May 6 – This morning we visited another of southern Arizona’s best birding locations, Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. We were greeted by Tom Beatty Sr. himself as he described what birds had been seen on his property which is peppered with hummingbird feeding stations. We listened to Tom’s advice and then we struck off on a hike up into the lower canyon. We spent much of our time looking for a few target species, including Spotted Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl, but we just couldn’t track them down. Butterflies were numerous in the canyon though, and we couldn’t resist looking at the beautiful Arizona Sister, a common yet stunning butterfly, fairly common in the canyons of southeastern Arizona.
At the hummingbird feeders we waited for White-eared Hummingbird, but it also didn’t come in to feed. We were still quite happy with other sightings though including birds such as Arizona Woodpecker, Hammond’s Flycatcher and several Spotted Towhees. The hummingbird feeders were abuzz with Magnificent, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed and Black-chinned hummingbirds. Despite the fact that we missed our target birds, it was a great morning to hike in the canyon.
After we had lunch in Sierra Vista we popped into the visitor’s center at San Pedro House to check the feeders for Common Ground-Dove. We found several of them here, so that was a success. Our drive continued through the border town of Douglas where we stopped to fuel up before heading out into ‘no man’s land’. The drive to Portal was slow, mostly because we stopped regularly to see birds. We spotted Chihuahuan Ravens, Black-throated Sparrow, Swainson’s Hawk and Scaled Quail to name a few species. We found a Coachwhip snake on the hwy that looked in perfect condition, though from its movements and motions we could see it had unfortunately been run over by a car. I moved it to the side of the road.
Once in Portal we settled into our rooms and some of us went for a little stroll, finding a roosting Great Horned Owl in a sycamore tree and getting valuable ‘intel’ from local birders on other species in the area.
May 7 – Before breakfast and just as the first light was painting the cliffs of the Chiricahua Mountains with color we made our way into Cave Ck where we hiked through the south fork. It was cool and shady in the canyon this morning but that didn’t stop us. Overhead up to three Zone-tailed Hawks did a display flight which was quite entertaining. We could hear the barking of an Elegant Trogon in the forest so we watched and waited patiently. ‘There it is’, someone yelled and I got the scope on the male just in time for one person to see it. We waited around some more and Daphne called ‘female trogon right here’ so I rushed over got the scope on the female and all but one of my group got a look at her before she flew. Piece by piece everyone in the group was getting to see the Elegant Trogon, one of Arizona’s most iconic birds. Finally, the male perched out on a limb long enough for everyone to have a good look through the scope, and then a good second look! We had earned our breakfast this morning.
After breakfast we began to explore the road up to Paradise. A rather elusive Black-chinned Sparrow zipped back and forth leaving everyone with a thirst for more from this attractive little bird. They would have to wait for a later time since this particular sparrow was not sitting still. A male Scott’s Oriole distracted everyone long enough to forget we had not seen sparrow well. Farther up the road at the Paradise Cemetery we had great views of a Juniper Titmouse, and in the distance we could hear several Montezuma Quail taunting us from various locations. ‘Back in the van’, I said, and we continued on down to the dirt road for a short distance. I spotted a brown lump hunkered down in the shadow beside the road ahead. ‘Montezuma Quail’ I exclaimed and everyone promptly got onto the bird, a male, as it sat still thinking we couldn’t see it. As we inched closer a second bird appeared, the female. We had stunning views of these two elusive quail before they scurried on up the hill.
Then, our craving for another look at a Black-chinned Sparrow was satisfied as I heard one singing down the slope from the van window. It didn’t take me long to spot the sparrow and get it in the scope for all to have long leisurely looks at. Up at Rustler Park, in the top of the Chiricahuas it was cool and breezy. We searched for and successfully found Mexican Chickadee amongst the pine and fir trees. We had lunch here before beginning our descent. Steller’s Jays kept us company as we ate our sandwiches and they were very happy to accept the ‘crumbs’ we left behind.
Back down in Portal we visited some feeders this afternoon where the bird activity was quite good. We had fantastic views of several Blue-throated Hummingbirds, as well as dazzling Hooded Orioles. A Lincoln’s Sparrow skulked in a brush pile and that was a first for us. We had dinner, then enjoyed a little owling for our last night in Arizona. Right at dusk, as everyone said it would, a Western Screech-Owl poked out of its hole in a tree right next to the restaurant. We then made our way over to the post office and watched in awe as an Elf Owl did the same. What a fantastic way to end another spectacular day of birding.
May 8 – We had a somewhat leisurely morning today, but once we left the lodge in Portal we were all business. We tried a couple of locations along the New Mexico / Arizona state line for thrashers and eventually had good looks at a couple of Bendire’s Thrashers. We then made our way to Willcox with its famous sewage ponds. It was sunny, windy and very dusty here at the ponds, which made things a little uncomfortable, but it was all worth it. New for our trip list were Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Redhead, Sanderling, Wilson’s Phalarope and Eared Grebe! In addition to these birds, species we had already seen included White-faced Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Ducks, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and Swainson’s Hawk. That was it, our birding had completed and we now had to make the journey back to Phoenix to catch flights home in the evening. We made it to Phoenix by about 4 PM and I said my goodbyes to yet another fantastic group. We had seen 195 species of birds on our trip, a formidable total by all recollections.