Got into Tucson, AZ late Friday night. Picked up friend Moez Ali and headed to Hermanas, NM in search of the “controversial” Aplomado Falcon. Why controversial? For one it’s a (once thought) extirpated species of the southern United States. Per Wikipedia.com, “Until the 1950s it was found in the extreme southwestern United States“. That is, until about 5 or 6 years ago…sporadic reports came in of “possible” Aplomado sightings in the extreme Southwestern corner of New Mexico. Many of them went unvalidated with no photo documentation to back them up. Everything went quiet once again toward the summer of 2008 but once again reports starting trickling through again in the winter of ’08/’09. This time there were actual photos posted and descriptive posts with actual GPS coordinates. But not without controversy. You see, what was once thought to be “one” or even remotely possible “two” potential Aplomado Falcons in Southwestern New Mexico turned out to be two Nesting Pairs! To make matters worse, many of the sightings were on “private” ranch land. Here’s a snippet of an actual post from the compiler of the NM rare bird alerts:
I have a plea to make. There have been three reports here lately telling of the falcon in NM, which is considered endangered or very rare. Please DO NOT send reports to the listserve, please, please, especially with details on its location…
I followed the listserv threads with great intrigue for quite some time. Unfortunately, this past weekend was the first “free” weekend I had available to search out the elusive Aplomado. So back to my story….
We arrived in Hermanas, NM around 2:30 AM early Saturday morning. Since it was much too late to find lodging we decided to camp out in our car along the side of the road. We were awoken to Border Patrol knocking on the window of our car at 5:30AM asking our citizenship and to provide our drivers licenses. We willingly obliged and after 40 minutes of interrogation they left and by this time the sun was just 10 minutes from rising above the horizon.
We navigated the bumpy, dirt roads up to the corral where the Falcon had presented itself so many mornings and afternoons of the weeks prior. We waited in our car for a few hours with no signs of the Falcon. Around mid-day we decided we should probably drive up and down along the dirt roads to see if we could spot the Falcon flying about. No luck. We ran into a couple of birders from Texas who were also looking for the Falcon. We decided to split up and keep in touch via two-way radios. However we quickly discovered the limited range of the radios. We bumped into each other throughout the day, each of us lacking any good news. Afternoon was quickly approaching so we camped out the rest of the evening at the original corral. At sunset we decided to turn in the towel and head back into Deming.
Although not my photo, here’s what the Aplomado Falcon looks like.
We headed back to the corral at sunrise on Sunday and spent a few hours waiting…hoping…but alas the Falcon never appeared. Since we were on a relatively short time schedule we decided to give in to defeat and head over to Slaughter Ranch in Southeastern Arizona for the Blue Mockingbird that was appearing like clockwork every 1-2 hours. On the way to the border we had 2-3 Golden Eagles. One of them flushed at close range.
We arrived at Slaughter Ranch at 11:15AM and just as we were walking up the Mockingbird was making a brief appearance. Although I wasn’t able to get any photos the Mockingbird appeared every 45-60 minutes giving us a chance at photos. I didn’t get photos I was happy with until just as we were about to leave at 2pm.
We were originally planning on heading to Madera Canyon/Florida Canyon for the Rufous-capped Warblers but unfortunately we were quickly running out of daylight. Decided to go with our backup plan and check for the Short-tailed Hawk that was frequenting a NE Tucson neighborhood. We arrived there just before sunset but the Hawk never showed up… I did get some nice consolatory shots of a Sharp-shinned though!!
GPS track of our journey along southern Arizona and New Mexico plotted in Google Earth (the yellow line at the bottom is the Mexican border):