As I progressively inched back towards California, I figured it was well worth my time to look around in Arizona for a few days. I had just recently finished up with "terrible Texas" and needed a pick-me-up.... or at least some year birds.
I had my eye on a few year birds, I won't lie, even though I had reached my goal. Yep, I had hit 600 species finally this year and with that goal achieved, now I was just on clean-up duty to see if there were any more year birds I could snag as I headed west. However, there were no potential year birds at Willcox and yet, considering I was driving right by, it would be daft to pass this place by.
Here's a basic map showing the golf course and the main pond which are attractive to both birds and birders:
As I was nearing the ponds, I noticed a swarm of... something... along the shoulder bordering the golf course. I slowly passed by, doing my best rollin' smooth n' creepin routine. Woah, they were all SCALED QUAIL! I stopped and snapped a picture of one of the smaller flocks:
However, then they started to scatter... towards me! I counted between 40-50 in this one flock; I had never seen so many quail (of any species!) together like this. Some even posed for pics:
Checking the main pond, I was surprised to find it completely void of shorebirds. Ducks, though, were another thing. There were hundreds of dabblers (NORTHERN SHOVELER, AMERICAN WIGEON, etc). Some divers were present too including BUFFLEHEAD, RING-NECKED DUCK, and this backlit (but uncommon) RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:
Another bird caught my eye... a CLIFF/CAVE SWALLOW flying around! Although I couldn't get good enough photos, I thought that it looked fairly good for CAVE SWALLOW:
This LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE couldn't have chosen a more richly-colored background:
I had left the pond and was driving back past the golf course when I noticed a flock of birds flying in behind me. I stopped, raised my bins, and found they were white-cheeked geese. Not really knowing how uncommon or rare they might be, I turned around and returned to the pond. What I found was... confusing:
They were white-cheeked geese, that's for sure (that's what you can can Cackling/Canada geese), but there were multiple sizes of birds present including some very small guys. Cacklers? Long story short, I believe there were 23 hutchinsii CACKLING GEESE and 6 moffitti CANADA GEESE. It was then that it dawned on me how uncommon this sighting was. Twenty-three CACKLING GEESE... in SE Arizona? Are you kidding me? We'll see how things progress from here (like if I'm banned from the birding community for misidentifying small geese).
After Ashley arrived, we headed for Florida Canyon in the Santa Ritas. Our one and only target was the RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS that are usually present about a mile up the canyon. Being a long-time nemesis bird for her, this is where we went first. We hiked way up the trail... no warblers. We milled around... no warblers. We started coming to grips with missing this species yet again. Demoralized, we turned and started back down.
At one corner we stopped; there was this faint chipping sound coming from a nearby yucca. At the based of it... a RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER! It wasn't long before another one popped into view. For the next 10-15 minutes, we enjoyed views of these rare warblers at no more than 5-6 feet away:
As you would expect, that greatly improved our moods. Maybe we'll have luck finding our other targets too? As we headed back down the canyon, I stopped for a few butterflies; the first being a MEXICAN YELLOW (I think):
Also this FATAL METALMARK which, as it happens, is a species I tend to see every trip up this particular canyon:
With higher hopes, we then headed for one of the SINALOA WRENS that has been present this fall. However, the return of the Cory Curse reimplemented itself swiftly and we thoroughly missed the bird. Luckily, we were present for the first ABA record back in 2009 in Patagonia so we were essentially just missing a year bird. But still....
Our next target didn't treat us any better. We wandered out to the San Rafael Grasslands in hopes of turning up a BAIRD'S SPARROW. Instead of finding this year bird, a rock ripped something out from under the car (usually not a good thing). After an emergency fix involving electrical tape that I found in my trunk, we decided we had had enough and headed back to Tucson. The clock was ticking and we were done with AZ.
After all of this... I had scored exactly zero year birds in Arizona this time through. I wasn't too worried though, there were two potential life birds waiting for us in California. It was finally time to return to the GOST.