Ontario ~ Fallout @ Pelee

May 14 – This cloudy, drizzly Wednesday turned out to be one of my best days of birding ever at Point Pelee and environs. Along with my small group of 4, we made our way to the tip of Point Pelee, where upon disembarking the tram we knew immediately it was going to be a splendid day! From the tram dropoff to the tip is at most a half a kilometer. This walk took us about 3 hours, stopping every few feet to check another bird. Trees were literally dripping with warblers of 23 species! Most common were Yellow Warblers, of course, with Yellow-rumped and Magnolia warblers close runners up.

‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the most common wood warblers at Lake Erie migrant traps in early May! Point Pelee, Ont. May 2014.

There were good numbers of such beauties as Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, American Redstart, Wilson’s, Nashville and Tennessee warblers. Smaller numbers of Cape May, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green and even one Connecticut Warbler was present. The latter had drawn a crowd of about 100 onlookers, a very few of which actually saw the bird. I heard it sing many times and saw it dash through the undergrowth once. Black-billed Cuckoos, Eastern Wood-Pewees, Scarlet Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, Philadelphia Vireos, and much more were also in attendance. Out at the tip I was scanning a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls when I spotted an immature Little Gull amongst them!

The afternoon was spent at Hillman Marsh where the great birding continued. As we drove towards the marsh rain fell, and the roadside had Ovenbirds,Palm Warblers, Northern Parula, Swainson’s Thrush, Horned Lark, and Eastern Kingbirds. We paused to view a Great Horned Owl nest, where one large fluffy chick had outgrown its nest. At the marsh there were many shorebirds with Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Semipalmated and Least sandpipers, a female Red-necked Phalarope, Short-billed Dowitchers and Solitary Sandpiper. Scanning through the flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls, I picked out a basic adult Franklin’s Gull which caused a ‘twitch’ to begin. A twitch, of course, of course being when a rare bird shows up and birders flock to the area to see the bird.

Bad digiscope shot of adult basic Franklin’s Gull at Hillman Marsh, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Waterfowl included several new species for our now bulging trip list; Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Ruddy Duck. At the end of the day I had assembled a list of 120 species! Not too shabby.

May 15 – We traveled from Leamington to Niagara Falls today, but spent a few hours along the way birding the Rondeau Provincial Park area. Weather was horrific for most of the day with heavy rains and driving winds, but for the 2 hours or so we explored Rondeau, the rain let up. Birds were everywhere, with the usual suite of warblers present, and we did manage to add one new warbler to the trip list, Orange-crowned Warbler. Another nice new bird we added this morning was a very confiding Gray-cheeked Thrush. Otherwise, we enjoyed watching over half a dozen male Scarlet Tanagers hopping about almost at our feet.

Later on in the afternoon, once we arrived at Niagara Falls, we had a low-key evening, enjoying a view of the raging falls from our hotel windows as the rain fell.

May 16 – There wasn’t much time for birding today as we traveled from Niagara Falls to Toronto where my crew caught their flights home. We did stop for a couple of hours along the western shores of Lake Ontario at Burlington. Here, for about the 6th year in a row, a pair of Northern Mockingbirds were seen and most likely tending to a nest. Out on the lake were a dozen or so Long-tailed Ducks, also a new species for the tour. A group of 5 Redhead on the lake was quite a surprise for me. An adult Peregrine Falcon, our first, was seen sitting on the lift span of a large bridge here. The trees along the Lakeshore Path did have some migrants as well, with American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Warbling Vireo and numerous Baltimore Orioles. It was hard to say goodbye to the group as usual, after getting to know these four people quite well. Our bird list ended with 185 species. On to Arizona now!

Chris Charlesworth


Ontario ~ Migration Madness!

May 11 – We left Simcoe this morning under blue skies, and drove about 2 hours to Rondeau Provincial Park. Upon entry to the park we scanned Rondeau Bay, picking up Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Great Egret and several Forster’s Terns. Next, we made our way to the ‘maintenance loop’ and the ‘pony barn’, two of Rondeau’s better warbler watching locations. There was a crowd of birders at the ponds near the pony barn, so we knew there must be something interesting there. Indeed there was, with a lovely Canada Warbler showing off and a stunning male Prothonotary Warbler putting on a great show.

Prothonotary Warbler at Rondeau Prov. Park, Ontario. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Also at this pond were Northern Parula, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Magnolia, Yellow, Black-and-white and Nashville warblers. I was very happy to pick up the Prothonotary and Canada warblers, as these can prove somewhat difficult to ‘nail down’ some years. We had lunch at the Rondeau Visitor’s Center where the feeders were hopping, as usual. There were Chipping and White-crowned sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Baltimore Oriole, Brown-headed Cowbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and several lovely Rose-breasted Grosbeaks patronizing the feeders this afternoon.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Rondeau Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After lunch we birded along the South Point Trail. The birding was a little slow, but there was just enough to keep us occupied. Up to three male Cape May Warblers were a real treat to see, as was a female Cerulean Warbler! Flowers were just beginning to pop up with Bloodroot, Dutchmen’s Breeches and the odd Trillium keeping the ‘botanists’ going.

May 12 -Before we left the hotel, I spotted one of our best birds of the day; a pair of adult Parasitic Jaegers flying over the parking lot! Good start! Next, we headed to Point Pelee, for our first morning at the park. We arrived at the visitor’s center, and caught the shuttle to the tip where we spent an hour or so. It was a bit slow here, but still we saw quite a lot. Birds flying out over the tip were fairly numerous with Indigo Buntings, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Cardinal, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole and more.

Baltimore Oriole is numerous at Point Pelee, Ont! May, 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Out over Lake Erie it was quite misty so visibility wasn’t very good. The walk back towards the visitor’s center was pretty good and produced stunning views of Scarlet Tanager, as well as a couple of female Cape May Warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks right in front of us. Wood Thrushes, Ovenbirds and Carolina Wren could be heard, but remained out of sight.

We had lunch at the visitors center just as the sky opened up with rain and thunder. Just as we finished lunch, the storm had passed so we made our way to the ‘cactus field’, where I saw no cactus at all. We searched for a short while, and easily found a previously reported first year male Summer Tanager here! Feeling luck was now on our side, we made our way to N.W. Beach where a Kentucky Warbler had been seen. Sure enough as soon as we got to the spot, the bird was singing. A crowd of other birders had been searching for an hour or so and had not yet seen it. There were happy when I spotted it, sitting in the open for about 10 seconds. Unfortunately not everyone in my tour group got to see this Canadian rarity, and once it disappeared it didn’t even sing again.

Final stop of the day was at Hillman Marsh. An ominous thunderstorm loomed overhead so we made our visit rather quick. Still, we saw some nice shorebirds including Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer. A group of Ring-billed and Herring gulls had a couple of Bonaparte’s Gulls, and a dozen or so Forster’s Terns mixed in. Waterfowl included Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard and Bufflehead. Unfortunately for me today I left my memory card stuck in my computer so I missed a few good photo ops. I won’t make the same mistake tomorrow. We finished today with nearly 100 species!

May 13 -Another day that was supposed to produce rain, turned out very nice for us in the end, with warm temperatures and blue skies. We began by checking the Blue Heron area at Pelee where the Kentucky Warbler was heard singing, but not seen. New for the trip list here was a nice Yellow-billed Cuckoo however. At the Dunes we looked for a previously reported Yellow-breasted Chat with no luck. Good numbers of birds were here though with several Philadelphia Vireos, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart and singing Wood Thrush. At the visitor’s center we caught the tram out to the tip where it was moderately busy, but our only new species was a Wilson’s Warbler.

After lunch we headed off along the Tilden’s Woods Trail which was again quite busy. There were good numbers of warblers about,  but nothing too unusual. We had nice views of a Blanding’s Turtle along the trail however.

Blanding's Turtle
Blanding’s Turtle at Tilden’s Woods, Point Pelee, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

The Woodland Trail provided us with a roosting Eastern Screech-Owl as well as great looks at several warblers low down in front of us; Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, and Chestnut-sided included. A roosting Common Nighthawk was a bonus to pick up here as well.  On our way back to Leamington we stopped and checked out a Bald Eagle nest with both adults and a fairly large chick present. Gotta love spring birding on Lake Erie!

American Woodcock along trail at Tilden’s Woods at Point Pelee, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Chris Charlesworth

Ontario ~ Carden Alvars & Long Point

May 9 – We got out of the Algonquin area just in time this morning, as noisy thunderstorms rocked the area. We birded along Wylie Road in the Carden Alvars, an area of ‘prairie’ where several species not easily found on this tour, can be seen. A few of these species included Eastern Bluebird, Field Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe and Loggerhead Shrike, the latter of which we didn’t find.

We had several Upland Sandpipers on the Carden Alvars, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

As we passed through patches of forest, warblers were very much in evidence, with Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Nashville, Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped, Yellow and Black-throated Green seen. We had excellent views of an Ovenbird as it belted out its ‘teacher teacher teacher’ song. Sparrows were numerous here, and along with the previously mentioned Field Sparrow, there were Savannah, Song, Vesper, White-crowned, White-throated and Swamp also in attendance. A few raptors passed overhead, including Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and best of all an immature Red-shouldered Hawk.

A very bold Virginia Rail wandered around the edge of a marsh at the Carden Alvars, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

My total species count for Wylie Road was about 70 species, which is pretty darn good. Others I should mention included American Bittern, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhee and Bobolink. The drive to Simcoe, which took us through Toronto on a Friday afternoon at rush hour, with steady rain, wasn’t too much fun. It would be all worth it though the next morning when we ventured to Long Point to sift through the migrants.

May 10 -Yesterday’s rains made for some fantastic birding at Long Point this morning. We started off at the ‘New Provincial Park’, where once again a Kirtland’s Warbler showed up one day before my arrival and was not seen again. Damn! Not to worry, we still had an exceptional morning here. We walked about 100 meters along a stretch of road and this took us three hours! There were birds absolutely everywhere. The bulk of the warblers were made up of Yellow-rumped and Yellows. Mixed in were dashes of color, coming in the forms of American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Bay-breasted, Nashville, Black-throated Green and several mouth-watering male Black-throated Blue Warblers.

A jaw-dropping male Black-throated Blue Warbler at Long Point, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

A young lady standing next to our group exclaimed ‘Mourning Warbler’ and this piqued my interest. A few moments later the bird appeared 10 feet up in a pine tree foraging out in the open. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Mourning Warbler way up in a tree, or in the open for that matter. Black-and-white Warblers crept along tree trunks. Tennessee Warblers, Orange-crowned Warbler, Palm Warbler and Pine Warbler made up some of the less colorful individuals, but were still nice to see. Ovenbirds sang from the underbrush. In total, I had 20 species of warbler here!

Many Palm Warblers noted at Long Point, Ont today. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Non-warbler highlights were also many, with Blue-headed, Warbling and Red-eyed vireos, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore and Orchard orioles and Gray Catbird to list just a few.

Over at Old Cut Banding Station it was great to run into BC’s Avery Bartels, who was just about as surprised to see me as I was to see him. A Carolina Wren sang vociferously from a woodpile, and a Great Crested Flycatcher put on a nice show for my group.

Great Crested Flycatcher. Long Point, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Over at the ‘Old Provincial Park’ it was a little quieter, but we did get our first Lincoln’s Sparrow of the trip, as well as a calling Alder Flycatcher. As we passed by Big Ck Marsh we added Black Tern and Caspian Tern to the trip list. The ‘Bird Studies Canada Pond’ at Port Rowan produced a nice Green Heron as well as several Blanding’s Turtles.

We finished off at Backus Woods where it was pretty quiet this afternoon. Feeders near the entrance had Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and an Indigo Bunting. Along the Cottonwood Trail we saw a White-breasted Nuthatch and saw some flowers including Carolina Spring Beauty, Yellow Violet and a lovely Trillium. By the end of the day we had tallied nearly 100 species.

Chris Charlesworth


Ontario ~ Algonquin Park & Point Pelee (Part 1)

From Arizona I made my way directly to Toronto, promptly ‘freezing’ my bare skin as soon as I got off the plane in my t-shirt and shorts. Ok, I didn’t freeze, as the temperature was about 15 degrees, but there was a chilly wind and I was somewhat uncomfortable. On May 6, my next group, sent over from the U.K, courtesy of Limosa Holidays, arrived at Pearson International Airport and we were on the road by noon. This group of 4, plus me, is a bit smaller than some of the other groups I have had and will have this year. I don’t mind a small group at all, actually. We drove 3 hours roughly, from Toronto to Dwight, a tiny town on the western side of Algonquin Park. Few birds were noted along the drive, other than Common Raven, American Crow, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird and the usual Rock Pigeon and European Starling. One fellow, John, spotted an American Kestrel and we all saw an Osprey hovering over a channel of water. The only mammal we spotted from the van was a single Woodchuck. Since the ‘Brits’ internal clocks were all wonky and by the time we arrived, it was 8 PM U.K time, we promptly went for dinner and they headed for an early night.

May 7 – We met at 6 AM outside the Blue Spruce Inn, situated along the shores of Oxtongue Lake, and spent an hour and a half strolling along the quiet road in search of birds. For the first half hour I speculated the birds were still sleeping as we didn’t see too much. A ‘Yellow-shafted’ Northern Flicker appeared, as did a few Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of Song Sparrows. I then spotted a Merlin perched atop a fir tree, which may have had something to do with the overall hush of the passerines. As soon as the Merlin was off, things picked up. We had lovely views of ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers, a male Black-throated Green Warbler and an eye level Pine Warbler. A male Black-and-white Warbler hitched along the tree trunks, nuthatch style, and just then, a female Red-breasted Nuthatch arrived as well. A Brown Creeper was seen very well hitching up the side of a birch, while a male Hairy Woodpecker swooped in to a suet feeder. Blue Jays proved frustratingly hard to see this morning, but could be heard all around. A Brown Thrasher sang from the woods, but never did appear, though we had great looks at an adult White-throated Sparrow. On Oxtongue Lake, a pair of Hooded Mergansers were a real treat to watch, and to my surprise a pair of Beavers sat out in the open on a little island not far from shore. Good start!

After breakfast we headed for one of my favorite places in Algonquin, the Mizzy Lake Trail. We walked about 1 km along the trail to Wolf Howl Pond, seeing several fantastic birds along the way, the best of which, for me, was the female Spruce Grouse pictured below!

Female Spruce Grouse, Algonquin Pk, Ontario. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Farther along the trail we encountered a Ruffed Grouse that was strutting his stuff, but he didn’t stick around long enough for photos to be taken. At least three Pileated Woodpeckers entertained us for a long period of time as they chased one another through the pines, and a quartet of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers did the same. Out on the water, Ring-necked Duck, American Black Duck, Mallard and Wood Duck were noted and at one particular pond we counted at least 30 Painted Turtles. Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets put on very nice shows for us, especially the Golden-crowned, which, as your can see, was particularly stunning.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

The rest of the day was not quite as exciting as the morning had been. We had lunch at the visitors center and some of the group spotted an Osprey and a Northern Harrier from the viewing platform. As we made our way back to Dwight, we saw our first Moose, a cow, feeding voraciously in a water-filled roadside ditch. Several Broad-winged Hawks were noted overhead as we passed the West Gate of the park. A fantastic first day of birding indeed….but it wasn’t over yet.

After dinner we walked a short 5 minutes over the the display ‘patch’ of an American Woodcock. As we approached the clearing I could hear the bird twittering in the sky above. These twittering sounds are made by wind rushing through feathers rather than vocally. As soon as the bird settled on the ground it began giving a nasal ‘peent’ call, repeatedly and soon we had him in the spotlight, through the scope! What a great way to finish the day.

May 8 -At sunrise we did some more birding along the shore of Oxtongue Lake, which was quite good today. Warblers had obviously arrived overnight, and although not everybody saw all of the species, we did get Cape May, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Blackburnian, Nashville, Black-and-white and Black-throated Green warblers along the road. Also new for us was a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Eastern Phoebe and a White-crowned Sparrow.

After breakfast we continued our explorations of Algonquin Park, strolling along the trail at the Western Uplands. Here, a female Purple Finch gathered nest material while a male with a ‘mohawk’ watched from above.

Purple Finch, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

A Palm Warbler put in a rather brief appearance along the Oxtongue River here, while a Northern Waterthrush slowly crept along the shore in amongst a tangle of willow. A Ruffed Grouse drummed on a log long enough for just one tour participant to see the ritual through the scope. We then tried to find the bird again, but it had thoroughly managed to disappear.

Along the Spruce Bog Boardwalk, in the heat of the day, birding was a bit quiet. We paused to photograph a lovely Least Chipmunk that was hungrily packing his cheek pouches full of food.

Least Chipmunk
Least Chipmunk, Algonquin Park, Ont. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

We finished our day off along Opeongo Lake Road where the weather swiftly deteriorated, with rain falling steadily by the time we left. I was quite happy though, since two of the tour participants had asked if there was any chance they could see and hear Common Loons, or Great Northern Divers as they call them. We had 2 pairs of breeding plumage loons on Opeongo Lk, one pair giving a haunting call to one another. Also a highlight, a pair of Northern Harriers sailed by, the male passing right by the van window! Two Belted Kingfishers chased along the shore of the lake, calling as they went along. As we drove back to our motel, I guestimated we’d see 3 Moose in the rainy weather. Nobody else wanted to hazard a guess, but we saw 2.  We leave Algonquin tomorrow, which is always hard because it is so quiet and peaceful up here. Not to worry; the busy migrants traps await our arrival, as well as the arrival of many feathered transients.

Chris Charlesworth

Wild West Birding, Arizona – the Finale

May 1 – Reluctantly we left our luxurious digs in Rio Rico this morning, but not before checking a few local birding hotspots one last time. At Pena Blanca Lake, before breakfast, the birding was great as usual. We saw much of what we had seen on the previous visit here, along with a couple of new species mixed in. A Bank Swallow flew low overhead, giving us a good view, our first for the tour. Tour participant Tony, spotted two Common Gallinule, new for the list, and also new, a Wilson’s Snipe was seen zipping by. Tour participants enjoyed watching the Canyon Wren sing from his rather undesirable perch atop the ‘chimney’ of an outhouse inside which the bird actually has its nest!

Canyon Wren at Pena Blanca Lake, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After breakfast we tried the Rio Rico Ponds one more time, hoping for Tropical Kingbird, but I fear they may have not come back just yet. We were happy to spot 7 White-faced Ibis on the pond, along with two Solitary Sandpipers, new for the bulging trip list. The drive from Rio Rico to Tucson was pretty uneventful, and once we arrived at the Desert Museum we promptly had some lunch before heading out and exploring the trails.

Red-tailed Hawk, Pena Blanca Lk, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

It was hot at the Desert Museum, but that didn’t keep the birds from showing off. Cactus Wrens seemed to be everywhere, as did Gila Woodpeckers and the ubiquitous White-winged Dove. Any groves of trees had a few migrants about including our first Western Wood-Pewee, some Wilson’s, Townsend’s, MacGillivray’s, Yellow and Yellowp-rumped warbler, Western Tanager and such. A pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, our first for the tour, were busily feeding two fledglings beside the trail.

Male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher at Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ. May 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

I was the only one to catch a brief view of a Gilded Flicker as it flew off into the forest of Saguaro Cactus, so unfortunately that goes down as a ‘leader only’ tick on the list. A few new reptiles were added to the trip list including Zebra-tailed Lizard and the introduced Spiny-tailed Iguana. We had an ice cream break mid-day, which was much appreciated given the 30+ degree heat and then we made our way to the hotel in Tucson and got some r & r.

May 2 – Into the Catalina Mountains we headed this morning, stopping along the way up to take in the breathtaking views along the Catalina Hwy, with the sprawling city of Tucson below. Nicola, who has a great set of eyes, spotted White-throated Swifts just as we hopped out of the van and soon everyone on the tour had finally seen these zippy aerial masters. At Rose Canyon it didn’t take me long to find a singing Buff-breasted Flycatcher. We all watched this bird, North America’s smallest empidonax flycatcher, through the scope at length. Traditionally one could only find the Buff-breasted Flycatcher in the Huachuca Mountains, but in recent years birds have been popping up in the Catalina and Chiricahua mountains.

At Bear Wallow, we finally saw very well several Red-faced Warblers, which made my group very happy. Also here we picked up our first Mountain Chickadee of the trip, amongst the towering pines and firs in the shady valley. A single Red-breasted Nuthatch finished off our nuthatch trio here as well so we left with smiling faces.

The ski village at Summerhaven had hosted some Evening Grosbeaks in previous weeks but they were not to be found today. We watched feeders for a while where Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towee, Yellow-eyed Junco and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were seen.  After a very nice coffee we headed up to the top of Mount Lemmon at just over 9000 feet. A male Western Bluebird put on a nice show for us here, and a Tassle-eared Squirrel dashed off into the woods before we could all get a view.

 May 3 – The final day of our tour of S.E. Arizona began in Sabino Canyon near Tucson. Here, droves of weekend warriors were out in the canyon, hiking, jogging, camping and sightseeing. We caught the first tram up in the canyon at 9 AM, and enjoyed a narrated tour along the way. We walked back down the canyon part way, enjoying views of the saguaro studded hillsides and the sycamore lined creek bed. Birds were a little quiet, given the warm temperatures, but we did still see some nice stuff. A male Costa’s Hummingbird shined like a jewel when the sun hit his gorget in just the right place. Bell’s Vireo and Lucy’s Warbler were common in the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, while overhead a dozen or more White-throated Swifts screeched by. Cooper’s Hawks patrolled the canyon and were seen several times, and a pair of Northern Cardinals were nesting right beside the pathway  (perhaps a bit too close to the path, for their own good). Just as we weret finishing our lunches a Greater Roadrunner appeared and came right up to us to inspect for scraps. This roadrunner obviously knew when and where to find a few handouts.

We made our way from Tucson to Phoenix, a drive of about 2 hours via the freeway. Once in Phoenix we headed for the a local site known to have nesting Burrowing Owls. Unfortunately no owls wanted to show themselves today, but I don’t blame them as the heat was scorching at this point in the day. We sat down, had a cold and refreshing lemonade and did our final bird list tally. The trip list had reached a very respectable total of 196 birds! It was then time to head off to the airport and say our goodbyes.

To see more photos from the tour go to http://www.flickr.com/charlesworth30.


Wild West Birding, Arizona – Part 4

April 29 – This morning we attempted to find the Sinaloa Wren along the Anza Trail near Tubac. The walk of about a half a mile through the towering cottonwoods was very pleasant. Yellow-breasted Chats seemed to be everywhere and we eventually saw a couple of them quite well. Summer Tanagers sang from the treetops, while Lucy’s Warblers flitted about in the mesquites. Gray Hawk sailed overhead, and our first Black Vultures were finally seen as they sunned themselves atop telephone poles. We got the wren spot and I was annoyed to find someone working near the trail with a jackhammer…I couldn’t hear a thing, thus we dipped on the wren.

After breakfast we headed over to Patagonia Lake State Park and the birding here was very good. On the lake and in the marshes around the lake we had our first Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal,  as well as Gadwall, American Coot and numerous Neotropic Cormorants. A nice surprise was a Long-billed Curlew standing on a muddy spit. Green Heron was seen well and we got our best looks yet at Common Yellowthroats in the marsh. In ‘Nutting’s Wash’ we had a lovely male Hermit Warbler pictured below.

Male Hermit Warbler at Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

It was quite a surprise to see David Chapman and his wife right at the ‘Birding Trail’ trailhead, where they had parked their lovely RV. I think he was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. My group and David and his wife were very surprised to look up and see what was my best bird of the day, an adult Common Black-Hawk soaring overhead. This is only my third sighting of this species ever in AZ.

Adult Common Black-Hawk. Patagonia Lk State Pk, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

We carried on to the pleasant village of Patagonia and had our lunch at the Gathering Grounds, a fantastic locally owned and run cafe. After lunch we sat at the Paton’s and watched feeders. The usual suspects were around including the local star, Violet-crowned Hummingbird once again. The only new species we added here for the trip were two Pine Siskins at the thistle feeders. I turned around, checking on my group, to find at least two had dozed off in the afternoon sun. Therefore, I cracked ‘the whip’ and we headed for the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop. It was the heat of the afternoon here, and not too much was happening, though we did have great views of a Rock Wren. Also, we had our best looks at Bell’s Vireo here, and watched Rufous-crowned Sparrow hopping about on the rocks.

Male Vermilion Flycatcher shows off at Patagonia Lk State Park, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

April 30 – Today was a hard day’s work for a guide. We’re getting near the end of the tour and all the ‘easy birds’ have already been added to the list, and I’m trying to find some tough ‘last minute’ birds for the group. We started off in Florida Canyon where a long and fairly gruelling  uphill hike did not result in locating a Rufous-capped Warbler. The scenery was great and we saw some cool birds like Scott’s Oriole, Zone-tailed Hawk and Rufous-crowned Sparrows to name a few. We had lunch in Madera Canyon and watched the feeders at the kubo for about half an hour. Nothing too exciting was there, but the clan was happy to watch a Plumbeous Vireo sitting on its lovely little hanging ‘cottonwood fluff’ nest. We also watched a pair of Painted Redstarts bringing food to young here as cameras clicked.

Painted Redstart carrying food for young at Madera Canyon, Az. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

We then tried looking for Botteri’s Sparrow in the grasslands at the entrance to Madera Canyon. I was successful in finding the sparrow and several people saw it, but not everyone so I was not fully content. We then tried for Black-capped Gnatcatcher and again had no luck, most likely due to the 30 degree heat and afternoon wind, but nonetheless. To finish off the day we popped back over to the Rio Rico Ponds in case a Tropical Kingbird had appeared, but no such luck. Some days you find em’ all and some days are a bit like work.

Chris Charlesworth


Wild West Birding in Arizona – Part 3

April 27 – We left Sierra Vista this morning and made our way west to the lovely Sonoita Grasslands. Skies were blue and winds were next to nothing which was a nice change after the last couple of days. The grasslands were alive with sparrows, and we saw several Grasshopper Sparrows very well, along with Brewer’s, Savannah, Black-throated and Lark sparrows. A Loggerhead Shrike was seen in the distance, and overhead we had good looks at several Swainson’s Hawks as they lazily circled. Groups of Violet-green Swallows were moving low across the grasslands, some offering good views, showing their telltale white rump patches. Best catch in the grasslands however, was a Scaled Quail that scrambled from one clump of grass to the next as 9 onlookers admired.

Light morph adult Swainson’s Hawk over Sonoita Grasslands near Sierra Vista, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

Next stop on our agenda was a cafe in Patagonia where we had a ‘comfort break’ and picked up coffees to go. We then sat under the shade at the famous Paton’s feeders where dozens of birds came in to visit seed feeders and hummingbird feeders. The star attraction here, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird didn’t take too long to appear and we all had great views of this rare hummer. Also at the feeders were dazzling birds like Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, White-breasted Nuthatch and Green-tailed Towhee. In the sky, an immature Gray Hawk sailed by, scattering the feeder birds in all directions.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Patagonia, AZ. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

After a relaxing hour at the Paton’s we had lunch in town, and had a little time to roam around and check out the local museum and art galleries. A nice Zone-tailed Hawk sailed over the main street of this ‘one horse Western town’ before we headed off to the Patagonia Sonoita Ck Preserve nearby. We spent a couple of hours exploring the riparian habitat here, with 180 year old giant Fremont Cottonwoods towering above us. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon there were a few good birds to be seen here. We saw a couple of lovely Summer Tanagers, as well as the first Thick-billed Kingbirds of the trip. The kingbird is a rare breeding bird in the USA, barely entering the country from Mexico. We carried on to our resort in Rio Rico, arriving just after 5 pm.

Northern Cardinal. Patagonia, AZ,. April 2014. Chris Charlesworth.

April 28 – Before breakfast we ventured into the lovely hills west of Nogales, to Pena Blanca Lake. The grassy foothills and rocky outcroppings bathed in early morning sun was quite dazzling. Along the way we picked up our first American Kestrels of the trip along the telephone wires. Once at the lake we scanned the glassy water for Least Grebe, but couldn’t spot any. Perhaps they were hiding in the marsh or in one of the tiny coves on the lake. There were Ruddy Ducks and a single Pied-billed Grebe here, as well as a pair of ‘Mexican’ Mallard types. The male of the pair looked like a hybrid ‘Mexican’ Duck X Mallard to me. The bushes were full of migrants with MacGillivrays, Wilson’s, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Townsend’s and Black-throated Gray warblers, Hammond’s Flycatchers and the like. I was quite surprised to see a pygmy-owl here, being mobbed by all sorts of birds. I never got to see the owl, except in flight, but looking at ebird I guess it’s more likely it was a Northern than a Ferruginous, even though the time of year and habitat was odd for Northern Pygmy-Owl. Included in the mobbing group was Ash-throated Flycatcher and a nice male Costa’s Hummingbird. A Montezuma Quail called several times from a distant hillside and we had great looks at a Canyon Wren that was singing from the top of an outhouse. Surprisingly, the wren had a beakful of food and entered the mens room where it must have hidden its nest.

As we ate breakfast at Rio Rico, we were interrupted by the sighting of a Greater Roadrunner right outside the dining room. The silly bird was perched atop a lamp calling away in the morning sun. We spent the rest of the day exploring Madera Canyon, where a rather long and steep hike didn’t produce the much sought-after Elegant Trogon. To make matters even worse, one fellow coming down the trail exclaimed he had seen one and heard two more. We went to the exact spot he described and found nothing. The walk wasn’t a loss though, as we had quite a few nice birds along the way, including Hermit Thrush, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a lovely Red-faced Warbler. At the Kubo Cabins we watched the feeders for a while, adding Magnificent, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, and Costa’s hummingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jay and Grace’s Warbler to the list. A tom male Wild Turkey strutted his stuff on the road, then headed over to the vehicles in the parking area where he soon saw his reflection in one of the shiny cars with a Colorado license plate. The turkey began vigorously pecking the car, with each peck bringing a loud ‘clank’ sound. We were chuckling away at the situation when the owner of the car came dashing out clapping his hands and chased the turkey away. He didn’t chase it far, in fact, the bird just moved over to my van and began attacking the chrome bumper! To finish off the day we birded Proctor Road with high hopes of Black-capped Gnatcatcher. No luck with that rarity, but we did get our first trip Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  On our way out of Madera Canyon we came to a screeching halt to watch a big Gila Monster cross the road in front of us, only the second I’ve ever seen.

Chris Charlesworth

Tales and photographs of the adventures of Avocet Tours