Rare Birds Visit Quail Creek

Elegant Tern at Quail Creek

John Tubbs

On the evening of June 20, Quail Creek birder Nick Pulcinella observed two Elegant Terns around the entrance pond just past the main gate guardhouse. He passed the word on to a number of other birders, and several additional people got to see the birds (sometimes only one) flying around the pond looking for dinner.

The next morning, I stopped by the pond, hoping they were still there. A single bird was, and I obtained a couple of flight shots.

Elegant Terns are only a common species in their relatively small breeding areas in Southern California and Northwest Mexico. They are primarily a coastal species, and so finding them in the Sonoran Desert is quite unusual. When they are seen in Pima County, it tends to be in June, as was the case here.

Southeast Arizona is a world-famous birding area, partly because of unusual “vagrant” bird species like the Elegant Tern. Our relative proximity to the Gulf of California results in periodic visits from species that typically stay near large bodies of saltwater.

Even during the typically “slow” summer season for birding, surprises like this can happen!