South-east Arizona, 25th-28th May 2001

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


By Alex Lees

25th May 2001

Leaving Costa Mesa at 2.45pm, 540 miles, 10 Lesser Nighthawks, 8 Burrowing Owls and one speeding ticket later we arrived in Tucson just before midnight.

26th May 2001

Up and out of bed at 5.05am, a CURVE-BILLED THRASHER sharing a discarded donut with House sparrows in the motel car-park, was the first lifer of the trip. Keeping it company were a few White-winged Doves, Cactus Wrens and a Vermilion Flycatcher. The first stop (apres greasy-breakfast) was the wash at the entrance to Madera Canyon. Common birds here included Lucy's Warblers, CANYON TOWHEES, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Black-throated Sparrows and Phainopeplas. Better was a singing male VARIED BUNTING and both CASSIN'S and BOTTERI'S SPARROWS. Driving up the canyon, the first stop by the gift shop produced lots of MEXICAN JAYS on the feeders plus White-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins and BRIDLED TITMICE. A hike further up the canyon produced a smart male Scott's Oriole, DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS and Rufous-crowned sparrows. An ominous barking call from further up the valley signaled the presence of the target bird but despite much frantic searching the bird changed its location and few undetected further up the canyon. On relocating the caller a further 1/2 mile up I decided to resort to drastic measures and took the freestyle option of scrambling down the slope through the woodland to the creek floor where I was able to stealthily creep up the slope. The ELEGANT TROGON obligingly flew over to greet me and called from a perch less than 20 feet overhead. Definitely took its place alongside the top 5 US birds I've seen.

Higher up, we located a pair of PAINTED REDSTARTS, a flyover Prairie falcon, ARIZONA WOODPECKER and a female MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD. An obliging male BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD fed at the feeders back at the carpark. A Nelson's antelope squirrel and a Gila Woodpecker brightened a stop for gas later and after an hour or so's driving, we arrived in the Patagonia area along the Mexican border. The first stop at Kino Springs was particularly productive, a dead branch draped in the water at the first pond provided a perch for both a Green and a Great Blue Heron, a female Wood Duck and a pair of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS. On running back to the car to get the camera I found a GRAY HAWK perched in a nearby cottonwood being mobbed by a pair of CHIHUAHUAN RAVENS! "Interior" Bell's Vireos, Yellow-breasted Chats, BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS, Summer Tanagers and Vermilion Flycatchers also enlivened proceedings here. A brief stop by the golf club house produced some obliging BRONZED COWBIRDS, one of which performed an impressive (for a cowbird) display flight.

The famous Patagonia rest-stop failed to live up to expectations, as the Rose-throated Becards were nowhere to be found. A singing Canyon Wren and a smart male Broad-billed Hummingbird helped to compensate matters. On the way out we ran-over (despite evasive action) a large snake - probably some sort of racer. Calling in at Paton's (a private residence owned by birders who maintain a battery of hummer feeders) we immediately had Costa's, Black-chinned, Anna's and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Cardinals, Gambell's Quail a flyover Zone-tailed Hawk and a smart little INCA DOVE. Whilst photographing the melee I felt a disturbance in the force, turned round and yelled VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD! Two birds had suddenly arrived at the feeders and proceeded to give crippling views down to 10 feet. By this time a reconnaissance mission up into the hills in search of Scaled Quail failed to produce more than a single Black Vulture. The evening was celebrated with a steak dinner (all ridiculously cheap due to AZ's low taxes) and an early night.

27th May 2001

Up again at dawn, we made a stop in a riparian area for Green Kingfisher, but had to make do with a Swainson's Hawk, Tropical Kingbirds, Summer Tanagers and a pair of Mexican Ducks. From there we drove back towards the "Sky Islands" via a roadside PYRRHOLOXIA and up Carr Canyon to 7000 feet. Working the first campground we had loads of Plumbeous Vireos and BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS, several GREATER PEWEES, GRACE'S WARBLERS, HEPATIC TANAGERS and Bettina Eastman found a smart female OLIVE WARBLER. Further up Western Tanagers were much in evidence along with a single YELLOW-EYED JUNCO, Western Wood-pewees and best of all a stonking male EVENING GROSBEAK.

Despite much searching we couldn't find Red-faced Warbler here and on returning to the car-park Larry Tripp exhibited the best rarity-radar of the trip. We split up to work the last group of pines and whilst I wasted time photographing Plumbeous Vireos on the nest Larry walked right 30 yards and found a FLAME-COLORED TANAGER. After obtaining extensive photographing evidence a little research pointed to a very pure looking hybrid or a first spring male FCTA.

After obtaining gen. from some other birders we switched plans and made a beeline for Miller Canyon and the hummingbird feeders at Beatty's. It was an impressive show with several Magnificent (incl. a hybrid type), BLUE-THROATED, Black-chinned, Broad-billed and BROAD-TAILED. Whilst we waited an excellent SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER kept us entertained, along with several Bridled Titmice and Arizona Woodpeckers. After a two-hour wait the female WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD eventually showed herself, not the male we had hoped for, but a smart bird nonetheless. A brief stop at Ramsey canyon was an instant success when we found a BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD coming to the feeders!
A look around Eskiba Wash in the evening produced a few Lucy's Warblers, Bell's Vireos, Black-throated Sparrows and excellent views of Lesser Nighthawks.

28th May 2001

After speaking to birders at Beatty's it transpired that Miller Canyon would be worth working on our final morning and we arrived on site at around 6.30am. RED-FACED WARBLERS proved to be fairly common in the canyon and kept company with Dusky-capped flycatchers at lower altitudes. Swapping camera for scope (due to a recent spate of attacks by Black bears in the canyons there I thought it prudent to take a weapon - the feeders and bins had been raided the day before) I hiked up the canyon on my own. Hepatic and Western Tanagers, Steller's Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Painted Redstarts were all much in evidence and I was able to obtain instructive views of CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS. After a two mile walk the stream crossed the trail again and I clambered over the boulders for 50 yards downstream, set up the scope and looked straight into the eyes of a SPOTTED OWL, roosting not 30 feet away. After that nothing could compare and after dragging B & L up the trail (they had located the male type FCTA hybrid lower down) and finding an obliging Olive-sided Flycatcher we headed back down the trail via the female White-eared 'hummer' on the feeders and set off for California.