Wild West Birding, Arizona – the Finale

May 1 – Reluctantly we left our luxurious digs in Rio Rico this morning, but not before checking a few local birding hotspots one last time. At Pena Blanca Lake, before breakfast, the birding was great as usual. We saw much of what we had seen on the previous visit here, along with a couple of new species mixed in. A Bank Swallow flew low overhead, giving us a good view, our first for the tour. Tour participant Tony, spotted two Common Gallinule, new for the list, and also new, a Wilson’s Snipe was seen zipping by. Tour participants enjoyed watching the Canyon Wren sing from his rather undesirable perch atop the ‘chimney’ of an outhouse inside which the bird actually has its nest!

Canyon Wren at Pena Blanca Lake, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After breakfast we tried the Rio Rico Ponds one more time, hoping for Tropical Kingbird, but I fear they may have not come back just yet. We were happy to spot 7 White-faced Ibis on the pond, along with two Solitary Sandpipers, new for the bulging trip list. The drive from Rio Rico to Tucson was pretty uneventful, and once we arrived at the Desert Museum we promptly had some lunch before heading out and exploring the trails.

Red-tailed Hawk, Pena Blanca Lk, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

It was hot at the Desert Museum, but that didn’t keep the birds from showing off. Cactus Wrens seemed to be everywhere, as did Gila Woodpeckers and the ubiquitous White-winged Dove. Any groves of trees had a few migrants about including our first Western Wood-Pewee, some Wilson’s, Townsend’s, MacGillivray’s, Yellow and Yellowp-rumped warbler, Western Tanager and such. A pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, our first for the tour, were busily feeding two fledglings beside the trail.

Male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

I was the only one to catch a brief view of a Gilded Flicker as it flew off into the forest of Saguaro Cactus, so unfortunately that goes down as a ‘leader only’ tick on the list. A few new reptiles were added to the trip list including Zebra-tailed Lizard and the introduced Spiny-tailed Iguana. We had an ice cream break mid-day, which was much appreciated given the 30+ degree heat and then we made our way to the hotel in Tucson and got some r & r.

May 2 – Into the Catalina Mountains we headed this morning, stopping along the way up to take in the breathtaking views along the Catalina Hwy, with the sprawling city of Tucson below. Nicola, who has a great set of eyes, spotted White-throated Swifts just as we hopped out of the van and soon everyone on the tour had finally seen these zippy aerial masters. At Rose Canyon it didn’t take me long to find a singing Buff-breasted Flycatcher. We all watched this bird, North America’s smallest empidonax flycatcher, through the scope at length. Traditionally one could only find the Buff-breasted Flycatcher in the Huachuca Mountains, but in recent years birds have been popping up in the Catalina and Chiricahua mountains.

At Bear Wallow, we finally saw very well several Red-faced Warblers, which made my group very happy. Also here we picked up our first Mountain Chickadee of the trip, amongst the towering pines and firs in the shady valley. A single Red-breasted Nuthatch finished off our nuthatch trio here as well so we left with smiling faces.

The ski village at Summerhaven had hosted some Evening Grosbeaks in previous weeks but they were not to be found today. We watched feeders for a while where Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towee, Yellow-eyed Junco and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were seen.  After a very nice coffee we headed up to the top of Mount Lemmon at just over 9000 feet. A male Western Bluebird put on a nice show for us here, and a Tassle-eared Squirrel dashed off into the woods before we could all get a view.

 May 3 – The final day of our tour of S.E. Arizona began in Sabino Canyon near Tucson. Here, droves of weekend warriors were out in the canyon, hiking, jogging, camping and sightseeing. We caught the first tram up in the canyon at 9 AM, and enjoyed a narrated tour along the way. We walked back down the canyon part way, enjoying views of the saguaro studded hillsides and the sycamore lined creek bed. Birds were a little quiet, given the warm temperatures, but we did still see some nice stuff. A male Costa’s Hummingbird shined like a jewel when the sun hit his gorget in just the right place. Bell’s Vireo and Lucy’s Warbler were common in the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, while overhead a dozen or more White-throated Swifts screeched by. Cooper’s Hawks patrolled the canyon and were seen several times, and a pair of Northern Cardinals were nesting right beside the pathway  (perhaps a bit too close to the path, for their own good). Just as we weret finishing our lunches a Greater Roadrunner appeared and came right up to us to inspect for scraps. This roadrunner obviously knew when and where to find a few handouts.

We made our way from Tucson to Phoenix, a drive of about 2 hours via the freeway. Once in Phoenix we headed for the a local site known to have nesting Burrowing Owls. Unfortunately no owls wanted to show themselves today, but I don’t blame them as the heat was scorching at this point in the day. We sat down, had a cold and refreshing lemonade and did our final bird list tally. The trip list had reached a very respectable total of 196 birds! It was then time to head off to the airport and say our goodbyes.

To see more photos from the tour go to http://www.flickr.com/charlesworth30.



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