Beatnik Birding Again: Tubac, AZ

by Bryce W. Robinson


I am on the road and without a home once again!

For the next few months, I will be wandering and watching birds. I’m calling myself beatnik once again for many reasons. I’m traveling, unkempt and without a home, to ride the rhythms of life and honor them. I will be living out of my humble vehicle, which I must say is a good home.

I’m writing at the moment from Tubac, a small town just north of Nogales, in southern Arizona. For birding and many other reasons, this is a very special place. I’ve noticed that I am likely the youngest man in this town, as this is a destination for the seasoned, or retired members of society.


The Tubac Raptor Migration Site

After deciding to hit the road once again, I received council from my friend Jerry Liguori that the spring migration in Tubac was not to be missed, so this became my destination. He planned to go as well. Upon my arrival, I met up Jerry and his wife Sherry, to watch this migration that flows up the river system through town. It was a bit of a surprise to find many others watching as well. As I found out, Bill Clark was leading a workshop with Tuscon Audubon. Meeting him was interesting…

It was nice to be with Jerry watching migrating raptors again. These were different birds however, and I was tasked with learning. Jerry, of course, is the best to learn from. He took the time to share his impressions, and kindly correct my misidentifications. Trial and error, and keen interest in learning is how one becomes a better birder. BUT, with Jerry’s help, my learning curve has been reduced significantly.  I still need to watch and soak in each bird for myself, and there is one particular bird that has been a bit difficult to identify at a distance.

Zone-tailed Hawk- Buteo albonatatus

Zone-tailed Hawk- Buteo albonatatus

The Zone-tailed Hawk flies with exaggerated dihedral, just like the Turkey Vulture. From afar the two are nearly identical, but as I watch more, the differences are becoming noticeable. I also saw a few other raptors that are new to my eyes. The number of Common Blackhawk that go through this town in spring is the reason for the hoards of birders. It was a great bird to see, and is rather distinctive at a distance.

Gray Hawk- Buteo nitidus

Gray Hawk- Buteo nitidus

The first few days I had a some distant glimpses at the Gray Hawk, but today a pair was displaying, in courtship, over the trees. The patterning and shape of this bird is so interesting to me. After watching all three hawks, I started to speculate as to why the three desert denizens might have black and white barred tails. I haven’t decided on any conclusions, but my mind will remain on the subject until I do.

Of course there are other birds here besides the raptors, and most are new to me. Birding in the trees near the river, and in the hills outside of town, has been spectacular.


Curve-billed Thrasher- Toxostoma curvirostre

Pyrrhuloxia- Cardinalis sinuatus

Pyrrhuloxia- Cardinalis sinuatus

As my journey continues I am sure I will have many more things to share, besides the birds. People of the road are part of the journey, and I hope to meet and make many friends. As I wander, watch for me. As always I am heavily bearded, and an obvious example of what is a beatnik birder.