Arizona Hummingbirds Jul 24—31, 2005

Posted by Bob Sundstrom

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Bob Sundstrom

Bob Sundstrom has led VENT tours since 1989 to many destinations throughout North America, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Turkey, Iceland,...

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A week-long birding romp through much of Southeast Arizona, our Arizona Hummingbirds tour once again proved rich in hummingbirds and a host of other birds and wildlife. The guiding theme of our tour is hummingbirds, whose numbers and diversity peak at this season due to the convergence of local breeders, southbound migrants, and Mexican rarities. We saw a remarkable 12 species: rare White-eared Hummingbirds, scarce and local Lucifer and Violet-crowned hummingbirds, and king-sized Blue-throated and Magnificent hummers, as well as Costa?s, Calliope, and fancy Broad-billed hummingbirds, among others. There was ample time to study an assortment of species side by side at a series of nectar-feeding stations, while awaiting with anticipation the appearance of the rarer species.

While hummingbirds were one primary theme of our tour, we tracked down a great many other birds too, particularly Southeast Arizona specialties. Our good fortune with rarities was topped by an extremely rare pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers seen in great detail at close range (one of three different species of gnatcatchers seen on the tour). We were also very lucky to see a rare Rose-throated Becard visiting its huge nest, which appeared to be just in the final stages of construction. In the Huachuca Mountains, we had great scope studies of a glittering male Elegant Trogon perched in a sycamore near the side of the road, as Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers perched and gave their loud calls nearby. The same morning, we encountered Arizona Woodpeckers at three different spots, at least twice in family groups. This shy woodpecker species can be difficult to locate, so seeing them easily again and again seemed almost too good to be true. The same morning, we watched a Zone-tailed Hawk family near its nest, as adults soared and fledglings perched and called from near the top of a pine.

A bit of night birding was included on this busy tour, too. We had wonderful nighttime views of perched, calling Whiskered and Western screech-owls within a few minutes of each other, as they peered out from their respective oak trees. At the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains, just after dark, we watched Common Poorwills fly up from a remote roadway to catch flying insects while other poorwills called in the background.

Our tour began on the afternoon of July 24 with a visit to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, a living museum that feels more like a park. The Desert Museum has an excellent collection of native plants and animals of the southwestern deserts—including a hummingbird aviary—and the first Costa?s Hummingbird of our tour turned up on the grounds. Later that afternoon during a birding stop in the nearby countryside dotted with tall saguaros, a handsome Rufous-winged Sparrow posed at close range (as did a Black-throated Sparrow), we had our best views of Gilded Flickers and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and a spiky-crested male Pyrrhuloxia perched with the late afternoon sun lighting up the broad red borders of its gray face.

This year?s tour included a visit to remote California Gulch, instead of our planned day in Madera Canyon which was closed due to forest fires. At California Gulch we caught up with its famed local nesting rarity, the Five-striped Sparrow, a species exceedingly scarce north of Mexico. The singing Five-striped Sparrow took turns on a series of song perches with a beautiful male Varied Bunting. The varied habitats en route to the Gulch were very productive for birds, and we had good views of singing Botteri?s and Cassin?s sparrows, Tropical Kingbirds, a tiny Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and our first Gray and Zone-tailed hawks of the trip.

Other regional bird specialties seen included Greater Roadrunner (every day); Greater Pewee; Buff-breasted, Vermilion, Dusky-capped, and Sulphur-bellied flycatchers; Thick-billed Kingbird; Plumbeous, Hutton?s, and Bell?s vireos; Mexican Chickadee; Bridled and Juniper titmice; Verdin; Bendire?s, Crissal, and Curve-billed thrashers; Hepatic, Western, and Summer tanagers; Abert?s, Canyon, and Spotted towhees; Black-chinned, Lark, and Rufous-crowned sparrows; and Yellow-eyed Junco. Among the warblers were the much anticipated Red-faced, as well as Lucy?s, Grace?s, Hermit, Black-throated Gray, and lots of dazzling Painted Redstarts.

We also saw 14 species each of mammals and herps, highlighted by a black bear, a plume-tailed hooded skunk, and a handsome Texas horned lizard. About 30 species of butterflies were identified. It was an unforgettable tour—an action-packed week in the scenically dramatic mountain country of Southeast Arizona.