Saturday, 30 April 2016

Arizona Day 3: Madera Canyon to Arivaca Lake

Began the day along Proctor Road at the base of Madera Canyon, an area that has some decent Riparian woodland with a small stream and lots of bushes and scrub. In the recent past this has been the place for Buff-collared Nightjar but there hasn’t been any news so far this year. 

Proctor Road Habitat

Greater Roadrunner

So we took a walk here for an hour and saw our second and third Greater Roadrunners of the day – the first one was in the driveway of the Esplendor Resort. I’m not going to talk about this place as it is currently being renovated, and boy does it need it. Maybe when the refurbishment has been done it will look something like it does on their website..!!!!  

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Anyway, yes nice views of Roadrunner here, as well as PhainopeplaBlue-grey Gnatcatcher, a fine Zone-tailed Hawk flying overhead, Hooded Oriole, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and several Wilson’s Warblers.

The fabled hills of Madera Canyon 

 So afterwards we drove up into Madera Canyon and walked along the Super trail that took us high up into the hills in search of trogons. Again we bumped into people who had heard them but we didn’t get a sniff again. However, it was a lovely walk and we thoroughly enjoyed a singing Black-throated Grey Warbler that patrolled an area of oaks and conifers next to the path. 

Black-throated Grey Warbler

A pair of Hutton’s Vireos were also confiding, a pair of Rufous-crowned Sparrows showed nicely, and I sussed out a call that had been bothering me for a few days – Dusky-capped Flycatcher being the culprit. Oh and our first Hammond’s Flycatcher was well and truly nailed this morning. These flycatchers are really tricky and we’ve let a few go already without identifying them but this one did call and the long primaries, tail and bill length all pointed to this species.

Black-headed Grosbeak is easily seen here at feeders.

We checked out the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge, seeing much the same as yesterday before heading to Ruby Road. The idea was to check out the road to California Gulch for Five-striped Sparrow despite the dearth of recent sightings. However, part of this road is closed for construction so we ended up heading to Arivaca Lake, stopping for lunch in a little diner along the way in the middle of nowhere. As we turned off the main road onto a dirt track we drove across rolling grass-covered hills and stopped along a line of small trees and found a Western Wood Pewee, yet more Rufous-winged Sparrows and saw our first Vermillion Flycatchers

Rufous-winged Sparrow

A small pond in a valley below the road held a pair of Lesser Scaups – the only ones of the trip. 

Lake Arivaca

The main lake was very picturesque and we quickly notched up American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Duck, and both Green & Great Blue Herons. The surrounding trees held Summer Tanager, Western Kingbird, Audubon’s Warblers, Lark Sparrows, Lazuli Bunting, Black Phoebe, Belted Kingfisher, and just before we left a Killdeer flew in.

Pied-billed Grebes were very confiding


We left here in the late afternoon and called in to Safeway to purchase a picnic for our evening excursion back in Madera Canyon. After overindulging in yoghurt, cheese, fruit and gorgeous brown bread we walked back up to Santa Rita Lodge and waited until 6.50pm before an obliging Elf Owl popped its head out of its nest hole in a telegraph post. 

The tiny Elf Owl at its Madera Canyon Stake-Out

Afterwards, we took all of 10 minutes before spotlighting a Whiskered Screech-Owl perched on a bare branch at the edge of the car park. I didn’t expect this much-wanted bird to be so easy, if only I could say the same about the Mexican Whip-Poor-Wills calling at the top of the canyon. Well, they just called and called and never left the shelter of their section of forest at the top of a steep slope. I was wondering if they are a bit easier later in the season? Anyway, we managed to get back to the motel at a reasonable time as we needed to get packed and ready for an early morning departure to Patagonia.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Arizona Day 2: Sonoran Desert to Madera Canyon

One bird I was sort of concerned about seeing was Gilded Flicker as you have to get to the Sonoran Desert to find the Saguaro cactus that this bird inhabits. I think that there wasn’t much info as it is generally common in the correct habitat and you’d have to be a dummy to miss it….? Well, just after first light I tried to find Tucson Mountain Park and stupidly relied on my satnav that took me to an address out in the middle of nowhere, fortunately in perfect habitat next to some desert museum thingy. 

Sonoran Desert and Saguaro cactus habitat

A singing Curve-billed Thrasher got the ball rolling, and we followed that with scope views of Cactus Wren and Gila Woodpecker, watched a flew Bullock’s Orioles fly past and saw a Canyon Towhee

Gilded Flicker - note the yellow underwing

All of a sudden I heard a sharp ”keek keek” call and frantically scanned the surrounding saguaros and sure enough it was a Gilded Flicker. Oh boy. It was a little distant to begin with but after walking closer another bird appeared and promptly flew towards us and landed in a nearby dead tree. Needless to say I was very pleased to nail this bird. Delighted with this and with rumbling stomachs we returned to the hire car, seeing Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and a Verdin along the way, and drove some 40 minutes back to the motel for breakfast.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher


We left the wonderful Hampton Inn and hit the freeway for what turned out to be an hours drive south to the fabled Madera Canyon. The drive from the freeway took us across an open range of grassland and bushes with the towering Santa Rita Mountains forming a stunning backdrop. Once at the mouth of the canyon the road wound uphill through lovely forest a few miles to Santa Rita Lodge. We parked in the Madera Picnic Area and walked a few hundred metres, trying to ignore numerous Bridled Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Painted Redstart as we wanted to get to the feeding station quickly. There’s a shop here and a viewing area overlooking bird tables, hummer feeders and a pond where numerous birds were on show. I ticked off the common Broad-billed, as well as Magnificent and Blue-throated Hummingbirds in rapid succession and must admit my former indifference to this family now seems a little silly. So yes, my name is Nick and I love hummers!!! 

Broad-billed Hummingbirds

There were also crowds of Pine Siskins, House Finches, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Mexican Jays and even a gang of Wild Turkeys present.

Leaving here we drove to the top car park and set off up the Carrie Nation Trail in search of the recently arrived Elegant Trogon (now split as Coppery-tailed Trogon from the Mexican birds) but after several hours hiking up into the hills we drew a blank. Yet we did get Townsend’s Warbler, Plumbeous and Hutton’s Vireos, Hepatic Tanager, Ash-throated and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Hermit Thrush, Cassin’s Finch and more Painted RedstartsBut the best bird was our first Arizona Woodpecker feeding next to the path - nice!

Driving towards our next motel at Rio Rico I stopped the car when an American Kestrel flew over and landed on a telegraph pole. This turned out to be very fortunate as we found a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows, a bird I was very keen to see. Little did I know how common this bird is in the right habitat as well! We eventually ended up at the not-so-splendid Esplendor Resort an hour later and ate a poor meal at a restaurant recommended to us by the receptionist. Oh well!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Arizona Day 1 - Mount Lemmon

So welcome to my Arizona blog report. I have to say that Arizona is a great birding destination with numerous exceedingly localised species of predominantly Mexican origin that just dip their toes over the border and into the USA here. Its not a particularly cheap destination and i've found prices are similar to those in the UK really as far as accommodation and food are concerned. I've got a great rental vehicle, some good friends with me and a yearning to nail a bunch of lifers to fill in some of those gaps in my Sibley Guide. So let's go birding.....

Gila Woodpecker - An Arizona speciality and lifer no. 1

The 6am breakfast in the motel was pretty good, although we were more impressed with seeing a few birds around the car park outside. The first lifer of the trip for me was Gila Woodpecker, and we also saw a Phainopepla here as well. The drive up to the base of Mount Lemmon took around 40 minutes and as the road began to rise quite steeply we made our first stop at a scenic overlook. The view looking down to a sprawling Tucson was very impressive and the surrounding habitat of arid, rocky hills dotted with cacti looked very interesting but all we saw here was a brief Lucy’s Warbler, an even briefer Townsend’s Warbler looking really out of its comfort zone and obviously on migration, a few Chipping Sparrows and a pair of Black-throated Sparrows attending a nest.

Black-throated Sparrow

The next stop higher up was more eventful as the steep cliffs above the road had a fine Canyon Wren singing away, whilst Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Zone-tailed Hawk, Cassin’s Vireo and a Verdin all put in an appearance. Further up at the Cypress Picnic Site we saw a number of goodies and in particular our first Grace’s Warbler showed exceedingly well as it sang from the surrounding pine trees. 

Loved this Grace's Warbler today.

The first of many Yellow-eyed Juncos was also much appreciated, and there was also our first cracking Painted Redstart singing its heart out. Other species seen here included Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, House Wren and Bridled Titmouse.

A confiding White-breasted Nuthatch

A particularly favourite trail of mine was along Incinerator Road where another much closer Painted Redstart was seen, although I totally messed up the very good photo opportunities presented. 

Painted Redstart

However, just around the corner our first Red-faced Warblers got our pulses racing a bit and what a stunning bird this was. I have to say this bird, the redstart and Grace’s Warbler were a fine trio of birds to have seen so quickly – I’m loving this Arizona birding already! 

Red-faced Warbler is a stunning bird

Anyway, one bird I was a little concerned about finding was Virginia’s Warbler as it seemed to be the one bird that was missing from many of the tour reports I had been reading. Well I needn’t have worried as I found a very confiding feeding amongst some low bushes that lingered long enough for me to fire off a few record shots. Can’t say I truly nailed the photos but they will have to do. 

Very pleased to see this Virginia's Warbler

Also along here were Hutton’s Vireo, Brown Creeper, more Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebird, American Robin, Northern FlickerViolet-green Swallow, more juncos, and a very confiding Northern Flicker.

Pygmy Nuthatch

Yellow-eyed Junco was common
Northern Flicker

We had lunch at Rose Canyon and found this site to be rather quiet although a calling Coopers Hawk was nice, and there was also a Western Osprey, Audubon’s Warbler and some Pine Siskins

Cooper's Hawk

After our picnic we returned to the motel in the late afternoon and enjoyed good looks at a Cactus Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Bronzed Cowbird and the Phainopepla

A confiding Cactus Wren

After dinner I drove back up to Mount Lemmon for our first owling session of the trip, which turned out to be a dismal failure with heard only Mexican Whip-Poor-Will and Flammulated Owl – oh dear!

Great scenery is guaranteed in Arizona