Winter Southern Arizona Jan 15—20, 2013
Posted by Barry Zimmer
A pair of Rufous-capped Warblers from less than ten feet away! What else do you need to know to understand the success of this trip? After a rather difficult hike up Florida Canyon, we had lucked into the warblers right next to the trail, and for about five minutes we watched as these visitors from Mexico foraged practically at our feet. This was the culmination of a great day of birding that began in nearby Green Valley with great scope views of Harris’s Hawks; Gilded Flicker; roosting Great Horned Owls; Rufous-winged, Black-throated, and Brewer’s sparrows; Pyrrhuloxia and more. Madera Canyon followed with a suite of spectacular birds including Arizona Woodpecker, a very rare Red-breasted Sapsucker, the always entertaining Bridled Titmouse, stunning Painted Redstarts, two rare (for winter) male Hepatic Tanagers, and Yellow-eyed Junco among others. A cooperative White-nosed Coatimundi was the icing on the cake. In addition to the magnificent Rufous-capped Warblers, Florida Canyon also yielded Red-naped Sapsucker (we had a seven woodpecker species day!), Hammond’s and Gray flycatchers, and Rock Wren. All in all, a wonderful first day of our tour.
Of course this was but one of four full days of scouring the southeastern corner of the state. The next day found us in northwest Tucson in an area known locally as the Santa Cruz Flats. Here we enjoyed scope views of Ferruginous Hawk, Merlin, and Prairie Falcon; studied a Burrowing Owl from close range; tallied our two main targets of the day—Bendire’s Thrasher and Sage Sparrow—in spectacular fashion; marveled at a brilliant male Vermilion Flycatcher; and found a very rare Lapland Longspur next to a very uncommon McCown’s Longspur. Later in the day back in Tucson we added Broad-billed, Costa’s, and Anna’s hummingbirds, Abert’s Towhee, numerous Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a rare (for winter) Solitary Sandpiper, several Cinnamon Teal, and a cooperative Sora.
Day three found us heading southward towards Patagonia and Nogales. Near the town of Rio Rico we found several Lawrence’s Goldfinches. This erratic species is a bonus to any trip, and we had great scope studies of about ten birds. More treats were in store at Patagonia Lake, where we quickly added a pair of Ruddy Ground-Doves that had been hanging out by the visitor center feeders. This Mexican vagrant has become increasingly regular over the past couple of decades, but is still considered a bonus to any trip. A roosting Western Screech-Owl, a couple of out-of-range White-throated Sparrows, and a male Lazuli Bunting added to our ever-growing list.
Our final day was spent in the Sulphur Springs Valley south of Willcox. In the outskirts of town, we had wonderful looks at a pair of Crissal Thrashers. This species is generally elusive and skulky, and can be very difficult to see well. Nearby Cochise Lake provided a couple of surprises with a close Ross’s Goose (side by side with Snows) and a flock of 200+ Chestnut-collared Longspurs. Raptors were plentiful throughout the day with an amazing 107 Red-tailed Hawks tallied in addition to 19 (!) Ferruginous Hawks, 14 Northern Harriers, several Cooper’s Hawks, an adult Bald Eagle (rare here), numerous American Kestrels, another Prairie Falcon, and four Great Horned Owls. A close range American Bittern, another Ruddy Ground-Dove, an estimated 8,000 Sandhill Cranes, and flocks of Lark Buntings rounded out the day.
In all we tallied 146 species for the tour, including two Mexican vagrants and many local rarities. In addition, with the exception of a cold first morning, we also enjoyed spectacular, warm, calm weather throughout.