In planning for our trip we used the 1999 reprint of Rick Taylor's "Birders' Guide to South-eastern Arizona" (ABA Guides), Don McIvor's "Birding Utah" and a wealth of information on the Internet, including information obtained from local birders on the AZ/NM Birds and Utah Birdnet mailing lists (see details after the species list below).
Our route would take us to Tucson, Madera Canyon, California Gulch, Kino Springs, Patagonia, Sierra Vista, Portal, Cottonwood and the Verde Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Navajo National Monument and Monument Valley. In the main body of the following report lifers are marked with an asterisk. Detailed directions for the south-east Arizona sites are not given because they are covered in the well-known guides.
Saturday 6th May:
We flew from London to Phoenix on 6th May with British Airways and picked up our rental car from Alamo at the airport. We had rented a 4WD and were given a Mitsubishi Montero. It was much more expensive than a conventional saloon or hatch but was justified by the rough tracks we were expected to encounter.
En route to Tucson we saw a Harris's Hawk* perched by I-10 just north of Pinal. At our Tucson motel (Ghost Ranch Lodge) were our first White-winged Doves* and Great-tailed Grackles*. Also seen were House Sparrows and House Finches
Sunday 7th May:
We woke at 3.30 am to the sound of a singing Curve-billed Thrasher*, which continued to perform for a few hours! In the motel grounds, we found a very confiding Gila Woodpecker*. The motel cactus gardens are well laid out and worth seeing. Also seen before our departure were lots of White-winged Doves, a few Mourning Doves, several Great-tailed Grackles and a few House Finches.
Our main destination that day was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This was good and recommended to anyone making their first visit to the region. Birds included Inca Dove*, Costa's Hummingbird*, Gilded Flicker*, Brown-crested Flycatcher*, Verdin* and Cactus Wren* (abundant, even in the restaurant area. In the parking lot we had good views of a Coyote.
Full list here was: 1 American Kestrel 1, abundant White-winged Doves, 1 Inca Dove, several Mourning Doves, 1 Costa's Hummingbird, 1 Gilded Flicker (in parking lot), abundant Gila Woodpeckers, 1 Brown-crested Flycatcher, 2+ Purple Martins, 1 Verdin, abundant Cactus Wrens (even on ground in cafe area), 3+ Curve-billed Thrashers, 10+ Phainopeplas, 2 Townsend's Warblers, 2 Wilson's Warblers, 1 Western Tanager, 2 Northern Cardinals.
In the early afternoon we went over to the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center. It was a bit quite here but we had 2 Turkey Vultures, a singing Pyrrhuloxia* and 2 more Phainopeplas.
On the way back to I-10, we found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher* along Gates Pass Road (lower view point) and Gambel's Quails* along the sidewalk in Anklam! We then went down to Green Valley where we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express for the night. In the vicinity were 2 Gambel's Quails and a Curve-billed Thrasher (on top of a lamppost opposite our motel). At dusk we saw a flock of 50+ American White Pelicans flying over I-15!
Monday 8th May:
Madera Canyon was our destination. On the way we stopped at Florida Wash, which was fairly quiet but we found singing Bell's Vireos* (2+) and a Canyon Towhee*, as well as the usual Gambel's' Quails. We also had a possible Pacific-slope Flycatcher. At the Madera Canyon picnic site we managed to find a Cooper's Hawk, several Acorn Woodpeckers, a Plumbeous Vireo* and 3+ Bridled Titmouse* before our peace was shattered by the arrival of a couple of buses of schoolchildren! Moving on uphill, at Santa Rita Lodge there were lots more Acorn Woodpeckers. New birds here were a Broad-billed Hummingbird* and Scott's Oriole* on the feeders and many Mexican Jays*.
Full list here was: 4+ White-winged Doves, a few Acorn Woodpeckers, 1 Broad-billed Hummingbird, Mexican Jay (common and conspicuous), a few Bridled Titmouse, 1 American Robin, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 Western Tanager, 2 Black-headed Grosbeaks, a few Brown-headed Cowbirds, 1 Scott's Oriole and several House Finches.
We decided to go up to Roundup parking lot and walk one of the trails. As we were getting our gear out of the car, we had a Painted Redstart* performing only a few feet from us. We took the Vault Mine Trail for about a mile and a half before turning back for lunch. Birds were good here and included Blue-throated* and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Brown-crested Flycatcher*, Plumbeous Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Gray Warbler , Red-faced Warbler* (one seen low down at a range of about 10 feet, barely half a mile along the trail) Painted Redstart* and Yellow-eyed Junco*. While having our lunch at one of the picnic tables by the parking lot, a male Hepatic Tanager* presented itself, low down in a tree only a few feet away.
The complete list here was: several Acorn Woodpeckers, 1 Blue-throated Hummingbird, 1 Black-chinned Hummingbird, 1 Brown-crested Flycatcher (plus others heard), Mexican Jay (common), 2+ Plumbeous Vireo Vireos, 1 Hermit Thrush, 2 Brown Creepers, 1 Black-throated Gray Warbler, 5 Red-faced Warblers, 1 Painted Redstart (by toilet block at end of parking lot), 1 Hepatic Tanager, 2 Black-headed Grosbeaks, 1 Yellow-eyed Junco.
A pretty good day's birding! Late afternoon we headed off for Nogales, where we were to spend two nights at the Best Western Siesta Inn. That night we had a good meal at Mr. C's Supper Club in Nogales - very much recommended (2 diamonds rating in the AAA Tour Book).
Tuesday 9th May:
This was the day I had long anticipated before we left - a trip to the almost mythical California Gulch! We left our motel at 6.15 am and headed down Hwy 289. On the way we found a Black Vulture*, perched on a crag near Pena Blanca Lake, several Cassin's Kingbirds*, 3 Common Ravens, 2 Northern Mockingbirds, a Scott's Oriole and, the icing on the cake, two Montezuma Quails* by the roadside not far from the old town of Ruby. Though they scampered up the bank when we stopped we still got decent views.
We found the turning to the Gulch without any problem and saw 2 Greater Roadrunners* near the 'dam'. Our Montero had no difficulty coping with FR 219 but it was still slow going. No way would we have done it in an ordinary rental car! Take a left turn down FR 219, just after Ruby, turn right just after the 'dam', then take a sharp left at a three-way junction on a rough uphill stretch just after the 'dam'. An important landmark to look out for is the sign "Keep left for California and Warsaw Canyons" which now lies flat on the ground by a fork in the track. Take the left fork and continue for less than half a mile till. Look out on the left for the track downhill to the Gulch, blocked by small boulders. You can park on a flat area to the left.
Since we had made a few stops and travelling took us longer than we expected, we didn't get to the top of the Gulch till around 9.00 a.m. It didn't take us long to get down to the first stream crossing, where it was fairly quiet. Between here and the second stream crossing bird activity increased and we saw our first Dusky-capped Flycatchers* and Canyon Wrens*. As we approached the second stream crossing I was getting a bit concerned that we might not find our principal quarry, Five-striped Sparrow. Then I heard a bird singing and located it in a bush just a few feet up the hillside. A superb Five-striped*, which I managed to keep in scope view for a few minutes - a really handsome bird. We saw at least one another and heard possibly one or two others. Listening to recordings of the song and calls ('chip' and 'sit') at home certainly paid off here. One of my best birding experiences!
Full list down the Gulch was: 6 Turkey Vultures, 1 Montezuma Quail, 1 Black Phoebe, 2+ Cassin's Kingbirds, 2 Dusky-capped Flycatchers, 6+ Mexican Jays, Canyon Wren (1 seen briefly, 2 others singing), several Cactus Wrens, 3+ Bewick's Wrens, 2 Bushtits, 1 Canyon Towhee, 2 Rufous-crowned Sparrows, 2+ Five-striped Sparrows and 2 Scott's Orioles.
On our way back up the Gulch we encountered our third Montezuma Quail of the day, on the bank a few feet from us. On the climb out it was hot but bearable. Interestingly, as we left FR 219, we met a birder from Idaho who had seen Five-stripeds a bit further down FR 219, beyond the Gulch turning.
We made a late decision to go west to Arrivaca Cienaga rather than endure the whole length of Hwy 289 again. Arrivaca Cienaga is part of the Buenos Aires Wildlife complex and is located along Hwy 22 about a mile east of Arrivaca village. It does not seem to feature on the itinerary of many birders doing the South-east Arizona 'circuit' but I was glad we stopped here for we had our first Gray Hawk* (mobbed by a Kingbird), Black-bellied Whistling Duck*, another Montezuma Quail, Common Ground Dove*, Ladder-backed Woodpecker*, Vermilion Flycatcher*, Yellow-breasted Chat*, Green-tailed Towhee* and Eastern (Lilian's) Meadowlark.
In all we saw: 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Gray Hawk, 2 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck perched by the water's edge, 1 Montezuma Quail, a few Mourning Doves, 2 Common Ground-Doves, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1 Ash-throated Flycatcher, many Cassin's Kingbirds, 2 Western Kingbirds, 1 Black Phoebe, 3+ Vermilion Flycatchers, 2 Common Ravens, 1 Barn Swallow, 2 Bewick's Wrens, 1 Northern Mockingbird, 1 Bell's Vireo several Yellow Warblers, 1 Common Yellowthroat, 1 Yellow-breasted Chat, 2 Song Sparrows, 1 Rufous-crowned Sparrow, 1 Green-tailed Towhee, 2 Northern Cardinals, 1 Eastern (Lilian's) Meadowlark and several House Finches. We returned to Nogales via Hwy 22 and I-19.
Wednesday 10th May:
We were off to Sierra Vista, via Kino Springs and Patagonia. Birds at our first stop, at the first pond at Kino Springs, included Vermilion Flycatcher and Summer Tanager*. Talking to two birders from Green Valley, I mentioned I was looking for Tropical Kingbird. One of them replied "Oh, there's one on the dead tree at the end - and so it was, our first Tropical Kingbird*!
In all we saw: 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 American Coot, 3 Common Moorhens (including a chick), 2 Vermilion Flycatchers, 1 Tropical Kingbird, 2+ Yellow Warblers, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Summer Tanager and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds. The road to Kino Springs is on the south side of Hwy 82, some 4-5 miles north-east of Nogales.
We then spent some time at the golf club pond, a short distance further down the road. After asking at the pro shop, we walked around the eastern and northern sides of the pond. There was nothing new here but we did see more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, another Gray Hawk(heard more than seen), Vermilion Flycatcher and 3 more Tropical Kingbirds, two of which performed splendidly at close range. Unfortunately we failed to find any Bronzed Cowbirds.
Full list was: 7 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (flying around, calling from time to time - a high-pitched whistle), 4 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Great Blue Herons, 1 Gray Hawk, 3 American Coots, 2 Spotted Sandpipers (with lots of spots!), 1 Black Phoebe, 4+ Vermilion Flycatchers, 3 Tropical Kingbirds, 2+ Barn Swallows, 1 Bridled Titmouse, a few European Starlings and Yellow Warblers, 1+ Common Yellowthroat, 1 Song Sparrow and several House Sparrows. At the junction with Hwy 82 we had a couple of Phainopeplas and a Pyrrhuloxia.
Next port of call was Patagonia Lake State Park, about six miles further up Hwy 82. Here we took the Sonoita Creek Trail (marked on the map you get at the fee station). Main targets here included Neotropic Cormorant, rails, Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet and Lucy's Warbler. We were not disappointed!
We accumulated a good list here, namely: 10 Neotropic Cormorants* (perched in the middle of lake; quite a small, slender bird, with a long tail), 1 White-faced Ibis, 1 Mallard, 4 Common Moorhens, 12+ American Coots, 2 Virginia Rails (in the open by the reeds; 1 was seen well for several minutes before it was chased off by another bird coming out of the reeds!), 1 Sora (oddly, my first in North America, since I had seen one in England in the mid-1980s), 1 Gila Woodpecker, several Vermilion Flycatchers, a few Cassin's Kingbirds, 5+ Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 1 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (seen well at close range, with prominent crest; has a distinctive 'peer' call, which it is sensible to learn), 2 Common Ravens, 3 Verdins, 2+ Cactus Wrens calling, 3 Curve-billed Thrashers, 2 Phainopeplas, 1 Warbling Vireo, several Bell's Vireos (a good spot for them here), 1 Lucy's Warbler (good views of rufous crown patch; a grey and white bird; call a distinctive 'chit' ), many Yellow Warblers, 2 Wilson's Warblers, 4+ Summer Tanagers, 1 Pyrrhuloxia and several Great-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.
En route to Patagonia, we stopped off at Patagonia roadside rest area, a few miles further along Hwy 82. It was pretty dead, apart from singles each of Broad-billed Hummingbird, White-throated Swift, Western Wood-Pewee, Canyon and Cactus Wrens and Western Tanager and a couple or more Cactus Wrens. Frustratingly we could hear a Thick-billed Kingbird calling but couldn't see it!
So on to Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, where we came across Matt Brown, with whom I had exchanged emails about California Gulch before we left home. Matt gave us some tips on to where to look for Thick-billed Kingbird so we headed off into the Preserve. Here we saw yet another Gray Hawk(heard and seen), more Vermilion Flycatchers, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Lucy's, Wilson's and Townsend's Warblers and lots of Summer Tanagers. On the way back we finally managed to hear, then see well, a Thick-billed Kingbird* along the Cienaga Trail (and saw another one from the Visitor Center). The Say's Phoebes nesting at the Visitor Center initially caught me out because on first glance I mistook them for Kingbirds! They were much less colourful on the underparts than a bird I had seen in California.
Full list here was: 1 Gray Hawk, 1 Northern Flicker, 1 Western Wood-Pewee, a few Vermilion Flycatchers, 2 Say's Phoebes, 2+ Brown-crested Flycatchers, 1 Pacific-slope Flycatcher, 2 Thick-billed Kingbirds, single Lucy's, Wilson's and Townsend's Warblers and several Summer Tanagers.
Our final stop in the Patagonia area was the Paton's yard on Pennsylvania Avenue. Activity at the feeders was fairly quiet but during our 45 minutes visit we saw 2 Inca Doves, 2 Common Ground Doves, severalWhite-winged Doves, 2 Gila Woodpeckers on the feeders, male and female Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds and a male Violet-crowned* Hummingbird (at 10-15 minute intervals), 2 Vermilion Flycatchers, 1 Phainopepla and several Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Mid-afternoon we headed off to Sierra Vista, finding an Osprey along Hwy 82, perched on a telegraph pole! When we arrived at our motel, the Best Western Mission Inn, we were greeted by a Swainson's Hawk* soaring overhead! In the motel grounds, a Northern Mockingbird and 2 Curve-billed Thrasherswere easy to see.
Thursday 11th May:
Our destination this morning was Garden and Sawmill Canyons in the Huachucas. On the way up to Garden Canyon, a Loggerhead Shrike sat on the wires. When we got to Garden Canyon picnic site we met a couple of birders who had just seen an Elegant Trogon. Within a couple of minutes it started to call again and came into view, giving scope views as it perched and called - our first Elegant Trogon*. We also had Western Wood-Pewee, Hutton's Vireo, Hermit Warbler and Hepatic Tanager (all singles) and a few Acorn Woodpeckers. There was, however, no sign of Strickland's Woodpecker, which nests in the immediate vicinity.
We then took the tortuous track to Sawmill Canyon (high clearance needed again). The main target here was Buff-breasted Flycatcher. Up Sawmill Canyon we found 3 Northern Flickers, 2+ Western Wood-Pewees, 2 Greater Pewees* (the first of which we heard singing then saw perched on top of a dead tree for several minutes), a Hammond's Flycatcher (calling), several Mexican Jays, 6 Plumbeous Vireos, 1 American Robin, 1 Bushtit, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Brown Creepers (including one struggling with a large moth!), 3 Grace's* Warblers, 3 Hermit Warblers, 1 Black-throated Gray Warbler, 1 Painted Redstart, 4 Hepatic Tanagers (including our first female), 1 Red Crossbill (a good find) and 3 Yellow-eyed Juncos. No Buff-breasted Flycatchers though. From talking to other birders it seemed that they were not easy to find this year.
On the way back down we took the steep hike up Scheelite Canyon and found a Spotted Owl perched on overhanging branch of a big oak tree just before the 5/8 marker (after getting directions from birders who were coming back down). We also had a couple of Cordilleran Flycatchers*, 2 Hermit Thrushes, a Canyon Wren, 2 Bridled Titmouse, a Bushtit and another Hepatic Tanager.
After lunch we headed south from Sierra Vista and took a short detour up the first mile or so of Lower Carr Canyon before heading up Miller Canyon. At the former we found only an Eastern Bluebird (of the south-western race, much paler red/orange). Up by the Beatty's place, in Miller Canyon, we finally found a Strickland's Woodpecker*. The public feeders were quiet but Mrs. Beatty let us go up to the private area where we spent a happy hour or so watching Black-chinned, Broad-tailed*, Broad-billed, Blue-throated and Magnificent* Hummingbirds. We also saw several Mexican Jays and 3 Black-headed Grosbeaks. We had no luck with White-eared Hummingbird though.
We had dinner at the Mesquite Tree Restaurant, at Hereford, just south of Sierra Vista on Hwy 92. I recommend it highly (2 Diamonds rating in the AAA Tour Book) but it's best to reserve a table (520/378-2758).
Friday 12th May:
Our original plan was to head straight for San Pedro River but we decided to take another trip up to Sawmill Canyon for another crack at Buff-breasted Flycatcher. Birds were similar to the day before though we did have Pygmy Nuthatch this time and a Townsend's Warbler. Just when we were beginning to give up, we found a Buff-breasted Flycatcher* with the help of two Seattle-based birders who are Arizona regulars (Ben and Linda, I don't know their surnames) - so our last minute gamble paid off!. We also heard an Elegant Trogon calling up slope.
Leaving Sierra Vista for Portal and the Chiricahuas, we headed off down Hwy 90 and stopped off at the San Pedro House. This was good and gave us a long list of birds. Highlights were a confiding Green Heron on Kingfisher Pond, a Gray Hawk, lots of Vermilion Flycatchers, a Swainson's Thrush, several Abert's Towhees* (one of our target birds here), a male American Redstart by Kingfisher Pond (wrong side of the Rockies!) and lots of White-crowned Sparrows. On the walk back to the parking lot we had a fairly close encounter with a swarm of Africanised Bees which passed high overhead!
The full list here was: 1 Green Heron, 1 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, 2 Mallards, 1 Swainson's Hawk, 1 Gray Hawk, 1 American Kestrel, 3 Gila Woodpeckers, 2 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, a few Common Ground-Doves, several Mourning and White-winged Doves, a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 2 Western Wood-Pewees, 3 Western Kingbirds, 6+ Vermilion Flycatchers, 1 Swainson's Thrush, 1 Warbling Vireo, a few Bell's Vireos, 3 Curve-billed Thrashers, 6+ Wilson's Warblers, many Yellow Warblers, 3+ Common Yellowthroats, 1 American Redstart, 5+ Yellow-breasted Chats, 5+ Abert's Towhees, 2 Summer Tanagers, 3+ Western Tanagers, 5+ Song Sparrows, 15 White-crowned Sparrows and several Red-winged Blackbirds.
The journey to Portal was quite uneventful (apart from a Cooper's Hawk near Douglas) till we got near the NM state line, where a Scaled Quail* ran across the road ahead of us. Then Rodeo dump gave us 12 Chihuahan Ravens* perched on the perimeter fence. Along Portal Road, a Loggerhead Shrike sat on the wires.
Late afternoon, after checking in at Portal Peak Lodge, we went off to Dave Jasper's yard at Big Thicket, about 3/4 mile down Foothills Road (itself about 3/4 mile east of the Lodge). Nothing out of the ordinary but we had great views of fairly common species - 6+ Gambel's Quails, 1 Tree Swallow, 1 Curve-billed Thrasher, 1 Canyon Towhee, 1 Hooded Oriole, 1 Pyrrhuloxia, 1 White-crowned Sparrow and 6+ House Finches. At dusk we tried the area again and saw a Lesser Nighthawk* fly right past us on Foothills Road. We also saw a possible Common Poorwill but it was gone before we could get a proper look.
I got up early and drove down to Rodeo, across the State line (seeing a Loggerhead Shrike again down Portal Road). At Rodeo I looked around along the road behind the Rodeo Store and running parallel to the highway. After a while I found both Bendire's* and Curve-billed Thrashers (in the grounds of a property with a rickety wooden fence, next to a property with a white, metal, stylised lizard). Shortly after, down Cotton Gin Road (the road north of the highway, opposite the Rodeo Store), I came across a couple of birders who were looking for Bendire's Thrasher and gave them directions to the bird I had seen. They in turn alerted me to a Barn Owl in the old cotton gin. After seeing that bird (new for my ABA list), I went back to the village to see whether the other birders had found the Thrasher. After several minutes we saw two Bendire's Thrashers perched in bushes and at one stage had a Curve-billed nearby for direct comparison. Look for the shorter, less curved, bill of Bendire's, with lower mandible nearly straight and small pale area at base. The bird is very similar in build to Sage Thrasher.
Other birds seen in and around Rodeo were: 1 White-winged Dove, 1 Say's Phoebe, 1 Greater Roadrunner, 1 Chihuahuan Raven, 1 Cactus Wren, 2 Phainopeplas, 1 Northern Mockingbird, 1 Black-headed Grosbeak, a few Great-tailed Grackles and 1 House Finch. The birders I met also reported Blue Grosbeak near the wind pump just south east of the village.
Stops at Dave Jasper's yard on the way back from Rodeo and later, after breakfast, produced great results.
The two visits produced several Gambel's Quails, 2 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, 1 Violet-green Swallow, 1 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet (the other side of Foothills Road), 1 Warbling Vireo, 1 Hutton's Vireo, a few Cactus Wrens, 1 Crissal Thrasher* (luckily glimpsed as it flew up onto a bush before flying off), 2 Yellow Warblers, 1 Virginia's Warbler*, 1 MacGillivray's Warbler*, 1 Black-throated Sparrow* (the other side of Foothills Road), 3+ White-crowned Sparrows, 2 Canyon Towhees, 1 Lazuli Bunting, 3 Northern Cardinals, 2 Pyrrhuloxias, 2+ Black-headed Grosbeaks, 1 Scott's Oriole, several Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches. An interesting reptile sighting here was a Western Kingsnake, of the desert race.
The Spofford's feeders in Portal were quiet (single Acorn Woodpecker, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed and Blue-throated Hummingbirds and several House Finches) so we pushed off up Cave Creek. Stewart Bridge (just before the campground) produced Strickland's Woodpecker and Hepatic Tanager but no Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher reported the day before. Other birds seen here were 1 Acorn Woodpecker, 2 Black Phoebes and a Brown-headed Cowbird.
We'd heard that a Lucifer Hummingbird had been seen at Dave Utterbeck's feeders at Portal so we headed back to get there after the yard opened at mid-day. To find the property, head from the store down through the village to the end of the road - there is a sign on the gate. After 40 minutes wait, a superb male Lucifer Hummingbird* finally turned up. We also had 8 Lark Sparrows there, as well as Black-chinned, Broad-tailed and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, an Acorn Woodpecker, 5+ Chipping Sparrows, 2+ Black-headed Grosbeak and single Hooded and Scott's Orioles.
In hindsight, we did not use the afternoon to the best of our advantage. We messed around up Cave Creek Road, Herb Martyr campground and South Fork of Cave Creek. In all we just managed a few Turkey Vultures and single Acorn Woodpecker,Western Wood-Pewee, Plumbeous Vireo, American Robin, Black-throated Gray and Townsend's Warblers and Hepatic Tanager. We did hear two Elegant Trogons calling in the South Fork of Cave Creek
In the evening we went to Stewart Campground, following a tip, and struck lucky. Just after dark, a Whiskered Screech-Owl* flew to a tree near to its nest hole tree then to the nest hole itself, bringing out the sitting bird. Both flew off and started to call. It was magical! Since we were close by, we went down to the South-western Research Station. On the way we had a Common Poorwill* sitting on the dirt road. At the station itself both Elf Owls* and Whip-poor Wills* were present. A good night birding stint! We also managed to see a couple of Javelinas by the roadside just west of the Portal Peak Lodge.
Sunday 14th May:
This was our last day in the Chiricahuas and the south-east. Our plan was to head over the Chiricahuas via Onion Saddle (Mexican Chickadee and Olive Warbler being the main targets) then down to Chiricahua National Monument and to Willcox.
First though, I got up at 5.45 a.m. and walked around Portal village.Thewalk produced 1 Acorn Woodpecker, 1 Western Wood-Pewee, 1 Dusky-capped Flycatcher, 2 Cassin's Kingbirds, 2 Western Kingbirds, 1 Bridled Titmouse, 1 Cactus Wren, 1 Canyon Wren, 2 Wilson's Warblers, 1 Lucy's Warbler, 1 Spotted Towhee, 4 European Starlings, 1 Bullock's Oriole, 1 Hooded Oriole, 3 Northern Cardinals, 3 Brown-headed Cowbirds and several House Finches. Unfortunately I missed a Black-chinned Sparrow which had apparently flown off before I arrived. So on another tip I took the car down Paradise Road to look for this species, without any luck - plenty of Black-throateds though!
On the way to Onion Saddle, we stopped again at the South-western Research Station. With the help of one of the researchers we saw a Mountain Pygmy Owl* perched high in a tree. By the field was a Lincoln's Sparrow. This had certainly been a good spot for us over the previous 24 hours.
Despite a number of stops we found no Mexican Chickadees - just 1 Hermit Thrush, 3 Bullock's Orioles and a Yellow-eyed Junco. Barfoot Junction was virtually birdless. Rustler Park had a fair variety of birds on two stops there: 1 Hairy Woodpecker, 1 Magnificent Hummingbird, 6+ Cordilleran Flycatchers (calling persistently), 2 Warbling Vireos, 2 Steller's Jays, 1 Townsend's Warbler, 1 Grace's Warbler, 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler and 1 Yellow-eyed Junco. On our second visit, after lunch, we could hear Olive Warblers calling but could not find them. It was getting frustrating because other birders had seen Chickadees and assured us we would see one sooner or later.
We tried Barfoot Meadow, where species were similar to Rustler Park but also included Northern Flicker, American Robin, Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak. Finally we walked the Barfoot Lookout Trail. This was quite a hike that produced outstanding views at the end and a few birds, including 2 Red-faced Warblers and calling Olive Warblers (which always seemed behind us or in front of us!).
Other birds along the Trail were 2 Turkey Vultures, 1Red-tailed Hawk, 5 White-throated Swifts at the summit, several Violet-green Swallows, 1 Hutton's Vireo, 1 Bushtit, 2 Grace's Warblers, 4+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1 Western Tanager and 4 Yellow-eyed Juncos.
Opportunities for Chickadees were fast diminishing so we stopped again on the way down to Pinery Park Campground. Here we heard a Mexican Chickadee calling a few trees back but always out of view. The Campground itself had 1 Cordilleran Flycatcher, 1 Warbling Vireo, 1 Hermit Thrush, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Western Tanagers and 2 Yellow-eyed Juncos. This left Chiricahua National Monument as the last chance for Chickadees.
After we left the mountains we headed down Pinery Canyon Road to Hwy 181. At one point we saw a couple of Turkey Vultures but I stopped just in case one of them might be a Zone-tailed Hawk (as I had done throughout the southeast without any luck). Our luck was in this time because one of the birds was a Zone-tailed Hawk! It was the only one of the trip so it just goes to show that persistence can pay! Along this road we also saw 4 Bushtits and a Scott's Oriole.
Needless to say we found no Mexican Chickadees at Chiricahua N.M (just a few White-throated Swifts and a couple of Plumbeous Vireos). I felt quite deflated since this was one of the main target birds of the trip that we should have found. Clearly we gambled by allowing only one day to look for it, a gamble that didn't pay off. I've subsequently learnt that we're not the only ones to have missed this bird but it's small consolation.
Just outside Willcox we saw a Swainson's Hawk along the road. We spent the night at Willcox, at the Best Western Plaza Inn (good because the tariff includes a hot breakfast).
Monday 15th May:
This was to be primarily a travelling day, up I-10 to Cottonwood in northern Arizona. Shortly after setting off, we saw another Swainson's Hawk, along I-10. We decided to stop off at the junction of Broadway and Anklam, just west of Tucson to look for Rufous-winged Sparrow. After several minutes walking around we managed to locate a Rufous-winged Sparrow* scratching around under a mesquite tree, just a few yards from our car! Other birds seen here and down the end of Broadway included 6 Gambel's Quails, 2 Mourning Doves, 1 White-winged Dove, 2 Gilded Flickers (down the western end of Broadway), 1 Black-chinned Hummingbird, 1 Brown-crested Flycatcher, 1 Cactus Wren, 2 Curve-billed Thrashers, 2 Verdins, a few House Finches and 4 Brown-headed Cowbirds.
After leaving the Shannon/Broadway area, we drove up I-10 and I-17 to Cottonwood, in the Verde Valley. We broke the journey again at Picacho State Park, north of Tucson and a rest area on I-17.We arrived at Cottonwood in the middle of the afternoon and checked in at the Quality Inn for two nights.
One of the main targets in this area was Common Black-hawk so I got up early and went to Page Springs Fish Hatchery area. No Black-hawks but a wide variety of birds, including Ring-necked Pheasant and Blue Grosbeak (great views of a singing male at close range). I also managed to come across two separate Coyotes, one of which was carrying a rodent.
Full list here was: 2 Great Blue Herons, 1 Red-tailed Hawk, 1 Ring-necked Pheasant, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, 1 Cassin's Kingbird, 1 Phainopepla, 1 American Robin, 9 Bushtits (including juveniles being fed by adults), 1 Verdin, 1 Blue Grosbeak, 1 Red-winged Blackbird, 1 Hooded Oriole and 1 Bullock's Oriole.
The Fish Hatchery is just over 3 miles down Forest Service Road 134 (which is tarmac), a left turn off Hwy 89A about 9 miles south of Sedona.
After breakfast we went to Mingus Mountain, on the way to Prescott, which offered one of the last chances on the trip for Olive Warbler. It is located just of Hwy 89A, about 5 miles west of Jerome (follow the signs). Elk's Well was reputed to be a good spot so we tried there. After picking up a calling bird (then seeing it briefly in flight), I managed within five minutes to get a good view of a female Olive Warbler* in a pine tree. Sighs of relief all round! In the area there were 15+ Violet-green Swallows 2 Western Bluebirds, 4 Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Mountain Chickadee, 1 American Robin and 5+ Chipping Sparrows.
En route to Red Rock State Park I thought it would be a good idea to try the Page Springs Fish Hatchery area again. As we went over the Oak Creek bridge, Kay, my wife, said "There's a big bird sitting on the wire over the river". I managed to find a place to turn round and went back over the river. Hastily walking back to the bridge, I found a Common Black-hawk* sitting on the wire! It was there for a while and flew just after I got the telescope set up on it. Later we saw a Belted Kingfisher in the same spot. The Fish Hatchery grounds had a couple of Yellow-breasted Chats and an Abert's Towhee among more widespread species. Other birds here were 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Western Kingbird, 1 Black Phoebe, 3 American Robins, 3+ Song Sparrows and 1 Red-winged Blackbird.
Red Rock State Park was fairly quiet, though we did see 2 Common Ravens on a cliff nest, and single Virginia's and Lucy's Warblers. Other birds here were 4Turkey Vultures and a few Yellow Warblers. The park is off Hwy 89A just south of Sedona, down Lower Red Rock Loop Road.
Final port of call that day was Dead Horse State Park, west of Cottonwood (take Hwy 89A west through the town and then 10th Street). Here we flushed a Black-crowned Night Heron from the main lagoon and also saw a Gray Flycatcher* (calling and tail-dipping with a vengeance). Other birds found were 1 Gila Woodpecker, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, several Northern Rough-winged and Violet-green Swallows and singles each of Say's Phoebe,Lucy's Warbler, Western Tanager and House Finch.
Wednesday 17th May:
We were going to the Grand Canyon, via Oak Creek Canyon and the San Francisco Peaks. I had a bit of a dodgy stomach (it must have been the Chinese meal the night before!) but I got through the journey OK.
Oak Creek Canyon (along Hwy 89A north of Sedona) had nothing special, just the odd Violet-green Swallow, Phainopepla,Western Bluebird, Black-throated Gray and Grace's Warblers and Spotted Towhee. If only I had remembered to call the relevant RBA - I missed a Kentucky Warbler!
We drove up to Snow Bowl Road (FS 516), on Mount Humphreys. It is a right turn off US180 7-8 miles north-west of Flagstaff. The weather was getting distinctly cool - the only time in the whole trip that I had to switch from shorts to long trousers in the daytime! On the alpine meadows below the parking lot I had a couple of Northern Flickers, 4 American Robins, a Mountain Chickadee, 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Vesper Sparrow and 2 Dark-eyed Juncos (grey-headed race, 'dorsalis', I believe. Very like Yellow-eyed but with a dark eye and less rufous on the wings).
After descending, we took a loop round FR 151(a dirt road about 2.5 miles further up US180). In the more open part, we saw two Peregrine Falcons soaring, 2 Common Ravens, 5+ Western Bluebirds, 3 Mountain Bluebirds, an American Robinand 2 more Dark-eyed Juncos.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Awesome views - too much for birds to compete with! We spent the night at Maswik Lodge in the village.
Thursday 18th May:
The main objective that morning was to stop off at the various viewpoints along the South Rim. It was fairly cool but I managed to stay in shorts! Birds were mainly White-throated Swift, Common Raven, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Chipping Sparrow but we did manage to catch up with Rock Wren* at Lipan Point. Desert View had the added interest of a Red-tailed Hawk and a Bewick's Wren.
Later in the morning we headed down Hwy 64 towards US 89. Near the viewpoint by the Little Colorado River Gorge, we had our first Sage Thrasher of the trip, singing from the wheel of an upturned car on Navajo land!
Our destination for the night was Page, which we reached late afternoon. We stayed at the Days Inn, a quite new and comfortable motel/hotel. If you like Italian food I can recommend the 'Bella Napoli' at 810 North Navajo. We also ate there on our return visit.
Friday 19th May:
Our destination today was Springdale in Utah, via Hwy 89A and US 89. We stopped of at Navajo Bridge to admire the views and also saw a couple more White-throated Swifts and Rock Wrens (quite good views of these).
We kept our eyes open for California Condors along Vermilion Cliffs, without any luck though. Birds were quite scarce along this stretch, apart from Common Ravens, Black-throated Sparrows and a couple of Rock Wrens (at the viewpoint just west of House Rock).
Birds became a bit more obvious when we entered the Kaibab Forest. Just west of Jacob's Lake we had a variety, including 2 White-throated Swifts, single Ash-throated Flycatcher, American Robin and Yellow-rumped Warbler, many Spotted Towhees and 4 Chipping Sparrows. East of Jacob's Creek we saw similar birds, also a Northern Flicker and 4 Western Bluebirds.
Just south-east of Fredonia one of the best mammal sightings of the trip occurred - 6 Pronghorns in the grasslands near the road. They were wary but allowed us to get out and scope them.
Mid-afternoon we crossed over into Utah on US 89, via Kanab. We were going to spend three nights at the Best Western Zion Park Inn at Springdale so we made a brief stop in Zion National Park en route. At Checkerboard Mesa, just inside the east entrance on Hwy 9, we saw Ash-throated Flycatcher, Spotted Towhee and Western Tanager.
Saturday 20th May:
I got up early to walk round Springdale Pond area, between the Zion Park Inn and the Virgin River. There wasn't a great deal around apart from a Mallardwith 3 ducklings, a Black Phoebe, a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows using a nest hole in the river bank, a fewYellow Warblers, 2+ Common Yellowthroats, a Red-winged Blackbird and 2 Lesser Goldfinches.
After breakfast we went into Zion NP and parked near the Lodge so we could walk the Emerald Pools Trail. The trail was more notable for superb scenery rather than birds (and an incident that I will describe shortly). There were several Violet-green Swallows, 2 Black Phoebes, a few American Robins (including a juvenile being fed by one of its parents), a few Canyon Wrens, 3 Bushtits and lots of Spotted Towhees. On the way back down, I caught sight of a snake in the brush by the trail only five feet or so away and quietly warned Kay to step back gently. I then saw the rattle at the end of the tail! After calling out to people coming up to take care I saw the snake slither down across the trail where it paused briefly at a safe distance (allowing a photograph). Later scrutiny of the photo showed it was a Western Rattlesnake (around 4 feet long). It was one of the most memorable events of the trip - particularly since we had gone all through Arizona and seen only one snake, a Kingsnake!
Our next stop in the Park was at Weeping Rock. Here we had good views of 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a few Canyon Wrens. On the trail up to the rock we heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl* calling several times (even answering my own 'toots'!) and glimpsed it briefly as it flew behind the trees. On the way back, we had just a single Bewick's Wren at Zion Lodge -.
After lunch we headed west out of the Park on Hwy 9 and took the road up to Kolob Reservoir (a right turn in Virgin), where I was hoping to find Gray Vireo. We got as far as the Reservoir before turning back and took a short tour past Blue Springs Lake. The bird list was pretty good and included an immature Golden Eagle, Mountain Bluebird (above Blue Springs Lake), Juniper Titmouse and Plumbeous Vireo. Best of all were the two Gray Vireos* we found in the pinyon-juniper zone on the way up (about 5 miles from Hwy 9 near the Zion NP boundary), picked up at first by song. One gave very good views.
Full list here was: 6 Turkey Vultures, 1 Golden Eagle, 2 American Coots (on Blue Springs Lake), a few Ash-throated Flycatchers, 1 Western Scrub-Jay, a few Common Ravens and American Robins, 2 Mountain Bluebirds (above Blue Springs Lake), 1 Juniper Titmouse, 1 Plumbeous Vireo, 2 Gray Vireos, 2 Chipping Sparrows, 1 Black-headed Grosbeak, several Brewer's Blackbirds and 1Western Meadowlark.
Sunday 21st May:
Our primary target for the day was Ferruginous Hawk, in Iron County. On the way, though, we decided to go up Kolob Reservoir Road again, because Roland Wauer's book, "Birds of Zion NP and the Vicinity" suggested that we might find Black-chinned Sparrows in the Cave Valley and Firepit Knoll areas (where there is sagebrush and slopes, just beyond the pinyon-juniper zone). We got to the area, stopped and listened for several minutes. We heard a singing bird a few times then at last saw two Black-chinned Sparrows* in a bush. They promptly disappeared and were not seen again but singing persisted for a while. Other birds along Kolob Reservoir Road were single Black Phoebe and Western Scrub-Jay, a few Common Ravens, 1 Gray Vireo (singing in the same area as the previous day), 2+ Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 1 Black-throated Gray Warbler, 4 Chipping and 2 Lark Sparrows and several Spotted Towhees.
Not having long to linger we headed up to Cedar City via Hwy 9 and I-15. From there we went west on Hwy 56 for approximately seven miles, to just after where the road bends to the left. Here on the power line poles we had two Ferruginous Hawks*. There were a number of nests on the poles on either side of the road but they seemed to be occupied only byCommon Ravens. Another raptor here was American Kestrel.
Since it was only late morning and we had plenty of time on our hands, we decided to go up to Cedar Breaks National Monument (east of Cedar City via Hwys 14 and 148), since the road had just been opened for the summer. Here the views were superb, particularly since there was still some snow on the ground (and the remnants of 4-5' drifts by the roadside on the way up!). We got talking to the Ranger who told us his descendants came from the same county as us in England a couple of generations ago. In the parking lot we had good views of a Gray Jay, very white headed compared to north-eastern birds. Elsewhere in the general area we had single American Robin and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2 Chipping Sparrows and another of my target birds, Pine Siskin*, which had eluded me on previous North American trips - here there were 5+ (even copulating!). There was a lot of snowmelt water around.
On the way back to Springdale we saw a Northern Mockingbird at Toquerville. Black-capped Chickadees were calling by Springdale Pond in the evening.
Monday 22nd May:
We checked out of the Zion Park Inn (excellent motel with superb views). As we were packing the car a Cooper's Hawk shot past at low level, hotly pursued by a Kingbird! Our ultimate destination that day was Bryce Canyon.
We had not seen many water birds so we thought we would try our luck at some lakes. Our first stop was Duck Creek Reservoir and Campground (at an altitude of 8,534'), just off Hwy 14 between Long Valley and Cedar City (about 8 miles east of the junction of Hwys 145 and 148). The pullout below the dam is a good place to park. This was a great spot - on our arrival we had two Ospreys circling and fishing. A walk round the east side of the lake and into the campground produced a good list, namely 1 Great Blue Heron, 31 American Wigeons (31), 12 Lesser Scaups, 1 Northern Pintail, a few Mallards, Ruddy Ducks and Turkey Vultures, 1 Red-tailed hawk, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, 1 Northern Flicker, 3 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, 1 American Dipper (on the fast flowing section of the creek, below the dam), 6 Mountain Chickadees, 2 Brown Creepers, 3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 5 Clark's Nutcrackers, 3 Yellow, 1 Virginia's and 6 Yellow-rumped Warblers, single Chipping and Song Sparrows, 2 Dark-eyed Juncos, 4 Black-headed Grosbeak, numerous Brewer's Blackbirds, 3 Pine Siskins and 1 Cassin's Finch.
Rather than go straight back to US 89 we decided to go past Cedar Breaks and up to Brian Head Peak. The access road is just north of the junction of Hwys 143 and 148. From a distance, it looked as if we might be able to get up the access road to the Peak. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, we could see a snow bank on the crest of the hill just a couple of hundred yards past the intersection with Hwy 143. Another 4WD vehicle tried it but gave up so that made my mind up for me! I had wanted to look for American Pipits here so I parked the car and walked up the hill, past the snow patches. I got a bit excited when I caught sight of some small passerines but then a look through the binoculars revealed two Horned Larks! Still it was nice to see them in breeding habitat (they are very uncommon winter visitors at home). I could hear what I thought were Pipits singing so I pressed on up the hill a bit further. After a bit of minor puffing and panting (I was at 10,500+ feet!), I managed to find two American Pipits*, one of which gave good close views on the ground.
On the way back, we stopped at the viewpoint on Hwy 143 near the intersection between Hwys 148 and 143. As I got out of the car, a woodpecker flew over and into the trees on the other side of the road. It was worth investigating so I picked my way carefully over the soft ground to a more observable distance. I relocated it quickly and discovered it was a Three-toed Woodpecker (new for my ABA list). Returning to the car, I saw another woodpecker on a tree on the west side of the road - another Three-toed Woodpecker! Kay was experiencing difficulties with the altitude so we drove off quickly to lower altitude, to Panguitch Lake, by Hwy 143.
We took a left turn just east of the campground and drove right round the lake, stopping on the far side for lunch. It was a real spectacle! On the lake itself we had 200+ Eared Grebes, 400+ Clark's Grebes, a Common Loon, 50+ American Wigeons, 6 Redheads, 2 Canvasbacks, several Lesser Scaup, a Green-winged Teal, a few Ruddy Ducks, lots of American Coots and 25+ Wilson's Phalaropes (another new ABA bird for me). Around the lake were 3 Black-crowned Night Herons, 3 White-faced Ibises, 40+ California Gulls, 4 Franklin's Gulls* (a real bonus bird that I hadn't expected to see and was a real landmark bird, being my 400th ABA species), 7 Marbled Godwits, a Spotted Sandpiper and a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 2 Mountain Bluebirds, a few American Robinsand Yellow Warblers and a single Vesper Sparrow. This was an outstanding spot
We hadn't quite finished for the day. On seeing some stands of Aspen near White Bridge Campground, 2-3 miles further east down Hwy 143, we stopped to look for Red-naped Sapsucker, which had so far eluded us. A walk along the road produced 2+ Broad-tailed Hummers, 4 American Robinsand a Yellow Warbler but no Sapsucker. After a while we gave up and turned back. Just as we crossed the road, a Red-naped Sapsucker* flew low past us, just a few feet away! We failed to relocate it in the trees.
We moved on via US 89 and Hwy 14 to Bryce Canyon, where we checked in at the Best Western Ruby's Inn for two nights. Our stay here was interesting to say the least! No hot water, then we were moved to another room that had clearly been used by smokers (despite all rooms being non-smoking). A brief spray of air freshener by one of the motel staff didn't do much good. It was impossible to get a meal in the dining room without joining a queue of 60 or more so we went to the fast food diner next door. To crown a great evening, we had lost the hot water in our new room by the time we got back, by which time I was getting tired of complaining (but it was luckily back by next morning otherwise I would have gone ballistic)!
Tuesday 23rd May:
We were going to spend most of the day down in Bryce Canyon, for birding and sightseeing. Our first stop was at the North Campground. A walk around here produced 1 Western Wood-Pewee, 1 Olive-sided Flycatcher, 1 Western Bluebird, 4 Plumbeous Vireos, 2 Clark's Nutcrackers, 2 Grace's Warblers, 3 Chipping Sparrows and 1 Western Tanager. Stops at various viewpoints, including Sunset Point and Yovimpa Point, produced similar birds, such as White-throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Common Raven (including some very tame birds at Yovimpa parking lot), Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Gray Warblers.
Mid-afternoon we left Bryce Canyon and headed down to Tropic Reservoir, 7 miles down a gravel road, a few miles to the west, off Hwy 12. Along the access track we saw a Red-tailed Hawk, an American Kestrel, 2 Northern Flickers, 3 Clark's Nutcrackers and a few American Robins. At the southern end of the Reservoir, a low-flying Golden Eagle was being mobbed by a Raven. Down this end of the Reservoir, we had a good variety of water birds - single Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, 7 Canada Geese, 20+ Mallards, 6 Lesser Scaups, 8 Ring-necked Ducks, 4 Cinnamon Teals and a single Common Merganser (another new ABA bird for me). At the north end we had good, close views of a Sharp-shinned Hawk, plus 2+ Broad-tailed Hummers, a Dark-eyed Junco and a few Chipping Sparrows.
Back at Ruby's Inn we had another interesting experience - someone opening our room door using an access card with the same code as ours! It was more embarrassing for the other person but it seems the reception staff had slipped up ("This should be impossible" I was told). When I went back to them to complain yet again I had the feeling they were beginning to duck on seeing me! We did have a good meal in the dining room though and no queues! Apparently they get 15-20 bus loads of tourists for dinner each night - they just hadn't turned up yet! They are in the process of extending the dining room but whether it will cope with the numbers remains to be seen. The whole place was very busy and was a culture shock after earlier experiences. I don't think we would stay there again if we went back to the area! Others might find it different.
Wednesday 24th May:
After breakfast we discovered a lake behind the motel, called Lake Minnie. Before checking out we stopped to have a look round and were glad we did. Birds included single Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, 2 Gadwalls, a Killdeer (the only one of the trip), a Short-billed Dowitcher (I'm confident it was this species, based on its white lower belly and lack of the heavy barring that Long-billed has), 4 Spotted Sandpipers, 8 Black-necked Stilts, 4 Yellow-headed Blackbirds and 3 Pine Siskins. Mammals were 2 Beavers (our first) and an Otter!
Rather than take the long way back to Page in Arizona, we headed east from Bryce Canyon along Hwy 14 to Cannonville, where we turned south onto the Cottonwood Canyon Road. This is 46 miles long, mainly a dirt road, very sandy in places. I had read that it is impassable in wet weather and kept casting an anxious look at the clouds. Luckily it stayed dry. Be warned though that it is a remote area with no facilities at all (though there is plenty of through traffic). We stopped several times en route. Birds included 3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a Black-billed Magpie (just south of Cannonville, to remind us of home!), a Cassin's Kingbird, 2 Mountain Bluebirds, 2 Horned Larks (2 miles north of the junction with US 89), a Sage Thrasher, a few Spotted Towhees, 2 each of Lark, Black-throated and Brewer's Sparrow's and a single singing Sage Sparrows that did not want to be seen! The star bird, however, was Pinyon Jay*, two groups of 6 and 3 being seen. This a bird that had eluded us in California the previous year so I was particularly pleased to catch up with it.
We crossed back into Arizona for the rest of our trip. In our short stay in Utah we had 103 bird species, of which 8 were lifers. That night we stopped off at Page once more, staying at the Days Inn again.
Thursday 25th May:
Our destination was Kayenta and Monument Valley. On the way we took a detour to Navajo National Monument (down Hwy 564, off US 160), well worth a visit (you need binoculars at least to see the ruins). A good selection of birds along the two trails included several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, 2+ White-throated Swifts, a Cassin's Kingbird, a Canyon Wren, 3 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (easy to 'pish'), 2 Bushtits, 8 Black-throated Gray Warblers (very easy to see), a Yellow-rumped Warbler, 4+ Spotted Towhees and a Chipping Sparrow. Perhaps the most interesting sighting was of two Black-Capped Chickadees, seen well. The distribution maps do not show this species occurring in this area. The valley below Betakakin is very lush and reputedly has Spotted Owls so maybe these Chickadees are breeding.
After checking in at the Best Western Wetherill Inn Motel at Kayenta for the night, we went to Monument Valley, where we arrived around 4.30 p.m. Birds were thin on the ground, only 2+ Rock Wrens and a Black-throated Sparrow being seen or heard, but the views were awesome, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. For a fan of many John Ford movies, it was quite something to see it at first hand!
Friday 26th May:
We were on the homeward leg now so we headed down US 160 and US 89 to spend the night at Flagstaff. Somewhere along the road we saw our only American Crows of the trip. Since we had time to spare we took a detour to Wupatki National Monument (signed off US 89, some 30 miles north of Flagstaff), again an interesting site and worth visiting. In bird terms there was nothing out of the ordinary - the usual Common Ravens, plus 4+ Curve-billed Thrashers, 3 Black-throated Sparrows, a few House Finches and 4 Brown-headed Cowbirds. Sunset Crater just down the road gave good views of Rock Wrens. The Visitor Center had a few Broad-tailed Hummers and singleWestern Wood-Pewee, Western Bluebird and Steller's Jay.
After lunch we went up into the San Francisco Peaks again, this time up FR 552 to Lockett Meadow. From the junction of the Sunset Crater road and US 89 turn right, then left, after a short distance. This was a good spot that yielded 3 Northern Flickers, 2 Band-tailed Pigeons, 1 Western Wood-Pewee, 1 Cordilleran Flycatcher, 3 Steller's Jays, 3 Clark's Nutcrackers (actually perched and silent for several minutes!), 7 Cliff Swallows, 3 Western Bluebirds, 3 Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Dark-eyed Junco. Along FR 552 we had Red-tailed Hawk, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Wood-Pewee and Yellow-rumped Warbler (all singles).
We spent our last night of the trip at the Days Inn I-40 in Flagstaff (2nd floor, no elevator!).
Saturday 27th May:
We had much of the day available to get to Phoenix (our car was not due back till 5.30 p.m.) so we decided to make the most of our time.
We left Flagstaff to the south-east and headed down Lake Mary Road, in the hope we could find some water birds and forest species. To find the road from Flagstaff, turn right at the lights before I-40 onto US 89A south; go to the first traffic light by the Econolodge and turn left on Beulah; go under the underpass and take a left turn onto FS 3, Lake Mary Road. Lower Lake Mary didn't have much water so we took a detour up into the hills to Marshall Lake. This was good and was quite peaceful (compared to the holiday weekend traffic on Lake Mary Road!). We had quite a long list here: 4 Great Blue Herons, 8+ Cinnamon Teals, 4 Redheads, numerous Mallards and American Coots, 4 Steller's Jays, 1 American Robin, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Bushtits, 2 Lark Sparrows, 2 Spotted Towhees, 1 Black-headed Grosbeak and several Red-winged Blackbirds. I also saw a silent empid that was against the sun and didn't stay around for long.
Upper Lake Mary was full of water sports enthusiasts. The only birds of note were 5 Great Blue Herons at the southern, shallow end. South of Mormon Lake we took a turning to the east towards Stoneman Lake (which would eventually take us to I-17). In the pines west of the lake we had a Hairy Woodpecker, 2+ Black-throated Gray Warblers, 6+ Chipping and 3 Lark Sparrows. It was now early afternoon so we had to make for I-17 for Phoenix (with a couple of rest stops). Passing Camp Verde we noticed the temperature was 100F and by the time we approached Skyharbor Airport it was 106F! It was a bit like the day we arrived but now more bearable.
After a minor dispute with Alamo over a dent on the fender of our car (which we had already pointed out to them when we collected it), the rest of our departure was smooth and our plane for London took off at 9.45 p.m.
Our three weeks in Arizona and Utah had been wonderful - lots of great birds and really nice people. Total trip tally for Arizona and NM (Rodeo area) was 174 species (154 in the south-east), of which 74 were lifers. We had an additional 37 species in Utah, of which 8 were lifers. If only I had had my ear to the ground more (and used RBAs) then we might have picked up a few more species (e.g. Berylline Hummingbird at Ramsey Canyon and Kentucky Warbler). Another major disappointment was the lack of empidonax flycatchers, presumably due to the dry weather conditions. Still that's birding - you can't expect to see everything and it leaves something for next time, as if we need an excuse to go back!