phil jeffrey:: Arizona, June 2015 trip report


Arizona June 2015

Thursday June 4th

A trip arranged at the last minute, I decided to revisit AZ for a quick birding trip of familiar haunts in the south-east Arizona sky islands. I flew Southwest from Newark to Phoenix in two legs: EWR-MDW and MDW-PHX using frequent flier miles. The EWR-MDW flight arrived early and the MDW-PHX arrived on time so at least their epic website fubar that week didn't spread to their general operations. Another option would have been to fly into Tucson rather than Phoenix but there were one or two Phoenix-area birds I was considering checking out and it's much easier to find non-stop flights out of PHX - my return flight being a Delta red-eye flight PHX-JFK.

After recovering the rental car (Enterprise - efficient once more), I drove about an hour to Eloy where a very friendly and efficient front desk clerk at the Motel6 there checked me in. The exterior of the hotel is nothing special but the interior appears to have been refurbished so this is a good cheap option to stay between Phoenix and Tucson. I was rented a small SUV - a Mazda CX-5 - I avoid SUVs in general but for traversing mountains on dirt roads it's a better option than a passenger car. Nicely equipped with things like a rear-facing camera, it's major quirk was that it locked the doors when you walked away from it (keyless entry) and sometimes would do that when you closed the driver's side door and walked to the passenger side door.

Friday June 5th

Somewhat of a surprise leaving Eloy at 5:40am - it was raining in the parking lot, and there was a thunderstorm between Eloy and Tucson. The limited camber on I-10 means that it tends to pool water - I wonder if this just reflects a design decision for a dry desert climate or just for I-10 because you could see how this would cause issues during rain storms. I experienced at least some light rain 4 days out of the first 5, a very unexpected thing for early June.

En route: Red-tailed Hawk, White-winged, Mourning, Eurasian-collared Doves and Rock Pigeon, Great-tailed Grackle. Some smaller icterids were seen, perhaps Red-winged Blackbirds.

I made it through Tucson around 6:30am at which point rush hour traffic was still moving but getting heavy, and after clearing Tucson and reaching Benson I turned down towards Sierra Vista via AZ-90. Another surprise here for a usually arid June - there was an appearance of a rain storm over Sierra Vista itself, although it manifested as less serious once I actually got to Sierra Vista. I made it to Ramsey Canyon at 8:10 am - 15 minutes after the gate opens - and the parking lot was 1/3 full with early birders and hikers. My main target at Ramsey was the Tufted Flycatcher, originally found on or around May 21st in the upper canyon which required a 2 mile hike from the parking lot, predominantly climbing.

However before I got to the hard part of the climb up to the Ramsey Cyn vista, there was some decent birding in the lower canyon. Two Zone-tailed Hawks, two Elegant Trogons, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher were foremost amongst these. The climb to Ramsey Canyon Vista was a little difficult at times, so I didn't do much birding en route unless the bird was right next to the trail and/or vocal. Nevertheless Mexican Jay, Painted Redstart, Western Tanager were added to the list on the ascent to the vista. The trail then descended into upper Ramsey canyon, which was a rather nice spot that resembled a narrower version of South Fork Cave Creek and hosted Red-faced Warbler, more Painted Redstarts, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, House, Bewick's (heard-only) and Canyon (heard-only) Wrens, Bridled Titmouse, Arizona Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Common Raven, Bushtit, Yellow-eyed Junco and more sight-unseen Tanagers. Not a bad slice of Arizona targets - some of these species were found on the way back down and ignored on the way up when the hiking was more difficult. Unlike the Colima/Chisos Mtn hike I hadn't trained for canyon hiking before this trip, and it showed. My ongoing issue with my achilles on my right foot made the whole hiking aspect tentative for the entire trip, and there was a lot of ibuprofen consumed that week.

Finally I reached the spot marked with the sawn tree trunk and rock cairn, and also with birders who reported not seeing the bird for the hour they'd been there. They also didn't know where the nest was. I'd seen a photo of it and with considerable luck found the nest on the first tree I scanned, within 30 seconds. Luckier still - the Tufted Flycatcher was sitting on the nest. I'm assuming it's female because it appeared to be incubating what I expect are infertile eggs, and also because it's never been heard singing. Very recent reports have suggested a second bird, but while I was at the nest site there was no sign of another individual. Most of the time the bird gave very bad views - the bill and the top of the crown - but a birder turned up with a scope and that improved things, and when searching for a better vantage spot we came upon a Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi) - a relatively rare one and quite a small one that was initially sleeping but then was rattling away once disturbed, as it moved uphill away from us. The snake was perhaps 18 inches so the rattle was not at all loud, in fact almost more of a hiss. It was not aggressive apart from the standard threat rattle, and moved away to more secluded cover.

Tufted Flycatcher

Tufted Flycatcher on nest

Subsequently there were multiple confirmed sightings of a second bird - presumed male - but I'm confused why it didn't make its presence felt while we were on-site. The nest failed later that summer and no re-nesting was detected, so no fledgelings, however as of writing both birds were still present in August 2015.

After sitting on the nest for an hour while I was there, the Tufted Flycatcher went off hunting and vocalizing and returning to the nest a little while later when it resumed incubating (I'm assuming it wasn't just an empty nest - it made the appearance of moving eggs at one point). I didn't expect much action at that point and it was already mid-morning, so I hiked back down canyon. It's mostly downhill, but there is the climb up to the vista before the steeper descent back into the main canyon. Took me about 1:30 each way but better hikers had done it in about an hour. The main canyon was relatively quiet by now - it was a little past noon, although a Flame-colored Tanager was seen by some.

I was fairly dehydrated, hungry and physically tired from the hike so I went to the gas station at the base of Ramsey Canyon Road. I found out just how tired I was because my right leg starting cramping on the drive down and did so sporadically for the next hour. That last descent of the steep trail down from Ramsey Vista had taken its toll. No more canyon hiking for me that day, so I went out to San Pedro House as part of the San Pedro River riparian area - the flat terrain suited my dilettante needs. Normally this would be prohibitively hot in mid-afternoon in June but the cloud cover had persisted for much of the day with a little light rain mixed in, so the temperature was in the moderate mid-80's. The area around the house was quite birdy: Inca and Common Ground-Doves (incl juveniles), Gila Woodpeckers using the nectar and seed feeders, Blue Grosbeaks in good numbers, a Summer Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Gambel's Quail and Ravens I'll assume are probably Chihauhan. I hiked the trails down to the river - a Great Blue Heron in a large pool starting to dry out (dead fish), two Gray Hawks, Yellow-breasted Chat, Vermilion Flycatcher, Myiarchis sp [Ash-throated-ish], Song Sparrow, more Blue Grosbeaks, some towhee sp that were probably Abert's, flyby Mexican Mallards resembling Mottled Duck but clearly showing white bars in front and behind of the wing speculum. Mottled Ducks don't occur in AZ but the Mexican Mallards look a lot like them. In the cottonwoods along the river just Blue Grosbeak, Chat, Yellow Warbler, Cassin's Kingbird but a White-breasted Nuthatch nearby in low bushes.

Blue Grosbeak male

Returning to the house, Black-chinned Hummingbirds were competing with the Gila Woodpeckers for the nectar feeders, Lesser Goldfinch, White-winged and Morning Dove and Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a second Cassin's Kingbird.

Overnight at the inexpensive but well-featured Sierra Vista Extended Stay hotel in Sierra Vista which had short term rates in rooms that were larger with kitchenettes. I extended the stay for a second night. It was actually cheaper than the America's Best Value Inn that I've stayed in before, and the quality of the rooms was obviously superior. Like other extended stay hotels there is no daily maid service - it's not a full service luxury hotel.

Saturday June 6th

A Gambel's Quail made a surprising appearance on the telegraph wires at the back of the hotel as I was leaving at dawn.

Carr Canyon moonset

I made an early start at Carr Canyon, finding a male Bullock's Oriole along the paved section of the lower canyon road and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow at the start of the dirt section. The road condition was pretty good for Carr Cyn and I've seen it much worse, but not much birding was done on the ascent to avoid driving off the road and plunging to a fiery death. The first stop was the Reef Campground where Spotted Towhee, Western Wood-Pewee, Dusky-capped Flycatcher were quick finds, followed by Yellow-eyed Junco, Grace's Warbler, Northern Flicker, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Bluebird. I had one non-vocal Greater Pewee and several elusive Buff-bellied Flycatchers. Greater Pewees became more vocal as the morning progressed although I only ever did see one or two.

Up at the Ramsey Vista Campground there wasn't the same level of activity but I added Bushtit to the day list. I hiked down to Comfort Spring, finding American Robins, Spotted Towhees, one Band-tailed Pigeon on the descent. At the stream crossing there was a decent amount of water - two House Wrens were clearly nesting nearby and in the cool canyon I had some of the typical species for that habitat - Cordilleran Flycatcher, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee, Western Wood-Pewee, a silent Myiarchis flycatcher, and a nearby Greater Pewee (silent). A nice bonus was a Virginia's Warbler that had clearly just been bathing. I saw a Jay sp down in the valley but the look was fleeting and I couldn't tell if it was Steller's or Mexican. I tracked down a Warbling Vireo which was singing rather differently to the eastern types and had the western race plumage trait of a much stronger facial pattern - almost Philadelphia or Red-eyed like in its intensity. On the climb back up to Ramsey Vista two quail moved through my peripheral vision in the scrub but I could not relocate them for a better look - they could easily have been Montezuma and it's probably too high for Gambel's there. Difficult to be sure.

I returned to the Reef Campground and took some pictures of Buff-bellieds. I added Western Tanager, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Common Raven, Brown Creeper. Yellow-eyed Juncos were feeding juveniles. I went back down to the valley floor and south to Miller Canyon. My legs were still sore from Friday's Ramsey Cyn hike so I limited myself to the hummingbird feeders at the Controlled Access Site ($5 donation). Hummingbird activity was down from my last visit to Miller two years previously, something that Tom Sr. himself confirmed when he came up to say hello. Good numbers of the three species that were there: Black-chinned, Broad-billed and Magnificent but I missed the other two potentials - Anna's and Broad-tailed. The low numbers jibed with my experience in Ramsey the previous day where there were few hummingbirds. I also added White-throated Swift, seen from the CAS bleachers, and a Say's Phoebe as I was walking back to the car.

I returned to Sierra Vista to get a late lunch - a Swainson's Hawk was hunting over the grasslands south of the city, in the same area I had seen one that morning en route to Carr Cyn. I considered my options, most of them involving getting cooked in hot and windy weather and decided to take a siesta to recoup some of the sleep deprivation instead. My usual m.o. on birding trips is to push it as hard as long as I can, but with the damaged right foot and my general distate for birding in 90 degree weather taking a pass seemed the better option after the first two days birding got me a good selection of AZ target species.

After sunset I returned to the lower reaches of Carr Cyn to see what I could find - I heard two Mexican Whip-poor-wills up near Carr House but they were far from the road. Owl sounds were elusive - people were still on the mountain so distant sounds weren't necessarily of wild origin. There were no owls close to the road. But these were by far the most vocal Whip-poor-wills I heard on the trip with extended singing.
o/n Sierra Vista again

Sunday June 7th

Hotel Parking Lot: Pyrrhuloxia - also seen when taking a wrong turn to the Environmental Operations site.

6:15am at San Pedro House. Many of the same species: Gila Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, White-winged Dove, Gambel's Quail, Brown-headed Cowbird, but only one Blue Grosbeak (seed exhausted from the night before?), Barn Swallow, female Summer Tanager. I added a few species: Vermilion Flycatchers, Abert's Towhee, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lucy's Warbler, heard Bell's Vireo and Cactus Wren.

At my very first visit to the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park I fould many Mourning Doves along the entrance road and at the observation deck: Red-winged Blackbird, distant ducks (MX Mallard), heard Common Yellowthroat. Many reeds obscured the ponds visible from the platform and access to the trails is limited although they do run regular bird walks there. This would seem to be the only viable option to bird the EOP.

Ramsey Cyn doesn't open until 8am so after grabbing breakfast I had 10 minutes to bird the lower reaches of Carr Cyn nearby: Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin's Kingbird, Red-tailed Hawk. At Ramsey: nesting Plumbeous Vireo, Bewick's and House Wrens, Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds at feeders, Magnificent seen up-canyon. Western Tanager, Western Wood-Pewee, heard one Trogon, American Robin, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cordilleran Flycatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, heard Dusky-capped, FLAME-COLORED TANAGER and a male Hepatic Tanager. A female Western was following Flame-colored which had been singing for a quite extended time but wasn't especially cooperative. Finally I got a couple of decent looks and one diagnostic picture. On the way down I added a Blue Grosbeak in the canyon and Greater Roadrunner in the foothills.

Flame-colored Tanager male

Checked out of the hotel and headed to Patagonia for an afternoon's birding. Say's Phoebe was pretty much the only thing at Sonoita rest stop. At the classical Patagonia Rest Stop south of town: Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Phainopepla, Rock Wren, Turkey Vulture, multiple Lucy's Warbler families, Yellow Warbler, White-throated Swift, (heard) Song Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Gray Hawk, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, one Thick-billed Kingbird in sycamores at the north end of the rest stop on the river side of the road. The Thick-billed was obviously the target here since it's been qute a few years since the Becard was in this location - based on an eBird query there really aren't that many reliable places for Thick-billed Kingbird, even in AZ.

Thick-billed Kingbird

I went to Patagonia itself and visited the Paton Center For Hummingbirds - with prominent standing displays by American Bird Conservancy, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) and Tucson Audubon who worked together to save this place: House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Curve-billed Thrasher, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpecker, Summer Tanagers, Gambel's Quail, Black-chinned/Broad-billed and one Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, Abert's Towhee, Yellow-breasted Chat, singing Bell's Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, a few Blue Grosbeak, White-winged Dove, singles of Inca and Common Ground-Dove.

Based on eBird reports and my own prior experience there didn't seem to be a lot of point wandering around the Patagonia-Sonoita Preserve in the afternoon, so my next major stop was going to be Willcox. I picked up a few provisions for the road at the Patagonia store and went back to the rest stop at Sonoita: Horned Lark and Lillian's Eastern Meadowlark were seen this time. Then I took the "scenic route" via Tombstone and Elgin - finding 2 Swainson's Hawk and a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and a Kestrel. I was hoping for more birds and since it took a while to go that route the interstate option would have been better. Yet again I was lightly rained on, this time when entering the Sulphur Springs Valley.
The only significant stop in Willcox is the golf course and the Cochise Lake. Although there was human activity on the golf course I did see Scaled Quail there plus Say's Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird. The lake was more productive: Ruddy Duck, Mallard including a northern subspecies intergrade, American White Pelican (unusual), 2 Green-winged Teal (unusual), 2 Redhead, Long-billed Curlew, Killdeer, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, White-faced Ibis, Black Tern (unusual) in what seemed to be first alternate plumage, Great-tailed Grackle, Horned Lark and a Baird's Sandpiper that was rather nondescript in alternate plumage but nevertheless rewarded extended study with a definitive ID and some mediocre pictures. Baird's are a lot easier as immatures, but the analogous shape to White-rumped combined with a generally brown-gray coloration and lack of prominent streaking finally sealed it. It lacks glaring positive ID marks, however. As the smallest shorebird on the pond it was frequently harassed by Killdeer and Avocets that were breeding there.

Baird's Sandpiper (record shot only)

Overnight at Motel 8 in Willcox for two nights. I've stayed here before but it's looking rather worn and the WiFi was cranky - there are other chain options near the interstate that you might opt for instead. There's also a new hotel along Business I-10 that is probably also a better bet.

Monday June 8th

Slower-than-desired start at Willcox but usefully I snagged Western Kingbird in hotel parking lot - the birds I had seen briefly the night before. They're otherwise outnumbered by Cassin's in the region. I saw a Coyote along I-10 but otherwise it was Chihuahuan Raven, Mourning Dove and one Swainson's Hawk. A Northern Mockingbird was along NM-80 then on downslope from the anonymous minor mountain range into the San Simon river valley: Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Scott's Oriole, Ash-throated Flycatcher, roosting Turkey Vulture, Lesser Nighthawk day-hunting. A Greater Roadrunner in the desert at valley floor. Since I was tardy I didn't skim State Line Road in Rodeo for desert birds and headed straight to Portal.

Along the approaches to Portal - Scaled Quail in an area where they overlap with Gambel's (and I've had Gambel's in pretty much that spot) but I failed to find any singing Botteri's Sparrows on the grassy slope below Portal. Birded Foothills Rd near the wash and saw Gambel's Quail, Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrow. Up into South Fork Cave Creek - I found a closed and gated road due to damage from the catastophic flooding the previous September. The first section up to the intact metal bridge across Cave Creek is quite drivable and it's a shame they didn't gate it at the bridge. The second section from the bridge to the parking area at the canyon looked impassable to a regular passenger car, however - it was clear the creek had used the road as an alternate creek bed. That's an extra 2 miles round-trip of hiking, something I would have preferred to do without. On this hike into Cave Creek: Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Blue-throated Hummingbird, Plumbeous and Hutton's Vireo, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse along lower section and two Black Bears that scampered up the hillside. In the "main" section of the canyon upstream from the picnic area it was only moderately active: Plumbeous Vireo, House and Bewick's Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, American Robin and Hermit Thrush, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, only one Western and one Summer Tanager, heard one Elegant Trogon from the east side of the canyon. A pair of Canyon Wrens were in the creek bed on way back down, which were my only ones for the trip despite hearing quite a few of them.

At the Jasper/Rodriguez feeders in Portal: Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-throated Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia and Northern Cardinal, House Finch and Blue Grosbeak, the inevitable White-winged Doves, Lucy's Warbler, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Crissal Thrashers were not to be seen but the Curve-billed was feeding a juvenile that kept well back in the mesquite.

I drove the paved road past the south fork and up towards Rustler Park during which it turns to dirt but had a fairly good surface with only a little washboarding. At the stream crossing where Paradise Road intersects: several Black-throated Gray Warblers, House Wren. At Barfoot Junction: Hepatic Tanager, Western Bluebird. At Rustler Park: Red-faced Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, Steller's Jay, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, and what sounded like the slow tooting of Flammulated Owls (or perhaps Northern Pygmy) which was intermittent enough to not entirely convince me and certainly not enough to let me track them down. After hiking around Rustler for a while and waiting at the entrance parking lot, I took the road down to Paradise: four Montezuma Quail were drinking at the ford just up from Paradise itself. At the Portal Store: Violet-green Swallow, Hooded Oriole, Cassin's Kingbird, Cactus Wren. I went owling along Cave Creek road after dusk and briefly heard Whiskered and Western Screech-Owls but it was cloudy and late in the season, which certainly didn't help. Well after sunset I took the dirt Foothills Road out of Portal north towards San Simon and I saw Great-horned Owl (near Portal) and Barn Owl (near San Simon) but completely struck out on Poorwills which was my main target here.


Another slow start but the rain system crossing I-10 and heading north apparently extended from Willcox all the way through Phoenix and made the late start less relevant - no flash flooding but a little pooling in places. For the 4th day out of 5 I'd been rained on but it was light rain only. I avoided the Tucson rush hour by taking the Sahuarita route which isn't necessarily significantly faster on local roads.

Florida Wash, downhill from Madera Canyon at 7:30am - finally saw Verdin, Bell's Vireo, Black-throated Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, several Broad-billed Hummingbird, heard at least two Botteri's Sparrows singing above the wash, Varied Bunting, Vultures and Ravens. I tracked down several Botteri's in the extensively grassy fields above the wash - Botteri's breed once the summer rains arrive so they were probably pretty enthusiastic about the recent weather system. At Proctor Road - Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Black-throatd Sparrow singing at parking lot, Lesser Goldfinch, Blue Grosbeak, several Varied Bunting, Bell's Vireo, Verdin, Summer Tanager, Hooded Oriole, Cassin's Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, probably heard another Botteri's sounding off in the nearby fields. A silent and otherwise unobtrusive Black-capped Gnatcatcher pair were foraging at the edge of the paved trail - the female showing white under-tail feathers with the diagnostic attenuation and the male with a black cap extending to just behind the eye. Only the female came out enough to attempt photos. Notice how worn she is in the photos - something I observed in adults of some other species this trip - in dire need of a complete prebasic molt in late summer.

Black-capped Gnatcatcher female

Santa Rita lodge: many hummingbirds but mostly Black-chinned and Broad-billed with only two Magnificent. Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Lesser Goldfinch and House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Wild Turkey (Gould's), White-winged Dove, Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbird. Activity died down mid-morning after initial burst as clouds cleared and it started to get considerably hotter. Up at Amphitheater parking lot and the stream-side trail that leads downhill from it: Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers aggressively mobbing a Mexican Jay, heard a Tanager sp, Western Wood-Pewee, Bridled Titmouse, heard Dusky-capped Flycatcher, flycatching Acorn Woodpecker, House Wren, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart+juv. With relatively few birds to distract me I noticed two butterflies having a territorial disagreement in a more open patch on the valley floor. Turned out to be Common Buckeye fighting with Tropical Buckeye - an intra-genus fight. Generally quieter around noon so I left Madera and went to the adjacent Florida Cyn.

Common and Tropical Buckeyes - territorial dispute

Varied Bunting male

Florida was even quieter: Bell's Vireo, Canyon and Bewick's Wren, Summer Tanager, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Gray Hawk, Costa's-ish Hummingbird at the desert edge of the canyon, and Canyon Wren up-slope. The trail was narrow and required a fair amount of bushwacking and there was no sign of the Rufous-crowned Warblers. However back at the parking lot there was another pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers. Greater Roadrunner on way down, as was a big (4-5') Sonoran Gopher Snake in the road that looked pretty intimidating despite being a non-venemous non-rattler. Fascinating gradient of color and pattern along its length.

Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran subspecies of the Gopher Snake


Florida Wash not at dawn, but no matter - Rufous-winged Sparrows next to the road, Canyon Towhee, Bell's Vireo, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrow, Varied Bunting singing. The Botteri's were considerably more elusive up-slope than the previous day but a cooperative pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers stood in for them. Some ongoing construction work was happening at Proctor and so it was less busy than Tuesday but still: Hooded Oriole (nest building); Summer Tanager; Varied Bunting; Cassin's Kingbird; then the full suite of flycatchers - Ash-throated, Brown-crested and Dusky-capped. The latter was nesting in the large sycamore. I was returning to the Proctor Road lot when I heard the Buff-collared Nightjar sound off twice - at 9am - and started to doubt myself until another birder I met there confirmed that he heard it earlier too.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Up at Santa Rita lodge it was slower than the previous day with two hummingbird species (Broad-billed, Black-chinned), both cowbirds, Arizona and Acorn Woodpeckers, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch, Gould's Wild Turkey, White-winged Dove in abundance, excessive bees at the feeders and also on me. Up at Amphitheater more Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Mexican Jay, House Wren, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Wood-Pewee. At the parking lot at the head of the road Painted Redstart, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Broad-billed Hummingbird. The latter two notably also found down at Florida Wash yesterday. Also heard Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

A quick stop for lunch then off to the Tucson Mountain Park with the intention of finding Gilded Flicker in the heat. Lots of White-winged Doves, also Gila Woodpecker, Verdin, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher. A lot of Saguaros in this habitat nevertheless didn't produce a ton of Flickers - I was trying two methods involving scanning as I drove slowly through habitat, combined with periodic stop-and-search. Finally I pulled off at a picnic area and sat in the shade for 30 minutes. Possible distant Purple Martins from here but otherwise Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, Gnatcatcher and more Gila Woodpeckers. Took me a while to locate the Gilded Flicker which obliged by calling as it flew between Saguaros.

Deciding that an up-and-down Mt Lemmon visit was simply going to take too long, time for an alternate plan. Across Tucson to the Lakeside Park where the previously reported Elegant Tern was still around. I can only imagine this tern had worked its way up the Santa Cruz River headwaters until it ran out of options. Also Vermilion Flycatcher, Barn and Cliff Swallows, Neotropic Cormorants, and some questionable Mallards (northern-ish).

Male Vermilion Flycatcher

An evening's birding at Madera's Proctor Road turned up the Buff-collared Nightjar within 10 minutes of arrival. Lesser Nighthawks were hunting over the desert on the ascent towards Madera from Continental. The Buff-collared moved down slope (west) from the initial singing spot - and probable roost - and I followed it down the road for a while. I suspect it's covering much the same ground as 2 years ago and might even be the same bird - some eBird reports have indicated the presence of a female. Common Poorwills and a Western Screech-Owl were also heard. Up to Amphitheater lot in Madera Cyn proper the activity was low - one Mexican Whip-poor-will gave one series and a Whiskered Screech-Owl one series of rapid tooting. Down at the Madera picnic area I might have heard an Elf Owl but again vocalizations were extremely limited. Lack of a full moon and/or the late date probably contributed to a rather lackluster noctural birding foray although Buff-collared Nightjar is always a very good bird.

Thursday June 11th

Thursday was the last birding day with an evening flight back to the East Coast. Plan was to bird Madera Cyn (Florida Wash and Proctor) early, then climb Mt Lemmon (2 hrs) followed by the northward leg towards Payson via Dudleyville/Winkelman and Globe and then descend into Phoenix via a visit to Sunflower. There's a decent number of road hours in that route, and in fact it gives rather less leeway on the day than you'd expect for an 8:30pm car rental return. Target species were limited: Juniper Titmouse, Gray Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay and Common Black Hawk.

Florida Wash was quieter at not-exactly-dawn than the last two days, perhaps reflecting dimished enthusiasm as the recent rain was replaced by the default heat. A Blue Grosbeak was an addition to the birds that I'd been seeing here recently but otherwise only a subset of the other species. In the grassy section just above the wash the Botteri's Sparrows had really quieted down and I had only snippets of distant song. One thing that did attract my attention for the second day in a row were this large white-and-red insects that were crawling over and between the mesquites. These turned out to be the 5th instar nymphs of the Giant Mesquite Bug - the last pre-adult stage. They were about an inch to an inch-and-a-half long and quite spectacular.

Giant Mesquite Bug

Construction work at Proctor Road meant a lack of species around the lot but down at the sycamores where the creek crossed Proctor Road: Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Hooded Oriole, Verdin, Bell's Vireo, Canyon and Spotted Towhees. A Summer Tanager was singing. I walked up trail and added more Summer Tanagers, a family group of Mexican Jays, a mewing call that might have been another Black-capped Gnatcatcher, House Wren. I made a quick visit to Santa Rita Lodge and in light of the reduced activity there and elsewhere in the canyon ended the visit to Madera Cyn. A late bonus was a low-flying Zone-tailed Hawk.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Despite the relatively large time investment I elected to drive up Mount Lemmon. Part of the time overhead involves chugging through Tucson, but it's still ~25 miles up the mountain to Summerhaven and Ski Valley. You could easily justify most of a day up on Mt Lemmon but this was a brief skim. I stopped briefly in the lower section at the Babad Do'ag pull out to check for birds but heard only Verdin and given the time I skipped the two Molino Basin/Campground stops. I next stopped at Middle Bear picnic area in Bear Canyon, which is a rather cooler slice of pine-oak habitat in a valley. Quite a lot of adults-feeding-juveniles here including Black-throated Gray Warbler, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch and Hutton's Vireo, with Yellow-eyed Junco all but begging for food from me. I didn't stay here too long, but it was a useful stop and a place I've visited before. Up the rest of the way to Summerhaven where I grabbed a quick slice of pizza for lunch and looked for the alleged hummingbird feeders outside the adjacent shop. None to be found, although I did add Broad-tailed Hummingbird as a fly-over. That ringing sound they make in flight makes that sort of ID possible. Up at the Iron Door restaurant in Ski Valley I had more Broad-tailed but nothing else of note, although a Western Tanager flew across the road as I started to descend.

A rest stop at Chula Vista picnic area was somewhat birdy - an active Pygmy Nuthatch group including one agitated bird apparently concerned about a Western Bluebirds. The Bluebirds themselves had a dark and streaky juvenile. Violet-green Swallows, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, House Wren were the other birds here. Then as time was seriously marching on I dropped out of the mountain and headed west through northern Tucson towards Oro Valley and the road to Globe. I had a single Rock Wren perched roadside as I made decent time down to the valley floor and the traffic of Tucson while skirting downtown via the foothills to the north side.

The Oro Valley - to the north-west of Tucson - is a classical example of (sub)urban Tucson sprawl so it took me a while to clear traffic lights and get moving along the road to Oracle. I was taking a route I had traveled during the "big western flycatcher trip" of 2006, albeit traveling backwards. It was a long drive, even longer than I remember in no small part because it was hot and not at all birdy. I was stuck behind an RV trailer up through Oracle but then the road settled into the 55-ish mph zone up through Dudleyville, Winkelman and Globe. The interior mountain desert here followed the Gila River ("a" Gila River since there seem to be multiple) which is outflow from the San Carlos Reservoir. In 100 degree heat bird activity appeared to be minimal, as assessed by anything at all flying around - not even vultures or the previously ubiquitous Mourning/White-winged Doves. After Dudleyville the road leaves the Gila River and climbs the Pinal Mountains (see the AZFO piece on Birding the Pinals) in Tonto NF. The habitat starts to include a few sycamores and might contain some interesting birds in the canyons up in the mountains here. At the top of the range the habitat transitioned to Pinyon-Juniper. From there things drop down into Globe (with the slowest Subway restaurant imaginable) and I headed further north via AZ-188.

Unless you want to bird the Pinals I suggest taking the faster and slightly more boring route to the Sunflower-Mt.Ord area via the eastern Phoenix metro area (Mesa, Chandler).

From Globe AZ-188 follows the western shore of "Roosevelt Lake" which is basically a reservoir holding water that flows into the Salt River and then traverses Phoenix. It was a tiny bit birdier here with a few doves etc but I was short of time and didn't stop to check - there are no notable hotspots near here. Eventually I made it to AZ-87 south of Payson and turned south along this fast road that traverses the mountains. Fairly shortly I reached the dirt road at Mount Ord. Back in 2006 this had my lifer Gray Vireo and while I could certainly hear them I could not see any of them convincingly - I did have some vireo-esque birds flit between shrubs. Instead Western Scrub-Jay and Black-chinned Sparrow were added to the year/trip list. Further down AZ-87 at Sunflower I failed to find Common Black Hawk in the very late afternoon but saw Bell's Vireo, Phainopepla and heard Summer Tanager. There was just, just enough time to make it to downtown Phoenix and Encanto Park so I gunned it out of the mountains and made it to Encanto Park just after sunset to find Rosy-faced Lovebirds roosting in the palms just where I had found them a couple of years previously. A Green Heron flew by, some origins-questionable Canada Geese were on the lake with a lot of extremely questionable Mallard-ish ducks. At this point it was getting dark so I rinsed off the car, threw out the trash and hopped on an overnight flight with Delta into JFK. The plane was full so I was grateful I had opted for an inexpensive upgrade to Business Class rather than a middle seat in Cattle Class (the cost of the upgrade merely brought the ticket in line with other flight options).

Trip List

"Listing rules" - only birds that I have seen make my life list, year list or state list. Birds that I've only heard make the trip list: in this case the small owls and the goatsuckers. "Raven rules" - I refuse to agonize over every single Raven sp. in Arizona so my approximation is that canyon-montane birds are Common Ravens, desert birds are Chihuahuan and foothills birds are anyone's guess. This is likely not correct in every single instance but probably gets it fairly close much of the time. The trip list could have been a little longer if I spent more time hunting down water birds - but this really isn't the point of an se.AZ trip.

152 species is not an especially high trip count, especially containing as it does a number of heard-only species, but reflects the almost total lack of migrants at this time. Nevertheless it contained one life bird (Tufted Flycatcher, USA #710), another national rarity (Flame-colored Tanager), and some other good birds like Montezuma Quail and range-restricted AZ specialties.

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos one - locally rare - at Willcox Cochise Lake
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus Tucson
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias singles, riparian
Green Heron Butorides virescens fly-by at Encanto Park in Phoenix
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi one flock at Willcox Cochise Lake
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura common
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos widespread riparian, some Mexican, some Northern intergrades
Green-winged Teal Anas crecca two - unusual - at Willcox Cochise Lake
Redhead Aythya americana two at Willcox Cochise Lake
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis Willcox Cochise Lake
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii Ramsey and Cave Creek Cyns
Gray Hawk Buteo plagiatus Patagonia, San Pedro riparian
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni Sierra Vista and Sulphur Springs Valley
Zone-tailed Hawk Buteo albonotatus Ramsey Cyn and Madera Cyn
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis uncommon lowland and a few in Chiricahuas at higher altitude
American Kestrel Falco sparverius very uncommon lowland
Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo Ramsey Cyn and Madera Cyn
Scaled Quail Callipepla squamata uncommon lowland
Gambel's Quail Callipepla gambelii uncommon widespread
Montezuma Quail Cyrtonyx montezumae four above Paradise in Chiricahuas
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus nesting at Willcox Cochise Lake
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus nesting at Willcox Cochise Lake
American Avocet Recurvirostra americana nesting at Willcox Cochise Lake
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus one at Willcox Cochise Lake
Baird's Sandpiper Calidris bairdii one - temporally rare - at Willcox Cochise Lake
Elegant Tern Sterna elegans one - locally rare - in Tucson
Black Tern Chlidonias niger one - temporally rare-ish - at Willcox Cochise Lake
Rock Pigeon Columba livia uncommon (sub)urban
Band-tailed Pigeon Columba fasciata uncommon - one at Carr Cyn, several at Cave Creek, two in Santa Ritas
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto uncommon (sub)urban and agricultural, locally common
Inca Dove Columbina inca uncommon lowland
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina uncommon lowland
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica widespread, borderline abundant
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura widespread, borderline abundant
Rosy-faced Lovebird Agapornis roseicollis Encanto Park in Phoenix
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus San Pedro riparian
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus various desert, especially below Madera Cyn
Barn Owl Tyto alba Foothills Rd near San Simon
Western Screech-Owl Otus kennicottii heard in Chiricahuas and Madera Cyn
Whiskered Screech-Owl Otus trichopsis heard in Chiricahuas and Madera Cyn
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus Foothills Rd near Portal
Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis desert, especially around Continental and desert below Madera Cyn
Common Poorwill Phalaenoptilus nuttallii heard at Portal Road in Madera Cyn
Buff-collared Nightjar Antrostromus ridgwayi heard at Portal Road in Madera Cyn
Mexican Whip-poor-will Antrostomus arizonae heard in Huachucas and Santa Ritas
White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis Patagonia and the major canyons
Broad-billed Hummingbird Cynanthus latirostris locally common, mainly in canyons
Violet-crowned Hummingbird Amazilia violiceps Paton's in Patagonia
Blue-throated Hummingbird Lampornis clemenciae two in South Fork Cave Creek
Magnificent Hummingbird Eugenes fulgens uncommon
Black-chinned Hummingbird Archilochus alexandri locally common in canyons and lowland
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus Mt Lemmon
Elegant Trogon Trogon elegans Ramsey Cyn and South Fork Cave Creek
Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus locally common
Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis common
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris uncommon in lowland and lower canyons
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus uncommon in canyons
Arizona Woodpecker Picoides arizonae uncommon, singles in canyons
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus uncommon in canyons
Gilded Flicker Colaptes chrysoides one at Tucson Mountain Park
Tufted Flycatcher Mitrephanes phaeocercus LIFE: upper Ramsey Cyn
Greater Pewee Contopus pertinax Carr Cyn
Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus common in canyons
Cordilleran Flycatcher Empidonax occidentalis uncommon in upper canyons (pine-oak)
Buff-breasted Flycatcher Empidonax fulvifrons Reef CG/Carr Cyn
Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya Miller Cyn and Sonoita
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus riparian
Dusky-capped Flycatcher Myiarchus tuberculifer the commonest Myiarchus in canyons on this trip
Ash-throated Flycatcher Myiarchus cinerascens uncommon in lowlands
Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus uncommon in canyons
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher Myiodynastes luteiventris a few in each canyon
Cassin's Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans by far the most common Kingbird - common in lower canyons and foothills
Thick-billed Kingbird Tyrannus crassirostris Patagonia Rest Stop
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis Willcox, possibly a few other (sub)urban locations
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus only a handful in canyon foothills and agricultural
Bell's Vireo Vireo bellii common in desert and lower canyons especially Madera Cyn
Gray Vireo Vireo vicinior heard only on Mt Ord (3+ individuals), probably seen moving between bushes
Plumbeous Vireo Vireo plumbeus common in canyons
Hutton's Vireo Vireo huttoni uncommon in canyons
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus Comfort Spring at Carr Cyn
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri Rustler Park
Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica Mt Ord
Mexican Jay Aphelocoma wollweberi canyons
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus desert/lowlands
Common Raven Corvus corax Canyon/montane
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris Patagonia and Willcox Cochise Lake
Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina Portal and Mt Lemmon
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota Sunflower and a few other highway overpasses near water
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica widespread
Bridled Titmouse Baeolophus wollweberi canyons
Verdin Auriparus flaviceps desert
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus canyons
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis riparian and canyons
Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea upper canyons
Brown Creeper Certhia americana canyons
Cactus Wren Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus desert
Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus one at Patagonia Rest Stop and one on Mt Lemmon.
Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus canyons(!) but mostly heard and not seen
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii canyons and riparian
House Wren Troglodytes aedon common in canyons
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea South Fork Cave Creek
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polioptila melanura desert
Black-capped Gnatcatcher Polioptila nigriceps Madera Cyn (Proctor Rd) and Florida Cyn
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana Carr CG and Mt Lemmon
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus upper canyons
American Robin Turdus migratorius canyons
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos (sub)urban and lowlands
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre lowlands
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris just in a couple of (sub)urban locations
Phainopepla Phainopepla nitens Patagonia Rest Stop and Mt Ord
Olive Warbler Peucedramus taeniatus Ruster-Barfoot junction
Lucy's Warbler Oreothlypis luciae desert
Virginia's Warbler Oreothlypis virginiae Comfort Spring at Carr Cyn
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park
Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia riparian
Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata one on Mt Lemmon
Grace's Warbler Setophaga graciae Reef CG/Carr Cyn, heard in other canyons
Black-throated Gray Warbler Setophaga nigrescens Reef CG/Carr Cyn, Mt Lemmon, other canyons
Red-faced Warbler Cardellina rubrifrons Ramsey Canyon (Huachucas) and Rustler Park (Chiricahuas)
Painted Redstart Myioborus pictus uncommon in canyons but probably the commonest warbler throughout
Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens uncommon in riparian
Hepatic Tanager Piranga flava two or more in Ramsey Cyn
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra uncommon in lower canyons and riparian
Western Tanager Piranga ludoviciana uncommon in canyons
Flame-colored Tanager Piranga bidentata one male in lower Ramsey Canyon
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus common in canyons
Canyon Towhee Melozone fuscus uncommon but widespread
Abert's Towhee Melozone aberti San Pedro House, Patagonia
Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps Florida Wash, Patagonia
Rufous-winged Sparrow Peucaea carpalis Florida Wash
Botteri's Sparrow Peucaea botterii Florida Wash
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina Chiricahuas
Black-chinned Sparrow Spizella atrogularis Mount Ord
Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata uncommon to common desert
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia uncommon riparian
Yellow-eyed Junco Junco phaeonotus common in canyons
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis uncommon lowland
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus deserts
Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus various canyons, low numbers
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea various lowland, common at San Pedro House
Varied Bunting Passerina versicolor Madera and Florida Canyons
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus Sierra Vista wetlands
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna Sonoita
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus uncommon (sub)urban and agricultural
Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus Madera Cyn at Santa Rita Lodge
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater unfortunately widespread
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus Portal, Madera Cyn
Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii lower Carr Cyn
Scott's Oriole Icterus parisorum one in desert, NM
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus widespread
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria widespread lower canyons
House Sparrow Passer domesticus widespread (sub)urban
Probables and near misses
Flammulated Owl Otus flammeolus probably heard with slow daytime tooting in Chiricahuas
Elf Owl Micrathene whitneyi probably heard short vocalization in Madera Cyn
Costa's Hummingbird Calypte costae perched on ocatillo at Florida Canyon at edge of desert habitat
Purple Martin Progne subis Tucson Mountain Park, probable flock seen in distance
All images and text © Phil Jeffrey 2015. All rights reserved.