April 27– At 5:15 PM, seven Limosa clients landed at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and it took a long time for them to emerge into the arrivals hall due to long line ups at customs. I whisked the group off to the hotel where some of them scurried off to bed and a few others joined me for an evening meal, having seen exactly zero species on the first day of the tour.
April 28 – As is the norm in Arizona we awoke to lovely blue skies and bright sunshine this morning and made our way to the Gilbert Water Ranch where we spent a couple of hours exploring the various pools and riparian habitats. In a little clump of Saguaro Cactus we found several species of birds nesting including European Starling, Mourning Dove, Curve-billed Thrasher and some very obliging Gila Woodpeckers.
The ponds were filled with birds including migrant waders such as Long-billed Dowitchers in breeding plumage, Least and Western sandpipers and both American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron and a single Black-crowned Night-Heron were all noted as well and waterfowl included Ruddy Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon and American Coots.
As we walked along the trail we saw some good migrant songbirds in the Mesquite Trees. There were both Myrtle and Audubon’s warblers, Wilson’s and Orange-crowned warbler and Yellow warbler present. Several tiny Verdins with their yellow heads were noted, and we saw a few of their rather untidy nests tucked away in the trees. Hopping about on the ground along the edge of the trail were both Abert’s and Green-tailed towhees and a few White-crowned Sparrows. American Kestrel perched on a platform erected for Ospreys, but we saw no Osprey. Cliff Swallows came down to the muddy edges of the pool to collect mud for nests. Zipping about and perching high atop the bushes were several Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and we saw only one or two of the larger Anna’s Hummingbirds here.
The first mammals to go on our list included the rather numerous Desert Cottontail and at least two Hispid Cotton Rats. As usual, it was a good visit to the Gilbert Water Ranch.
We then settled in for a bit of a drive to our lunch stop in the town of Globe to the east of Phoenix. En route we screeched to a halt to view a Harris’s Hawk spotted by sharp-eyed Daphne. We suddenly were not only watching one Harris’s Hawk but we were seeing up to three including a bird on a nest in the crook of a large Saguaro. The scenery through the Superstition Mountains was spectacular and after we enjoyed our lunch in Globe we turned south towards Tucson. Our next birding adventure took place in Aravaipa Canyon where I drove us down to the river bed where I knew of a nesting Common Black-Hawk. Through the scope we watched the Common Black-Hawk as it watched us, with just its head peeking out from the top of the nest. Splashes of color came in the form of Northern Cardinal, Hooded Oriole and mouth-watering Vermilion Flycatchers! More subdued in color, but still exciting for my British visitors were Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s Kingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo and noisy Bewick’s Wrens. A male Broad-billed Hummingbird evoked some ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the group, as did a fleeting view of a Yellow-breasted Chat. Overhead we scanned through the Turkey Vultures until, presto, there was a superb Zone-tailed Hawk rocking back and forth in the thermals. Feeling we had seen quite a lot and I, knowing we had quite a drive to Tucson, made the motion to leave the canyon reluctantly. We arrived in Tucson around 6 PM and had our first dinner together as a while group.
April 29 – As we met outside our hotel in Tucson at 6 AM for some pre-breakfast birding we grabbed our fleecy jackets since there was a stiff and cool wind blowing, though the sun shined brightly. At Agua Caliente Park we enjoyed our first views of the ghostly pale Lucy’s Warbler as it flitted about in the Mesquites. Gila Woodpeckers were numerous and we did see one Ladder-backed Woodpecker quite well. Eye-popping Vermilion Flycatchers put on a nice show, and we had brief views of a Brown-crested Flycatcher. In a dead tree right out in the open, two male Black-headed Grosbeaks posed nicely for scope views and overhead a Phainopepla made a cameo appearance.
After breakfast back at the hotel we set off around 9 AM, making a quick stop to pick up provisions for lunch before we began ascending the Catalina Mountains. Our first stop was at a viewpoint where we took in the breathtaking mountain scenery with sprawling Tucson below.
Suddenly, right in front of us a Rock Wren appeared and showed off very nicely as cameras clicked. No sooner than the Rock Wren had departed, a Canyon Wren showed up and took its place. I assured the group they were quite lucky to see these two wrens so well and at such close range.
As we traveled through Bear Canyon we made several stops in the mixed pine / oak forest and had some stunning birds including Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mexican Jay, two Acorn Woodpeckers peering out of their nest holes, and some nice warblers including Painted Redstart and Grace’s Warbler.
In the cool, shady confines of Bear Wallow we had stunning views of Red-faced Warblers as they dashed about in the pine trees. There were also both Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches here as well as Warbling Vireo, and an Olive Warbler high up in the pines.
It was then lunch time so we had a picnic and were continuously interrupted by exciting birds as we munched on our sandwiches. Steller’s Jays came in to pick up any crumbs we had accidentally dropped as did some large and in charge Common Ravens. There was a pair of Western Bluebirds flitting about in the pines around the picnic area, but the highlight for me was a gorgeous male Olive Warbler that sat right out in the open in the short pine trees above us. The ‘Brits’ were pretty pleased when a pair of American Robins appeared and hopped about on the ground near us as well. Up at Mt Lemmon Ski Area we checked some hummingbird feeders and watched as both Broad-tailed and Magnificent hummingbirds vied for our attention. In a dead tree nearby we put a scope on a lovely male Western Tanager that seemed to glow in the afternoon sun. Equally impressive was a male Cassin’s Finch that also seemed to explode with color. We reached the summit of Mt. Lemmon at around 9000 feet and began our descent, spotting an Abert’s, or Tassle-eared Squirrel along the way. At Summerhaven we had a coffee while watching the birds that included House Wren, Western Wood-Pewee and Yellow-eyed Juncos. One more stop at the Windy Point Vista provided some stunning scenery photo ops, including a group photo taken by some visiting birders from Alaska.
April 30 – After breakfast and after checking out of our hotel we made our way to Sabino Canyon where we caught the 9 AM tram. We rode the tram to the top and listened to the informative narration and we then hopped off and walked down a section of the canyon. It was sunny and hot here today, with little shade to hide in, though we still saw some nice stuff. Highlights included a very obliging male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, a Prairie Falcon soaring above the Acropolis Wall, and a single Costa’s Hummingbird.
Several reptiles were noted in the canyon as well including Greater Earless Lizard, Sonoran Spotted Whiptail and a Black-necked Garter Snake. We made our way back to the visitor’s center and had lunch. After lunch Claude yelped out ‘Roadrunner’ and sure enough, a Greater Roadrunner came trotting along the road right towards us.
After navigating through the busy streets of Tucson we arrived at the Sonora Desert Museum and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the trails and exhibits here. It was bloody hot, but birds were still active, including a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher.
As I explored one of the trails on my own I came around a corner and startled an immature Cooper’s Hawk as it was having a bath in a fountain. The hawk, rather surprised by my presence sat on the edge of the fountain and I just stood there as the bird got use to me. I slowly raised my camera and clicked, getting some nice pictures.
We then made our way south to Rio Rico where we will spend the next four nights.
May 1 – Before breakfast several of us made our way down to the Rio Rico Ponds where we enjoyed some fantastic birding for an hour and a half. Highlights included stunning looks at Bullock’s Orioles and a scope view of Tropical Kingbird. On the pond itself were ‘Mexican’ Mallards and up to 22 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. In the air, 13 White-faced Ibis flew over, as did a Great Egret. Our first Black Vultures sailed by, while Phainopeplas put on a nice show in the bushes alongside the pond. A group of about 20 Lark Sparrows foraged on the gravel path as we watched from the van, and our first Northern Rough-winged Swallows appeared. As we approached our resort, an adult Greater Roadrunner was seen feeding a youngster right beside the road. A good start to the day indeed.
After breakfast we made our way to Madera Canyon where we began at the Kubo Cabin feeders. There were Magnificent, Black-chinned and Broad-billed hummingbirds here, along with Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Hepatic Tanager. Arizona Gray Squirrels tried to conquer the squirrel proof feeder with no luck, so it took a whole orange half off into the trees instead.
On a stroll through the sycamore and oak trees of lower Madera Canyon we encountered a very confiding group of birds including Plumbeous Vireos, Hepatic Tanagers, Bridled Titmouse and a lovely male Arizona Woodpecker.
After a picnic lunch we made our way up another trail in the canyon with high hopes of finding the elusive Elegant Trogon. On our way up we paused to look at Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s warblers, Mexican Jays and American Robin. Not far up the trail we could hear the telltale croaking of the trogon and sharp-eyed Daphne soon spotted the bird and we enjoyed scope views of this exotic looking specialty of Madera Canyon.
We stopped briefly at the Santa Rita Lodge to look at feeders where a tom Wild Turkey strutted his stuff for a lone female.
One final stop down by Proctor Road produced our first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, as well as a fantastic scope view of an adult Gray Hawk spotted by Paul. A fine ending to the day indeed and we returned to Rio Rico for some R & R.