Southeast Arizona in 36 hours! June 2017

Published by Andrew Birch (andyrbirch AT

Participants: Andy Birch, Gary Rosenberg (Avian Journeys)


A whirlwind tour for various target birds

With the lure of 2 long-staying class vagrants and a number of other (often difficult species) I have failed to see on previous trips to SE Arizona (largely because I ran out of time), I hired Gary Rosenberg of Avian Journeys to come up with a plan and itinerary to see my target list of birds. However, Gary’s biggest challenge; do it all in 36 hours!

Friday, June 2nd 2017

Gary picked me up at Tucson Airport at 9:30pm and immediately drove to Madera Canyon. Within seconds of getting out of the car, we heard an Elf Owl. Walking a short distance, Gary heard my first target bird; a Whiskered Screech-Owl in a tree next to the road. With some patience, Gary spotted it halfway up the tree and the bird showed superbly before flying over our heads and across the road. We then drove a short distance up the canyon and heard my next target bird right by the road; Mexican Whip-poor-will. This was a fantastic experience as the bird was calling literally by the road and Gary was able to locate it in a tree, giving us stunning views!

Gary then drove 2hrs to Willcox, arriving a little after midnight.

Saturday, June 3rd 2017

We got just a few hours sleep and the next morning at 5:30am, after a quick stop at McDonalds for take-out, Gary drove over to Pinery Canyon. After about an hour on the rough dirt, winding road, we reached the Slate-throated Redstart site.

A short hike in to the woods, yielded a spectacularly tame pair of Montezuma Quails. This was another of my target birds and one I have struggled with on multiple occasions. However, this pair was very obliging and completely unperturbed by our presence and I was so pleased to see them so quickly. We next turned our attention to locating the Slate-throated Redstart. This area had Red-faced Warblers, Mexican Chickadees, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and Painted Redstarts. After a little searching, we located the Slate-throated Redstart actively feeding and moving through the forest. Satisfied with our views, we then set our sights on Carr Canyon and the Tufted Flycatcher.

Birds en route included a stunning Zone-tailed Hawk hunting the grasslands of Sulphur Springs Valley as well as some Swainson’s Hawks.

Upon arrival at Reef Campsite around lunchtime, we met other birders who had been searching all day for the Tufted Flycatcher without success. Despite a sighting on Thursday, this bird hadn’t been seen since the previous weekend. It obviously wasn’t reliable or easy and must be spending most of its time in an in accessible area. We spent a couple of hours here without success but did enjoy great views of Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Grace’s Warbler and Yellow-eyed Juncos.

With the clock ticking, we made the decision not to waste any more time looking for this Tufted Flycatcher and instead try for the other Tufted Flycatcher in neighboring Ramsey Canyon. However, this bird requires a strenuous 4 mile roundtrip hike, so would have to wait until tomorrow morning. We booked a room in nearby Sierra Vista and then headed off on the long drive to California Gulch. On the way to the Gulch, Gary stopped off at some promising looking habitat and pished out another target bird ; Rufous-winged Sparrow. The bird showed nicely in a bush and on a fence close to the road.

We arrived at the Gulch by about 6:30pm after the very long and rocky drive down.

After parking in the small parking area, we headed NE along the base of the hillside getting nice views of a Five-striped Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher, Lucy’s Warbler, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Summer Tanager. Whilst we were standing in front of one bush, another target bird, a male Black-capped Gnatcatcher started to sing and soon came out and posed perfectly! Also seen and heard here was Varied Bunting, White-winged Dove and Hooded Oriole. As 7:30pm neared and the light started to fade, we took up position facing the hillside hoping to hear Buff-collared Nightjar. A single Lesser Nighthawk flew over and a Common Poorwill called.

Eventually, the Buff-collared Nightjar started to call distantly from the hillside. Intermittently the call seemed to be getting closer and moving towards the east until frustratingly it stopped altogether with no sighting of it. 15 mins elapsed before the bird magically flew in over our heads and perched in a bush in front of us calling away. We had superb views! Satisfied with my target sighting, we embarked on the long and very rough journey on back to the 289 and back to Sierra Vista. Allow at least an hour to make this slow, narrow and very rough rocky road at night and be careful of cows!

We arrived back in Sierra Vista around 11pm. We had made the plan that we would try for the Ramsey Canyon Tufted Flycatcher the next morning. However, because the gates don’t open until 8am and it would be a 2hr+ hike and time was short, we decided to hike in from the Ramsey Vista Campground. It would be a slightly further hike but a little less steep and would allow us to begin before 8am.

Sunday, June 4th 2017

We were up at 5am and made the 30 min drive up to Ramsey Vista Campground and were on the trail by 6am. It was an approximately 90min, easy (as it is mostly downhill) beautiful hike in to Ramsey Canyon with cool weather. Birds along the way included singing Greater Pewee, Roadrunner (singing), Virginia’s Warbler (singing), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Hepatic Tanager. Once in to the canyon, we had Brown Creeper, Red-faced Warblers, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (heard), Painted Redstart, Hermit Thrush, Mexican Jays and numerous House Wrens. We reached the rock cairn signaling the Flycatcher spot after about 30mins and shortly afterwards, thankfully the Tufted Flycatcher started calling. Gary quickly picked it up and we watched it above our heads, mostly high in the pines for about 30mins. At one point, it was out in the sun, showing off its superb orangey face and breast.

On the hike back up the canyon, we had a superb male Elegant Trogon barking from an exposed perch and then soon a Northern Pygmy Owl started calling and showed itself as it was being mobbed by Red-faced Warblers. The owl was my last target bird of the trip! We knew we would need more time hiking back because it would be mostly uphill and much warmer. It was a really tough hike back but we made it back to the car after noon. Make sure you bring lots of water and allow at least 2.5hrs to get back. We didn’t see much new on the way back although we did get tantalizing views of hummingbird that was calling and sounded like a White-eared Hummingbird at Comfort Springs.

Gary dropped me off at Tucson airport in the afternoon for my flight back. In 36 hours we had seen my 9 target birds and 100 species! Slate-throated Redstart, Tufted Flycatcher, Whiskered Screech Owl, Buff-collared Nightjar, Montezuma Quail, Northern Pygmy Owl, Mexican Whip-poor-will, Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Rufous-winged Sparrow! Many thanks to Gary for 30 hours of guiding and driving and very little sleep!

Species Lists

Scaled Quail Callipepla squamata A couple seen along the road in Sulphur Springs Valley
Gambel's Quail Callipepla gambelii Scattered groups along roadsides
Montezuma Quail Cyrtonyx montezumae Two seen well in Pinery Canyon
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura Seen commonly
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii At least two seen - one in California Gulch
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni A few seen - mainly Sulphur Springs Valley
Zone-tailed Hawk Buteo albonotatus One seen in Sulphur Springs Valley
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Several seen - widespread.
American Kestrel Falco sparverius A couple seen along roads on wires
Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata At least heard in Pinery
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto Seen along road near Elfrida
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica Common
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura Common
Inca Dove Columbina inca Ones seen in Sulphur Springs Valley
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina One seen driving into Cal. Gulch
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus A couple seen along road - another heard singing.
Whiskered Screech-Owl Megascops trichopsis One seen in Madera Canyon
Northern Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium gnoma One seen in Ramsey Canyon
Elf Owl Micrathene whitneyi Heard in Madera Canyon
Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis Seen California Gulch
Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii Heard California Gulch
Whip-poor-will Antrostomus arizonae Seen Madera Canyon
Buff-collared Nightjar Antrostomus ridgwayi One seen and heard California Gulch
White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis Several seen Ramsey Canyon
Broad-billed Hummingbird Cynanthus latirostrisA few seen - one seen well Califorina Gulch
White-eared Hummingbird Hylocharis leucotisPossibly one heard and glimpsed away from feeders at Comfort Springs
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercusA few seen Pinery Canyon
Elegant Trogon Trogon elegans One seen in Ramsey Canyon
Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus At least one in Pinery
Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis A few seen along roads
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris Two in California Gulch
Arizona Woodpecker Picoides arizonae Seen in Pinery and Ramsey Canyons.
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus A few seen in Carr and Ramsey Canyons
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet Camptostoma imberbe Heard in California Gulch
Greater Pewee Contopus pertinax Heard in Carr and Ramsey Canyons
Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus Seen and heard in Carr and Ramsey Canyons
Cordilleran Flycatcher Empidonax occidentalis Several in Carr, Ramsey, and Pinery Canyons
Buff-breasted Flycatcher Empidonax fulvifrons Many in Carr Canyon - nest
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus Two in California Gulch
Dusky-capped Flycatcher Myiarchus tuberculifer One in Ramsey Canyon
Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus Heard California Gulch
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher Myiodynastes luteiventris Heard Ramsey Canyon
Cassin's Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans Seen a few along the roads
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis Seen along the roads
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus A few seen along roads
Bell's Vireo Vireo bellii Heard California Gulch
Plumbeous Vireo Vireo plumbeus Several heard, and a few seen.
Hutton's Vireo Vireo huttoni Heard in Carr Canyon
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Heard at Comfort Spring
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri Several seen Carr and Ramsey
Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica Two seen in Carr
Mexican Jay Aphelocoma wollweberi Seen in Pinery
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus Seen Sulphur Springs Valley
Common Raven Corvus corax Common
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica A few seen along roads
Mexican Chickadee Poecile sclateri Three in Pinery Canyon
Bridled Titmouse Baeolophus wollweberi Heard in Carr Canyon
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps One in California gulch
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus Seen in Carr Canyon
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis Heard in Ramsey Canyon
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis Heard in Ramsey Canyon
Brown Creeper Certhia americana Seen and heard Ramsey
Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus Heard in Carr
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii Seen in California Gulch
House Wren Troglodytes aedon Many in Ramsey Canyon
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea One in Carr
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura One in California Gulch
Black-capped Gnatcatcher Polioptila nigriceps One make in California Gulch
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis One in Carr Canyon
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus Several in Ramsey Canyon
American Robin Turdus migratorius A couple near Comfort Spring
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos Several along roads
Crissal Thrasher Toxostoma crissale Heard one calling in California Gulch
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common
Phainopepla Phainopepla nitens Seen California Gulch
Olive Warbler Peucedramus taeniatus Heard Carr Canyon
Lucy's Warbler Oreothlypis luciae Several California Gulch
Virginia's Warbler Oreothlypis virginiae One heard Carr Canyon
Grace's Warbler Setophaga graciae Several seen and heard Carr and Ramsey
Black-throated Gray Warbler Setophaga nigrescens One heard Carr Canyon
Red-faced Warbler Cardellina rubrifrons Several seen in Pinery and Ramsey Canyons
Painted Redstart Myioborus pictus At least a few seen
Slate-throated Redstart Myioborus miniatus One in Pinery Canyon
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus Many in Carr and Ramsey Canyons
Rufous-winged Sparrow Peucaea carpalis One along River Road north of Nogales
Five-striped Sparrow Amphispiza quinquestriata One in California Gulch
Yellow-eyed Junco Junco phaeonotus Several in Pinery Canyon
Hepatic Tanager Piranga flava Several in Pinery, Carr, and Ramsey Canyons
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra One in California Gulch
Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana Several in Ramsey Canyon
Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus Several in all canyons
Varied Bunting Passerina versicolor One singing in California Gulch
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna A few along the road in Sulphur Springs Valley
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus Seen in towns
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus Two in California Gulch
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus Common
Lesser Goldfinch Spinus psaltria Heard in California Gulch
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Common