Arizona Field Ornithologist

Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes occidentalis), Ramsey Canyon, Cochise County

A Brown-backed Solitaire was discovered in Miller Canyon on 16 July 2009 by the Camp Chiricahua Group.  Benjamin Van Doren, a member of Camp Chiricahua Group, provided this account:

"The bird originally made its presence known by singing perhaps a couple hundred feet off the trail, up the wall of the canyon. Luckily, I had Arizonan and Sonoran bird songs with me, and we figured out that the song was that of a Brown-backed Solitaire. Naturally, we were ecstatic.

After hearing playback of its song, the bird flew closer, but still out of sight, up the trail. We followed it, and eventually caught a glimpse high in a pine. The bird spent its time high in fir trees and flew often, never staying still for more than 30 seconds or so, typically shorter, especially when approached. It responded well to playback of its song, flying towards the source and singing. On a few occasions, the bird sang while in flight, very similar to how a Yellow-breasted Chat does: tail pumping, lifting of head, pumping of wings. The bird was seen for no more than twenty minutes, after which it moved to an obscured tree and we continued down the trail."

The bird was photographed by Benjamin Van Doren and Brian Magnier on 16 July 2009 in Miller Canyon.

Subsequent attempts to relocate this bird in Miller Canyon were unsuccessful, but on 18 July 2009 Sandy Kunzer and Rick Romea discovered a Brown-backed Solitaire, presumably the same bird, in nearby Ramsey Canyon.  This bird was photographed by Joe Woodley on 18 July 2009 as it was feeding in Willcox Barberry at information post #10.  Charles Melton was also able to photograph it the next day. 

There are no accepted records of this species in the ABA area.  A previous report of one from Madera Canyon was rejected by the Arizona Bird Committee because of concerns about the origin of the bird, since this species is very popular as a cage bird in Mexico.  Here is the report from the ABC on the previous sighting: 

"BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE Myadestes occidentalis. An unequivocal Brown-backed Solitaire was photographed in lower Madera Canyon, PIM, 4 Oct 1996. The ABC was nearly unanimous in suggesting that this species not be accepted onto the official state list (and U.S. list) because of the uncertainty of this individual's origin. Because of its amazing song, Brown-backed Solitaire is one of the most common cage birds seen in Mexican towns. If a more established pattern of vagrancy is ever detected in Arizona, this report will be re-evaluated."

Miller Canyon Photos:

16 July 2009, photos by Benjamin Van Doren

16 July 2009, photos by Brian Magnier

Ramsey Canyon Photo:

18 July 2009, photo by Joe Woodley

19 July 2009, photos by Charles W. Melton

All photos are copyrighted© by photographer

Song Recordings:

  Recording 1 - 19 July 2009 (C. Benesh)

  Recording 2 - 19 July 2009 (D. Stejskal)

  Recording 3 - 19 July 2009 (D. Stejskal)

Map of Original Location in Miller Canyon:

View 2009 Rarity Map in a larger map

Submitted on 18 July 2009