Avian Jewels of Arizona Jul 22—29, 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 list of amazing highlights from our recent Avian Jewels of Arizona tour is a long one. Topping the list perhaps was the Plain-capped Starthroat—a super-rarity in this country—in Montosa Canyon that gave us nice scope views from close range. This was only the third time I have seen this species in the United States, and the first in nearly 15 years. The starthroat was one of 11 species of hummingbirds we would record for the trip, including such gems as Violet-crowned, Broad-billed, Blue-throated, and Magnificent.

Success! This Plain-capped Starthroat, a species rarely seen in the United States, posed in the scope after only a half-hour wait.

Plain-capped Starthroat — Photo: Barry Zimmer

A male Montezuma Quail that strolled into the road in the Chiricahua Mountains was equally as exciting. This species is seen on less than half of our tours here and often the views are fleeting. This particular bird stayed in the road for a minute or so and then remained in good view as it slowly crossed a dry creek bed. It was voted the favorite bird of the tour by the group!

Owls provided myriad highlights on this trip with six species seen. Vying for top honors were the incredible views of a roosting Spotted Owl in Scheelite Canyon and the last-minute find of a Northern Pygmy-Owl in the Chiricahuas. In each case we had prolonged studies of difficult to find species. We also enjoyed a late Elf Owl, several great views of Whiskered Screech-Owl, Western Screech-Owl, and a roosting Great Horned Owl.

My personal favorite moment of the trip was a Mexican Whip-poor-will that fluttered just over our heads in the spotlight like some giant moth for about 10 seconds. This species is not typically recorded on late summer tours here.

Colorful birds were plentiful on our trip. From the plum-colored Varied Buntings (a species we rarely see on spring tours) to the incredible Elegant Trogons (we had a pair feeding young at a nest!), to sprightly Painted Redstarts, to vivid Vermilion Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Pyrrhuloxias, to flaming-orange Bullock's Orioles, and to brilliant Yellow-breasted Chats, we spanned the palette of the color spectrum.

We also did extremely well with regional specialties. We had great luck with Botteri's and Rufous-winged sparrows, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (another difficult bird on spring tours), and Gilded Flicker in the Madera Canyon and Green Valley area.  Patagonia yielded superb views of Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Arizona Woodpecker, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Greater Pewee showed well in the Huachuca Mountains, while Mexican Chickadee, Crissal and Bendire's thrashers, Juniper Titmouse, Red-faced Warbler, and Yellow-eyed Junco were all tallied in the Chiricahuas.

In all we had a record-setting 189 species of birds, 17 species of mammals, 16 species of reptiles and amphibians (including a rarely seen twin-spot rattlesnake), and 29 species of butterflies. Our weather was generally excellent, as we avoided the rains almost entirely and enjoyed delightfully cool weather for much of the trip, with only two hot afternoons.