Southeast Arizona, 9-11 Aug 2013
by Henry Detwiler

Three great days touring southeast Arizona with David Wilbur in search of specialty birds and awesome scenery!

128 species seen  Click here for bird checklist

Magnificent Hummingbird

David and I began our birding adventure on Friday, driving along the sparrow-lined Mt. Hopkins Road to Montosa Canyon. Lucky for us, most of the sparrows were Rufous-winged! Despite the late hour (11:30 a.m.) the birds were singing heartily in the canyon, and one of our first good sightings was a male Varied Bunting perched high in a tree. Walking along a side road we watched a female Black-capped Gnatcatcher and a family of Cactus Wrens. Up on the mountainsides Scott's Orioles were singing, and a pair of Hooded Orioles flew into a stream-side tree.

After grabbing a bite to eat back in Continental we headed up to Madera Canyon and watched a procession of the regulars at the Santa Rita Lodge and the Madera Kubo, including Blue Grosbeak, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, and a Magnificent Hummingbird that even came down for a dust bath at our feet.

Arizona Woodpecker

A visiting birder pointed out a Hooded Oriole nest right above the road full of chirping babies. Down in the experimental grasslands we heard our first of several Botteri's Sparrows

In Box Canyon we had Rock and Canyon Wrens, and the first of many Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Canyon Towhees, and Varied Buntings. A walk down to the watering hole in the eastern portion of the canyon yielded a surprising Yellow-billed Cuckoo above the dam and a Montezuma Quail calling (a whirring trill) on the hillside above us.

At the Paton's we enjoyed watching dozens of Broad-billed Hummingbirds and the occasional Violet-crowned Hummer. Scores of Lesser Goldfinches were mobbing the seed and thistle feeders. Larry told us about a nesting Zone-tailed Hawk with babies nearby, so we drove down the road to see them. Farther on, we found one of the Thick-billed Kingbirds at the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us on Saturday morning as we left for California Gulch. The final stretch down into the gulch was a bit rough, but our rental passed muster. Walking through the riparian area we had Brown-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and lost of Summer tanagers. Once into the canyon we heard Five-striped Sparrow singing right away. We had good looks and heard up to five individuals before retracing our steps.

PhainopeplaOur next stop was Sycamore Canyon. The water was flowing in parts of the canyon, and there were birds, frogs, and fish in abundance. We spotted Rufous-crowned Sparrows, two Arizona Woodpeckers, Black-headed and Blue Grosbeak, Canyon Wren, and hordes of Phainopeplas. Once we were 1/2 mile into the canyon I did my pygmy-owl imitation and we were mobbed by Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bridled Titmouse, Wilson's Warbler, Painted Redstart, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Warbling Vireo, and Bewick's Wren. And then the real McCoy starting tooting back at us from across the canyon. There were also a good number of dragonflies and damselflies along the stream, including my first-ever Serpent Clubtail.

At the Rio Rico Road Ponds we spotted several Tropical Kingbirds, one of which flew up to greet us with it's twittering call.

Our final stop for the day was at the Kino Springs Golf Resort ponds across from the clubhouse. The western-most of the two ponds was hopping! Dozens of Lazuli Buntings fed in the reeds around the water, and just before we departed the previously-reported Painted Bunting showed up. What a gaudy and striking bird--my photos were from far away and didn't come close to capturing its showy colors. Up on the berm around the lake we saw a MacGillivray's Warbler first, followed by Lucy's, Wilson's, and finally a Yellow. Black-chinned SparrowMore Tropical Kingbirds called from the other side of the pond and another Yellow-billed Cuckoo showed up on the way out. Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Phainopepla, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Northern Cardinal rounded out the bird show.

After a fine Mexican meal and cervezas at Las Vigas Restaurant in downtown Nogales we headed out for some night birding. Either the late season or the stiff winds dampened the owl and nightjar show, but we were happy to find David's first-ever Diamond-backed Rattlesnake and a ringtail.

On Sunday morning we drove north to Reddington Pass. We passed numerous mountain bikers during our ascent and soon reached the juniper zone, greeted by Bushtits, Lark Sparrows, and Western Scrub-Jays. A Gray Flycatcher had us dreaming of Gray Vireo until we got a good view. David's second life view of a Western Diamondback in as many days tried to cross the the rocky road undetected. After looking through bushes and bushes full of Lark and Black-throated Sparrows for a Black-chinned Sparrow, we cried Uncle and headed back downhill and then over to Mt. Lemmon.

Another Arizona Woodpecker at Molino Basin was a fine surprise. In Bear Canyon we located our first of two mixed bird flocks. David and I perched precariously on the hillside and ticked off White-breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpecker, Wilson's Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Bushtit, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Lesser Goldfinch. Yellow-eyed Juncos were plentiful here as well as higher up the mountain.

At Rose Canyon Lake we watched a Common Black-Hawk scoop up a fish and take its prize into the forest. A short while later the raptor returned, perching on a tall pine overlooking the shoreline. Up along Bear Wallow Road we found an even larger mixed flock than in Bear Canyon. Here, from a much more comfortable vantage point, we were able to observe Red-faced, many Hermit, and Townsend's Warblers, Lesser Goldfinches, Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos, and Mountain Chickadees. A quick stop at the Iron Door gave us Broad-tailed Hummingbird visiting the feeders.

As we drove back downhill late that afternoon the thunderclouds opened up on us. We couldn't see but 20 yards in front of the car--and the temperature dropped to a cool 60 degrees.

Back down at the Tucson airport it all seemed like a dream, since the temperature was a toasty 103 and the sun beat down on us mercilessly. What a weekend it had been--126 bird species, some fine reptiles and other beasts, excellent dinners, and great company!

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