Winter Southern Arizona Jan 21—26, 2014

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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Once again our Winter Arizona tour was a huge success. In four action-packed days of birding, we tallied over 150 species and enjoyed spectacularly warm weather (while most of the country was being crushed by winter storms).

On our first day, we headed south to Green Valley and world-famous Madera Canyon. Residential portions of Green Valley yielded two very localized specialty birds, the Gilded Flicker and Rufous-winged Sparrow, in addition to such “regular fare” as Gambel’s Quail, Gila Woodpecker, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee, and Black-throated Sparrow. The oak woodlands of Madera Canyon produced a host of new birds including Magnificent Hummingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, a stunning Painted Redstart, two rare wintering Hepatic Tanagers, and several Yellow-eyed Juncos. In nearby Florida Canyon, we added the bird of the day with a family group of three Rufous-capped Warblers (a rarity from Mexico) foraging along the canyon slope. Two Elegant Trogons (an immature male and a female), a species not normally seen on winter tours to Arizona, were a huge surprise as well. Other highlights for the day included Canyon Wren, Western Bluebird, Phainopepla, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

A striking Painted Redstart made regular visits to the humingbird feeders.

A striking Painted Redstart made regular visits to the humingbird feeders.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

The second day found us northwest of Tucson in an area known as the Santa Cruz Flats. Shortly after dawn, we spied a massive, swirling flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds that moved through the sky like lines of smoke. Incredibly, these birds came down right next to the interstate and we were able to view an estimated 12,000 Yellow-heads right next to our vans (a truly unforgettable sight!). Cooperative Bendire’s Thrasher and Sagebrush Sparrow ensued, followed in quick order by Rock Wren, Sage Thrasher, Burrowing Owl, Greater Roadrunner, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Arriving at some sod farms in midmorning, we were stunned to immediately find a flock of 44 Mountain Plovers running about. Though some winter in this area each year, they are generally very difficult to find and easily missed. We enjoyed lengthy scope studies. Other highlights of this area included a regal Ferruginous Hawk, two rare Crested Caracaras, and a Prairie Falcon. Afternoon stops in Tucson produced Sora, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Abert’s Towhee among others.

After lunch, we headed to Patagonia Lake State Park where we encountered this incredible male Elegant Trogon. It sat within 15 feet of our group for over ten minutes. Amazing!

This Elegant Trogon sat within 15 feet of us for over ten minutes!— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Day Three started with a search for a vagrant Sinaloa Wren near Tubac. Though we failed to find the wren, we did enjoy Gray and Dusky flycatchers, Hutton’s Vireo, and Green-tailed and Spotted towhees while we waited. Later in the day we visited the Patagonia area, where the highlight was an adult male Elegant Trogon literally 15 feet over our heads for ten minutes! It was voted the favorite bird of the tour! Neotropic Cormorant, Common Merganser, Red-naped Sapsucker, Botteri’s Sparrow (a tour first), Lark Sparrow, and Lazuli Bunting rounded out the afternoon. An evening owling excursion produced superb looks at Western Screech-Owl, and a Whiskered Screech-Owl was heard very close, but not seen.

On our final day, we headed east to the Sulphur Springs Valley. This area is known for wintering raptors, cranes, and sparrows, and it did not disappoint. Six Ferruginous Hawks, a family group of Harris’s Hawks, Ross’s Goose, Long-billed Curlew, 13,000 Sandhill Cranes, two rare Ruddy Ground-Doves, Crissal Thrasher, Lark Bunting, Brewer’s Sparrow, and 75+ Chestnut-collared Longspurs were among the more notable species. We finished the day with a grand finale at some Tucson feeders where four stunning male Costa’s Hummingbirds buzzed about and a small group of Coyotes serenaded us with yips and howls! All in all a wonderful trip!