phil jeffrey:: Arizona, June 2015 trip report
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.
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 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.
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
o/n Sierra Vista again
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.
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.
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.
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 subspecies of the Gopher Snake
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.
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.
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).
|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|
|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|
|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|