Avian Jewels of Arizona Jul 19—26, 2015

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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Once again, this year’s Avian Jewels tour proved why southeastern Arizona during the monsoon season is a must destination for any birder. Hummingbirds are the first things most people associate with summer in Arizona, and we had them in spades. We totaled an impressive eleven species during our trip, highlighted by male and female White-eared Hummingbirds in Miller Canyon and a hard-earned Plain-capped Starthroat (an accidental visitor from Mexico) near Portal. Throw in other such gems as Violet-crowned, Blue-throated, Magnificent, and Broad-billed, and you have the makings of an incredible hummingbird display. While many areas of the country can count on seeing only one species of hummingbird in a year, we were tallying six or seven species every day!

The male White-eared reappeared, practically at our feet.

White-eared Hummingbird — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course, Arizona is not just about hummingbirds. We had superb luck locating most of the southeastern Arizona specialty birds throughout our tour. We began in Tucson with wonderful studies of a family group of seven Burrowing Owls near our hotel and Tropical Kingbirds, Bell’s Vireo, and Abert’s Towhee at another local hotspot. The Santa Rita Mountains and surrounding areas yielded such prizes as Montezuma Quail, Gray Hawk, Western and Whiskered screech-owls, Costa’s Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, the rare Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Painted Redstart, Hepatic Tanager, plum-colored Varied Buntings (one from twenty feet singing atop a mesquite for fifteen minutes!) and Rufous-winged and Botteri’s sparrows among others. Further south in the Nogales and Patagonia region our good fortune continued. At one spot we watched over 50 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks along the roadside, while Vermilion Flycatchers and Tropical Kingbirds hawked insects along the fence line. Stunning Blue Grosbeaks darted through the thickets, and a pair of Bullock’s Orioles fed babies in a nest. It was hard to know where to look. More Gray Hawks, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and displaying Yellow-breasted Chats rounded out the list in this region.

Elegant Trogons were less conspicuous than usual, but we had great views of this male on our way down the canyon.

Elegant Trogon — Photo: Erik Bruhnke


Then it was on to Sierra Vista and the Huachuca Mountains. Sycamore-lined canyons in the lower reaches of this range produced wonderful views of Elegant Trogon (the premier bird of Arizona), lengthy scope studies of a Northern Pygmy-Owl, two more male Montezuma Quail, Rock and Canyon wrens, and Black-throated Gray Warbler, while upper elevation pine/oak forest yielded two roosting Spotted Owls, an impressive 14 Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Greater Pewee, Hermit Thrushes filling the air with their ethereal songs, Virginia’s and Grace’s warblers, and numerous Yellow-eyed Juncos.

On our way up Carr Canyon, a spectacular male Montezuma Quail was spotted on the roadside.

Montezuma Quail — Photo: Erik Bruhnke
















Our final stop would be in the Chiricahua Mountains. En route to that fabled range, we had unsurpassed, prolonged views of the elusive Crissal Thrasher and studied a family group of Scaled Quail. The Chiricahuas proved to be a fitting finale to our wonderful tour. The list of memorable highlights here included three more Montezuma Quail (we had unbelievable luck with this near-mythical species), the aforementioned Plain-capped Starthroat, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse, a dozen or more Mexican Chickadees (a species found nowhere else in the United States), adorable Pygmy Nuthatches right overhead, Bendire’s Thrasher, quick glimpses of an Olive Warbler, an early Hermit Warbler, the incomparable Red-faced Warbler, and more Cassin’s Sparrows than you could count (displaying due to monsoon rains).

After five attempts during the course of our trip, we were finally rewarded with stellar views (no pun intended) of this Plain-capped Starthroat. Thanks Mark and Lori!

Plain-capped Starthroat — Photo: Barry Zimmer


Heading back to Tucson the final afternoon, we stopped by Cochise Lake in Willcox. Thirteen species of shorebirds here included wonderful American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts, a ridiculous 169 Long-billed Curlews, 20 or more Baird’s Sandpipers, a very uncommon Stilt Sandpiper, and dozens of spinning Wilson’s Phalaropes.

In all we tallied 178 species of birds, 18 species of mammals (a fascinating Antelope Jackrabbit and 27 Pronghorn included), a record-setting 20 species of reptiles and amphibians (including rarely seen Twin-spotted and Tiger rattlesnakes), and 26 species of butterflies (a Pine Satyr being the rarest). What an amazing tour!