Avian Jewels of Arizona Jul 17—24, 2011

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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Thirteen species of hummingbirds! This is the stuff of fantasies for birders from the east, where only one species is regular. Even most areas of the west harbor only three or four hummingbird species at best. But in southeastern Arizona the story is quite different.

On our recent Avian Jewels of Arizona tour, we had marvelous hummingbird displays throughout the trip and tallied a very impressive, though not entirely unexpected, 13 different species. The biggest problem was determining which of these gems was the most spectacular. In Madera Canyon alone we tallied 8 species, with gigantic, not to mention brilliant Magnificent Hummingbirds, with their emerald-green throats and purple crowns; numerous Broad-billeds attired in wonderful shades of blue and green with a contrasting red bill; feisty coppery-orange Rufous (the prettiest of all?) and one rare Allen's; a stray Violet-crowned with its snowy-white belly, purple crown, and red bill; abundant Black-chinneds flashing purple throat patches; and a very rare for this mountain range, male Lucifer Hummingbird with its long decurved bill and extended purple gorget. A Berylline Hummingbird, a casual stray to the United States, was the topping on the cake on our second attempt. Farther east we added a late male Costa's Hummingbird in Patagonia, as well as several more Violet-crowneds, and Anna's Hummingbird in the Huachuca Mountains.

Our best hummingbird display of all, however, was in the Chiricahua Mountains where the feeding station was literally swarming with hummingbirds. In very quick succession we had monstrous Blue-throateds, tiny Calliopes with their streaky purple gorgets, and numerous Broad-taileds. It was enough to make your head spin! Three of these species were among the top vote-getters for the favorite bird of the tour!

Of course, as amazing as the hummingbirds were, they were only one small part of our total Arizona experience. Despite challenges of recent forest fires and forest closures, we had a wonderfully successful trip. On our first afternoon around Tucson we enjoyed Harris's Hawk, Tropical Kingbird, and Abert's Towhee among others. The next day we visited Green Valley and Madera Canyon where an unexpected Northern Goshawk; a marvelous male Elegant Trogon; Arizona Woodpecker; Gilded Flicker; Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher; Bridled Titmouse; Black-throated Gray Warbler; Painted Redstart; plum-colored Varied Bunting; Hepatic Tanager; Rufous-winged, Botteri's, Cassin's, and Black-throated sparrows; and Scott's Oriole were among the many highlights. Evening owling yielded spectacular studies of both Whiskered and Western screech-owls. Patagonia, Sonoita, and Nogales produced Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk (our first of seven seen!), Thick-billed Kingbird, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Vermilion Flycatcher, Canyon and Rock wrens, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Western Tanager. The Chiricahua Mountains, despite the damage caused by recent fires, were very productive. Two male Montezuma Quail (voted the favorite bird of the tour!), Elf Owl, Common Poorwill, the localized Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse, Pygmy and Red-breasted nuthatches, Grace's Warbler, and Black-chinned Sparrow were among the more memorable sightings. In addition we also saw two black bears, several collared peccaries (javelina), a bobcat, and a gray fox (we saw a total of 23 species of mammals!).

On our last day we stopped at Willcox en route to the Catalina Mountains above Tucson. At Willcox we had some nice additions including American Avocet, Baird's and Stilt sandpipers, and Wilson's Phalarope. Finally, in the Catalina Mountains we had three more Zone-tailed Hawks, numerous Mountain Chickadees, and a dozen or so Red-faced Warblers. In all we had 181 species of birds in our week of birding with none more spectacular than those entertaining, pugnacious jewels, the hummingbirds!