By Chris West

Chris and Nigel Marven

The persistently beeping alarm on my phone brought me back
from the realms of dreams.  For a second, I wondered why I had bothered to
set it the evening before. Then I remembered. I glanced at the clock. I was
supposed to meet Nigel Marven in half an hour.

  I lay back on the pillow for a second, remembering the day
he first called me.  I had come home in the afternoon one day to find the
light on the message machine blinking. The caller had a distinct British accent.
"Hi Chris, this is Nigel Marven. I'm calling to see if you're available
to guide a couple days next week."  
My jaw had dropped open in
disbelief. Nigel Marven?  THE Nigel Marven….. was calling me?  I
knew I had been having a lucky summer, but surely not that lucky!  I had quickly
called him back and arranged the day and place.  

 I hopped up and grabbed a package of the ultimate quick
breakfast food, Raspberry Pop Tarts, to munch on while I filled the feeders for
the morning.  After a quick check to make sure the solar panels were in
position, I jumped in my car and headed off down the 2 mile
stretch of road to the Portal store.

 Nigel pulled up a few minutes later. "Hi Chris,
Nigel Marven. Nice to meet you."  
I replied, "and very
pleased to meet you Nigel."

 It had been some time since Nigel had visited southeast
Arizona and he had quite a mixed list of target species. Some were lifers, but
some were also species that he hadn't seen for several years.   

 I grabbed my scope and camera and we took off. The plan was
to head up to Sierra Vista and hit up the canyons for hummingbirds, then on to
Patagonia and Madera Canyon. 

 Beatty's B&B was the first stop for looks at White-eared
and Berylline Hummingbirds. Nigel knew Tom Beatty from a hummingbird show he had filmed several
years ago in which Beatty's was the film site.  After finding our targets,
we made a quick stop at Mary Jo Ballator's for excellent looks at Lucifer

Deciding that we could get Botteri's, Cassin's,
Rufous-crowned and other sparrows back in Portal, we hot-footed it to
Patagonia. The Sinaloa Wren ended up giving us some trouble. It was not in
a cooperative mood at all, but, after hearing it sing for half an hour, we did
finally manage a quick scope view as it flew out of the nest.  

 The Patagonia Roadside rest proved its worth: The Thick-billed
Kingbird was sitting on its predicted perch.  It has been, and still is,
the single most reliable bird I have ever seen. It always seems to perch on
exactly the same perch in exactly the same place, every single time I have
looked for it.  

 Running short on time, we decided to head for Madera Canyon
and hopped on the highway for Nogales. Passing through the border patrol
checkpoint proved interesting since I hadn't guided a foreigner before.
 Apparently, Nigel hadn't encountered a checkpoint before which made it
all the more amusing.  "Y'know, I left my wallet and passport at
the hotel."  
He said.  I hadn't expected that. I
wasn't sure what the border patrol had the authority to do, but I assured him
it would be fine.  We pulled up to the checkpoint and an officer asked if
we were American citizens. Nigel replied "No, I'm not. I'm from
Britain. I'm Nigel Marven. You know, I'm a host on Animal Planet. I do the
walking with dinosaurs show."  
The officer didn't appear too
impressed. "Oh, you're Nigel Marven?"  Nigel replied,
"Yes, and I forgot to bring my passport…… I left it at the
The officer appeared slightly amused at this. "Oh,
you forgot your passport?"  "Yes, I left it at the hotel.”
The officer shook his head and asked me, "Are you an American
I replied "yes" and he waved us
through.  "See?" I told Nigel "that was
  Nigel just shook his head, slightly surprised
that it had been that easy.  

 We arrived at Madera Canyon just as dark clouds were
building on the horizon. Our search for Rufous-crowned Sparrows began with
complete silence. It was early afternoon and everything went quiet for a
siesta. Then, the dark clouds moved in, temporarily cutting off our search.
Knowing that the showers would not last, I suggested waiting it out. Nigel
agreed and we ran down to the Green Valley gelato shop to escape the heat of the
afternoon and enjoy the excellent selection of gelato ice cream.  

 About an hour later, the showers subsided and we headed back
out.  This time, the mesquite was full of song. At the first stop, there
were well over a dozen Rufous-winged Sparrows singing full blast. I quickly
located one perched high on a mesquite and put the scope on it. After
spectacular views, I managed to get a couple decent photos.

 With darkness closing in, we headed out for the three-and-a-half
hour drive back to Portal.  It had been a good day, with all target
species being mostly cooperative and great looks at many.  It was very similar
to a day with any other birder. The only difference being some of the stories
he told about his adventures while filming wildlife in various places, and of
his upcoming special about Burmese pythons that he had been filming in the
Everglades only a week before. 

 He is definitely an interesting guy and someone I would
highly recommend meeting if you ever get the chance.  His "Walking
with Dinosaurs" show was one of my favorites during the time it aired on
TV.  His latest show is about finding a jaguar and is filmed in the
Brazilian Amazon.   If you wish to know more about Nigel Marven,
visit his website at:

 For those who have not heard of me, I am a young birder,
photographer and writer based out of southern Wisconsin.  I spent four months
during the summer of '09 working as a local birding guide while living in the
small town of Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona.


My Flickr page can be found at:

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