We started out with some birding straight away... the deserts west of Tucson hosted goodies like this GILDED FLICKER peeking from behind a saguaro:
We think it was probably the first time that species had been seen on this tour itinerary.
From there we ventured up into the Chiricahuas, an isolated but impressive mountain range tucked into the southeast corner of the state. We wasted little time in getting up to a particular spot where, lucky for us, a very rare SLATE-THROATED REDSTART had been hanging out. It took a little effort but we eventually found the bird singing and calling. Photos were distant but diagnostic:
Finding this species can be a nightmare so imagine our excitement when John heard some of these on the rocky slope near the road. Before too long, we even managed to lay our eyes on them which is no small feat!
Portal gave us another bonus, a pair of THICK-BILLED KINGBIRDS had returned to "downtown" and we got excellent views of both. You can see the big bill, pale lemon color on the belly, dark facemask, etc:
here), our tour was more of a general birding tour. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean we skimped on the owls... here's a sampler of what we saw:
1) GREAT HORNED OWL:
Portal in the Chiricahuas
2) ELF OWL:
Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas
3) SPOTTED OWL:
Miller Canyon in the Huachucas
4) FLAMMULATED OWL:
Cave Creek area in the Chiricahuas
5) NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL:
6) WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL:
Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas
And yet, I don't think I managed photos of the WESTERN SCREECH-OWL and BURROWING OWL which we also had. Along with MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL, COMMON POORWILL, and LESSER NIGHTHAWK, it was a great tour for nightbirds!
While we were high in the Chiricahuas, we were surprised to find this female WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER lurking about. This isn't a common species to find there at this point of the season and we wondered if maybe a pair or two might stick around and breed there this year. Here's the lady:
I might insert this photo here... the quintessential view of Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas. What a beautiful place:
Here's another view showing my first snowfall in the Huachucas:
We attempted to find one of the TUFTED FLYCATCHERS that had been around but alas, it looked like the cold snap had maybe pushed it to another area. We still enjoyed the many BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS hanging around though. This is another range-restricted species found mostly in SE Arizona:
In some of the grasslands near Sierra Vista, we searched for (and found!) BOTTERI'S SPARROWS:
Pretty nice of him to perch with a big, fat green plant in the way, huh? Still, it's a fun species most folks certainly don't get a chance to see often.
We birded at the San Pedro House too and wow, the colors were vibrant; here is a collection of BLUE GROSBEAK, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, HOUSE FINCH, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, and a LAZULI BUNTING:
Later yet in the tour, we visited Patagonia Lake State Park which, we were hoping, was hosting a couple of target birds. It didn't take long for us to discover that our hunches were correct... there was a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET singing near where we parked:
It may not look like much, but this tyrannulet is a type of flycatcher that is only found in a couple of southern states like Arizona and Texas. It's named "Northern" because, well, it's found farther north than the Southern one. Remember, it's all relative.
Just a few steps away, we looked up to find this COMMON BLACK HAWK doing lazy circles above us. Woah! This wasn't a species we were expecting to find on tour but we all had great, walk-away looks:
This is a species I had only seen once or twice before so it was a real treat to see another one. You can see the long bill and the black cap that extends below the eye.
Our tour included the famous (yet very remote!) California Gulch. To get there, you must drive your way west through the deserts along terrain like this:
Once there, we wandered down into the gulch itself; it's a nice spot with some shade (but not much in the way of water):
Overhead at the gulch, this PURPLE MARTIN was using a nearby saguaro for a nest cavity:
This is kind of interesting too because that subspecies of Purple Martin is only found around saguaros in Arizona (and farther south).
The gulch had a bunch of CANYON WRENS too including this youngster that looked to be getting the hang of things:
The main reason we were in California Gulch though was actually a sparrow. A sparrow, you say? Seriously? Seriously. There is a rare and range-restricted species called the FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW and, for all intents and purposes, it's ONLY found in California Gulch (in the US, at least). Most people get their lifer there as did I 13 years ago. Anyway, we were there to find them and, drumroll... they didn't take long to find!
Actually, our views of this species couldn't be beat. At times, this one was TOO close to focus on:
See how the black extends below the eye (or in other words, the eye is completely encircled by the black)? That alone tells you it's not a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher instead.
However, probably the rarest sighting in Montosa Canyon came from a random roadside. Imagine our surprise when we spotted this GILA MONSTER crossing the road!
This was so incredibly exciting for me... my lifer Gila Monster. I know birders that have spent 20 years in Arizona and not found one of these themselves. Wow!
By this point, the tour was wrapping up. We had one last birding stop and that was in Madera Canyon where we enjoyed watching the feeders where a myriad of visitors were tanking up. Species like LAZULI BUNTINGS, LESSER GOLDFINCHES, ACORN WOODPECKERS, and the local hoard of MEXICAN JAYS were all numerous. But hey, it wasn't too late to snag a new bird for the trip though! This male CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD came in a few times much to the delight of all of us:
In the end, it was a fantastic trip full of amazing scenery, fun birds, and even an impressive list of herps. I'll actually be returning to Arizona next month for the Second Spring tour so stay tuned for that report!
Speaking of reports, Field Guides is pretty cool in that it offers summaries of all our tours... publicly! For example, you can read more about the sightings from this tour here. Enjoy!