Arizona Birding with Avocet Tours ~ Part 3

May 23 – With high expectations, after a fantastic evening of nocturnal birding on the night before, we made our way back out towards the Santa Rita Mountains. On the way to our first stop, a Wild Turkey crossed the road in front of us, causing some excitement, especially for Ben, for which this bird was his lifer turkey!

The sky was blue and the temperatures were bareable for the morning as we hiked up through Florida Canyon. The scenery was splendid with Ocotillo, Prickly-Pear and several cholla cactus dotting the arid hillsides. On our walk up we picked up a number of species; male and female Summer Tanagers, Bridled Titmouse, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Rock Wren, Zone-tailed Hawk, Costa’s Hummingbird. We climbed up above the ‘dam’ and made our way into a grove of mixed willow and oak trees known to hold several Rufous-capped Warblers, a rare and sought-after species that barely sneaks north of the Mexican border. It took us some searching and when we heard and unfamiliar song being emitted from the trees our hearts began pounding. ‘It’s right here, it’s right here’ Russell began shouting and we all twitched with excitement as we jostled for best position to see the birds. In an instant there were two male Rufous-capped Warblers right in front of us foraging at eye level. I have rarely seen a more excited bunch of birders, let me tell you.

Rufous-capped Warbler at Florida Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth

With huge smiles on our faces we began the ascent back towards the van. At the bottom of the hike, a little tired, but still full of excitement we posed for a ‘victory photo’!

Victory with the Rufous-capped Warbler at Florida Canyon. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

In Madera Canyon, we had lunch and were constantly interrupted by sightings of fantastic birds as we ate. There were Hepatic Tanagers, Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, Hutton’s Vireo, Acorn Woodpeckers and more foraging around the picnic area. We spent an hour or so at the Kubo Cabin watching feeders that were abuzz with the activity of Broad-billed, Black-chinned and Magnificent hummingbirds, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lesser Goldfinch, Mexican Jay, and Acorn Woodpecker to name a few species. Heather pointed out an Arizona Woodpecker hanging on the back of a wooden suet feeder! Several of us saw a Plumbeous Vireo sitting on its fluffy nest, built mostly of cottonwood down. In the upper Canyon we had a short walk to finish off the day, where more of the same birds were encountered. Russell exclaimed he thought he might have found an owl inside a hole so he stuck his finger inside to see what was there. Luckily he didn’t get bitten by the rather excited Western Gray Squirrel that was living inside. Perhaps feeling a little perplexed, Russ went around to the other side of the tree and exclaimed again, ‘I found an owl’ and sure enough he had. It was a Whiskered Screech-Owl roosting at the entrance to a large hole in a sycamore. On a high note, we made our way back down to Green Valley and had a nice dinner together, tallying up our exciting list of birds.

May 24 – This morning we returned to Madera Canyon, stopping first in some grasslands near Florida Wash, where it didn’t take long to track down our first new species of the day, Botteri’s Sparrow. We saw one of these rather plain, but lovely songsters, through the scope, perched beside the road in a mesquite tree. Two more were heard as we carried on up towards the canyon. Once in Madera we headed directly for the upper canyon. We hiked the trail which was somewhat steep and rather rugged at times, about 1.5 miles up from the parking lot, meeting various birders on the way down. Some of them said, disappointedly they had not seen an Elegant Trogon, but to our excitement several said that they had seen the famed and much sought-after ‘Christmas-bird’. A huge surprise for us on our hike was discovering a Mexican Whip-poor-will in broad daylight, roosting beside the trail!

mexican whip-poor-will
Mexican Whip-poor-will roosting in broad daylight in Madera Canyon was a huge surprise! May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

On the way up the canyon, birding was very good nonetheless, and we picked up Painted Redstarts, Red-faced Warbler, Grace’s Warblers, Greater Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, Magnificent Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, and most importantly, a single male Elegant Trogon! He was seen well by all as he investigated a possible nest hole in the side of a giant sycamore tree. Again, very excitedly, we high-fived each other and began the descent back to the van where our lunch awaited.

The much sought-after Elegant Trogon, seen by us in Madera Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Photo tour participant Ben Keen.

After we had lunch at the Amphitheatre we carried on back to Green Valley, hopped onto the I-19 and drove south towards Nogales. Along the way, we popped into the Rio Rico Ponds to see what was about. In the hour we spent here we tallied 50 species! Highlights included several rare and local Tropical Kingbirds, as well as Cassin’s Kingbird, Say’s Phoebe and Vermilion Flycatcher. On the pond were 14 White-faced Ibis, several Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a pair of Cinnamon Teal. Numerous ‘Mexican’ Mallards were also in attendance. Gray Hawk made an appearance, as did a lovely Swainson’s Hawk. Russell found some Common Ground-Doves, new for our trip list. I spotted a Lark Sparrow, a long-awaited lifer for Clive. Bullock’s Orioles flashed bright orange as they dashed about in the mesquite trees and Common Yellowthroat sang their telltale ‘wichity wichity’ songs.

Our final stop of the day was at the infamous Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop. This is the site of the famous picnic table, after which the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect was named. A rare bird appeared here, and other birders came to try and find it, in turn finding other rare birds in the process. It was the wrong time of day to be here, but we enjoyed seeing the place and looked forward to returning the next morning. Once we arrived in the quaint town of Patagonia, everyone immediately fell in love with the place, for obvious reasons. It’s a quiet, bird-filled, ‘western’ town with a real artsy feel. Dinner was excellent at the Wildhorse Restaurant, where Mexican food was on the menu.

trogon victory
Elegant Trogon victory shot! May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

May 25 -Well, it was another lovely day in S.E. Arizona, although temperatures began a little chilly at 48 degrees F in the AM as we birded at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop. Of course, all the tour participants were well equipped with sweaters and long pants and such, but yours truly was a little chilly in shorts and t-shirt. It didn’t take us too long to find our target bird here, the rare and local Thick-billed Kingbird. Also excellent to see here was a Yellow-breasted Chat that showed itself nicely, even posing for scope views. Varied Bunting, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and surprisingly a Canyon Wren that was acting like a creeper, foraging on the trunk of a mesquite tree, were all nice and welcome sightings.

Back in Patagonia we had breakfast then headed out for some more birding. Patagonia Lake State Park was buzzing with activity this morning, being the Sunday of a holiday long weekend in the USA. The campground was full and the lake was full of boats and folks cooling off in the water. In addition to the human activity, bird activity was also quite high. The most exciting find here was a vagrant species to Arizona, an Elegant Tern. This species is normally found only on the Pacific coast from California south through Mexico and Central America. The bird had been reported the previous days and we were pretty happy it was still there when we arrived.

Along with White-faced Ibis, American Coot and Neotropic Cormorant, this Elegant Tern was a great sighting at Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Other waterbirds noted here included Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Neotropic Cormorant, White-faced Ibis, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot. An adult Common Black-Hawk sailed around the far corner of the lake, giving those of us who had not had an adequate look earlier in the trip an excellent chance to ‘catch up’. The mesquite and willow woods surrounding the lake were abuzz with Bell’s and Warbling vireos, Yellow and Lucy’s warblers, Summer Tanager, Verdin, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Russ found a Gopher Snake, which we all saw before it disappeared into a wood pile.

In the afternoon we made our way over to the famous Paton’s feeders. We sat in the shade on chairs in the backyard and waited with baited breath for the arrival of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, a lovely hummer species, rare and local north of the Mexican border. While waiting we enjoyed views of Black-chinned, Broad-billed and Anna’s hummingbirds, Gila and Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Blue Grosbeaks, Gambel’s Quail, Abert’s Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Inca Dove and some of the rattiest looking White-breasted Nuthatches we had ever seen. After waiting quite some time and not having seen the hummingbird, we decided to take a little break and return later on in the afternoon. Russ, Clive and Ben returned to the feeders on the break and they saw the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and luckily shortly after we arrived back at the feeders after 5 PM, the entire group got to see the bird at the feeders. The entire group, but me that is. Having seen one here earlier on a trip in April I wasn’t too perplexed about missing the hummingbird.

After dinner Russ and several others went out along Sonoita Creek to look for more owls. They had great success finding a pair of Western Screech-Owls as well as a calling Barn Owl.

Western Screech-Owl
Western Screech-Owl near Patagonia, AZ. May 2014. Russell Cannings.

Chris Charlesworth


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