Spring Grand Arizona May 10—20, 2012

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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The success of our recent Spring Grand Arizona tour can easily be summed up in a recap of our first 24 hours in the Chiricahua Mountains:

After arriving at the lodge and having an early dinner, we headed out in search of the always difficult to locate Flammulated Owl. The extensive fires of last year would likely make this pursuit all the more difficult. Walking through a patch of firs and pines, we were met at first by silence, but after ten minutes or so a Flammulated began giving his soft, ventriloquial single hoot. After determining that he was nearly over our heads despite sounding a mile away, we tried to no avail to find him in the lights. After some time we had a brief glimpse of the bird flying from the top of one Douglas fir to another, and I figured that would be all we would get out of this elusive species. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of movement against the night sky. Reeling around and turning on the light, I found the Flammulated perched no more than 15 feet off the ground on a completely exposed branch. We enjoyed superb views for over a minute before he took off into the darkness. It was 8:10 PM on Wednesday night.

Elegant Trogon at South Fork Canyon, Arizona

Elegant Trogon at South Fork Canyon, Arizona— Photo: Barry Zimmer

The next morning we headed out before breakfast to South Fork Canyon in search of Elegant Trogon. This highly sought species had eluded us in the Huachuca Mountains a few days before. Not only did we quickly have prolonged scope views of a male barking out his strange calls, but also enjoyed a Painted Redstart carrying food to a nest, and an Arizona Woodpecker. Following breakfast we headed up to the higher elevations of the range where we tallied an impressive list of birds. Three male Olive Warblers topped the list, but we also had fantastic views of the endemic Mexican Chickadee from no more than ten feet, a Pygmy Nuthatch even closer than that, Band-tailed Pigeon, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, Grace's Warbler, and numerous Yellow-eyed Juncos.

An afternoon feeder vigil in Paradise produced a wide array of species including Magnificent, Blue-throated, and Broad-tailed hummingbirds, Mexican Jay, Juniper and Bridled titmice, Bushtit, several brilliant Lazuli Buntings, a male Indigo Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, and Scott's and Bullock's orioles among others. On the way back to the lodge, a quick stop at a grove of sycamores yielded a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher just returning from its wintering grounds in South America. Once again we headed out quickly after dinner and in short order had a Mexican Whip-poor-will hovering literally a foot or two above our heads! It was 8:00 PM on Thursday. This culminated in an incredibly successful 24 hours of birding. Keep in mind, however, that we had nine other fantastic days on the tour.

In Aravaipa Canyon we tallied Common Black-Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Gray Hawk in a 30-minute period. The Tucson area produced Peregrine Falcon, Burrowing Owl, Costa's Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Abert's Towhee, and Rufous-winged Sparrow among others. Farther south, in Madera Canyon and Green Valley, we added the likes of Elf Owl, Whiskered and Western screech-owls, Gilded Flicker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Painted Redstart, and Botteri's Sparrow. On our trek to California Gulch we found an amazing eight Five-striped Sparrows, while in Nogales and Patagonia we added Least Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, more Gray Hawks, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Thick-billed Kingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, and more. We also had great success in the Huachuca Mountains and Sierra Vista with Scaled Quail, Spotted Owl from 20 feet, a nest of Northern Pygmy-Owls (with the male bringing a lizard to his mate), Common Poorwill, wonderful hummingbird displays, several Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Greater Pewee, Virginia's Warbler, and 30 or more Lazuli Buntings in view at once. Finally, other Chiricahua Mountain finds included another Northern Pygmy-Owl, Crissal Thrasher, stunning Red-faced Warblers, and a late Green-tailed Towhee. A stop at Willcox on our way back to Tucson produced an impressive 13 species of shorebirds including two very rare White-rumped Sandpipers. 

In all, we tallied 202 species of birds (including 8 owl species), 16 species of mammals, 17 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 25 species of butterflies.