The first day of our Limosa Holidays Arizona tour started off well. I have 8 people on this trip, 6 of which I met at the Phoenix airport last night. The other two, John and Lynne, had done the previous Texas tour with me and had traveled to Phoenix with me to take in the Arizona tour.
Weather this morning was lovely with nothing but sunny skies and temperatures hovering in the 20s. We made our way to the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch and spent a couple of hours exploring this fantastic spot. A series of ponds here attracts waterbirds, which are not particularly easy to find at other locations on this tour. Shorebirds were
about in numbers with Long-billed Dowitchers, Least, Western, Spotted and Solitary sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and Killdeer all seen quite well. Wading birds noted here included Great Blue Herons, Great and Snowy egrets, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and White-faced Ibis all noted. For waterfowl, in addition to Mallard, we had 2 pairs of Cinnamon Teal, a few Northern Shoveler and a couple of Canada Geese, a species not all that easy to get on this
particular tour. One of the more interesting birds we found at the water ranch was a single Western Grebe, and we saw a couple of Pied-billed Grebes as well. Neotropic Cormorants were about in good numbers, though I couldn’t pick out any Double-crested Cormorants. Overhead we saw both Vaux’s and White-throated swifts among the Violet-green, Cliff, Barn and Northern Rough-winged swallows. We had an adult Peregrine Falcon that tried unsuccessfully to catch swallows on the wing. A few migrants flitted about in the trees and included Yellow and Wilson’s warblers, Western Wood-Pewee, Western Tanager and Lazuli Bunting. Abert’s Towhee showed off quite well, and Green-
tailed Towhees made brief but much appreciated appearances. We had several Black-chinned Hummingbirds here, including a male that put on quite a display show for a hidden female. Near the parking lot a grove of stately Saguaro Cactus attracted several Gila Woodpeckers and we also noted our first Verdin here. Desert Cottontails were quite numerous here this morning and we caught a glimpse of a Hispid Cotton Rat as well.
After an action packed morning at the water ranch we carried on east of Phoenix, past the Superstition Mountains, and had to make a little detour due to a road closure. The detour took us to the city of Florence where had lunch. A couple of quick stops before lunch, mostly to look for Harris’s Hawks, offered up viewing opportunities for a nice group of lingering Lark Buntings! Also new for the trip list was an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Several tiny Round-tailed Ground Squirrels showed off here as well. After lunch we carried on and eventually enjoyed excellent views of Harris’s Hawk.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring Aravaipa Canyon, a scenic place studded with giant Saguaro Cactus and ragged rocky cliffs. Birding was sensational here this afternoon and we enjoyed watching several raptor species including a Common Black-Hawk on a nest and a Zone-tailed Hawk that soared by, doing its best Turkey Vulture (TV) imitation. We had views here of Plumbeous Vireo as well as the rather drab Bell’s Vireo, while stunningly
colorful birds like Vermilion Flycatcher and Hooded Oriole stole the show. Olive-sided Flycatchers, Cassin’s and Western kingbirds and Brown-crested Flycatchers also appeared on cue. A tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatcher appeared in the bushes and was seen by all and some caught a glimpse of Lark Sparrow. As the afternoon wore on we began the journey to Tucson and arrived at our hotel just before 6 PM. We had a nice dinner at a nearby pub before retreating for the night.
At 6:30 AM we made our way to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson for a little birding before breakfast. The park was bustling with bird life this morning and we saw quite a nice selection of species, beginning with a male Lesser Goldfinch. Next, we caught up with Lucy’s Warblers and soon thereafter, a very
confiding Northern Beardless Tyrannulet. Vermilion Flycatchers, stunning as they are, are almost becoming blase as they are fairly common in this part of the world and we saw several this morning including gorgeous males, females and immatures. An adult female Cooper’s Hawk sat atop a dead eucalyptus tree and caught the warmth of the morning sun.
Good numbers of migrant Chipping Sparrows were noted here at Agua Caliente this morning, but the real highlights were yet to come. One of North America’s most boisterous wrens, the Cactus Wren, put on a nice show for us this morning as it called from atop a Saguaro Cactus. This turned
out to be the ‘bird of the day’ for some. A male Pyrrhuloxia sang incessantly as we snapped photos of him, and to finish things off a Greater Roadrunner pranced in front of us with a lizard dangling from his bill.What a morning, and all this before breakfast!
We were entertained as we ate breakfast, while bee-keepers moved a swarm of bees from a palm frond next to the pool. Once the bees had settled down and we had eaten our breakfast we set off for a day in the Catalina Mountains. Our first stop was at the Cypress Picnic Area where new birds came fast and furious, beginning with the
comical Acorn Woodpecker. Soon thereafter we spotted our first Grace’s Warbler, and then White-breasted Nuthatch and a noisy group of Mexican Jays. A Bridled Titmouse showed nicely, as did a House Wren, all new trip birds. Tim pointed out our first Yellow-eyed Junco as it hopped on the ground, oblivious to our presence. Not a bad start! Our next stop, at Chiricahua
Pines, produced more new birds; Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee and Hutton’s Vireo to be exact. Higher up the mountain we went, enjoying stunning views along the way.
We had lunch at Loma Linda Picnic Area, accompanied by Steller’s Jays and several American Robins. A little group of Pygmy Nuthatches appeared here, and we had good looks at a female Olive Warbler. One of North America’s most impressive squirrels, the Tassle-eared Squirrel, was seen well here.
After lunch we made our way to Bear Wallow, where it didn’t take us long to find the target bird, one of the most impressive of the day, Red-faced Warblers. Also here, amongst the Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines, was our only Mountain Chickadee, along with Brown Creeper. A quick stop at the ski area at Mt. Lemmon produced Northern Flickers, Red-tailed Hawk and sweeping views of Tucson far below. We popped into the village of Summerhaven where a warm
coffee was a welcome treat on this rather cool, blustery afternoon. As we were inside the cafe we spotted a Virginia’s Warbler foraging in a tree right outside the window! Along a small creek near the cafe John D. spotted a male Common Grackle, a rarity here in
Arizona. Tim pointed out a Hermit Thrush, one of two seen here, along the same creek. Not a bad haul, and as Lynne would say, ‘Not a bag of sugar’. Feeling the effects of the elevation of 9000 feet with chilly temps and rather thin air, we began our decent of Mt. Lemmon. One last stop, at Molino Basin, added a few new birds to the list; Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler and Bewick’s Wren. Over a distant ridge, a Zone-tailed Hawk sailed by. What a great day it had been, with close to 80 species of birds tallied.
After picking up lunch we headed for Sabino Canyon where we rode the ‘tram’ up the canyon, enjoying the narrated tour
and the lovely scenery. It was a warm day with sunny skies, and a stiff wind that kept us on our toes…and chasing our hats. As we rode up the tram Janet pointed out a Belted Kingfisher and Tim spotted a male Northern Cardinal. We walked down the canyon from stop 5 to stop 1 and enjoyed some leisurely birding along the way. Bell’s Vireos seemed to be everywhere, though they remained mostly hidden in the mesquite and palo verde trees. We had great looks at a male Northern Cardinal and saw several rather drab Pacific-slope Flycatchers, one of which called to solidify its identity. Both Canyon and Rock
wrens showed themselves this morning on the rocky slopes of the canyon. We had a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk for comparison, and a Prairie Falcon soared over the Acropolis Wall in the distance. Ladder-backed Woodpecker appeared briefly, and we saw our first Black-throated Sparrow, a very approachable subject. In addition to the birds we noted a Greater Earless Lizard and a lovely butterfly, the Empress Leila. Some saw a Two-tailed Swallowtail as well.
We had a picnic lunch near the Sabino visitor’s center and then made our way to the Sonoran Desert Museum where we spent a couple of hours exploring the trails and various exhibits. While walking along the paths a few of the birds we encountered included Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher
and Hooded Oriole. Before we called it a day we made a stop in a saguaro studded area not far from the museum where we searched for and found a Gilded Flicker. At first the flicker played hard to get but eventually we had good looks at it through the scope and many agreed this had been the ‘bird of the day’.
Our day was spent in the Santa Rita Mountains in lovely Madera Canyon. Weather was quite cooperative today and the strong winds had thankfully died down, though temperatures remained fairly cool for this time of year. As we made our way up towards the canyon we paused to check out some sparrows near Florida Wash. They turned out to be Rufous-winged Sparrows, and a Brewer’s Sparrow could be heard singing but never did appear. Another highlight near Florida Wash was seeing two Black-tailed Jackrabbits, showing off their massive ears to one another.
Once in the canyon we headed straight up to the upper parking lot, stopping along the way to let a group of Wild Turkeys pass by in front of us. We hiked up through the
Madrean Pine/Oak forest along the Vault Mine Trail, hoping for a glimpse of one of Arizona’s most sought-after birds, the Elegant Trogon. Today was not our day, though we did meet some people who said they had seen two trogons. Birding was a bit slow this morning, though we did see some stunning Painted Redstarts, as well as comparatively drab Plumbeous Vireos and Hutton’s Vireos. Groups of Mexican Jays noisily roamed about in the canyon, and Acorn Woodpeckers were rather common. A Northern ‘Red-shafted’ Flicker posed for scope views and we heard several, but could not see any Arizona Woodpeckers. Farther up the canyon there were many people searching for trogons but nobody had any positive information. Hammond’s Flycatcher, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Bridled Titmouse were noted however. I heard a rarity here, a singing Black-and-white Warbler, though we never did see it. A gorgeous flower, the Long-spurred Columbine, identified by John L., was a treat for the botanists in the group.
We had lunch at the amphitheater after which time we walked down the canyon towards Santa Rita Lodge. On the walk we had both Dusky-capped and Brown-crested flycatchers, as well as another Hammond’s Flycatcher. House Wren poked around in the leaf-litter close by and White-breasted Nuthatches showed nicely. New for the butterfly list here was a Red-spotted Purple, pointed out by Janet. At Santa Rita Lodge we watched the feeders which
were busy with Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Black-headed Grosbeak and White-winged Doves. Hummingbird feeders produced Black-chinned and Broad-billed hummingbirds. The Wild Turkeys were busily feeding underneath the feeders and one particular male was all puffed up doing a partial display.
At the Kubo Cabin feeders activity was quite good with a Painted Redstart sucking nectar from a hummingbird feeder when we first arrived. Several Magnificent Hummingbirds were present, along with Black-chinned and Broad-billed hummers and a couple of very obliging
Lincoln’s Sparrows hopped about in the open. A female Hepatic Tanager descended to the orange halves for a few moments before disappearing. In with the Yellow-eyed Juncos I picked out a ‘Gray-headed’ Dark-eyed Junco. Several Western Gray
Squirrels, new for our mammal list, were seen in the canyon today as were the ubiquitous Rock Squirrels.
Before heading back to the hotel in Green Valley we stopped in lower Madera Canyon at Proctor Road where highlights included our first Summer Tanager, a lovely male, and a brief sighting of a Gray Hawk. Two ‘Coue’s White-tailed Deer let us walk by them along the pathway about 5 feet away from us, oblivious as they nibbled on Desert Hackberry. Just as we were about to leave the parking area I heard a Western Meadowlark sing and managed to spot it and get in the scope for the group to see. Back at the hotel we had a little downtime before an early dinner in preparation for our first session of night birding.
After dinner we set off once again and did a little owling in
the Santa Rita Mountains. Along the way, near Florida Wash, we saw a Bobcat cross the road in front us! Night birding was extremely successful and we had great views of three species of owl; Western Screech-Owl, Whiskered Screech-Owl and the diminutive Elf Owl. On our way back to Green Valley we watched a Lesser Nighthawk foraging beneath the street lights and this was a great conclusion to the day.