Spring Grand Arizona May 10—20, 2010

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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Our 2010 Spring Grand Arizona tour was so successful that it is hard to know where to start in summarizing the highlights. Since owls are my favorite family, I will begin with them. We had nine species for the trip, and none were more exciting than the pair of Spotted Owls in Miller Canyon the last day. They were about 25 feet away and slightly below eye level. We watched them for about 20 minutes as they allopreened and nuzzled each other constantly. It was a sight none of us will soon forget, and, in fact, was voted the favorite bird of the tour! Nearly as amazing was the Northern Pygmy-Owl that sat at the top of a juniper providing full-frame scope views for over 15 minutes. The fact that it was sitting 10 feet from a male Elegant Trogon in the same tree made it all the more unbelievable. Eventually we had to walk away from both birds! Other memorable owl sightings included Whiskered Screech-Owls almost in our laps on two occasions, a pair of Elf Owls posing at the entrance to their nest cavity, and a Barn Owl flying by the group in broad daylight.

Of course, this trip was about so much more than just owls. We enjoyed 11 species of hummingbirds including two very rare Beryllines (one of which we discovered away from feeders in Madera Canyon) and a male White-eared at 10 feet away. Male and female Lucifers put on a show in Ash Canyon, and the Violet-crowneds in Patagonia were as impressive as ever. Gigantic Blue-throateds and Magnificents, brilliant Broad-billeds, and flashy Costa's rounded out the bunch.

Warblers are always a treat on an Arizona tour and this year was no different. Topping the list was the incomparable Red-faced Warbler. We saw several of these stunners, at least a couple of which were at eye level about 15 feet from the group! Views of stunning Painted Redstarts necessitated the ongoing debate of whether they or the Red-faceds were more beautiful. A female Hermit Warbler in with a small group of migrant Townsend's in Madera Canyon was a bonus. We also enjoyed many fine studies of the striking Black-throated Gray Warbler, and had the best views ever on this tour of the uncommon Virginia's Warbler. A male Olive Warbler in Carr Canyon foraged in a ponderosa overhead, with his orange head and black mask gleaming in the sun.

Raptors were also noteworthy. The first morning in Aravaipa Canyon we had a Zone-tailed directly overhead for several minutes, fantastic views of Common Black-Hawk, and a very cooperative pair of Gray Hawks. In Ramsey Canyon, we marveled at a pair of Golden Eagles being dive-bombed by a Peregrine Falcon. Scope views of Harris's Hawks near Tucson, and a quick glimpse of a very rare Short-tailed Hawk in the Chiricahuas were the icing on the cake.

Other highlights included prolonged scope views of a male Flame-colored Tanager in Madera; wonderful studies of Common Poorwill and Whip-poor-will; Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher; Mexican Chickadee; Botteri's, Rufous-winged, Black-chinned, and Five-striped sparrows; Thick-billed and Tropical kingbirds; Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet; and Greater Pewee. Of course, the fantastic views of Elegant Trogon were as wonderful as anything we saw. We watched a pair of Arizona Woodpeckers at a nest (we would see an impressive eight for the trip), and saw a Gilded Flicker very close at the desert museum. Rarities included a male Red Crossbill and a White-rumped Sandpiper.

To top it all off, we had arguably the best weather ever for this trip, with highs in the upper 70s and low 80s for the most part, and gorgeous sunny skies. A wonderfully successful trip on all counts!