Day 1 – I met the group at the arrivals hall of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport shortly after 7 PM. The first bird noted of the tour was a Great-tailed Grackle flying alongside the road at dusk. We made the short transfer back to our hotel and then went for a little bite of dinner before heading to bed to get some sleep.
Day 2 – Just after 7 AM we gathered outside of our hotel. The group saw a few birds as I was loading the van, including Northern Mockingbird and Gila Woodpecker. We headed east to the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert where we spent about 2 hours at this fabulous location. Today was a gorgeous and sunny day with comfortable temperatures, which we
enjoyed very much. Upon arrival we visited a stand of Saguaro cactus where a couple of pairs of Gila Woodpeckers were busy entering nest holes inside the cactus. Curve-billed Thrasher and Gambel’s Quail were seen well near the cactus grove as well and a Mourning Dove fed two hungry youngsters on the ground not far from us. We saw our first of many Black-chinned Hummingbirds here this morning, and we had fair views of the tiny gray and yellow Verdin as they hopped about in the palo verde trees. We caught our first glimpse of the water, a scarce commodity in the desert, and racked up several species including lovely American Avocets, as well as Neotropic Cormorants, Snowy Egrets and an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron. Song Sparrows sang from the trees and eventually we had quite a good view of one of them. Abert’s Towhee also
showed well, scratching about on the ground, while an obliging Olive-sided Flycatcher perched and gave us great scope views. One particular pond was covered in waders, mostly Long-billed Dowitcher, but also a few Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and Black-necked Stilts. A few warblers were about as well, including Black-throated Gray, Wilson’s, Yellow and Common Yellowthroat, however the latter remained hidden in the reeds as it sang. Overhead our first Red-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Turkey Vulture and a Peregrine Falcon appeared, the latter chasing Cliff Swallows.
It was time to move forward so we carried on from the outskirts of Phoenix towards the east and stopped in to have lunch in the town of Globe. As I was paying the bill, the group did some birding outside, spotting the first Cactus Wren of the tour. Our next port of call was Aravaipa Canyon, a stunning place with impressive towering cliffs and saguaro studded hillsides. I headed for an area where a Common Black-Hawk has nested for years and while we were looking from the road at the bird sitting on the nest, the
property owner came out and invited us onto his property to have a look. From his yard we had very good scope views of the hawk perched in its nest high up in a sycamore tree along Aravaipa Creek. Other goodies here including eye-popping Vermilion Flycatchers, and comparatively drab Black Phoebes. On a patch of shady grass quite a nice assemblage of birds gathered; Lazuli Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned Sparrow, Inca Dove and more. A Yellow-breasted Chat flew by, leaving us wanting more. We carried on farther along Aravaipa Road, picking up more birds as we went along such as Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Summer Tanager and Broad-billed Hummingbird. Overhead, a
Zone-tailed Hawk soared next to a Red-tailed Hawk. Later, our first Gray Hawk was spotted by Andy, wrapping up a pretty good day for raptors indeed. The afternoon was quickly fading to early evening so we carried on into Tucson, checked into our hotel and went for dinner at Chili’s.
Day 3 – At 6 AM we emerged from the hotel and headed off to Agua Caliente Park for some pre-breakfast birding. It was sunny and beautiful this morning. Once we arrived at the park the birds started rolling in with the likes of Hooded Oriole, Vermilion Flycatcher, Broad-billed Hummingbird and Lucy’s Warbler appearing. Down at the little wetland, a ‘big-bottomed’ Mallard swam past, obviously possessing a few ‘barnyard
quacker’ genes. A few Red-winged Blackbirds flashed their brilliant red epaulettes from the reeds on the far side of the pond. I heard the plaintive whistles of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet nearby so we scurried off in hopes of seeing this uncommon flycatcher. It didn’t take too long and we had the bird in our binoculars. A nest, which I suspect was the tyrannulets nest, hang from the lower branches of a eucalyptus tree. High in a pine tree I spotted a bulky stick nest with the head of a Cooper’s Hawk sticking up above it. This ‘head view’, plus a brief fly-by view were enough for most members of the group to warrant a tick on the list. In an area of Saguaro Cactus we had some nice birds such as a pair of tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, a Cactus Wren, a Curve-billed Thrasher, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and three distant Purple Martins! Not a bad start to the day.
After breakfast we headed out again, ascending the twisting Catalina Highway up the slopes of Mount Lemmon. We began at 3500 feet in Tucson and ended up just over 9000 feet on Mt. Lemmon, traveling through 9 different biogeoclimatic zones on the way up. The change in habitat due to the elevation gain is equivalent to driving from Mexico to the Canadian border. Our first stop was at the Cypress Picnic area. Here, we had some
fantastic birds, such as a very confiding Yellow-eyed Junco, several comical Acorn Woodpeckers, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Mexican Jay and two Spotted Towhees. Two of the better birds seen here as well included a male Arizona Woodpecker and a Grace’s Warbler, the latter of which allowed scope views as it sang from high in a pine tree.
At Bear Wallow we parked the van and walked up the cool, shady draw through towering Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir trees. It didn’t take us long to get right into the thick of bird activity as several Red-faced Warblers appeared and showed off for us amongst the fresh green spring leaves. Other warblers about included ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumped Warbler and Townsend’s Warbler. A pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks fed on the flowers in a freshly leafed tree, while a male Western Tanager popped with colors nearby. The trumpeting calls of both Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches were
followed by sightings of both species and farther up the draw we saw our third nuthatch of the day, a Pygmy Nuthatch. A Mountain Chickadee appeared, as did a Brown Creeper, and as we were eating lunch a Hermit Thrush hopped about on the ground. The mammalian highlight in Bear Wallow was the sighting of an Abert’s ‘Tassel-eared’ Squirrel, as well as a cute little Cliff Chipmunk.
At the Iron Door Restaurant near the ski hill, we watched the hummingbird feeders for a few minutes which were alive with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. For a few brief moments a Rivoli’s Hummingbird appeared. Steller’s Jays were about, along then a noisy Common Raven and more cheeky Yellow-eyed Juncos. Right at the summit of Mt. Lemmon, a short walk produced three new species for our growing list, a Hairy Woodpecker, a pair of gorgeous Western Bluebirds and two unassuming Chipping Sparrows.
We had some refreshments in the ski village of Summerhaven at the Cookie Cabin, then
took a little stroll along a trickling creek and found three Virginia’s Warblers foraging in the trees. Another Red-faced Warbler appeared, and an American Robin sang incessantly, but would not show his face. On our way back down towards Tucson we stopped at the Windy Point Vista where we took in the stunning view. Down below us in the bushes was our first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Black-throated Gray Warbler. On a ledge nearby and adult Peregrine Falcon sat quietly in the shade. Once back in Tucson we had a little rest and then had dinner at the Black Bear Diner, and that was an experience in American cuisine let me tell you. We did not leave hungry tonight.
Day 4 – With blue skies once again, we made our way back to the foot of the towering Santa Catalina Mountains and we spent our morning at Sabino Canyon. We took a short stroll around before catching the tram, and were engaged by a naturalist who took us to see a ‘Crested Saguaro’ which is a deformed saguaro that grows in an odd shape. She
pointed out quite a few other plants for us and told us not to drink the water out a saguaro unless we were interested in a psychedelic experience! We took her advice. At 9 AM, the ‘tram’ headed up the canyon and we enjoyed the narrated ride up and halfway back down at which point we disembarked and walked a couple of kilometers. It was already pretty hot by the time we arrived, but that didn’t stop us from seeing some nice birds. The common species in Sabino Canyon were White-winged Doves, Lucy’s Warblers, Bell’s Vireos, Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Brown-crested Flycatcher. The star attraction was a Canyon Wren that sat on a ledge for quite some time as we watched him sing through the scope, while White-throated Swifts zipped overhead. A male Costa’s Hummingbird sat briefly atop a dead tree, and Andy and I glimpsed a Green-tailed Towhee in the undergrowth. Yet another Virginia’s Warbler foraged in the palo verde trees.
We had lunch in Tucson, the checked a spot along Ajo Rd where Burrowing Owls can be found. Just as we pulled up to the location, I spotted the owl sitting on a pipe, but he
promptly flew down into the ditch and disappeared into his burrow. After a while we gave up and headed west to the Sonoran Desert Museum. It was hot by now, and the van temperature gage briefly read 108 degrees F. As we arrived, our first Pyrrhuloxia sat nicely for good views. We wandered around the museum spotting some nice birds such as Cactus Wren, Western Tanager, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Black Vulture, Abert’s Towhee and Costa’s Hummingbirds. An adult Cooper’s Hawk came in to drink in a fountain quite close to us, offering incredible views! We gathered back at the café and had some cold drinks before beginning the short drive to Green Valley where we had dinner in the pub at the hotel and then got some sleep.
Day 5 – We left our hotel after breakfast under the normal weather conditions for S.E. Arizona; Sun, blue sky and warm temperatures. We headed for an area of residential Green Valley that has nicely landscaped gardens and quite a few birds. Our main target here was the Gilded Flicker. It didn’t take us too long to find the Gilded Flicker as he sat
atop a large yucca and called in the morning sunlight. This neighborhood provided quite a few other sightings as well such as Gambel’s Quail, Costa’s Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Bullock’s Orioles. A male Bronzed Cowbird was a nice catch here, as was a nesting Curve-billed Thrasher that had built its nest in the safety of a cholla cactus. Our first Black-tailed Jackrabbit of the tour hopped along the roadside, while the smaller Desert Cottontail was also noted.
We picked up our lunch and then headed to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. We headed to the upper parking lot where embarked on a hike into the pine / oak forest, with a couple of target birds in mind, most notably the Painted Redstart and the highly sought-after Elegant Trogon. The first species we encountered were Mexican Jays, Yellow-eyed Junco and a couple of Bridled Titmice. A Hutton’s Vireo sang incessantly and was seen by some in the party. Higher up in the canyon we heard the warbling song of a
Painted Redstart and after some searching we finally had the lovely warbler in our sights. Then, a barking sound came from within the trees along the dry creek bed. It was an Elegant Trogon. After a little searching we finally saw the bird, a male, calling within the depths of an Alligator Juniper. Scopes were set up and cameras clicked as the trogon called away and we descended back down the trail with big smiles on our faces.
We had lunch amongst the oak trees while Mexican Jays waited for us to clear out so they could descend upon the campsite and clean up any scraps. It was already getting quite warm and bird activity was waning, so we headed down the canyon to visit the feeders at the Kubo Cabin. It was nice and shady here and the birds were actively coming in to feed. Acorn Woodpeckers were very evident here, as were Black-headed Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, House Finches and Mexican Jays. Hummingbirds included
Broad-billed, Black-chinned and Rivoli’s. Along the dry creek bed, a Lincoln’s Sparrow hopped about and other treasures included our first American Robin, a Hermit Thrush and our first Western Gray Squirrels of the tour. Down at the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge we again sat for a while enjoying the action as Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinches, Mexican Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, a variety of hummingbirds and White-breasted Nuthatch all came in. We heard rumors that another trogon and a pygmy-owl were present down at the Madera Picnic Area so that’s where we headed next. Upon arrival we could hear the trogon barking so we headed in the direction that the bird was calling. We had great views of this trogon as he flew from perch to perch and even investigated a possible nest cavity. Geoff then spotted a Brown-crested Flycatcher nest
next to the creek and as we were looking at the nest a Northern Pygmy-Owl appeared. The owl sat up nicely in a juniper with a tiny lizard in its talons. What a great day it had been in Madera Canyon!
We returned to Green Valley, had an early dinner and then headed back for Madera Canyon for some nocturnal exploring. Us, along with several other birders, waited patiently for an Elf Owl to pop its head out of a cavity in a telephone pole and the owl kept his date with us, appearing promptly at 7 PM. Higher up in the canyon as darkness fell we heard the calls of Mexican Whip-poor-wills, and we had a great view of a Whiskered Screech-Owl to top it all off.
Day 6 – This morning we headed back towards the Santa Rita Mountains, stopping in at Florida Wash. One of the first birds to greet us here was a smashing Black-throated Sparrow that sat right up on top of the mesquite in front of us. After that, a Pyrruloxia popped into view, and a Green-tailed Towhee flitted through the undergrowth. Yellow-breasted Chat sang loudly but remained hidden in the bush. It had been made known to me several times on the trip that Greater Roadrunner was one of the top most wanted birds to be seen. In fact it would be a lifer for all 7 tour participants! I was excited then, when I spotted a roadrunner slinking through the mesquite so I shouted to the group, ‘roadrunner’, and they all came quickly. Not quickly enough, however as the roadrunner gave us the slip and disappeared into the desert, being seen by just myself and briefly by Andy. We had our first nice views of Swainson’s Hawks this morning as they sailed overhead against the cobalt blue sky. In a bit of grassland near Florida Wash we had great views of a Botteri’s Sparrow that sat on a fence.
Our next stop was at Proctor Road in the lowest section of Madera Canyon. Upon arrival, I heard a Crissal Thrasher singing, so we tracked it down, eventually getting good scope views of this ‘scythe-billed’ denizen of the desert. We then staked out an area along the dry creek bed where a pair of rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers had been seen recently. Several times I could hear the soft whining calls of the gnatcatcher so I knew they were in the area, but it took us quite a while to finally catch a glimpse of the female. Several good target birds ‘in the bag’, we began the drive back to Green Valley where we picked up lunch at Safeway.
We took our lunch to a Roy Morriss County Park in Tubac where we ate at some shady picnic tables. It was hot today, with temperatures of 100 degrees F, or slightly above.
After we finished our lunch, a few birds appeared, including our first Cassin’s Kingbird and a nice surprise pair of uncommon Tropical Kingbirds! We had at this point become a little blasé about the Vermilion Flycatchers that seemed to be present at most stops, though it is hard to get tired of seeing such a cracking little bird. After lunch we walked up the Santa Cruz River, hoping to catch a glimpse of another local rarity, the Rose-throated Becard. A pair of becards, normally found in Mexico, have been nesting along the river near Tubac for the last couple of years. We were instructed by a passing birder to look for the orange bucket, which would mean we were in the area of the becard’s nest. After a little searching we found the orange bucket and then we spotted the nest, a large bulky nest, hanging from a cottonwood. We hung around for quite some time, spying other species such as Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bridled
Titmouse, Song Sparrow and Gila Woodpeckers. Jane, who had wandered off a little suddenly asked, ‘Does the becard have a pink throat patch?’ We hurried over to her, but the bird was no longer in the spot she had seen it. It called several times, so I was aware the bird was still in the area. After a while I said we would give the bird ten more minutes to show up and then we’d have to go. Within a few minutes, there was motion near the nest and it was the male Rose-throated Becard. He sat near his nest for 5 minutes or so while we all enjoyed scope views. On our way back to the van we paused to look at several American Bullfrogs that were loafing around in a scummy looking puddle.
We were doing very well today with our target birds, knocking them off one by one. At our next stop, also along the Santa Cruz River, but at Santa Gertrudis Lane, our luck ran out. There had been sightings fairly recently of two Mexican vagrants here, Sinaloa Wren and Rufous-backed Robin. I knew our chances of seeing either of them were slim, so I
wasn’t too disappointed we couldn’t find them. As a consolation prize, a pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds put on a nice show for us and this is a species we normally only see closer to Patagonia. As luck would have it, we couldn’t find them at Patagonia so these Santa Cruz River birds were the only ones we saw on the tour. Of course there were other birds to enjoy along the cottonwood lined stream, such as Yellow-breasted Chat, Common Yellowthroat, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and overhead a Zone-tailed Hawk. We carried on to Nogales, our home base for the next two nights, and were greeted by a male Hooded Oriole having a drink in the water fountain outside the hotel, which was not a bad welcoming party.
Day 7 – At 6 AM we met outside of our hotel and we took a short stroll in some scrubby habitat near our hotel, in search of the elusive Greater Roadrunner. Last year’s group had a roadrunner right at this spot on both mornings. It was not meant to be this morning however. We had a quick look at the bustling Cliff Swallow colony under the eaves of our hotel before boarding the van and making our way to lovely Pena Blanca Lake. The morning light on the desert made for an idyllic setting. We spent about an hour and a half at Pena Blanca Lake, exploring a little trail that took us alongside the calm lake, and then up into a little bit of desert scrub. One
of the first birds we found was a new species for us, a pair of Rufouc-crowned Sparrows. In an open area near the lake we encountered quite a lot of bird activity. There were Say’s Phoebes, Vermilion Flycatchers, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Lark Sparrows, Costa’s Hummingbird and more. On the lake, waterfowl were few and far between, but we did see a pair of ‘Mexican’ Mallards, Ruddy Ducks and American Coots. We climbed up a short stairway away from the lake and saw some migrants there including Wilson’s Warbler, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Tanager and Warbling Vireo. Lucy’s Warblers, the ghostly pale warbler of the desert, sang loudly and a small flock of Bushtits entertained us. As the clock neared 8 AM we began feeling the urge to have breakfast, and even more importantly, some coffee, so we headed back to our hotel.
After breakfast we headed back out into the field, stopping at Patagonia Lake State Park. It was again, already heating up, and today’s temperatures again neared 100 degrees F. We spent an hour and half or so walking the trails of Patagonia Lake Park’s ‘Birding Trail’. Waterbirds were very much of interest to us and we found a nice Green Heron foraging by the first bit of water we encountered. In the scope we compared Neotropic Cormorants with a single Double-crested Cormorant out on a log. White-faced Ibis probed into the mud with their long, decurved bills. Spotted Sandpipers were rather
numerous along the muddy shores of the lake, and we saw a Killdeer as well. A Gadwall was our first for the tour, as was a small flock of Northern Shovelers that flew past, spotted by Andy. In the reeds we enticed a lovely male Common Yellowthroat into view. This warbler species, with its striking black mask, is known as the ‘bandit of the marsh’. Other species noted at Patagonia Lake included Summer Tanager, Cooper’s Hawk, Yellow-breasted Chat, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet to name a few species.
We headed into the town of Patagonia and went for lunch at the Gathering Grounds Café. After lunch we took a short stroll around the town checking out some local galleries and the historic Stage Stop Inn. At the Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds we sat in the shade and watched feeders for much of the rest of the afternoon. It was quite enjoyable to relax here and enjoy the birds, which including the local celebrity, Violet-crowned
Hummingbird. Other hummers included our first Anna’s Hummingbird of the tour, as well as Broad-billed, Broad-tailed and Black-chinned hummingbirds. At the oranges, a Yellow-breasted Chat came in to feed several times and at seed feeders were Pine Siskins, Lesser Goldfinches, Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal and Song Sparrows. In the brush piles scattered around the yard were Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee, Green-tailed Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow and Gambel’s Quail. It had been yet another enjoyable day of birding in S.E. Arizona and we headed back to Nogales for a
little rest before heading out for dinner.
Day 8 – From Nogales we headed north a short distance to Rio Rico, where I’d hoped we might get lucky and find the much anticipated Greater Roadrunner. We got up to the spot, a resort that we use to stay at and where I had several encounters with roadrunners of the years. Upon arrival we were greeted by a giant, ‘Closed for renovations’ sign. Darn, I thought, but at just that moment Jane piped up, ‘Right there on the road’, and there it was, a Greater Roadrunner. The bird snuck behind a tree and then came trotting right towards the van. The usual snickering comments that there was no coyote chasing it, ensued. Somebody went ‘beep beep’. The roadrunner climbed up a tree and then walked along a wall, posing for photographs, before trotting off into the mesquite woodland. Finally, a roadrunner in the bag.
At the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop, I explained the importance of the site to North American birders. At the little concrete picnic table tucked away into the trees, a rare bird had been found back in the 1970s, a first for North America, I believe. Other birders
began showing up to look for said rare bird, and in turn they began finding other rarities. ‘The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ was born. Now, unfortunately the effect didn’t bring us any rarities today, but it was nice to see Canyon Wren, White-throated Swifts, Gray Hawk, Canyon Towhee and others here this morning.
We then popped into Patagonia and at the Gathering Grounds we ordered our lunches to go. We had a coffee while we waited and the staff didn’t make us wait long as they were terribly efficient. We were on the road again, stopping at Sonoita to fill up with fuel. I turned around after filling up the tank and realized the entire group had disappeared. They were soon spotted photographing and looking at some old west wagons and buildings.
Back to birding, at Las Cienegas Grasslands, it was quite calm and the birds were active. We had great views of Grasshopper and Brewer’s sparrows here. Kath spotted a Loggerhead Shrike, though it was a fair distance off, we had views through the scope. Andy spotted another distant creature, a Pronghorn Antelope. Again, through the heat haze, we could just make out what it was. Several Chihuahuan Ravens lazily flew by, and Eastern Meadowlarks, of the ‘Lilian’s’ race were singing and perching for good scope views. Swainson’s Hawks soared lazily overhead in the afternoon thermals. Andy, the king of Lark Buntings, spotted a Lark Bunting as it flew off. This would happen twice on the tour!
I turned off the main highway on a road marked to Elgin. In the prairie along this stretch we saw three more Pronghorn Antelope, with one of the males being quite curious about us. We bumped down a long dirt road to the Audubon’s Appleton-Whittell Research
Ranch where we were greeted by friendly attendant Suzanne. Even before we left the parking lot we’d added the species we’d come here for, Scaled Quail. There were half a dozen or so of them huddled in the shade beneath one of the work trucks. We were surprised to see one lone white quail egg on the ground under the truck where the birds had been. We had our lunch inside ‘the party barn’ which made a nice shelter for us to eat inside. Scaled Quail called loudly from just outside the barn and Say’s Phoebes fluttered around the eaves, possibly nesting. Several of us entered in a raffle to win a wooden carved Montezuma Quail, which if won, would be the only of its kind encountered on this particular trip. As we were leaving the research ranch we saw a couple of Botteri’s Sparrows in the grasses along the road as we entered an area covered by native grassland vegetation. An Olive-sided Flycatcher perched on an agave was an unusual sight, in my opinion, as I’m familiar seeing this species in its northern forest and bog breeding habitats. Eastern Meadowlarks again perched nicely for us as we drove on by. We carried on into Sierra Vista where we went out for dinner at Applebee’s before getting some rest.
Day 9 – We were now accustomed to waking up to blue sky and warm temperatures. Today was no different as we picked up our lunches before heading up into the Huachuca Mountains and Carr Canyon. A stop in lower Carr Canyon did not produce a
Scott’s Oriole, unfortunately, though we did catch a glimpse of an Eastern Bluebird here. Overhead, our only Golden Eagle for the tour was seen, being chased by a seemingly diminutive Common Raven. ‘Well try again for the bluebird later, I said, as we carried on up the bumpy road. I explained that I didn’t like stopping on the way up into Carr Canyon, since I like to keep my momentum going. The road really wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be however, and the views going up and coming down were incredible. Once up at Reef Townsite Campground we got out of the van and strolled around for over an hour. Almost immediately we found one of the target species for the Huachuca Mountains, a Buff-breasted Flycatcher. This, tiniest of the empidonax flycatchers species, is fairly common in the mixed pine / fir forests of the upper elevations of the Huachucas. Our next target was Greater Pewee and one was singing close by so we tracked it down and enjoyed lovely scope views as it sang ‘Jose Maria’. We had great views of Plumbeous Vireos here today, new for the trip list, and we finally caught up with Olive Warblers, as both male and female performed in the pines above us. Other warblers seen included Virginia’s,
Grace’s, Townsend’s, Hermit, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray and Yellow-rumped. All in all it was a very pleasant trip to the 7400 elevation. We had lunch and began bumping our way back down the road, pausing to look at a Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay along the way. Back down near the bottom of the road we did try again for the Eastern Bluebird and this time we had great views of a male of the locally rare ‘fulva’ race.
We then made a return visit to Ash Canyon where we had hoped we might all catch a glimpse of the rare Lucifer Hummingbird this afternoon. One or two of us got lucky, as the male appeared frustratingly briefly and then the female showed up several times at a feeder buried in the leaves. We did get two ‘firsts’ for the trip however, a young male
Calliope Hummingbird appeared at the feeders for Margaret, Richard and I to see. All of us had leisurely views of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak here as well, a species not normally found in Arizona.
We had a return visit to Applebee’s for dinner before some of us ventured back out into the field, hoping to catch a view of a Common Poorwill, a member of the nightjar family. Unfortunately the poorwills didn’t want to show this evening, though we did hear their calls off in the distance while we enjoyed the great show that is the night sky.
Day 10 – We returned to Miller Canyon, the same area where we had tried to find poorwills the evening before, and it all looked very different bathed in sunlight! Today, a bit of a gusty breeze blew here and there, otherwise, sunny and warm as usual. At the Beatty’s Guest Ranch we headed up to a known nest for Northern Goshawk. The goshawk, though we were sure it was hunkered down on the nest, could not be seen from our vantage point. We carried on up the canyon, hoping to spot a roosting Spotted
Owl, but the search couldn’t turn one up. Other nice birds along the babbling creek included Cordilleran Flycatcher, Grace’s Warbler, House Wren, Painted Redstart and Arizona Woodpecker. We ran into another group as they ascended the canyon. They asked about our luck with the Spotted Owl so I told them the bad news. They gave us a tip on a viewing location for the goshawk so we took their advice and climbed the small hill near the nest, attempting to get an eye level view of the incubating adult. It took a long time, peering through the sea of green leaves, but eventually, I spotted the adult sitting atop the nest. Richard and Margaret, who stayed below, ended up seeing the bird sit right up on top of the nest for a moment. The rest of us enjoyed scope views of the bird, which was visible only when the wind blew and the leaves parted enough. We could see the goshawks red eye, it’s hooked bill and occasionally the white supercilium. To finish off our visit at Beatty’s we watched the excellent hummingbird feeder setup for half an hour or so. We had our best views of Rivoli’s Hummingbird here, along with Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, and Black-chinned hummingbirds. A female Calliope Hummingbird fed on flowers near the path, which was nice for everyone who had missed the species on the previous day. On a little pond we saw some Leopard Frogs, and
then after saying goodbye to Tom Beatty Jr, we headed back to Sierra Vista where we had lunch.
After lunch we drove a short distance east to the San Pedro River. Soon after disembarking from the van, two people emerged, a man and a woman, and they exclaimed, ‘Andy and Jane?’ The two were friends that had traveled with Andy and Jane years ago in Africa. Sometimes the world seems like such a small place. The man, I think his name was Simon, pointed out where our target bird, a Western Screech-Owl was roosting in a massive cottonwood tree. I was thankful, since the tree had been pruned since my previous visit and I was having a hard time locating the owls’ roost. Blue Grosbeak was another nice addition here, and we saw only our second or third Common Ground-Doves foraging on the ground. A short visit to the gift shop seemed rather lucrative for the gift shop, as quite a few people emerged with little bags of birding memorabilia.
In Douglas, a dusty border town, we stopped to fuel up before we made our way to Portal, where no fuel can be purchased. It was a lovely drive through the desert to Portal,
which took us onto State Line Road, where the road is the border between Arizona and New Mexico. On the New Mexico side, it was an hour later, and we stopped to check out a barn where I had seen Great Horned Owls in the past. It didn’t take me long to spot the owls again, and this year there was an adult and three fluffy chicks stuffed onto the top of the hay bales. We had great scope views and the owner of the property pulled up in his pickup truck and told us we could go onto his property for an even better view, so we did! We carried on to Portal, checked into the lodge and then had a little down time before dinner. After dinner, I went on a short stroll, bumping into Geoff who was enjoying the night sky. I ran into Richard and Margaret as well. They were listening to a pair of duetting Western Screech-Owls and as I stood with them, a Striped Skunk rustled around in the leaves near the bank of the small creek.
Day 11 – Before breakfast we headed out in the cool morning and made our way back to the New Mexican border to try for Bendire’s Thrasher at Gin Road. We again saw the family of Great Horned Owls camped out inside the hay barn. Cactus Wren, Western Kingbird and Chihuahuan Ravens all appeared, but soon the star of the show arrived, a Bendire’s Thrasher. Now this species is quite similar to the Curve-billed Thrasher but the
Bendire’s sports a shorter, pale based bill. We watched the Bendire’s forage about for a few minutes and then he collected some nesting material and flew off. Soon thereafter, a Curve-billed Thrasher appeared on a fence and we were able to see all the key differences between the two species. A rather brief encounter with a Prairie Falcon was noteworthy today, as we spotted the large, brown falcon, as it flew away across the fields and disappeared.
Leaving New Mexico in the dust, we returned to Portal and then went a few miles up the Paradise Road. Three species were on my radar here this morning, and we managed to find two of them, Scott’s Oriole and Bridled Titmouse, both of them at the Paradise Cemetery. The one we missed, the Black-chinned Sparrow, has apparently been very hard to find this spring.
We returned to Portal and had breakfast. I had my usual, the juevos rancheros with the spicy red sauce. Feeling well prepared for the day, as I’d picked up our bagged lunches, we bumped and bounced our way up into the Chiricahua Mountains, stopping at Rustler
Park at over 8000 feet elevation. We strolled through a forest of towering pines and firs, listening for the soft calls of our target species, the Mexican Chickadee. The Mexican Chickadee is only regularly found in the USA in the Chiricahua Mountains and in one or two mountain ranges in adjacent New Mexico. Since the big forest fire of 2003, it has been somewhat difficult to find the chickadees as their coniferous forest habitat lost a lot of size. We had some nice birds in this woodland such as American Robin, Red-faced Warbler, and Yellow-eyed Junco, but when the Mexican Chickadee arrived, it stole the show.
From Onion Saddle, we headed down the road towards the Chiricahua National Monument, stopping at Pinery Campground to have a look and to eat our lunch. Birds were quite numerous here with Cordilleran Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Townsend’s Warbler, Acorn Woodpecker, and Western Wood-Pewee all distracting us from eating lunch. We’d heard there had been a Spotted Owl in the area, but despite a very good search, we couldn’t find the roosting owl. Farther down in the canyon we stopped to ‘twitch’ a rarity, a Slate-throated Redstart. It was a short and somewhat steep climb up the babbling little brook to where the redstart had been seen. ‘I’ve got it’, I said, and it
was about the first bird I put my binoculars on. The lovely red belly, coupled with a lack of white eye arcs and the lack of any white in the wings, made it the Slate-throated Redstart. The bird fanned its tail, showing the broad white tips to the outer tail feathers, also indicative of Slate-throated Redstart. ‘Does anybody else see it’, I asked, and two members of the group replied, ‘yes’. The bird disappeared after about a ten second look and then the area suddenly filled up with Painted Redstarts. A little pool of water attracted some nice visitors while we sat and watched; Townsend’s Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco and another Mexican Chickadee, most notably. One of the members of my group who had stayed behind near the van came running up and said that my friend John Coombs had just warned them of a nearby forest fire. It was hot and windy, two things that combine to make for extreme fire conditions. We could see the smoke and as we were leaving, a forest ranger appeared to make sure we were on our way out. As we passed by John Coombs and his Field Guides group, I stopped and chatted with him. He said we should get out for a quick look as they were going to check the area for Spotted Owl. It would be a pity if we drove on by and they found the bird. We searched together, as a group of about 15 birders, but couldn’t find the owl.
The drive back to Portal was scenic, especially through parts of the south fork of Cave Creek Canyon. We stopped for half an hour to bird in the canyon, where the sycamores
and oaks nicely shaded us. Birds included Bridled Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black Phoebe, Painted Redstart, Hutton’s Vireo, American Robin and Mexican Jay. Once back in Portal we went for a stroll, with hopes of finding a couple more birds for our trip list. The first target was Blue-throated Hummingbird, the largest of North America’s hummingbird species. I checked in at a feeder where they often visit, but there was no nectar in the feeder. Two houses down, however, the feeder was stocked. We watched for a bit, enjoying Western Tanagers, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, White-crowned Sparrow and Green-tailed Towhee to name a few species. The Blue-throated Hummingbird, a male, flew in and had a quick feed. He then landed on a branch in a
nearby cedar and sat there calling as we watched through the scope. In the trees overhead, flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons were a joy to see. Just as we met for dinner the feeders at the café had some interesting attendees, including Cassin’s Finches and Pyrrhuloxia. Our final dinner together as a group was very nice and it was sad to think it would all be over tomorrow. Margaret and Richard went for another stroll this evening, and guess what? They found another skunk. This one a Hognose Skunk, strolling through Portal.
Day 12 – A few keeners joined me this morning on another stroll through Portal. The morning bird activity was high. The Cassin’s Finches, Northern Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia, Acorn Woodpeckers, Canyon Towhees and other various bits and bobs were still at the feeder. Singing in the desert at the edge of town were Cactus Wren, Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Curve-billed Thrasher and the likes. We had more views of the Blue-throated Hummingbird this morning, and saw again the Band-tailed Pigeons. A Pacific-slope Flycatcher sang several times, but remained hidden in the greenery. After breakfast, on
our way out of Portal, we came across a large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake that was sunning on the road. I pulled off beside the snake and tried to encourage it to move off the road as there were cars coming in both directions. The snake gave a couple of rattles to me as it headed straight under the tire of the van where it curled up in the shade. Rather carefully, I got back in the van and slowly backed up, under the careful guidance of Nigel. The snake sat there all coiled up. At least he was off the road. We drove through barren areas of western New Mexico this morning as we headed back towards Phoenix for late afternoon flights. Our main birding stop for the day was at the Willcox Sewage Pond, or ‘water treatment plant’ as coined by Jane. It was ridiculously windy here, which made spotting shorebirds through the scope a bit of a challenge. There were plenty of Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets, as well as Killdeer and some really nice Wilson’s Phalaropes. Several ‘peeps’ were pointed
out to me and after a quick look in the scope, we’d added Least Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper. Distant gun shots kept flushing the waterfowl, but in the end we added quite a few species here such as Cinnamon Teal, Blue-winged Teal and Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon. Horned Larks ‘hung on for dear life’ in the wind as they foraged at the edge of the pond. The drive back to Phoenix was broken up by a lunch stop in the city of Benson. We tallied up the list as we drove and figured we’d seen 207 species. In my memory, this is the highest list I’ve tallied on an Arizona trip.