Avian Jewels of Arizona Jul 18—26, 2016

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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Twelve species of dazzling hummingbirds! Seven species of owls! Nearly all of the southeastern Arizona specialty birds! Our Avian Jewels of Arizona tour had all of that and more. We began with some brief afternoon birding in Tucson, where we tallied Burrowing Owl, Tropical Kingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Western Tanager, and Abert’s Towhee to get our birding adventure off to a great start.

Near our hotel, a mother Burrowing Owl kept a watchful eye for danger.

Burrowing Owl— Photo: Barry Zimmer


The following day found us in Green Valley and Madera Canyon. Desert and grassland habitats down low yielded Harris’s Hawk, Costa’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and a bevy of sparrows, including Rufous-winged, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, and Black-throated. Further up in elevation, we found the generally uncommon Arizona Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Bridled Titmouse, Black-headed and Blue grosbeaks, and a glorious, plum-colored Varied Bunting. Additionally, an hour-long vigil at some feeders produced not only the expected hummingbird species (Magnificent, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, and Anna’s), but also our prime target, the accidental Plain-capped Starthroat that had been present for a few weeks at Santa Rita Lodge!

After a somewhat lengthy, and at times frustrating vigil, a very rare Plain-capped Starthroat made an appearance at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders in Madera Canyon.

Plain-capped Starthroat— Photo: Barry Zimmer


Traveling southward the next day, we briefly stopped back at Green Valley to locate the one bird we had been missing, the Gilded Flicker, and were rewarded with prolonged scope views of a male. Later on, Puerto Springs produced the highly sought Thick-billed Kingbird with a nest, in addition to Canyon Wren, Bell’s Vireo, and another Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. After lunch, we scoured areas in and around Patagonia and Nogales. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (a flock of 46), Gray Hawk, flashy Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat topped the list. 

This year we had added one day to the tour so that we could visit California Gulch to the west of Nogales. This addition proved to be a huge success. Not only did we tally the rare and localized Five-striped Sparrow (five or six seen!), but also saw three Montezuma Quail (including scope views of a male from 15 feet away!), several Gray Hawks, Zone-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Rock Wren, and more Varied Buntings among others. Arriving in Sierra Vista in the late afternoon, we visited another set of feeders, where a male Lucifer Hummingbird put in a quick appearance.

After some searching, we finally found a pair of Elegant Trogons (the male here).

Elegant Trogon— Photo: Barry Zimmer


Day five found us inside Fort Huachuca. Along the oak and sycamore-lined trails of Huachuca Canyon, we found six Elegant Trogons—the premier bird of any Arizona trip! We enjoyed multiple views of males, females, and recently fledged young. Additionally we added Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Hepatic Tanager, and dazzling Painted Redstarts to our ever-growing list. After lunch, Miller Canyon yielded a host of species, including roosting Spotted Owl, Rufous and Broad-tailed hummingbirds, and stunning Red-faced Warblers. Little did we know that the best of the day was yet to come! Venturing out after dinner, we managed to find four additional species of owls, with unbelievably great views of Elf, Western Screech, and Whiskered Screech! What a fantastic day!

A morning trip to Carr Canyon ensued. Two more Montezuma Quail, another Zone-tailed Hawk, multiple Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Grace’s Warbler, and loads of Yellow-eyed Juncos were among the many highlights.

A male Calliope here really put on a show.

Calliope Hummingbird— Photo: Barry Zimmer



From there, our final destination was the Chiricahua Mountains to the east. We had the better part of two days to bird that region, and it did not disappoint. Three more Montezuma Quail (bringing our total to a ridiculous eight individuals); a rare White-tailed Kite; Northern Pygmy-Owl at point-blank range; scope views of Mexican Whip-Poor-Will; Blue-throated, Lucifer, and Calliope hummingbirds; Greater Pewee; Mexican Chickadee (found nowhere else in the U.S.); Pygmy Nuthatch; Juniper Titmouse; Bendire’s Thrasher; and Black-chinned Sparrow were among the more notables. A quick stop in Willcox on our way back to Tucson produced hundreds of American Avocets and Wilson’s Phalaropes, 84 Long-billed Curlews, and several Baird’s Sandpipers among 13 species of shorebirds.

In all we tallied 178 species of birds on our trip, as well as interesting mammals (including Collared Peccary, Gray Fox, Apache Fox Squirrel, and Antelope Jackrabbit); reptiles (Banded Rock Rattlesnake); and butterflies. Another wonderful adventure to Arizona during the monsoon season!