North-west Mexico and South-east Arizona, November 2008

Published by Jon Hornbuckle (jonhornbuckle AT

Participants: Jon Hornbuckle


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Eared Quetzal
Eared Quetzal
Eared Quetzal
Eared Quetzal
Bendire's Thrasher
Bendire's Thrasher
Five-strped Sparrow
Five-strped Sparrow
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Striped Sparrow
Striped Sparrow

I visited northern America with my non-birding partner Stella to see a few new birds, the Copper Canyon and give her a good break. The Barranca del Cobre is a group of canyons a mile or so deep in the western flank of the Sierra Madre Occidental with pine-oak forest at the upper elevations and patches of tropical deciduous woodland in thorny scrubland lower down. The most accessible viewpoint is from Divisadero – a panorama of the confluence of the Tararecua, Copper and Urique canyons. This is most easily reached by train from the Pacific coast at Los Mochis or the inland city of Chihuahua. The Copper Canyon al Pacífico railroad, known by the nickname "Chepe”, is an engineering wonder of numerous tunnels and bridges, was only completed in 1961 - the stretch from El Fuerte to Creel is one of the world’s top train journeys.

It was a most enjoyable trip, with spectacular views of the Copper Canyon system, the peaceful ambience of Entre Amigos Hostal and surroundings at Urique, and the Eared Quetzals (my last trogon species) the highlights. The route we took – relatively cheap flight to Phoenix, then coach to Los Mochis - was probably the cheapest and simplest way of getting to NW Mexico. Crossing the border at Nogales in the coach was surprisingly easy, taking only a few minutes in both directions. We can recommend both (Mexican) bus companies used – TBC and Tufesca, along with The Roadrunner Hostel, Tucson and Rio Vista Hotel, El Fuerte. We hired a car from Dollar for the 3 days in Arizona, booked through Dial-a-Flight in the UK – much cheaper than in the US. Nothing else was pre-booked except our first night at The Roadrunner and we had no problems with accommodation, transport or health. The weather was very good and almost invariably sunny, with no rain except a little on one day in Arizona. In the mountains, especially around Creel where there was ice on streams, the mornings were distinctly cool but soon warmed up when the sun came up.

I am indebted to several people who kindly gave me birding and other information, notably Shaun Coyle, Nigel Crook, Larry Liese, Vivian MacKinnon, Andy Marshall, Pete Shepherd, Iain Tomlinson, Bill West, John Yerger and Charles at Rio Vista.


6th Heathrow – Phoenix on BA, drive to Tucson, night at The Roadrunner Hostel
7th Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson. Night at The Roadrunner
8th Patagonia, Harshaw Canyon, San Rafael Grasslands, Madera Canyon at dusk. Night at Nigel’s in Tucson
9th Madera Canyon, Whitewater Draw, Tucson, 2015 overnight TBC coach to Los Mochis
10th Los Mochis 08.45, bus to El Fuerte, Rio Vista Hotel (tel 016988930413).
11th El Fuerte – lake and river
12th train to Bahuichivo, transfer to hotel in Cerocahui, walk in canyon to waterfall
13th canyon walk, taxi to Urique canyon overlook, walk to Urique, pm at Entre Amigos hostal
14-15th Urique area
16th 0800-15.00 four bus journeys to Creel, Casa de Hues Perez
17th Taxi to Cascadas de Cusarare with short stop at Lago Arareco, bus to Creel then to Divisadero to view the Copper Canyon, train back to Creel.
18th 0645 Chihuahua bus to Choguita, hitch back to Creel. Bus to Divisadero, train to El Fuerte 1300-1800, Rio Vista Hotel
19th 0645-0900 lake, 1130-1430 and 1600-1645 riverside. Bus to Los Mochis, 2030 overnight Tufesca coach to Phoenix
20th Phoenix 1145, public library, good lunch at Teriyaki bar, email at library, Heard Museum, bus to airport, overnight flight to London.

With the generous help of Nigel Crook I saw 3 new species in Arizona - Western Screech-Owl, Bendire's Thrasher and Baird’s Sparrow – and missed 2 - Montezuma Quail and the reintroduced Wild Turkey. Two other possibilities, Lawrence's Goldfinch and Dusky Blue Grouse, could have been present but would have been very difficult to find at this time. In NW Mexico I also saw 3 new species - Eared Quetzal, Five-striped Sparrow and Striped Sparrow – and what I thought was Crimson-collared Grosbeak, a vagrant here. As I hadn’t birded in northern America, other than Alaska, for many years, I was unable to identify all the sparrows, flycatchers and warblers with confidence so some species were doubtless overlooked.

Nigel Crook wrote to BIRDWG05@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU :-
On Saturday we headed into Harshaw Canyon and onto The San Rafael Grasslands. As we drove into Patagonia I was surprised to see a BELTED KINGFISHER leaving the town in a northerly direction high overhead. From the rest stop in town we had 4 CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS in view. We added another 5 during the course of the day to give a day total of 9. Do they know it's already November? In Harshaw Canyon we found a HEPATIC TANAGER.

In the San Rafael Grasslands we looked for BAIRD'S SPARROWS and eventually managed to get views of one on the ground. This involved a lot of walking, flushing and chasing many sparrows which turned out to be GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS when finally seen well enough on the ground. Although now dead, the grass is very thick this year which makes it virtually impossible to see Baird's/Grasshopper Sparrows on the ground over much of the grasslands. The trick is to work the areas with the shorter and sparser grass, or to flush the sparrows onto these areas from the edge of the longer, thicker stuff. Watching exactly where they land and spotting them on the ground before flushing them again takes practice, patience and lots of skill! We flushed 2 SPRAGUE'S PIPIT and had several small flocks of CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS fly over our heads. HORNED LARKS were common, as were SAVANAH SPARROWS. 3 NORTHERN HARRIERS were seen.

An early Sunday morning drive into Madera Canyon gave us ARIZONA WOODPECKER.
Later in the day Whitewater Draw produced a single AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, 5 SNOW GEESE, 7 NORTHERN PINTAIL, 1 CANVASBACK, 15+ LESSER SCAUP, 1 MERLIN, 1 GREATER YELLOWLEGS, 1 RING-BILLED GULL, 2 roosting GREAT HORNED OWL and all the other usual stuff including clouds of cranes.


Sandhill Crane: several 1000 at Whitewater Draw, SE Arizona.
Mexican Parrotlets: 50+ near the river at El Fuerte on one afternoon only.
Eared Quetzal: at least 6 at Cascadas de Cusarare near Creel.
The hummingbird spectacle at the feeders at Rio Vista Hotel, El Fuerte: 50+ birds of 8+ species.
Black-throated Magpie-jay: 3 at El Fuerte and Urique.
Blue Mockingbird: 1 see in a side canyon at Urique.
Five-striped Sparrow: a pair on 2 days in the canyon at Urique.
Striped Sparrow: a flock of 20-30 at Choguita near Creel.

Species Lists

A = Arizona
F = El Fuerte
Ce = Cerocohui including birds seen from the train
U = Urique Canyon
Cr = Creel including Divisadero

Least Grebe F
American White Pelican A
Double-crested Cormorant A,F
Great Blue Heron A,F,Cr
Great Egret A,Cr
Green Heron A,F
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck F
Snow Goose A
Pintail A
American Wigeon A,F,Ce
Canvasback A,F
Redhead F
Lesser Scaup A
Northern Shoveler A,F
Gadwall A
Green-winged Teal Cr
Ring-necked Duck F
Osprey F
Black Vulture F,Ce,Cr
Turkey Vulture F,Ce,uCr
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk A,F,U
Goshawk U
Grey Hawk Ce
Common Black Hawk F
Short-tailed Hawk Ce
Zone-tailed Hawk Cr
Red-tailed Hawk ALL
Crested Caracara F,U
American Kestrel ALL
Merlin A,F
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca F
Elegant Quail F,U
Gambel’s Quail A
Common Moorhen A,F,Cr
American Coot A,F,Cr
Sandhill Crane A
Northern Jacana F
Lesser Yellowlegs A
Killdeer A,F,Cr
Spotted Sandpiper A,F,U,Cr
Ring-billed Gull A
Red-billed Pigeon U
Band-tailed Pigeon Ce
White-winged Dove ALL
Mourning Dove A,F
Inca Dove ALL
Common Ground Dove F
White-tipped Dove F,Ce,U,Cr
Mexican Parrotlet F
Squirrel Cuckoo U
Greater Roadrunner A,F
Groove-billed Ani F
Barn Owl F
Western Screech Owl A
Great Horned Owl A
White-throated Swift Cr
Broad-billed Hummingbird F
White-eared Hummingbird F
Berylline Hummingbird F
Violet-crowned Hummingbird F
Blue-throated Hummingbird F
Plain-capped Starthroat F
Black-chinned Hummingbird F
Anna's Hummingbird A
Broad-tailed Hummingbird F
Mountain Trogon Ce
Elegant Trogon F,Ce,U
Eared Quetzal Cr
Russet-crowned Motmot Heard F
Belted Kingfisher A,F,U
Acorn Woodpecker ALL
Gila Woodpecker ALL
Red-naped Sapsucker A
Ladder-backed Woodpecker U,Cr
Arizona Woodpecker A,Ce
Gilded Flicker ALL
Greater Pewee U
Pine Flycatcher Cr
Buff-breasted Flycatcher U
Black Phoebe A,U,Cr
Say’s Phoebe ALL
Vermilion Flycatcher ALL
Dusky-capped Flycatcher U
Brown-crested Flycatcher U
Social Flycatcher F
Cassin’s Kingbird A,F
Thick-billed Kingbird F
Rose-throated Becard U
Violet-green Swallow A
N. Rough-winged Swallow A,F
Horned Lark A
Sprague's Pipit A
Steller’s Jay Cr
Mexican Jay A,F,Ce,U
Black-throated Magpie Jay A,Ce,U
Chihuahuan Raven A,F,Ce
Common Raven A,Ce,U,Cr
Mexican Chickadee Ce,Cr
Bridled Titmouse A
Verdin ALL
Bushtit U
White-breasted Nuthatch A,Ce,U,Cr
Pygmy Nuthatch Cr
Brown Creeper Cr
Cactus Wren A,F
Rock Wren U,Cr
Canyon Wren U,Cr
Happy Wren heard F
Bewick’s Wren A
House Wren U
Ruby-crowned Kinglet A
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher F,U
Black-capped Gnatcatcher F
Eastern Bluebird A,Ce
Mountain/ Western Bluebird A
Townsend’s Solitaire A
Brown-backed Solitaire Ce, U,Cr
Hermit Thrush F
American Robin U,Cr
Northern Mockingbird ALL
Blue Mockingbird U
Bendire's Thrasher A
Curve-billed Thrasher A,F,Ce,U
Loggerhead Shrike ALL
Cassin’s Vireo U
Plumbeous Vireo F
Hutton’s Vireo A,Cr
Warbling Vireo U
Phainopepla A
Orange-crowned Warbler U
Nashville Warbler U
Lucy’s Warbler F,U
Yellow Warbler F
Yellow-rumped Warbler ALL
Black-throated Grey Warbler ALL
Grace’s Warbler Ce, U,Cr
Northern/Louisiana Waterthrush U
Common Yellowthroat F
Wilson’s Warbler U
Painted Redstart U,Cr
Slate-throated Redstart U
Rufous-capped Warbler F,Ce, U,Cr
Yellow-breasted Chat U
Hepatic Tanager A,Ce
Green-tailed Towhee A
Spotted Towhee A
Canyon Towhee ALL
Rufous-winged Sparrow A
Rufous-crowned Sparrow A
Rusty Sparrow U
Five-striped Sparrow U
Striped Sparrow Cr
Chipping Sparrow A,F,Cr
Vesper Sparrow A,Cr
Lark Sparrow A,F,Ce
Black-throated Sparrow A
Baird’s Sparrow A
Grasshopper Sparrow A
Lincoln’s Sparrow A
White-crowned Sparrow A,F
Dark-eyed Junco A,F,Cr
Yellow-eyed Junco A,Cr
Greyish Saltator F
Northern Cardinal A,F,U
Pyrrhuloxia A,F,U
Black-headed Grosbeak U
Crimson-collared Grosbeak F?
Varied Bunting Ce,U
White-collared Seedeater F
Chestnut-collared Longspur A
Lilian's Eastern Meadowlark A
Western Meadowlark Cr
Red-winged Blackbird A,F
Brewer’s Blackbird A, U,Cr
Brown-headed Cowbird A,F
Bronzed Cowbird F
Great-tailed Grackle A,F,Ce,U
Hooded Oriole U
Black-vented Oriole U
Streak-backed Oriole F,U,Cr
Scott’s Oriole A
Lesser Goldfinch ALL
Cassin’s Finch U
House Finch F
Evening Grosbeak Ce
House Sparrow ALL