If you tell your non-birding friends that you're headed to southeastern Arizona in the middle of summer, you're likely to hear some smart-aleck comment about you needing your head examined. Who, they'll say, goes to a desert when it's going to be the hottest?! But we birders know something they don't; when the summer monsoons start, it's often COOLER than it is earlier in the year. Those cooling monsoon rains bring lots of lush growth, which stimulates many birds to breed, bringing a cacophony of song and a flurry of activity -- Arizona's "second spring". And our ten day visit is timed to take maximum advantage of all that activity.
Our route spanned a variety of habitats, from the saguaro-studded Sonoran desert west of Tucson to the cool, pine-scented heights of the Huachuca Mountains, from the hot flats and alkaline pools at Willcox to rolling hillsides covered with fat junipers east of Paradise, to craggy California Gulch and the ridiculously scenic Chiricahua Mountains. Though some of our hoped-for targets eluded us (darn those Tufted Flycatchers!), we still found plenty to enjoy.
A pair of wide-eyed young Spotted Owls peered down from their leafy perch while one of their parents snoozed nearby in a more sheltered spot. A river of Brazilian Free-tailed Bats flowed from under a Tucson bridge, while Lesser Nighthawks wheeled balletically nearby. A male Lucifer Hummingbird perched on a feeder, just across from a "Costifer" -- a presumed Lucifer/Costa's hybrid. A Five-striped Sparrow sang and sang and sang, edging ever closer as we watched, until it was eventually right over our heads. A total of SIX Montezuma Quail disported right out in the open, including a pair nibbling grass seeds under a swingset, and a gorgeous male stretching to reach a tasty morsel on cliff wall right beside the van. A couple of colorful male Varied Buntings sang challenges to each other across a hot canyon. A pair of Olive Warblers flicked through a roadside pine in the airy heights of Carr Canyon, not far from where a tiny, calling Buff-breasted Flycatcher led us on a merry chase before finally revealing himself. A female Elegant Trogon sat quietly on a branch mere feet off the ground, and a surprisingly green-tailed male called loudly a bit further up the canyon. A pair of Gilded Flickers surveyed their territory from matching saguaro cactus arms. Mexican Chickadees seemed particularly common this year, with several birds accompanying virtually every mixed flock we found in the Chiricahua highlands.
A Plain-capped Starthroat sipped from a backyard hummingbird feeder near Portal, flashing us with its distinctive white rump patch. Hundreds of Wilson's Phalaropes spun like tops on a lake, while Black-necked Stilts strode on long, pink legs and American Avocets snoozed on a nearby sandbar. A pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds brought mouthful after mouthful of wriggling supper to a nest full of youngsters still too small to see. A Greater Roadrunner eyed us from its perch in a roadside tree. Two Burrowing Owls snoozed in the shade of an air conditioning unit. A Greater Pewee made repeated sorties from perches in a towering pine. Adult Swainson's Hawks circled overhead on long wings, while youngsters rested on treetops and telephone poles. A busy mixed flock -- full of Pygmy Nuthatches, Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstarts, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Pine Siskins and more -- swarmed through a campground on Mount Lemmon. An Arizona Woodpecker gobbled orange sections at the Santa Rita Lodge feeding station. And a Violet-crowned Hummingbird visiting the Paton's feeders late in the afternoon put a cap on a very productive last full day in the field.
Thanks to all for your fine companionship, your eagle-eyed spotting, your flexibility (when birds or weather or restaurants didn't cooperate quite as we might have hoped) and your determination to enjoy everything Arizona had to share. I hope to see you all in the field again soon! -- Megan
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Totals for the tour: 169 bird taxa and 17 mammal taxa