Arizona Birding with Avocet Tours ~ Part 4

May 26 – We reluctantly left the lovely little village of Patagonia this morning, but not before doing a bit of birding along Sonoita Creek before breakfast. We discovered a nest we had seen the previous day with a fluffy raptor chick, belonged to a Red-tailed Hawk this morning. Also here, nesting Great Blue Herons were noted high in the cottonwood trees.

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Great Blue Heron nesting along Sonoita Creek. AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

A plethora of songbirds sang and flitted about in the roadside riparian forest, but nothing too unusual was noted. After a delicious breakfast at the gathering grounds, we made our way back west from where we already come. The reason for backtracking was to visit Montosa Canyon, where a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers, a rare and local bird in S.E. Arizona, had been seen. It took us a little searching, but when Russ said ‘I think I hear a gnatcatcher’ our eyes and ears piqued! Within seconds I had spotted the young gnatcatchers in the bushes, and soon the adult male, showing all the field marks, popped into view! We were a happy bunch this morning indeed. Other birds noted here included a couple of rather distant Pyrrhuloxia, along with singing Canyon Wrens, and a pair of soaring Cooper’s Hawks.

We picked up our lunch in Rio Rico and then made our way out to Pena Blanca Lake. It was quite warm by the time we arrived but the influence of the water made for good birding nonetheless. Best score out here was a Least Grebe, which has been seen for up to 3 years now, although recent reports have been sparse.

least grebe
Extremely rare in Arizona, and only normally found in the ABA area along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, Least Grebe was a good bird at Pena Blanca Lake Park. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Also new for our list were a couple of Willow Flycatchers of the local endangered ‘southwestern’ race. On the far side of the lake a Common Gallinule, previously known as Common Moorhen, was seen amongst the reeds. Vermilion Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee also added to the flycatcher count for the day.

In the afternoon we drove east towards Sierra Vista, stopping along the way to explore the lovely grasslands of Las Cienegas. Grasshopper Sparrows were rather numerous here, as were Horned Larks and the Lilian’s race of Eastern Meadowlark. Several Pronghorn were seen, a new mammal for our lists, as they slowly roamed about the grasslands. The sighting spawned a spontaneous rendition of ‘where the buffalo roam’ song by the group. We arrived in Sierra Vista, where we had an action packed dinner at Applebee’s.

May 27 – From our hotel in Sierra Vista we departed as early as possible this morning, and made our way up to Carr Canyon, in the mighty Huachuca Mountain Range. Our travels took us to around 8400 feet in elevation. The road was rather winding and narrow at times, and birds frequently and distractingly kept flying across the road. We took a ‘breather’ and enjoyed the view half way up the mountain. On the red colored rocks above, Canyon Wrens sang their cascading songs while a Peregrine Falcon put on a nice aerial show for us. Farther up the road….bang! some Band-tailed Pigeons, a welcome lifer for PG birder Clive Keen. By the end of the trip Clive would rack up about 100 lifers! High in the pine forests of the Huachucas, I could hear the song of a nearby Buff-breasted Flycatcher. This, North America’s tiniest empidonax flycatcher, resides in America, only in the Huachuca Mountains, and occasionally in other nearby ranges singly or in pairs. About 5 were heard in the pine woods today, however. This bird pictured below, didn’t midn posing for photos, though rarely would he face the photographer head on.

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Lovely Buff-breasted Flycatcher steals the show in the Huachuca Mountains. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

The other usual suite of mountains birds were tallied today; Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo, Greater Pewee, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Western & Hepatic tanagers and Western Scrub-Jays were all on the list. Perhaps the best bird of the day for me was a Virginia’s Warbler we watched as it sang from trees along a wooded slope. We had a picnic lunch at the top of the mountain, and it was rather breezy I believe. There were a few birds around, though nothing we hadn’t already seen before.

It was rather hot as we sat and watched the hummingbird feeders at the Ash Canyon B & B this afternoon.  We found mostly shady spots to position ourselves however. Why were we here? To look for Arizona’s most reliable Lucifer Hummingbird of course. Unfortunately, the Lucifer was only being seen once a day and his one visit didn’t coincide with our 1.5 hour visit.  We did however see some nice birds in the yard, my favorite of which was perhaps this stunning male Scott’s Oriole at the jelly feeder.

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Male Scott’s Oriole goes for the jelly at Ash Canyon, B & B, Hereford, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

To finish off the diurnal part of the day, we popped up into Ramsey Canyon, where although the preserve was closed, the feeders around the Ramsey Canyon Inn were busy. Star attraction here was our first and best Blue-throated Hummingbird, a male, that despite 9 birders looking at it, sat right there, just in front of us.  Another great bit of action here occurred when a flock of Wild Turkeys trotted through the yard. The male was all puffed up doing his full breeding display, with red and blue face skin fully engulfed in blood, and tail spread as wide as possible, all the while strutting over towards the group of 4 hen turkeys.

In the evening we visited the lower reaches of Miller Canyon where high winds may have prevented us from seeing Common Poorwill. Nice consolation prize was a Whiskered Screech-Owl however!

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Whiskered Screech-Owl patrols the Madrean Pine Oak Forests of lower Miller Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

May 28 – It was an epic day of birding today, as we spent our morning exploring Miller Canyon and the famous Beatty’s Guest Ranch in the eastern Huachuca Mountains. We started off with a hike up the canyon to a spot where I had seen a roosting Spotted Owl earlier in the year. As luck would have it, there it was, an adult ‘Mexican’ Spotted Owl, roosting right in front of us on an oak limb.

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Roosting ‘Mexican’ Spotted Owl at Miller Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Next on the agenda, another bit of hiking up to the first stream crossing where a Northern Pygmy-Owl was to be nesting.  I had been at this spot on a previous trip and knew where the tree and the cavity were, which helped. We sat and watched the tiny hole in the tree for about 10 minutes before the pygmy-owl itself magically appeared in the hole. He / she looked almost crazy as it peered out of it’s nest hole and saw 9 birders looking onward!

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‘Mountain’ race of Northern Pygmy-Owl in Miller Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Russ and a few others hiked farther yet up the canyon and saw an adult Northern Goshawk on a nest in a sycamore tree. These intrepid birders also came across Red-faced Warbler and another Buff-breasted Flycatcher.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, it soon did, when a male White-eared Hummingbird appeared at the feeders at Beatty’s. This little gem of a hummer from Mexico is exceedingly rare in the United States. Most birders who see this species in the ABA area see it here at Beatty’s, near Sierra Vista. They even sell a t-shirt that says ‘I got the White-eared at Beatty’s Guest Ranch’, with an artistic rendition of the hummer by a young art student.

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Male White-eared Hummingbird visits Beatty’s Guest Ranch, Miller Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

As several of us sat watching the feeders at Miller Canyon, a young man walked up with a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake in his hands. Wow! What a gorgeous snake this was indeed!

sonoran mountain kingsnake
Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake at Miller Canyon, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After Miller Canyon we visited the Sierra Vista EOP….or sewage pond for the common reader. Sewage ponds are always great places to see different birds, but this particular sewage pond was overgrown with cattails. We couldn’t see a thing, even from the great raised viewing platform that was built. All I could spot were Red-winged Blackbirds, a Song Sparrow and Russ called out, ‘Common Yellowthroat.’ We made our way to the nearby San Pedro River where we enjoyed a leisurely walk through the towering cottonwoods growing along this little trickle of a river. The trees were rather full of life, coming in the avian varieties of Summer Tanager, Yellow-breasted Chat, Vermilion Flycatcher and Blue Grosbeak. A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake was an exciting find and the distinctive rattle was heard by all as we passed a brush pile near to where it was hiding. Adrian finally got the excellent views of Gray Hawk that he had wanted during the trip, I was very glad about that. We carried on our drive from the San Pedro River and made our way into the border town of Douglas, our home base for the next two nights.

Chris Charlesworth

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