May 2 – Before we even left our resort in Rio Rico we saw some nice birds this morning, including a very confiding Pyrrhuloxia (that’s a mouthful), and a Canyon Towhee. Our first official birding stop was along the road to Patagonia Lake State Park where in the grasslands we had exceptional views of Botteri’s Sparrow as it sang its little heart out.
Also here, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow was noted singing from a telephone wire. At Patagonia Lake State Park we explored the trails which were alive with birds. There were brilliantly colored specimens such as Summer Tanagers, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-breasted Chats, Vermilion Flycatcher and Bullock’s Orioles.
In the marsh we had our first views of Common Yellowthroat, while along the muddy edge of the lake we noted our first Spotted Sandpiper. There were also Neotropic Cormorants and a single Black-bellied Whistling-Duck here, along with some lovely Ruddy Ducks and Cinnamon Teal. We had short and sweet views of Pied-billed Grebe as it emerged and then disappeared back into the reeds. A Belted Kingfisher was spotted by Daphne and we watched it hover and plunge into the water several times, eventually emerging with a small fish. Once we got back to the van, Claude and Jim reported they had seen a Golden Eagle overhead!
A stop at the infamous Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop produced the anticipated Thick-billed Kingbird, a rather scarce flycatcher found breeding in the USA only at and near this location. After a delicious lunch at the Gathering Grounds in Patagonia we made our way over to the Paton’s feeders where we sat and watched the action. Our main goal here was to see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird and we did just that, having several excellent looks at this rare and local species.
We left the Paton’s, but not before seeing a couple of very nice Gray Hawks sailing above the front garden, with an adult and an immature present.
In the evening, once we had finished dinner we headed out for some nocturnal birding. Just as we met in front of the van at Rio Rico I was shocked and happy to see a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree next to our resort!
We then made our way to the Santa Rita Mtns where we had some exceptionally owling seeing three more species quite well including Whiskered Screech-Owl, Western Screech-Owl and the tiny Elf Owl. We also had several calling Common Poorwills and we saw the eye shine of one poorwill in the beam of the lamp.
Thus far, we have been a little short on mammals during this trip, so we were quite happy to see two ‘Coue’s’ White-tailed Deer as we pulled back into the resort at Rio Rico. Earlier in the night a couple of us were lucky enough to glimpse a Black-tailed Jackrabbit before it disappeared into the desert.
May 3 – Our first stop was at the Rio Rico Ponds where birding was again quite good, despite reports from locals that this location was no longer a worthwhile birding spot! We had great views of Tropical Kingbird, alongside Western and Cassin’s kingbirds. There were several gorgeous Vermilion Flycatchers about, as well as Phainopepla, Bullock’s Orioles and a stunning Western Tanager. On the pond were Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and several ‘Mexican’ Mallards. We saw an immature Gray Hawk through the scope on a telephone pole and watched a group of Lark Sparrows foraging on the ground along a fence line. It was pretty good birding if you ask me.
We picked up lunch and then headed up into Florida Canyon to search for Black-capped Gnatcatcher, a rare and local species in S.E. Arizona. As we searched at one location where there had been several previous reports, a man pulled up in his vehicle and told us he had just seen a pair feeding young higher up in the canyon. Off we sped and we hiked up into the rather rugged and beautiful canyon where we did eventually find a lovely little male Black-capped Gnatcatcher with food in its bill for young. We walked back down the canyon delighted, and on the way we picked up a few more species of butterfly for the list; Two-tailed Swallowtail, White-winged Longtail, California Sister and Dainty Sulphur!
We had lunch in Madera Canyon while Hepatic Tanager, Painted Redstart and Dusky-capped Flycatcher kept us occupied. We then had a short stop at the feeding stations at the Santa Rita Lodge where we saw a tom Wild Turkey as he called from a hillside above amongst the oak trees. At the feeders were Mexican Jays, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinch, Broad-billed and Black-chinned hummingbirds and three Cassin’s Finches, a female and two males! We returned to Rio Rico for a little afternoon siesta during which time I swam in the lovely pool.
At 4 PM we gathered once again and made our way to Pena Blanca Lake. Here, we strolled along the shore and saw some nice birds, including Black Phoebes, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Vermilion Flycatchers and our first Northern Flicker of the tour. On the lake were American Coot, ‘regular’ Mallards and a couple of ‘Mexican’ Mallards, but little else. There were just too many people out enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon.
May 4 – We left the resort and Rio Rico this morning, making our way towards Patagonia. A stop at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest was quite productive giving us excellent views once again of Thick-billed Kingbirds.
We added our first Western Wood-Pewee here, as well as Hutton’s Vireo, the latter of which was feeding a fledged youngster. Overhead a Great Blue Heron flew past, an unusual sight in the desert, though a few nest along Sonoita Ck nearby. A Canyon Wren sang from the cliffs and was briefly seen by some while other interesting birds here included Yellow-breasted Chat, Lucy’s Warbler, Phainopepla and Summer Tanager.
We then took a little stroll along the edge of the Sonoita Ck Preserve, which unfortunately is closed on Mondays. We still saw some good stuff including a very confiding Black-throated Sparrow and a couple of adult Gray Hawks perched in a distant cottonwood.
At the Paton’s feeders we watched for half hour or so as the flocks of birds came in to feed. There were Lark Sparrows, Song Sparrow, Gila Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, Lesser Goldfinch and much more to be seen. The lovely Violet-crowned Hummingbird put in a cameo appearance once again for us.
After a delicious lunch at the cafe in Patagonia we explored the little town for a few minutes before heading off to the east to the Sonoita Grasslands. Our final hour or so of birding in the grasslands was sensational and started off with sightings of several Grasshopper Sparrows and some very pretty Horned Larks. Eastern Meadowlarks of the ‘Lilian’s’ subspecies were seen very well as through the scope, while Loggerhead Shrike was seen perched atop bushes waving in the wind. Overhead, Swainson’s Hawk sailed in the breeze while Botteri’s Sparrow sang from the grasslands below. Perhaps the best bird here was a cute as a button Scaled Quail that sat in a tree in front of us as we admired him. A mother Pronghorn Antelope watched her two wobbly legged youngsters as they curiously checked us out. We guessed that we may have been the first humans these tiny Pronghorn had ever seen. After a great day of birding we headed into Sierra Vista at the base of the Huachuca Mountains.
May 5 – This morning the temperatures were fresh in Sierra Vista as we emerged from our hotel and made our way up into the towering Huachuca Mountains. The road into Carr Canyon was rough, bumpy and winding, but well worth the effort as we had some fantastic birding here. We made a quick stop at the bottom to use the facilities and as they folks were occupied I heard the call of a Montezuma Quail on the hillside above. Once up at higher elevation near the Reef Townsite Campground we tracked down several Buff-breasted Flycatchers, the signature bird of the Huachuca Mountains. These tiniest of North America’s empidonax flycatchers are rather cute indeed.
Another target flycatcher ‘bit the dust’ this morning as we had exceptional views of Greater Pewee beside our van.
Warblers were numerous in the cool coniferous forests up at around 7000 feet this morning, with Virginia’s, Grace’s, Olive, Red-faced, Yellow-rumped, Towsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and Hermit seen! A flock of Red Crossbills were our first for the tour, and we had great views of a Brown Creeper as it hitched along the trunk of a large pine tree. A Hermit Thrush hopped along the bed of a dry creek, adding yet another species to our bulging trip list. Up at the end of the road we saw Western Scrub-Jay, and then having seen most of what we had come to see we began the bumpy descent. We had lunch in the oak trees at the bottom of Carr Canyon where Bridled Titmouse and Hammond’s Flycatcher were seen well.
After lunch we made our way to the Ash Canyon B&B, a fantastic place with plenty of feeders and plenty of birds. The real draw here is Lucifer Hummingbird, a rare and local species that barely enters the USA from its mostly Mexican range. We were quite lucky today since a female came in to feed almost as soon as we arrived!
Also new for our list here was Scott’s Oriole. We saw a lovely bright male and a somewhat more drab immature male feeding at the oranges. Ash Canyon is a spectacular place to photograph birds and I took advantage of this opportunity to get some photos of the local birds.
In addition to all the birds taking advantage of the feast put on by owner Mary Jo Ballator, there was also a rather greedy Rock Squirrel that was looking for more jam.
One last stop was made at the Ramsey Canyon Inn where we watched feeders, hoping for Blue-throated Hummingbird. Though I could hear one calling, we didn’t see the Blue-throated. There were however Magnificent, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, and Black-chinned hummingbirds present as well as Painted Redstart.
After dinner we returned to Carr Canyon in the dark and enjoyed listening to the calls of Mexican Whip-poor-wills, Common Poorwills and Elf Owl and Whiskered Screech-Owl. We had a great view of a Whiskered Screech-Owl as well which was very nice.