Spring Grand Arizona May 10—20, 2013

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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As we gazed up into the oaks, we suddenly saw the active little warbler creeping about near the trunks with its tail fanned. The rich salmon-red breast shone brightly in the afternoon sun and was a perfect complement to the slaty-black body. The bird kept coming closer until it was practically right overhead, giving everyone in the group superb views. An accidental visitor from Mexico, this Slate-throated Redstart in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona was an ABA lifer for everyone, including me, and was the first time the species had ever been seen on a VENT trip in the United States! Incredibly, this was only the second favorite bird of the tour!

The discovery of a Slate-throated Redstart at the Southwest Research Station caused us to change our afternoon plans. We had amazing, close views for over ten minutes of this accidental visitor from Mexico. It was a lifer for all of us (including me), and the first time the species has ever been seen on a VENT tour in the United States.

Slate-throated Redstart at the Southwest Research Station.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Starting and ending in Tucson, our Spring Grand Arizona tour takes a loop through the southeastern portion of the state, hitting all the famous hotspots such as Madera Canyon, Patagonia, California Gulch, Fort Huachuca, and the Chiricahuas, in addition to some lesser-known, out-of-the-way spots. Touring this incredibly rich area, we tallied an impressive 212 species of birds, including 9 species of owls (all seen), 9 species of hummingbirds, and 9 species of woodpeckers.

The owls deserve special mention, with highlights including a Flammulated Owl just above eye level, in the open, no more than fifteen feet away for over two minutes (this was voted the favorite bird of the trip, beating out the aforementioned redstart); a roosting Spotted Owl that posed unobstructed in a Ponderosa Pine for countless photographs and lengthy scope views; a Northern Pygmy-Owl that, after a lengthy vigil at a nest site, brought a lizard to its mate while we watched; a pair of tiny Elf Owls at their nest hole giving repeated views; and superb nighttime studies of both Whiskered and Western screech-owls on the same night.

Of course when people think of Arizona, they often think of hummingbirds first. While late summer is generally a better time for hummingbird diversity, we tallied 9 species including the likes of the incredible Magnificent (this one lives up to its name!), the giant Blue-throated, the flashy Violet-crowned, and the localized Costa’s. Special mention goes to the male White-eared Hummingbird in Miller Canyon that came in like clockwork to the feeders every twenty minutes!

How about the woodpeckers? Well, for starters we had very late and rare Red-naped and Williamson’s sapsuckers. The latter, a male at Rustler Park, provided a tour first! We also had multiple good looks at the uncommon and retiring Arizona Woodpecker, and saw several Gilded Flickers.

The four-hour vigil at the Northern Pygmy-Owl nest was ultimately successful as the male brought a lizard to the female!

Northern Pygmy-Owl bringing a lizard to the female.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Other special tour moments are almost too numerous to mention. A pair of Elegant Trogons investigated a nest hole in a Sycamore as we watched for nearly fifteen minutes. We saw a total of 4 individuals for the tour. California Gulch produced not only record numbers of Five-striped Sparrows (9!), but also a plum-colored Varied Bunting. Warblers were much in evidence with incomparable Red-faced, stunning Painted Redstarts, flashy Hermits (uncommon here), numerous migrant Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, Grace’s, Olive and more.

You say you like raptors? We saw 3 Common Black-Hawks, 3 Zone-tailed Hawks, an adult Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcons, Harris’s Hawk, multiple Gray Hawks, and a wonderful pair of Mississippi Kites, among others.

A Mexican Chickadee ten feet overhead, repeated views of Greater Pewee and Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Thick-billed and Tropical kingbirds, a pair of Montezuma Quail in the Pajarito Mountains, Mexican Whip-poor-will and Common Poorwill that performed magical nighttime ballets right over our heads, and Bendire’s and Crissal thrashers just minutes apart—the list goes on and on. The birds of Southeastern Arizona are special indeed. In addition we saw interesting mammals such as Collared Peccary, Pronghorn, and Black Bear, and numerous reptiles (Coral Snake and Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake were the most noteworthy) and butterflies.

You simply must visit this wonderful area to see all that it has to offer!