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Arizona in May - Trip Report

Early May in Arizona

The first thing people usually want to know is how many birds the group tallied. The answer is 177. Southeast Arizona is a large area, and we covered a lot of ground, but remember this was without rigorous hiking, early morning departures or late returns on most days.

Statistics : On the target-marked checklist we used, we found 92% of the Common birds and 86% of the Targeted species. So out of 126 Common and Target species we tallied 110 which is about 87% for both Target and Common birds. We had some excellent spotters among the tour's participants, and their skills contributed greatly to the success of the tour. On our trips we count a bird for the group if at least 1 participant saw it. Everyone didn't see every bird, but there were some great birds that everyone did observe. There were a few additional birds that were seen or heard by a guide, but the bird disappeared too quickly for anyone else to identify it. Those are not included in the count.

Birds listed usually represent the first trip sighting of the bird, but of course, some birds we observed many times in several places. In a section they are usually listed in the order seen, certainly not in taxonomic order. What follows are just a few of the tour's highlights.

We were extremely fortunate to have Melody Kehl from Outdoor Adventures as our incredible local guide. FOR YOUR FUTURE ARIZONA BIRDING, WE RECOMMEND OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

May 6 - After arrival flights and some rest, we met in the lobby of the hotel at 3:45. Our guide, Melody from Outdoor Adventures in S.E. Arizona, brought the well-stocked van and we loaded up for a relatively short ride into Madera Canyon. On our way to the picnic area, we observed our first Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Hooded Oriole, Western Kingbird and White-winged Dove. We also learned that crow-like birds were not crows, but were local Chihuahuan Ravens.

After a delightful barbecue dinner hosted by Outdoor Adventures, we made our way to the Santa Rita Lodge to await the evening departure flight of the local Elf Owl from his home in a utility pole. The feeders were active with last-minute evening feeding by Lazuli Bunting, Mexican Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lesser Goldfinch, Acorn Woodpecker, Lark Sparrow, Bridled Titmouse, Broad-billed Hummingbird. We saw the Elf Owl depart and not too far away a Northern "Mountain" Pygmy-Owl was heard. On our return into Tucson, we observed Lesser Nighthawks taking advantage of insects that were attracted to city lights.

May 7 - After breakfast we loaded up the van and made our way to Agua Caliente Park, a place very lively with more birds than we could easily keep up with as they foraged trees and shrubs and fed on the ground. We found Cactus Wren, Gambel's Quail, wonderful views of the sometimes elusive Bell's Vireo, Phainopepla, Green-tailed Towhee, Bewick's Wren, Western Tanager, Greater Roadrunner, and Curve-billed Thrasher. Among the mallards were Ring-necked Ducks swimming on the pond.

From the park we snaked our way into the Catalina Mountains, first to Chihuahua Pine Campground where we found Hooded Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Dusky and Hammond's flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Painted Redstart. In Rose Canyon Lake Campground where we enjoyed our picnic lunch we observed Yellow-eyed Junco, Violet-green Swallow, Olive Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, Hermit and Townsend's warblers, and a most-beautiful "dancing" Red-faced Warbler right at eye-level for several memorable moments. At hummingbird feeders on Mt. Lemmon we found Magnificent and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and a lone Calliope Hummingbird female. On our descent from the mountains, White-throated Swifts in the canyons swooped and glided beside the van.

May 8 - This day we packed up for our drive to Portal. We made many stops, the first being Texas Canyon Rest Area where we located Canyon Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lark Sparrow and Cassin's Kingbird.

At the Willcox "Twin Lakes" we observed Loggerhead Shrike, White-faced Ibis, Killdeer, Ruddy Duck, Wilson's Phalarope, Least and Western Sandpiper, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Redhead, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Western and Eared grebe, Long-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, American Coot, Semipalmated and Snowy plovers, Bullock's Oriole, Greater Yellowlegs, Swainson's Hawk, and Eastern Meadowlark.

In Pinery Canyon there were Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-faced Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch, Townsend's Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo, Hairy Woodpecker, Western Tanager, Warbling Vireo, Olive Warbler, Grace's Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, Bushtits, Broad-tailed Hummingbird and here in the higher elevation was Common Raven.

May 9- Early in the morning some of us met to bird right by our lodging in Portal. We were rewarded with views of Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Band-tailed Pigeon, Bendire's Thrasher, Lark Sparrow, Gambel's Quail, White-winged Dove, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Say's Phoebe, Lucy's, Yellow-rumped "Audubon's" and Wilson's warblers, Western and Summer tanagers, Lazuli Bunting, Pine Siskin, and a Golden Eagle.

After breakfast, we drove the road into the South Fork of Cave Creek. We found Black-throated Gray Warbler, Mexican Chickadee, Dusky and Hammond's flycatchers, Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Black Phoebe, and Western Wood Pewee. A Zone-tailed Hawk crossed into the trees in front of the van, then re-emerged to fly down the road at eye-level in front of us for a ways before disappearing back into the canyon's trees. Of course, we were looking for Elegant Trogons, but everyone we met told us the same tale -- trogons had been heard and maybe seen flying from Point A to Point B, but most birders had been foiled by the trogons all morning. We settled down at a picnic site for lunch and to rest or bird.

It was time now to do some hummingbird watching, so we drove to the American Museum of Natural History's research station where we sat in front of the feeders and watched Black-chinned, Blue-throated, and Magnificent hummingbirds, as well as a friendly Say's Phoebe. Near the employee's swimming pool, some of us found a Dark-eyed "Gray-headed" Junco hopping around on the lawn.

We returned to Portal where some rested before we made another short trip up South Fork of Cave Creek. There weren't many birders around, but a woman with a dog also had a husband. The husband had been criss-crossing the creek following the barking of an Elegant Trogon for quite a long distance, the trogon just toying with the man and keeping fiendishly out of sight.

We decided to park the van and do some listening. The lady said she saw the trogon cross the road not far away so we stood by the road’s edge until we heard it bark nearby. As quietly as possible, we moved a few feet into the woods and stopped. The trogon barked again, much closer now. With just a little jockeying of position, the guide found the trogon just yards away, and quietly motioned the group to come forward to where a bush partially blocked us from the quiet bird as he stared at us for a minute or so before he flew off down creek again. That was a fine way to end the day.

May 10 - Early in the morning those who wanted to were up very early to see what might lurk in the desert outside Portal. We were rewarded by having great looks at several Swainson's Hawks, as well as up to 30 Bullock's Orioles, Scaled and Gambel's quail, Black-throated Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, and a surprising MacGillivray's Warbler.

After breakfast we loaded the van and began the drive up to Paradise. At a delightful and very busy bird feeding station, we sat and watched the 3 orioles - Scott's, Hooded, and Bullock's. There were also hummingbirds - Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, Blue-throated, Magnificent, and Anna's. Other feeders were active with a single Indigo and several Lazuli buntings, Black-head Grosbeak, Western Tanager, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Acorn Woodpecker, White-winged Dove, Bronzed Cowbird, Bridled Titmouse, and Mexican Jay.

Next we made our way up the Rustler Park Road where at various stops we saw Mexican Chickadee, Olive Warbler, as well as Townsend's and Grace's warblers. We enjoyed our picnic lunch in Barfoot Park where we rested and watched birds. We found Western Bluebird, Olive Warbler, and Red-faced warblers. There were Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s” Warbler, White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, American Robin, Steller's Jay, Hermit Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Common Raven, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hutton's Vireo, Broad-tailed Hummingbird and we heard Red Crossbills. At Whitewater Draw we made a brief stop and observed an American Kestrel. We ended the day in Sierra Vista.

May 11 - In the morning we drove up to the end of Garden Canyon where we found Buff-breasted Flycatcher. There and down at the busy campground we saw Chipping Sparrow, Acorn Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Painted Redstart, Western Wood-Pewee, Elegant Trogon, Plumbeous Vireo, Hepatic Tanager, Cooper's Hawk, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Cassin's Kingbird.

In the afternoon after some rest, it was time for more hummingbirds! We drove out to Ash Canyon and enjoyed excellent looks at many passerines, as well as hummingbirds -- Broad-tailed, Magnificent, Black-chinned, Anna's, and the rare Lucifer's, a beautiful male as well as the female. Other excellent birds observed there were Arizona Woodpecker, Virginia’s Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Bewick's Wren, Townsend's Warbler, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Spotted Towhee.

May 12 - Our first stop on our way back to the Tucson area was at La Cienegas where our guide found a Sprague’s Pipit for us among the many Horned Larks. We also saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher at that location.

Patagonia was our next stop, at the Paton’s where hummingbirds were again the main attraction. The Violet-crowned Hummingbird made several appearances along with Broad-billed and Black-chinned hummingbirds. Two other treats at Paton’s were the pair of Thick-billed tanagers and our first Inca Dove. Around the yard and at the feeders were Summer and Western tanagers, Gila and Acorn woodpeckers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Mourning and White-winged doves, Dusky Flycatcher, a late American Goldfinch, as well as Lesser Goldfinch, Black-throated Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal, Gambel's Quail, Song and White-crowned sparrow, Bronzed Cowbirds, Mexican Jay, Vermilion Flycatcher, Bewick's Wren

Along Sonoita Creek we found a Gray Hawk, and at Patagonia Lake there were several Neotropic Cormorants and a single Double-crested. In spite of the heat we viewed Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Verdin, Bewick's Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Phainopepla, and a single Black Vulture. Melody took us to a small pond she knew about where we saw two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

After afternoon rest and dinner, some of our group went owl-prowling. Our first stop was in town where Burrowing Owls have developed a colony in the middle of an urban park. Several owls perched on the fence were we easily viewed them through the scopes on the other side of the busy city road.

Then Melody took us to one of her favorite spots where an Elf Owl had a daytime roosting hole in a saguaro cactus. We were there before he awoke and from a comfortable distance trained the scopes on the hole. Picture perfect, he awoke while there was still plenty of daylight and began peering out, giving everyone ample opportunity to get a good look at him.

We then drove up into the Catalinas to a favorite Western Screech-Owl haunt. Skillfully and carefully, Melody called and several owls began answering and calling to each other. Finally one flew to a tree where none of us could see it, but Melody knew it was there and trained the light on it. Unconcernedly, from a good distance, the owl peered over his shoulder so we could get good looks at him through our binoculars. Then quietly we departed, leaving him sitting on the limb where we had watched him.

Now we had one more stop. Whiskered Screech-Owls are known from another highway pull-off and that’s where we drove. We had many of the owls calling, but they didn’t come in close enough for us to view them. What a memorable evening.

May 13 - It was heating up in Tucson, so we got up early and drove out to Catalina State Park where we found Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Northern Cardinal, Crissal Thrasher, Gila and Ladder-backed woodpeckers, Lucy's Warbler, Canyon and Abert's Towhee, and Rufous-winged Sparrow. Out near Sweetwater Wetlands, Melody led us to a young Harris’s Hawk.

After a delightful lunch, several opted to drive up into the cooler air of the Catalinas again. Some of the same species were seen, farewell looks at the Red-faced Warbler and Yellow-eyed Junco. However, a real treat was a close encounter with a splendid Northern Goshawk.

May 14 - Some had early flights to catch so left the hotel quite early. Other flight times were spread out throughout the morning and into the early afternoon. One of our group was staying behind to visit Kartchner Caverns. Another adventure in the making!

We had a wonderful time and observed a lot of beautiful birds in the huge southeast corner of Arizona. Outdoor Adventures’ Melody Kehl was a fabulous guide– knowledgeable, skillful, tireless, and great fun as well. Let us know if this sounds like a tour YOU would enjoy.