Day 1, May 3 – This evening, I greeted 7 birders from the U.K. at the arrivals hall of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. We made the short transfer from the airport back to our hotel and some of use went for dinner, while others disappeared into their rooms to get some rest after a long day of travel.
Day 2, May 4 – Our first day of birding in Arizona was exceptional, with the usual Arizona standard of gorgeous blue sky and warm temperatures throughout. At our hotel many of the group had assembled and were already ticking off birds, including Great-tailed Grackle, White-winged Dove, American Kestrel and Black-crowned Night-Heron, before we had even left the parking lot. Our first official birding stop was at the Gilbert Water Ranch where, at a little grove of Saguaro Cactus, we ticked off some nice species
including several Gila Woodpeckers, a Gambel’s Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, and tiny Verdins. We carried on along the trails and checked out a number of puddles and ponds where waterfowl included Mallards with young, a pair of male Cinnamon Teal and a female Ruddy Duck pointed out by David. Shorebirds, or what the ‘Brits’ call waders, were about in small numbers with American Avocet, Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher noted. Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Snowy Egret were all about, though I was surprised to see no Great Egret and Great Blue Heron here. In numbers were Neotropic Cormorants, and we saw a few American Coots. Patrolling the skies above the ponds were N. Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow,
Barn Swallow and a couple of Bank Swallows. Formations of White-winged Doves sped by, and we had good views of several diminutive Inca Doves along the trails edge. A few migrant passerines were hiding in the bushes along the edges of the trail, including White-crowned Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhee, Wilson’s Warbler, a hybrid Myrtle X Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler and Western Wood-Pewee. We watched the pewee catch and devour a white butterfly of some sort. Also doing a fair amount of flycatching were Anna’s and Black-chinned hummingbirds! For our mammal tally we saw the first of many Desert Cottontails today, and for the reptile list we saw a number of Red-eared Sliders basking in the sun.
As we drove towards Globe we paused to look for raptors several times, getting excellent views of Red-tailed Hawks. A tiny and adorable Round-tailed Ground-Squirrel won over the group as it peered at us from beside the road. A little group of Black-tailed
Gnatcatchers showed briefly in a Palo Verde tree before flying off. After lunch in Globe, we carried on down Hwy 77, and turned in towards Aravaipa Canyon. The scenery here with rugged canyons and hillsides studded in giant Saguaros was rather spectacular. I spotted a pair of Harris’s Hawks, with one bird sitting on a nest in a cactus. Farther into the canyon we stopped and showed the group a Common Black-Hawk sitting on a nest, a rather uncommon species here despite its name. Colorful birds popped out us from the greenery of the canyon with a male Northern Cardinal, a lovely Yellow-breasted Chat and a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher some of the real treats. Western Kingbird and Olive-sided Flycatcher were seen in tall dead trees, and a Gray Hawk posed nicely on a bare branch for extended scope views. After checking through dozens of Turkey Vultures today, our scrutiny was finally rewarded with the sighting of a Zone-tailed Hawk sailing above the canyon. Another new mammal, the Rock Squirrel, was an added to the list, and
our first butterflies, American Snout and Red-spotted Purple, were discovered here. On our way out of the canyon, one of the most sought-after species of the tour ran straight in front of our van and disappeared into the desert. It was a Greater Roadrunner, a bird a number of the members of the group had told me they would not leave Arizona without seeing. Pressure off on the first day, phew! The drive into Tucson was quite lovely as we followed the jagged peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We checked into our accommodations and then went for a
delicious dinner nearby at the Texas Roadhouse.
Day 3, May 5 – Bright eyed and bushy tailed, everyone gathered for some pre-breakfast birding at 6AM. We made our way to Tucson’s Agua Caliente Park where we enjoyed some very nice birds. The morning weather was sunny and a comfortable temperature, and the wind picked up increasingly as we went along. Lucy’s Warblers showed well as adults fed begging youngsters in the mesquite trees. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet cooperated nicely as well, foraging at eye level on a couple of occasions. A stunning male Hooded Oriole sat up in a tree in the morning sunshine, and sharp-eyed Cyndy spotted a male Vermilion Flycatcher. We saw
several female Vermilions and a couple of youngsters as well this morning. All went quiet in the passerine department when a male Cooper’s Hawk sailed overhead. It didn’t take long for the birds to gain confidence again and carry on with their morning activities. Big and boisterous Brown-crested Flycatchers appeared and allowed us nice views through the scope. A pair of male Western Tanagers exploded with color atop a dead tree as we drooled while looking through the scope. Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Yellow Warbler all appeared, but very briefly, leaving us wanting more. Our first Phainopeplas provided the usual pronunciation problems associated with this species, while a pair of Cactus Wrens sang from a perch for a lengthy period of time. Along the edge of a man-made lake, three Spotted Sandpipers poked along while a female Purple Martin flew overhead. Even before breakfast we felt we’d already seen a full day’s worth of birds!
After breakfast we began our ascent of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The scenery was stunning with jagged and bizarre rock formations and sweeping views of Tucson below. Our first stop was at Chihuahua Pines picnic area where we encountered a nice selection of birds; Grace’s Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hutton’s Vireo, Spotted Towhee, and the comical Acorn Woodpeckers. Lovely butterflies
called Arizona Sister were about today at various locations. We next explored the shady confines of Bear Wallow, an excellent place to find warblers and other coniferous forest species. We were not disappointed and had fantastic views of several stunning Red-faced Warblers, as well as the uncommon Olive Warbler. American Robins gathered nesting material, while House Wrens sang their bubbly songs from every corner of the little gully. We had a picnic lunch at Bear Wallow and then continued on, almost being overwhelmed with excellent birds. Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches and Mountain Chickadee all appeared, as if on cue.
We carried on up towards Mt. Lemmon where we hiked around at close to 9000 feet elevation. Violet-green Swallows appeared from out of nowhere and began buzzing about all around us. One of them perched on a snag long enough for some of us to get a scope view. Northern Flickers were noted here, along with a male Hairy Woodpecker. A male Broad-tailed Hummingbird was engaged in an impressive aerial display of diving from a dizzying height and swooping back up again. Male and female Western Bluebirds were a highlight, and it was very impressive to watch Red-tailed
Hawks hover in the wind almost at eye level in the stiff wind. A Steller’s Jay gave its raucous call from a snag in the distance and I got him in the scope for the group. We then went to the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven, the ski village atop Mt. Lemmon, and had coffee while American Robins, Yellow-eyed Juncos and other birds kept us occupied. A walk back through the village along a creek produced Warbling Vireo, American Robins, Black-headed Grosbeak and more Acorn Woodpeckers. Up at a feeding station we watched as over a dozen Pine Siskins, several Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinch and Pygmy Nuthatch came in to the feeders. Cliff Chipmunk also fed on the seeds beneath. Before we left Summerhaven I showed the group a lovely Virginia’s Warbler, and feeling very happy with our Santa Catalina experience we headed back down to Tucson. We had enjoyed the restaurant so much the night before we returned to the Texas Roadhouse once again for a delicious supper. Back at our hotel we tallied up the bird list for the day, and it came out to 69 species.
Day 4, May 6 – It was another sunny and hot day, as is the norm in Arizona, as we headed over to Sabino Canyon. As we waited for the first tram to depart and take us up into the canyon we were entertained by the antics of the Round-tailed Ground-Squirrels. Alastair pointed out a rather large Desert Spiny Lizard that was basking in the morning sun. The ride up to the top of the canyon was pleasant and was narrated by the driver, who pointed out various trees, landmarks and and told us the history of the canyon. As we strolled back down the canyon we saw some nice birds including an immature male Summer Tanager, decked out in yellow and red as he sang from a perch in a large cottonwood. Desert species including Black-throated Sparrow, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, and the like were seen quite well. High over a large cliff known as the Acropolis Wall, we watched through the scope as a Peregrine Falcon dive bombed a Prairie Falcon several times! White-throated Swifts also made a brief appearance as did a Cooper’s Hawk that swooped past right at eye level, making his way down the middle of the road. A few new butterflies encountered included Empress Leila, Sleepy Orange, Checkered White and Southern Dogface, and we had a nice Black-necked Garter Snake slithering
through a tree. I spotted two venomous critters on a dirt back, a rather impressive Giant Centipede, decked out in black, red and yellow, that was about 8 inches long, and a pair of Black Widow spiders, the shiny black female sitting next to her adoring mate, a small, unasuming looking spider with no idea about what his lady had planned for him. We had lunch near the visitor’s center and a couple of Round-tailed Ground Squirrels mooched scraps off us, one female being very pregnant.
The drive over to the Sonoran Desert Museum took about 45 minutes and once we arrived we explored various parts of this splendid exhibit. A few wild birds were noted, including a young male Costa’s Hummingbird, several Cactus Wrens, and some very nice Black-tailed Gnatcatchers. We had a little break for ice cream before setting off to look for a Gilded Flicker that I had discovered. The flicker didn’t want to give itself up to us, so we had to settle for a flight view as it disappeared into the giant Saguaros. It was very windy at this point in the afternoon so I decided to call it a day and we drove on to Green Valley. We had dinner and then retired for some well deserved rest.
Day 5, May 7 – We met early for breakfast today, and then made our way up into the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. With hopes of finding one of the more sought-after species of this canyon, the Elegant Trogon, we set off on a hike up into the mixed pine / oak forest where this species can be found. Though we heard one ‘barking’ we never did see it today, as was the case with most other birders we met on the trails. A couple of lucky souls proclaimed they had seen the bird, frustratingly. In the process of
trogon hunting we did see quite a nice selection of birds nonetheless, including a pair of Painted Redstarts that were building a nest right below us in a bank, seemingly not at all worried about our presence. Other birds we encountered included Plumbeous Vireo, Hutton’s Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mexican Jays, a Townsend’s Warbler and Yellow-eyed Juncos. We got back down to the parking lot and found it to be overrun with bikers, making for an interesting combination (birders and bikers). Down at the Kubo Cabin feeders we watched as the birds zipped in and out to feed. There were quite a few hummingbirds, including our first Magnificent
Hummingbirds, as well as Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Mexican Jays came in to feed and drink along the small creek and hordes of House Finches and Black-headed Grosbeaks fed voraciously on the seeds. A female Hepatic Tanager appeared several times, our first sighting of this species. Western Gray Squirrels and a few Rock Squirrels picked up seeds from the ground beneath the feeders.
We had lunch at the Madera Picnic area, which was quite a popular location with the locals today on this fine Sunday. A short walk after lunch provided sightings of Hermit Thrush, and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, as well as a lovely male Hepatic Tanager. An Arizona Woodpecker appeared briefly but didn’t hang around long enough for the group to get on to. We then visited the Santa Rita Lodge feeders which were abuzz with activity. Hummingbirds were particularly numerous and we had great views of the Black-chinned Hummingbirds here. A group of Wild Turkeys were feeding away under the
feeders and at one point several of the males erupted into a display, puffing all their feathers up and strutting around. Acorn Woodpeckers came and went, while flocks of Lesser Goldfinches jostled for position on thistle feeders. A male Blue Grosbeak appeared briefly, but did not show himself for the group. Another group of birders arrived and exclaimed they had seen a trogon up at the Kubo, we piled back into the van and returned to the area that it had been seen. No luck for us, so we turned around and visited Proctor Road, in search of gnatcatchers, and we did find a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Also here was a singing American Robin. On our way back to Green Valley, Cyndy spotted a Swainson’s Hawk soaring.
In the evening, after dinner, we returned to Madera Canyon, hoping for some nocturnal birds and perhaps even some mammals. We succeeded in both, with fantastic views of an Elf Owl at its nest hole near the Santa Rita Lodge. Later, we enjoyed crippling views of a Whiskered Screech-Owl, and we had quick but good views of a Western Screech-Owl. In the mammal department we saw several ‘Coue’s’ White-tailed Deer alongside the road in the canyon this evening. On our way back to Green Valley, I showed the group several Lesser Nighthawks feeding beneath the street lights. What a night!
Day 6, May 8 – It was a lovely morning today; cool, mostly sunny and fairly calm. We began birding at Florida Wash where I spotted one of the best birds of the day, a Crissal Thrasher, as it sat atop a Mesquite and sang in the morning sunshine. We also had great looks at some nice sparrows here including Black-throated, Botteri’s and Rufous-winged sparrows, the latter two new for the trip list. Swainson’s Hawk was seen quite well this morning and I screeched the van to a halt to show the group a nice Loggerhead Shrike on the telephone wire beside the road. Not a bad start to the day.
Over in Florida Canyon we hiked up the somewhat rugged trails, thinking just maybe we’d see the rare Rufous-capped Warbler, but luck wasn’t on our side. We met a fellow up there who had been ‘camped out’ in the spot for two hours and had not seen or heard the bird, so we didn’t feel too bad about missing it. In the process of searching we did
find some other goodies however; Ash-throated Flycatcher, Scott’s Oriole, Hooded Oriole, and Summer and Hepatic tanagers. We watched a male Hepatic Tanager feasting on a giant hawk moth here. Alastair identified a couple of new butterflies for the trip list; Tiny Checkerspot and Marine Blues, and we all saw a couple of impressive Giant Swallowtails as well.
Back in Madera Canyon we had a picnic lunch and then took a stroll through the pine / oak forest, dreaming of the Elegant Trogon once again. I overhead several members of the group say ‘I think the trogon is just a myth’, so now I really have to find them one. Today was not the day however. A few Plumbeous and Hutton’s vireos, Painted Redstart, Brown Creeper and Dusky-capped Flycatcher singing in the canyon this afternoon, but not at all easy to see. We headed for the relative ease of watching the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge and this was a good move. Many of the same birds we had seen here the previous day were again present, such as Wild Turkeys, Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, Lesser Goldfinch and White-breasted Nuthatch. A lovely male and immature male Scott’s Oriole came in to feed on orange halves and our first Rufous-
crowned Sparrow of the tour hopped about near a brush pile. At the water feature a Lincoln’s Sparrow paused for a drink. Hummingbird feeders were bustling with Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed and aptly name Magnificent hummingbirds. I heard the squeaky calls of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in a tree nearby so after a little searching I located the bird, a female, and showed this local rarity to my group. Quite a few other birds were also jumping about in the same tree including Black-headed Grosbeaks and Western Tanagers and soon I discovered why. There was a Northern Pygmy-Owl nestled away in the branches of the juniper tree! We had fantastic views of this tiny, yet vicious diurnal hunter. Beneath the feeders, yet another mammal to add to the trip list, a Hispid
Before calling it a day we took a stroll around Proctor Road, again hoping for gnatcatchers with little black caps, but no luck there. Roger spotted another good bird here, a Red-naped Sapsucker. The cool weather seemed to have knocked a few migrants down this afternoon, with good numbers of Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warblers and Pacific-slope Flycatchers about. A Cassin’s Kingbird was another new addition to the trip list here, and we also saw just our third Gray Hawk of the tour.
Day 7, May 9 – Today was the coldest day I have ever experienced in Arizona and I’ve done 10 tours here now. The temperature hovered between 6 and 15 degrees Celsius and we encountered a bit of everything with sun, clouds, rain and wind. Cyndy excitedly reported she had found a Greater Roadrunner outside of our Nogales hotel so everyone
headed outside and watched the roadrunner collecting various bits of food from the road. Nice start! We then headed to Rio Rico to see if there were any flooded fields this year and we were in luck as there was a little strip of water along the edge of some fields. In the water were 16 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and several ‘Mexican’ Mallards. A pair of Swainson’s Hawks perched nicely in a cottonwood in the morning sun, and the first of a number of Vermilion Flycatchers for the day, were found along the fence line.
Next stop was at Patagonia Lake State Park, and this was a very productive location this morning with a good number of resident birds present as well as a healthy number of migrants knocked down by the weather. Most common migrants included Western Tanagers, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers, Townsend’s Warblers and Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Smaller numbers of Lincoln’s Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, MacGillivray’s Warbler and various swallows also were tallied. We had an impressive count of Vermilion Flycatchers here, with several family groups about, and also we had Say’s Phoebes feeding young. Other nests discovered included a White-winged Dove and a Gila Woodpecker. Bright splashes of color came in the form of Summer Tanagers and Northern Cardinals and we enjoyed watching a male Common Yellowthroat put on a nice performance for us. Bell’s Vireo, Lucy’s Warbler, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, and
Cassin’s Kingbird also put in appearances. After hearing a number of Dusky-capped Flycatchers we were happy to finally get a view of a pair of them in the mesquites. A Yellow-breasted Chat appeared in the tree above our head, showing rather nicely, especially for this normally somewhat elusive species. Out on Patagonia Lake were the usual American Coots, with broods of cute little red headed babies, as well as a single Pied-billed Grebe. A group of 25 or so Neotropic Cormorants rested on a sand bar while a single immature Double-crested Cormorant was the first for our trip list. In the mud along the edge of the lake were several White-faced Ibis, as well as a Great Blue Heron, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. Green Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron were seen as they flew past. All in all, it was a very birdy visit to Patagonia Lake Park.
Lunch at the Gathering Grounds in Patagonia was lovely as usual and after we finished we took half an hour to explore the artsy little village before heading over to the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds. It was nice to run into fellow BC birder Thor Manson here,
and he pointed out to us which feeders to keep our eyes on for the local area specialty, Violet-crowned Hummingbird. No longer than he had just pointed out the feeder and bird arrived showing off its lovely violet crown and gleaming white underparts. Other hummers here included Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-tailed and Broad-billed hummingbirds. Seed feeders attracted the usual hordes of Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches. On the ground were White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Inca Doves and Gambel’s Quail. Just as we left the Paton’s the rain began so we drove down towards Sonoita Creek Preserve and just birded the road from the car. We didn’t see too much, but we did find an Olive-sided Flycatcher and Graham spotted a Black Phoebe.
The rains carried on as we birded at the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop, though after a short ‘rain delay’ in the van, we headed back out into the field to find some goodies. Our target species, Thick-billed Kingbird, appeared as if on cue and showed well through the scope. We hoped for a Rock Wren on the cliffs here, but only came up with Canyon Wren instead. The mequite trees had migrants in them; Western Tanagers, Warbling Vireo,
Yellow, Wilson’s and Townsend’s Warblers. Ash-throated and Brown-crested flycatchers showed themselves here and we finally saw two Black Vultures sitting high up in a giant sycamore drying off their wings. A couple of Gray Hawks appeared, one sitting in a bush on a hillside, allowing nice scope views. The rain fell even harder as we drove back to Nogales where we had a little break before heading out for dinner at a local Italian establishment called Orenccio’s.
Day 8, May 10 – The Greater Roadrunner made an appearance at our hotel in Nogales again this morning before we left, as did Curve-billed Thrasher, and nesting Cliff Swallows. We took a short detour down to the Mexican border for photo ops before heading off to Pena Blanca Lake, west of Nogales. Along the way we had a Collared Peccary scoot across the road in front of the van, our first for the trip. The drive to Pena Blanca was very scenic and the sky was crisp and clear after overnight rains. As we neared the lake, a male Bronzed Cowbird sat obligingly in a tree near the van, another new species for the tour. Birding was very enjoyable at Pena Blanca with nice mixed
flocks of sparrows about, including Lark, Rufous-winged, Chipping and Song sparrows. Violet-green Swallows were abundant as they foraged low over the water and perched on wires and on mesquite trees for scope views. In the lakeside bushes were migrants with the likes of Olive-sided Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo and Western Tanagers fattening up. We had our first Nashville Warbler of the tour here, along with Yellow Warblers and Lucy’s Warblers. Vermilion Flycatchers continued to light up the desert with their magically bright plumage, and other comparatively drab flycatchers like Brown-crested, Dusky-capped and Western-Wood Pewee also put in appearances. Not much was about out on the lake itself, other than a few Mallards (one of them a ‘big-bottomed’ girl), a couple of American Coots and along the shore a Spotted Sandpiper.
Another stop at the Patagonia Roadside Rest was starkly different than when we had stopped the previous day, when it was cold and rainy. Today the temperature was perfect and the sky was blue. Our best sightings included a lovely Canyon Wren that sang right in front of us. Also, an adult Gray Hawk showed nicely while an immature bird sailed
overhead. We had another delicious lunch at my favorite cafe in all of Arizona, the Gathering Grounds, in Patagonia. A Phainopepla greeted us from a tree overhead as we headed in to have lunch. Then, we headed off to check the grasslands around Sonoita and found the access road I normally take in was closed due to a fire. I found an alternate route into the grasslands, though the habitat wasn’t quite as nice as I would have liked. Turns out, it still produced most of the birds I was after, ‘Lilian’s’ Eastern Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Chihuahuan Raven and a lovely little Grasshopper Sparrow. From the front seat of the van, Janice spotted Pronghorn Antelope out in the grasslands.
Once we arrived in Sierra Vista we checked in to our hotel and then made our way to the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains at Ash Canyon B & B. We sat in the chairs and indulged in some ‘lazy mans’ birding as hummingbirds, jays, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, finches and more came in to feed. A Wild Turkey sneaked up behind us and let out a loud ‘gobble gobble gobble’, and I’ve never seen a group of birders jump faster with fright
than I did at that moment. Broad-billed, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned and Magnificent hummingbirds all came in to feed, but the Lucifer Hummingbird, our most wanted hummer, made us wait for a long time before he finally made an appearance. It was definitely worth the wait let me tell you. After the Lucifer appeared, Cyndy led the cheer as we let out a group ‘Texas Yeeehaw’. Several mammal species were noted here including a Pocket Gopher, a Hispid Cotton Rat and the usual Western Gray Squirrels. We enjoyed another great Arizona meal this evening at Applebee’s.
Day 9, May 11 – Another picture perfect morning in Arizona today, as we headed for Subway to pick up our lunch. Upon arrival at the restaurant, a Greater Roadrunner was giving it’s ‘whining dog’ call atop a bed and mattress store roof. The girl behind the counter at Subway was very friendly and efficient today and had us on our way in no time. We bumped and bounced our way up the Carr Canyon Road, pausing briefly at the bottom to search for Eastern Bluebird. No bluebird here, but we did see quite a variety of species including Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Bridled Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren and Hutton’s Vireo. After a bumpy ride up, we were happy to get out of the van and do some birding at about 7000 feet elevation around the Reef Townsite Campground. It didn’t take us too long to find some of our target species including over a dozen Buff-breasted Flycatchers, a species that breeds only in the Huachuca Mountains in the USA. The ‘Jose Maria’ call of the Greater Pewee was heard incessantly this morning and we enjoyed several good views of them as well. Eastern
Bluebirds thankfully appeared at the campground, showing nicely, as did a nice male Arizona Woodpecker. Other species that put on a nice show this morning included several Painted Redstarts, as well as Grace’s Warblers, Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper and American Robin. Cyndy spotted a couple of distant Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays on a ridge above the road. We had a nice picnic lunch in the forest before we began our descent. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we were finally on flat ground and paved road at the bottom of Carr Canyon Rd.
The latter part of the afternoon was spent in the cool, shady confines of Ramsey Canyon. Being the early afternoon, bird activity was a bit slow, though nonetheless, we did find some interesting species amongst the oaks and sycamores. Painted Redstarts, Western and Hepatic tanagers, Mexican Jays and other usual canyon suspects were noted, along
with Acorn Woodpeckers, and a very noisy Northern Flicker that we eventually got great views of in the scope. The sighting of a Northern Pygmy-Owl was a highlight at Ramsey Canyon. While there were some nice birds in the canyon, the butterflies were even better, with the likes of Red-spotted Purple, Arizona Sister, Mourning Cloak, Two-tailed Swallowtail and others putting on quite a show. We watched some feeders where hummingbirds included Broad-tailed, Magnificent, Black-chinned and Broad-billed. Back down in Sierra Vista we went out for dinner and later tried our luck at finding Common Poorwills in lower Miller Canyon. We did find one or two, though they were a bit distant. With the help of my flashlight we could see the red eye shine of one individual as it leapt up into the air several times, presumably to catch bugs, and then returned to the same perch. The ‘poorwill’ calls of about 4 birds could be heard this evening.
Day 10, May 12 – This morning we returned to Ramsey Canyon. Up at the Bledsoe Loop we were ecstatic to hear and soon after see, a male Elegant Trogon. The bird posed nicely for scope views and photo ops and this was easily one of the top bird moments of the
trip. Here, our group split up, with some opting to hang out in Lower Ramsey Canyon to see what they could see, and the rest heading up into Upper Ramsey Canyon, a bit of a grueling hike, with elevation gains of over 1000 feet. It was a lovely hike, and we saw quite a few interesting species along the way, though none as exciting as the Tufted Flycatcher, the sole bird that urged us to do this march. The tiny Tufted Flycatcher is a Central and South American species, and it has only occurred north of the Mexican border a handful of times. I first detected the bird by call and soon thereafter we were enjoying views through the scope. A couple who was also there at the same time spotted the nest of the Tufted Flycatcher, tucked up against the trunk of a large deciduous tree. Our walk back down to Lower Ramsey Canyon was comparatively easy and we all had big smiles on our faces.
After lunch we began the journey towards Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains,
stopping along the way at San Pedro House. I hoped we might find a Common Ground-Dove here, a species still missing from our list. There were quite a few birds around the house in the large cottonwood trees and at feeders. Blue Grosbeaks were seen well here, and we had brief views of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, locally fairly rare. We were directed to the location of a roosting Western Screech-Owl in a cottonwood and the bird, half hidden in the trees, played hide and seek with us as we searched for the best possible gap in the leaves to view the bird through. Later, we bumped into a birder from Texas who pointed out to me a Common Ground-Dove! I thanked him and asked if he would like a Western Screech-Owl in return.
He said yes, of course, so off we went to show him the owl. As luck would have it, the bird had moved and I couldn’t spot it anywhere, so feeling a bit embarrassed I explained that it had just been there. Soon thereafter we noticed the owl had repositioned itself and was now showing better than ever as it sat the entrance to a cavity in the trunk. We carried on through the dusty border city of Douglas, making our way eventually across the New Mexico border, where for just a brief moment, David’s wrist watch was finally on the correct hour. We swung back into Arizona and before we knew it we were at Portal. I showed the group a nest of Great Horned Owls and they watched the fluffy chick peering out of its nest as I checked us into the lodge. After dinner we took a little stroll down the main street and had very good views of an Elf Owl.
Day 11, May 13 – Pre-breakfast we made our way out towards the New Mexico border at State Line Road where it didn’t take us too long to find our target species, Bendire’s Thrasher. A pair of them, first perched on a post on the New Mexico side of the border, later flew west into Arizona, so it was a tick on both state lists. Also in this area this morning were our first Scaled Quail. With some time to spare before breakfast we tried our luck with finding two more species; Black-chinned Sparrow and Juniper Titmouse, both often found in the juniper habitats around Paradise. We heard a Black-chinned Sparrow, but despite our efforts it just wouldn’t show itself. Luckily, all was not lost, since
we had fantastic views of a pair of Juniper Titmouse this morning. We headed back to Portal and had a delicious breakfast.
Eight happy birders with full bellies jumped back into the van and we began our ascent of the Chiricahua Mountains. We tried again for the Black-chinned Sparrow on the way up, with no luck, so we carried on up to the upper elevations at around 7000 feet. The views of the desert below and the mountains in the distance was breathtaking. We stopped at Rustler Park to use the bathrooms, and as luck would have it, Alastair spotted a couple of Mexican Chickadees here. This excellent sighting, no doubt, saved us quite a bit of time searching for the chickadee. Our next stop was in Pinery Canyon where we
had lunch in the shade of, you guessed it, the pine trees. After we ate, I put the scope on another new species for our trip list, a Cordilleran Flycatcher. There were several of them singing in the canyon. We searched for a previously reported Slate-throated Redstart, and had no luck finding it, but did see quite a few other birds in the process; Yellow-eyed Junco, Painted Redstart, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Hermit Thrush to name a few.
Back down to Portal we headed, via the very scenic Cave Creek Canyon. Once in Portal we strolled along the main street towards some feeders and it didn’t take us too long to find another of our target species, North America’s largest hummingbird, the Blue-throated Hummingbird. A swarm of bees had us retreating from this location rather quickly, so we headed for another popular feeding station not far from town. The Rodriguez feeders were quite
busy this afternoon. At orange halves were stunning and colorful birds like Bullock’s Orioles, alongside Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers and Pyrrhuloxias. Somewhat more drab feeder visitors included Canyon Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, and best of all a Crissal Thrasher! Hummingbirds of several species were busy at the feeders as well. We headed back to Portal, had dinner and enjoyed the funky sounds from a local musician on the outdoor stage.
Day 12, May 14 – Before breakfast we headed out one last time to try for the rather elusive Black-chinned Sparrow. Unfortunately, we didn’t find one this morning, though of course, there were plenty of other birds to be seen. We had breakfast at Portal and then began the drive back towards Phoenix. The first hour or so of the journey took us through a rather remote portion of western New Mexico. We entered back into Arizona and soon thereafter stopped in at Willcox. No birding tour would be complete without at least one visit to some good old fashioned sewage ponds, so we spent about an hour scanning through the birds at the Willcox lagoons. New birds tallied for the trip list included waterfowl such as American Wigeon, Gadwall and Lesser Scaup. A flock of about 40 Wilson’s Phalaropes were fantastic to find, and even better once we discovered there were two Red-necked Phalaropes mixed in with them. As we left the area, I spotted a female Lark Bunting on the grass next to the road, our one and only member of this species spotted on the entire tour. We paused for lunch at Benson, and then carried on through Tucson to the Santa Cruz flats. Following up on a tip from a friend of mine, I was on the hunt for one last bird to add to our trip list, a Burrowing Owl. We got to the spot and sure enough there were two Burrowing Owls posing for us in the afternoon sun. This was a fantastic bird to end the trip on, and we drove on into Phoenix, where I said goodbye to the group at Sky Harbor Airport.