, birding is really fun when I can combine the birding with the beauty of such an historic place!

The old Spanish Mission makes for wonderful photographic opportunities.

Say's Phoebe

The birds also find it a pleasant place to perch!

Lark Sparrows

In the courtyard a fountain flows out through shallow channels when sparrows gather to drink.

Sparrows on the fountain
I saw Chipping sparrows, Lark sparrows, and White-crowned sparrows all drinking from the fountain.

Orange-crowned Warbler

And in a brushy corner an Orange-crowned Warbler picked among the winter-killed flowers.

San Cayetano Mountains

The Tumacacori Mission is surrounded by mountains with the San Cayetano's off to the southeast...

Santa Rita Mountains behind Mission

...and the more famous Santa Rita Mountains where Madera Canyon is located off to the Northeast. 

Tumacacori Mountains with front facade of  the Tumacacori Mission

Across the street from the Mission are the Tumacacori Mountains for which the Mission is named.

Golden Eagle

Because of this proximity to so many mountains it is possible to see Golden Eagles here. While this is not the best photo you can clearly see the feathered head and yellow feet and the characteristic overall brownish plumage of this large raptor. This was my first sighting of a Golden Eagle in Santa Cruz County. I was not expecting it so it was a pleasant surprise. These serendipitous moments are what also makes birding so much fun for me!

Red-naped Sapsucker in shade of mesquite tree
I went to the Mission on two separate dates this past January in my pursuit of a Big January Count. The first day was on January 6th when we took my son and his wife here to sight-see, and while they were sight seeing, I was birding! I saw my first and only Red-naped sapsucker here and I saw it on both visits in the picnic area behind the courtyard. The bird was very shy and I was unable to get a photo on my first visit. when I returned on January 13th it was clinging to the shady side of an old mesquite tree in the same area. So, I sat down quietly at one of the picnic tables to get this shot. Not the best, but still, I was on a birding mission to prove I saw it!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Back beyond the mission there is a bit of a mesquite bosque. It is back here that I spotted a blue-gray gnatcatcher. Again, this was the only place I saw one in the whole month and I saw it here both times!

Rufous-winged Sparrow
And in the grassy hedgerows beyond I found a small flock of Rufous-winged sparrows! Notice the rufous crown and the double whisker marks below the bill, a field mark for positive identification and more reliable than the "rufous wings" for which the bird is named! However, if you look closely at the photo you can actually see the hint of rusty color on the bird's upper wing.

Northern Cardinal

Back in this same mesquite bosque I also found one of several Northern Cardinals. I've been told that our Northern Cardinals here have longer tails and crests than northern cardinals is other parts of the country, especially the Northeast. So, if you find yourself in Santa Cruz County come stop by the mission for some history and some birds. I am sure you will have fun!

You can see more photos of the Mission or read about my Big January on my other blogs. Just click on the links below:


  1. Kathie, the Mission is gorgeous! What a beautiful place to go birding. And the birds are all wonderful. The Lark Sparrows are pretty, I would love to see them someday. Great photos and post. Happy Birding!

    1. Eileen, you would revel in this place of beauty. I hope you can visit it one day!

  2. That is a very charming place Kathie and you do it proud with your photos and tales here.
    Great stuff!

    1. Laurence, you would love it here. Next time you are down this way let me know. Perhaps we could go together?

  3. This historic park looks like it has a lot to see! The architecture of the old mission buildings is beautiful. Gorgeous mountains and so many wonderful birds made for a perfect day!

  4. Beautiful location to go birding, Kathie. Hard to beat those views of the mountains and the ancient mission with such a range of subtle colors and shapes. Love your shots of the birds too!

  5. How wonderful that you can visit a historic site and educate yourself, enjoy the beauty of the area and go birding all in one trip. Fantastic! The mission looks like a great place to visit. Terrific photographs, Kathie!