Spring Grand Arizona May 10—20, 2014

Posted by Barry Zimmer


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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We arrived at Miller Canyon in the midafternoon and immediately headed up to the set of hummingbird feeders tucked into the oak-covered hillside above us. Activity was high with numerous Black-chinneds, a few brilliant Broad-billeds, and several giant and impressive Magnificents (with their stunning purple crowns and emerald-green throats) all buzzing about the feeders right in front of us. Before long, a loud metallic trill announced the presence of a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird as well. Our real target here, however, was the male White-eared Hummingbird that had arrived just days before. A rare visitor from Mexico, this species is not often seen on May trips to the area, but a flurry of recent sightings here had us hopeful. Within 15 minutes, the White-eared suddenly appeared no more than ten feet away in a small oak, its brilliant green and purple plumage accented nicely by a bright red bill with a black tip. Combined with previously seen Costa’s, Anna’s, and Violet-crowned earlier in the trip and gigantic Blue-throated Hummingbirds in the Chiricahuas, we would tally an impressive 9 species of hummingbirds for the tour!

A recently arrived White-eared Hummingbird showed well for our group in Miller Canyon.

White-eared Hummingbird, Miller Canyon.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

After watching the feeders for another half-hour or so (including three visits by the White-eared), we decided to head up canyon in search of the pair of Spotted Owls that were nesting no more than a half-mile away. Less than five minutes into our walk, we heard the distinctive tooting of a Northern Pygmy-Owl to our left. A few frantic moments ensued trying to locate this tiny, diurnal owl before Brian spotted it high up in a Douglas Fir being mobbed by Bridled Titmice, a Painted Redstart, and a Black-throated Gray Warbler among others. We enjoyed prolonged scope studies of this bird, which can be devilishly hard to find, before continuing up canyon. Our first Red-faced Warbler of the tour caused another temporary distraction before we finally arrived at the nesting site of the Spotted Owl. We had been warned that the female on the nest was often hard, if not impossible, to see, and that the presence of the male was unpredictable. We quickly located the cavity in the sycamore and found the female’s face neatly framed inside. With the group enjoying scope views, I wandered down along the creek bed to search for the male. Luck was on our side, as within minutes we had completely unobstructed views of the male about 30 feet overhead in an oak. Two fantastic additions to our owl list (which would reach 8 species) in a half-hour period! Nice views of some Band-tailed Pigeons on our descent were just the icing on the cake.

Not far away, the male bird roosted right out in the open!

Spotted Owl— Photo: Barry Zimmer

This represented but one afternoon of our fantastic Spring Grand Arizona tour. In Aravaipa Canyon, we tallied Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Gilded Flicker. The Santa Rita Mountains to the south yielded Elf Owl, Western and Whiskered screech-owls, Common Poorwill just feet away, a rare singing Buff-collared Nightjar, fantastic views of a male Elegant Trogon, several Arizona Woodpeckers, Painted Redstart, Rufous-winged and Botteri’s sparrows, and Scott’s Oriole to name a few. The Nogales and Patagonia region produced Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Thick-billed and Tropical kingbirds, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Hermit Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and a half-dozen Five-striped Sparrows among others. Farther east in the Huachuca Mountains, we saw Scaled Quail, three more Elegant Trogons (including a copulating pair), Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and a host of warblers including Virginia’s, Grace’s, Olive, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Red-faced, and Painted Redstart. Finally, we visited the Chiricahua Mountains, where three Montezuma Quail (all providing spectacular views in the middle of the road), another Northern Pygmy-Owl (this one eating a lizard), Mexican Whip-poor-will, Mexican Chickadees at a nest, Juniper Titmouse, adorable Pygmy Nuthatches, Bendire’s and Crissal thrashers, Green-tailed Towhee, and wonderful male Lazuli Buntings topped the list.

The best bird of the morning was this Elegant Trogon in the upper portion of Madera Canyon.

Elegant Trogon in the upper portion of Madera Canyon.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

But wait, I forgot to mention the Burrowing Owl with tiny chicks in Tucson, the pair of Mississippi Kites right overhead along the San Pedro River, the Great Horned Owls inside a store (!), the family group of Harris’s Hawks, or the last-minute find of a male Varied Bunting in Montosa Canyon. Too many highlights packed into ten days of birding!

In all we tallied 205 species of birds, over 20 species of mammals (including the likes of Hog-nosed Skunk, White-nosed Coatimundi, Antelope Jackrabbit, and Collared Peccary), 17 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 20 species of butterflies. An amazing journey through southeastern Arizona!