Spring Grand Arizona May 10—20, 2008

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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This year's Spring Grand Arizona tour may have been our best ever. We tallied virtually every Arizona specialty bird and had several great vagrants. Before our first dinner we had already seen Burrowing Owl, Costa's Hummingbird, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher!

The next morning we started out north of Tucson, where we enjoyed excellent scope views of both Gilded Flicker and Harris's Hawk. Further afield, remote Aravaipa Canyon yielded both Common Black-Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk (we would see an unbelievable 13 for the trip) on nests, plus such "regular" fare as Vermilion Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, and Lucy's Warbler. Later that evening a pair of Arizona Woodpeckers entertained us during our picnic dinner in the Santa Rita Mountains. The real show began after dark with a superb night of owling which included fantastic views of Western and Whiskered screech-owls (both within 15 feet!), Elf Owl (at a nest hole), Lesser Nighthawk, and Common Poorwill.

The following day in Madera Canyon we spent some time watching feeders where a rare Flame-colored Tanager had been hanging out. Not only did we get point-blank views of this brilliant orange beauty from Mexico, but we also had a stunning male White-eared Hummingbird (very rare here), Magnificent and Broad-billed hummingbirds, Bridled Titmouse, Canyon Wren, Townsend's Warbler, Painted Redstart,  Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Hepatic and Western tanagers—all at this one spot! Singing Botteri's and Rufous-winged sparrows in the desert below the canyon were the icing on the cake. The afternoon produced a male Black-capped Gnatcatcher for some (another rarity from Mexico), a very rare Gray Vireo, a pair of Tropical Kingbirds, and over 250 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in one field.

The Nogales region had many highlights in store for us. The trek to California Gulch resulted in three or four Five-striped Sparrows (one as close as ten feet), Golden Eagle, male Varied and Indigo buntings, a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and five magnificent Montezuma Quail (one of which literally walked right in front of my van). Feeders in Patagonia were busy with Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak among others. In the nearby riparian habitat we found a pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds and six Gray Hawks.

By the middle of our tour we had reached the Huachuca Mountains above Sierra Vista. Here in scenic Carr Canyon we had a truly mind-boggling day with two Northern Pygmy-Owls (prolonged scope views including one being mobbed by Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Virginia's Warbler); numerous Band-tailed Pigeons; ten or more Buff-breasted Flycatchers; four Greater Pewees; nesting Brown Creepers; Grace's, Black-throated Gray, Virginia's, and Olive warblers; Painted Redstart; and Yellow-eyed Junco. It was hard to know where to look first! Canyons in Fort Huachuca added superb studies of Elegant Trogon and a near-religious experience with a Spotted Owl. More feeder-watching yielded two female Lucifer Hummingbirds (one perched about ten feet away for some time), a very rare Berylline Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, and Scott's and Hooded orioles.

The last portion of our trip was spent in the famed Chiricahua Mountains. Roosting Barn and Great Horned owls, and a nesting pair of Bendire's Thrashers were seen en route. Lower elevations of the Chiricahuas produced Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher for part of the group, Crissal Thrasher, Juniper Titmouse, and Black-chinned Sparrow. The upper regions were even more exciting with brilliant Red-faced Warblers, Mexican Chickadees, Red-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, Western Bluebird, more Olive Warblers, a rare Short-tailed Hawk, a perched Whip-poor-will at 15 feet, and the last of our owls, the elusive Flammulated.

A final stop in Willcox on our way back to Tucson added Eared Grebe, American Avocet, and Red-necked and Wilson's phalaropes to our growing list.

In all we saw nine species of owls and eleven species of hummingbirds among our total list of 209 birds. The Flame-colored Tanager, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, and White-eared and Berylline hummingbirds were great bonuses. We had wonderfully cool weather as well, with high temperatures only on our first and last days. Most of the trip saw highs in the upper 70s and low 80s! Arizona in May really is hard to beat.