Saturday, February 1, 2014

Birding the Aribabi Conservation Ranch

After finishing up my Panama series, I thought I'd bring birders a little closer to the US border.  Now I know that Mexico hasn't had a lot of great press lately so hear me out:)  Arizonan birders are very lucky to be surrounded by great states like California, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada.  But so many people often forget the "other" state located just a few hours south of Tucson.  In my next series, I will highlight two places that are must visits in the state of Sonora, Mexico. There are certainly more, but these places are VERY close to Arizona....and full of great birds!

This horse blocked my path to the nesting Rose-throated Becard!
Safety first!  Mexico has had a bad rap for several years and quite honestly, it's for good reason. HOWEVER, there are many areas that are actually safer than some of the birding spots in the US! The two places I'm writing about in the next BIF posts are safe and friendly locales full of great birds for the international birder.  And yet still, I will offer some advice from my 20-some odd years of travel to this country. 1.  Keep up with the local news from around the area. 2. Go with a group.  3. Drive during the day  4.  Arrive at the ranch and enjoy beauty. Why all the effort? For people searching US rarities like the Rose-throated Becard, it's rather nice to know that a several hour drive south from Tucson beyond the border will most likely get these birds on that life list.  For each time of year, something different may be hanging out around the ranch. This report is from July of 2013. The Rose-throated Becard was not seen around Southern Arizona this year.  But they were definitely at Aribabi Ranch.  There was a huge nest hanging over the river nearby.

Rose-throated Becard(female)
So today we are driving 40 minutes south of the US border to Aribabi Ranch.  You will need a passport, high clearance vehicle for a small bit of off-roading, and a cooler full of goodies.  Think of it as a nicer camping excursion with showers and a bed:)  On this trip, a fellow birder and myself were asked to join a tracking team and find birds.  Since this was a new area to scout, we couldn't say no.  This was an opportunity for exploration. 

Rufous Hummingbird
We had studied the birds that might be found around the area and it was rather exciting.  Many of these birds are rare to uncommon in Southern Arizona, but here at the ranch, they were regulars.  Violet-crowned Hummingbird, 5-Striped Sparrow, Rose-throated Becard, Thick-billed Kingbird, Buff-collared Nightjar, Green Kingfisher and Sinaloa Wren were some of the birds that we might chance observing. So sleeping was a challenge.  These exciting finds kept us tossing and turning throughout the night as we waited with anticipation for dawn's early light.  And when the morning arrived, we were up scouting rock, river and canyon.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Of course this ranch is also a highlight for wildlife trackers and many others because it hosts an amazing assortment of bugs, amphibians, reptiles and mammals like the elusive Jaguar! And we didn't have to go far to find this Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  We put the feeders up right outside our place and they came.  One of the first hummers to the feeder was the above bird. The Violet-crowned reminds me of a dolphin with wings because of the clean white breast and blue-gray back.  But that's just me:)

The ranch is also home to a wide variety of habitats including mesquite forest, a riparian area with an active stream, canyon area, and desert.

Green Kingfisher

Much to his delight(and mine), it didn't take my birding bud long to find the Green Kingfisher.  Everyone was excited by this incredibly beautiful bird.  I myself was hoping for a good look at the Five-striped Sparrows.  Sometimes, they can be very tricky to locate  in Southern Arizona around areas like Peña Blanca Lake or Montosa Canyon. At the ranch they were behind our bedroom all along the hillside. In fact, it was the most common sparrow found around the area.

Five-striped Sparrow- a little pic you see it?:)
There were Black and Turkey Vultures around an area. Of course, this is a sign that something is dead or dying.  It was rather exciting to see them posing like this on a branch.  Classic vulture shot:)

Turkey Vultures

And no matter how hard I try, I can't resist taking pics of Cardinals or this Black Phoebe.  It's one of "those" birds that has a huge fan following:) So when the moment happens......

Black Phoebe
During the monsoon weather, the sky is quite dramatic teasing the vegetation with Happy Hour....or Minutes:)  In this region, rain can be expected at regular intervals every afternoon/early evening.

a meadow near the stream
Several important things to consider while birding during the summer here.  Bring sunblock, a hat, plenty of water and long pants to keep the chigger bites to a minimum.  However while we were there, I didn't have any issues.  These are just general birder guidelines anywhere we go during those hot summer months along riparian areas both in Southern Arizona and throughout Mexico and Central America. 

Thick-billed Kingbird
While walking around a pasture, we easily spot a Thick-billed Kingbird.  It's much lighter and larger than the other Kingbirds.

Nearby Mission Cocospera
Of course, there were others in our party who were studying other critters like reptiles, amphibians, etc. And I learned a thing or two about snakes, frogs and bugs.

Red-spotted Toad
This area has a high concentration of insects which made for a healthy population of birds and amphibians near the river. 

Lowland Leopard Frog
We hoped to find a Happy Wren, but were thrilled to find this Sinaloa Wren.  If you follow specialty birds around the US, you may notice that ­¡TWO! Sinaloa Wrens have been hanging around Southern Arizona over these past several months.  These wrens prefer washes and streams......and are rather vocal at times. Many times they can be difficult to see as they weave like a mouse through leaves and branches. We had to study up on this one because it looks quite similar to the Bewick's Wren.  Now after observing them over the past several months, I actually find this wren quite distinct.  At the time, it was a life bird for both of us in the photo below and it was important to recognize their call and behavior.

Sinaloa Wren

Bleary eyed after my trip to Guatemala, I woke up one morning and birded in my pajamas around the property and ran into an angry mother javelina.  I am so focused on the birds that I forget to look around me at times. In the case of this javelina, I saw 8 walk past me on the trail so I waited from a distance. When all was clear, I moved forward.  Suddenly a mother popped out on the trail with her two little ones.  This time I was only feet away from her......and she growled.  Alone, I began to consider my options.  Javelina have poor eyesight and there was a concrete block I could run and jump on.  If she tried biting me, I'd have to punch her in the nose. Luckily, none of that happened.  I slowly backed away keeping my eyes on the cute little babies.....and Mom.  She growled again.  Still too close.  I backed away further and she continued across the road allowing me a quick pic to remember the experience. Everyone was still waking up and I was alone not too far from the ranch:)

An angry momma Javelina
During the break from the summer heat, we'd sit on the wonderful shaded patio and watch birds, snakes and critters.

Canyon Towhee
We'd see so many birds up close and personal.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
We are looking again to schedule another birding mission during migration.  I believe this area will host some of the most amazing warblers and hummingbirds in the upcoming months.  The weather should be perfect for birding. 

Yellow-breasted Chat

For more information, check out their link here.  Contact information is on their website.  We planned this trip several months in advance and were so glad we did.  The owner is a very friendly man who cares deeply for the environment. The ranch is an important study site for both the US and Mexico as Jaguars do pass through the area.  We felt safe and our group had a great time out in the field.   I hope you'll join Birding is Fun again when we explore a popular beach destination for Arizonans in Rocky Point, Mexico. We'll visit "Bird" Island and comb the beaches for those wonderful feathered feathered friends of ours.  Until next time.....Happy Birding!!


  1. Chris, great post on this Mexico birding spot. What a great variety of cool birds. I enjoyed the photos and your post, happy birding!

  2. Wonderful post Chris! I love all of the photos!!

  3. Aribabi Conservation Ranch sounds like a fabulous place to view wildlife. I think I need to add this destination to my bucket list. Awesome post with terrific wildlife images, Chris! So many cool sightings! I especially love the hummingbirds, Rose-throated Becard and Javelina mom and youngsters.

  4. Fantastic place full of life.. Congrats..

  5. Great post and some great photos. It was about time, seems like years ago! Wonder who that person is in the first photo?!?!?! Thanks for sharing and promoting!

    1. I thought I'd advance the Mexico writes first:) The guy in the first pic is an amazing birder and made for a great pic:)

  6. Loved seeing all the birds and other wild life critters you photographed at the Aribabi Ranch. Enjoyable read also, in your
    unmistakable style. Great post Chris.... even though I'm not a birder, I can appreciate natures beauty, and your passion for it through your blog.
    Have a good Sunday.
    Warm Regards.

  7. W ciekawym miejscu w Meksyku byłeś. Było sporo ciekawych ptaków nie znanych dla mnie. Były i dziki. Pozdrawiam.
    In an interesting place in Mexico were. There were a lot of interesting birds are not known to me. There were wild. Yours.

  8. A wonderfully interesting post Chris with some great images. I love the little Toad :)

  9. Your shots are wonderful, and , again, what an experience you must have had on this adventure. I am brand new to this , and can see that there must be unlimited adventures available for exploration. love your shots, and will definitely be keeping my eyes out on your posts. I can see that i have a great deal to learn on this topic.

    1. Jeanne, I feel like I have a great deal to learn as well. That's what's amazing about the birding experience.....we're all constantly learning about new things. And you're is a grand adventure!