Arizona Trip

The week long trip to Arizona, July 25 – 31, 2015, was beautiful and a great success.
Southeast Arizona in late July offers hellacious weather in return for spectacular birding. Fanning out from Green Valley, Larry and Joan led us for a week chasing endemics and exotics in some popular birding areas.

Our first day we went to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area looking for sparrows. Made up of donated land from the Empire and Cienega ranches, along with portions of the adjacent Rose Tree and Vera Earl ranches, the rolling grasslands of the Empire Ranch holdings offer singing sparrows from nearly every shrub top. We got out of the cars often to coax Botteries, Cassin, Rufous-winged, black-throated, Chipping, and Grasshopper sparrows to come in and show us their stuff. Along with the sparrows, we found Larkspurs, Crissal and Curve-billed thrashers, Eastern Meadowlarks, Vermillion flycatchers, Blue grosbeaks, Tropical, Western and Cassins kingbirds, assorted warblers, vireos and the sounds of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
From the ranch we moseyed over to Patons (a B&B property now maintained by Tucson Audubon) for their specialty, the Violet Crowned hummingbird. Patons has changed some of their feeder locations to allow more birders more opportunities to see different parts of the property, but the favorite location is the benches in the shade positioned to see most of the hummingbird feeders.

Down the road is the Sonoita Creek Preserve which gave us a Grey hawk and a Black Vulture, along with the antics of at least a dozen Broad billed hummingbirds fighting for feeder space in the picnic area at the entrance.

Next day we started the day at Ramsey Canyon Preserve . Some of us hiking challenged folk remained near the headquarters to enjoy the hummingbird feeders. The agile and fit set out for the upper reaches of the canyon to see if the Tufted flycatcher was still around. As it was not reliably found any longer, we concentrated on the Bledsoe loop and found the Flame colored tanager, with a group of Hepatic tanagers. We heard the squeaky toy call of the Sulphur bellied flycatcher, but did not get a reliable look at it. While lunching at the picnic tables in the parking lot we were treated to views of an Arizona woodpecker, White breasted nuthatch, Dusky capped flycatcher, Plumbeous and Hutton’s vireo, Brown creeper, and Bridled Titmice.

As the day was young and consulting with other birders about the state of the road, we decided to try our luck in Carr Canyon, the next canyon east. While the road was rough, challenging and “don’t look down” scary, we all made it up to the campgrounds at the end of the road. The Buff breasted flycatcher was extremely visible in the Reed Townsite campground along with a Western wood peewee and various usual mountain suspects. A lot of our days ended somewhat early so we could get back to base and avoid the thunderstorms every afternoon.

Monday morning, it must be Montoso Canyon. A lesser known cousin of Madera Canyon, the road up Montoso Canyon services the Whipple Observatory. Five stripe sparrows are known to be in this canyon, but once again they eluded us. What didn’t elude us was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that has been making its home here for several seasons. From the picnic area we got excellent views of a courtship dance of a Varied bunting for his ladylove. Looking down into the canyon bottom we saw Blue grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, Hooded and Scott’s orioles among others. We heard Canyon wrens and up at the 2.5km mark we heard Montezuma quail calling in the canyon bottom.

We came down and over to go up Madera Canyon. We went right up to the end of the road and started up the trail that follows the canyon up to the saddle. We found out that the Elegant trogons had finished nesting and were no longer calling. They could be seen at times anywhere along the canyon, but not by us that day. We did cross paths with a feeding flock of Bridled Titmice, Black throated gray warbler, Painted redstart, White breasted nuthatch, Brown creeper and the like. Back down the canyon to Santa Rita Lodge to watch the hummingbirds. A Plain capped starthroat hangs out at the Lodge, but only in the mornings, so we missed that, too. But there were plenty of Broad billed, Black chinned and Magnificent hummingbirds instead.

Tuesday was Mt. Lemmon day. We started off the day at General Hitchcock campground with Grace’s and Black throated grey warblers, juvenile Red tail and Cooper’s hawks begging, and a Sonoran Mountain King Snake twisting in and out of tree cavities. I’m sure he was just bird-watching like us. Further up the mountain to Rose Canyon Lake Area to find Virginia’s, Olive, Red faced and Black throated grey warblers, Pine siskin, Pygmy nuthatch, Western bluebird, Cordilleran flycatcher and a Black hawk perched in a snag over the lake. We had lunch at Inspiration Point and saw Chipping sparrow, Mountain chickadee, another Olive warbler, Hairy woodpecker and the obligatory Yellow eyed juncos. We parked at the end of the road and did a quick overlook of the mountain, but WeatherBug told us lightening was close and deciding that discretion was the better part of valor we called it a day.

This time heading to the lowest of the low, we visited the Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David to see the Mississippi Kites eating on the wing as they soared over the San Pedro River. The Monastery allows polite birding and has set aside a trail down to the river for bird watchers. We had another sight of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo teasing us in the overgrowth as we kept kicking up Common ground doves. On the grounds we saw Lucy’s warbler, Black headed and Blue grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Black and Bronze headed cowbirds, Vermilion flycatcher, Yellow breasted chat, Bell’s vireo and assorted other usuals. From St. David we went to Wilcox to check out the shorebirds at the Playa (a euphemism for the sewage ponds). Our intrepid group shrugged off the approaching thunderstorm and found Semi palmated plover, Baird’s sandpiper, Black necked stilt, American avocet, Wilson’s phalarope, Long billed curlew, Least, Western and Spotted sandpipers, Long billed dowitcher and Killdeer.

Starting the new day with another waste water treatment pond, we stopped at the Amado WWT along I-19 and found Neotropical cormorants, ANOTHER Yellow-billed Cuckoo (they were seemingly everywhere) Tropical kingbird and a spotted sandpiper. We continued south down I-19 and stopped at the flooded agricultural fields along the railroad tracks in Rio Rico. We got a good long look at a Zone tailed hawk, Black bellied whistling ducks, Northern harrier, Cuckoo ? Yes, another Cuckoo. Cassins kingbird, phainopepla and I personally saw four glossy ibis, but no one else did. From there we drove to Pena Blanca Lake which gave us more of the same so we didn’t stay long. We stopped for lunch at Patagonia Lake. In the picnic area by the swimming we got good looks at Lucy’s warblers. We found a Green heron, Osprey, Pied billed grebe. At the end opposite from the swimming/boating area, we took the shoreline trail and found a Black capped gnatcatcher, Northern beardless tryrannulet (longest name ever for the smallest plainest bird), a Vermillion flycatcher feeding a juvenile Brown headed cowbird, Ladderback woodpecker, Spotted sandpiper, Black bellied whistling duck, Neotropical cormorants and other usual woodland species. We made a quick stop on the way home at the Patagonia Rest Area—origin of the “Patagonia Effect” to see the Thick billed kingbird family. The stop gave us a Northern cardinal, White wing dove, Bewicks wren, Western tanager and a Black and white warbler.

The original plan was to bird at Arrivaca in the swampy, marshy, bug infested bird heaven. Larry took pity on my bug bitten self and redirected our day to Florida Canyon to the trail at the research station. This is a trail that has Rufous capped warblers, but only for the agile and nimble footed that can make the climb over the dam. Since it was early in the day, I counted myself among the nimble footed and made the scramble up the dam and up the canyon. We did not see the warblers, but we DID see Montezuma Quail, which made the entire nasty scrambling hike totally worth it.

Montezuma Quail Photo by JV Powell
Montezuma Quail Photo by JV Powell

Along the way we also saw Varied and Indigo bunting, Blue grey and Black throated gnatcatchers, Canyon, Cactus, and House wren, Hepatic and Summer Tanagers, Hooded oriole and Grey hawk. Then we took the road to Box Canyon and stopped various places. Around the curve from the waterfall we found Scott’s orioles feeding a brown headed cowbird. At the end of the canyon road we went down the highway a bit and went up Gardner Canyon. The hike up into the canyon didn’t yield too much, but coming down back to the highway we stopped in a grassy hillside and found a great sparrow spot with Grasshopper, Black throated, Rufous winged and Cassins sparrows, Bullocks orioles, and Blue grosbeak.
Back to Casita Codorniz for a potluck afternoon armchair birding on the porch, where the beer is cold, the bathroom is always open and the ice is just waiting to go in your tea.