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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Holy Grail Species of SE Arizona: Elegant Trogon, Red-faced Warbler, Hepatic Tanager and Buff-breasted Flycatcher

[SE Arizona. April 2014]

There are some species that are:
  • Extremely range-restricted
  • Iconic representatives of their family
  • Visually spectacular and/or frequently on birders' "Most Wanted" lists
And, this post will feature a quartet of SE Arizona specialty species that are not only extraordinary, but also difficult to find (mostly) and hence arguably deserving "Holy Grail" status for the intrepid birder.

We start with the Elegant Trogon. Of the 39 species of trogons found in the world, only 1 species is found in the US -- more specifically, it is best found in just a handful of locations in SE Arizona (Madera Canyon, Patagonia, and Garden Canyon).

 Elegant Trogon -- seen on Carrie Nation Trail. Madera Canyon.

A steep climb in Madera Canyon up the Carrie Nation Trail in the early morning was rewarded by an observation of the stunning male Elegant Trogon.

This blogger was fortunate to encounter a farther-son duo from California who were hot on the audio trail of the trogon. Rushing past my own deliberate but slow ascent, they were kind enough to point out the faint seal-like calls of the Elegant Trogon repeated 4 times and then followed by a pause.

The trogon was inspecting a nesting cavity in a Sycamore before making short flights to nearby branches; moving up the canyon.

 Elegant Trogon 

The Elegant Trogon is a stocky, long-tailed bird with a red breast, green back and black head about the size of a Blue Jay.The bill is short and yellow; the posture appears hunch-backed.

The next species, the Red-faced Warbler is equally iconic but much easier to find. Unlike the Trogon, the Red-faced Warbler is locally common in appropriate habitat although it too has a very restricted range.

Red-faced Warbler seen on Mt. Lemmon

There are a couple of reliable locations for these warblers on Mt. Lemmon: Incinerator Ridge and Bear Wallow. Although they may be found at other locations as well.
Red-faced Warbler with freshly caught insect
This uniquely colored warbler prefers high elevation forests and ranges from Central America to the Southwest US (Arizona and New Mexico).

Common in South and Central America, the Hepatic Tanager has a small range in the Southwestern US -- roughly overlapping that of the Red-faced Warbler. Indeed, its range is the smallest among our 4 tanagers (compare with Scarlet, Summer and Western Tanagers).

Hepatic Tanager seen at Madera Canyon

With numbers increasing, the Hepatic Tanager is thriving in its distribution. The species' common name "Hepatic" refers to "Liver-colored" (same root as in hepatitis) and  alludes to the red-brown color of the plumage.

The final species of the "Holy Grail" Quartet -- the Buff-breasted Flycatcher:

Buff-breasted Flycatcher seen at Rose Canyon, Mt. Lemmon

This Mexican tyrant flycatcher -- the smallest Empidonax of the lot -- barely reaches into US territory.

It is unique among Empidonax flycatchers with its coloration of bright buff, brown and light cinnamon shades; standing out from the otherwise confusingly similar olive-greens of the other Empidonax flycatchers such as Willow, Alder, Acadian, Hammond's, etc.

The delicately hued Buff-breasted Flycatcher
Rose Canyon is probably the best place to see this tiny, warbler-sized, flycatcher.

For anyone birding SE Arizona, these 4 species deserve a prominent place on the top of their target species list.

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