A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Arizona's Second Spring I 2021

July 24-August 2, 2021 with Chris Benesh guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
The road into Cave Creek Canyon was lush and green thanks to recent rains. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

The 2021 Arizona Second Spring Tour began with a bit of an ironic twist. While Arizona had been wracked with drought for the past 18 months, the weeks preceding our tour had seen the first substantial rains to hit the area in months. The morning of the tour saw a downpour lasting several hours that broke just in time for us to make a trip out to the Tucson Mountains to search for Gilded Flicker and other desert species. The rain held off until we had just finished dinner. The following morning saw continued rain, and our plans to head to Box Canyon got scrubbed due to the rain and flooded roads. Where to go in the rain? We decided on Canoa Ranch which features a small lake. Sure enough, Forster’s Tern and Black Tern put in appearances while we were there. Then it was off to the Benson WTP where we saw 36 Black Terns flying around the ponds there, one of the largest number ever seen together in Arizona. Then it was off to Willcox where the storm had brought down an unseasonal Western Grebe, seen swimming at Lake Cochise. Our first Bendire’s Thrashers showed briefly there as well. We added a couple of Harris’s Hawks to the mix before heading on to the Chiricahuas. While traveling down Highway 80, we noted a Burrowing Owl perched up in an agave that allowed us to study it a bit. Then it was on to Portal.

The birding was a bit quiet in the high country of the Chiricahuas despite the rains. Likely, the drought had pressured a lot of species to forego nesting. But there were indeed some highlights including a family of Spotted Owls, and after a patient wait, a couple of Elegant Trogons coming in to feed nestlings. The trogons arrived late this year, and delayed the onset of breeding until the rains had begun. Before leaving Portal, we stopped to enjoy the Thick-billed Kingbirds breeding there before heading off to Sierra Vista. We swung by St. David to see Mississippi Kites (missed in the rain on our first pass through). An afternoon visit to the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary was productive for Lucifer Hummingbird and we finished the night owling and black-lighting in Miller Canyon. The following morning saw us up in Carr Canyon, an impressive drive up the side of a mountain before reaching the plateau above. The canyon was again a bit quiet, but we did track down a few targets, especially Buff-breasted Flycatcher. In the afternoon we paid a visit to Ramsey Canyon where we saw our first Violet-crowned Hummingbird and great views of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers.

The next day we visited Miller Canyon, though the hoped for White-eared Hummingbird was a no-show. We then spent a bit of time in the grasslands of Sonoita, where it was also surprisingly quiet despite being so green and lush. There were a few singing Botteri’s Sparrows around, but only a distant Cassin’s. We also briefly visited the Roadside Rest and the Paton Center for Hummingbirds before heading on to Nogales for the night. The following morning we were back at the Roadside Rest in search of Rose-throated Becard and thankfully we spotted the male perched high up in the canopy, quietly preening. We then headed up into Harshaw Canyon where we had great looks at Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, followed by a bit more time birding around Patagonia. We finished the day at the De Anza Guy Tobin Trailhead where we enjoyed a family of Tropical Kingbirds and finally our first Gray Hawks of the trip! We also saw a Green Kingfisher dart past us here.

Our final days began with a visit to Box Canyon, which we had been rained out of at the start of the tour. It was productive with great looks at a Five-striped Sparrow and Varied Bunting, Golden Eagle, and an impressive, seldom seen waterfall. We then decided to head up Mt. Lemmon to see if we could track down a Red-faced Warbler that had thus far eluded us. Thankfully, despite being quiet there too, we tracked down one near the summit. Then we headed south again toward Madera Canyon in hopes of some nightbirding. There were lots of Lesser Nighthawks flying out over the desert, but it was quiet in the canyon itself. Black-lighting produced a couple of interesting scorpion species and we glimpsed a Ringtail as we were leaving. The tour finished up with a brief stop at the Amado Pond for Black-belled Whistling-Duck and stops in Continental and lower Madera Canyon were we listened to a Montezuma Quail singing from somewhere out of sight.

In case you are wondering how the monsoon turned out this year, it ended up officially being the third wettest in history at the Tucson Airport where official measurements are taken. Almost 13 inches were recorded there. Nearby, Vail and Green Valley had their wettest monsoons ever with over 17 inches in Green Valley! Thanks to all of you for making the tour a special one. It was wonderful to be out in the field again sharing in new discoveries with you. I hope you all continue to be healthy and I look forward to seeing you all again in the future. Good birding!

—Chris, Tucson, Arizona

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

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

A couple of these were at the Amado Pond on the final morning of the trip.

CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)

MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

A couple of long-staying unseasonal birds at the Canoa Ranch.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Unseasonal birds at the Amado Pond.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata)

Quick looks at Willcox and then eventually better views near Stateline Road.

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In Hereford we caught this amazing light show with the Sun peeking through storm clouds. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)

MONTEZUMA QUAIL (Cyrtonyx montezumae) [*]

Alas, this one just would not step out into the open. We at least got to enjoy its distinctive song.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

The heavy rain no doubt was responsible for putting this one down at Lake Cochise in Willcox.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

A couple of these were seen in the high country of the Chiricahuas.

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A Western Grebe found refuge at Cochise Lake during the rainstorm near the beginning of the tour. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)

A few seen in Benson.

RUDDY GROUND DOVE (Columbina talpacoti)

This one was frustrating. Right after I spotted it it flew up into a tall tree where it sat and then shuffled out of view.

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)

YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)

One was glimpsed and heard at the Paton Center.

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Our first of many Black Terns seen, this one at Canoa Ranch on the first full day of the tour. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

LESSER NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles acutipennis)

A great showing of this species in the desert north of the Santa Ritas on our way to Madera Canyon.

COMMON POORWILL (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) [*]

Apodidae (Swifts)

WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)

Large and spectacular, this species recently underwent a split from Central American populations which resulted in its reverting back to older name Rivoli's from Magnificent.

BLUE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (Lampornis clemenciae)

Formerly Blue-throated Hummingbird, members of the genus Lampornis are commonly called mountain-gems, hence the change in this species name.

LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD (Calothorax lucifer)

Great views of a male at the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)


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This Violet-crowned Hummingbird was visiting a feeder in Ramsey Canyon. We ended up seeing this species in Miller Canyon and at the Paton Center as well. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae)

A female seen on the first afternoon.

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)

BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)


It was a good trip for this species with sightings at three different sites.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

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This male Lucifer Hummingbird delighted us at the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary near Hereford. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor)

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BLACK TERN (Chlidonias niger)

One was at the Canoa Ranch pond and then an amazing 36 were at the Benson ponds.

FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri)

One was at the Canoa Ranch on our very soggy morning there.

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A male Blue-throated Mountain-Gem flashes its blue gorget in Cave Creek Canyon. Photo by Paul Beerman.
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

Nice views of one in flight in Box Canyon.

MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis)

We saw a few flying around above the town of St. David on our swing through there.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

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A Spotted Owl chick peers at us as a parent snoozed nearby. What a treat to see this protected species. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

HARRIS'S HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)

This species has become scarce in recent years on our tour route. We did spot one on the east side of Willcox on our way to the Chiricahuas.

GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus)

This species was relatively scarce this trip for some reason, but we did eventually connect with it along the Santa Cruz River near Rio Rico.

SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)

ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus)

We had at least four sightings of this dark species. It is widely believed to be a Turkey Vulture mimic which is thought to aid in its surprising prey.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL (Megascops trichopsis)

Three of these were in lower Carr Canyon one evening on the outing with Brenda and Paul.

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)

One was seen hunting right at the Portal Lodge on our return from owling one night.

BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)

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This Burrowing Owl caught our eyes as we were heading south on Highway 80 on our way to Portal. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

SPOTTED OWL (Strix occidentalis)

It was wonderful to observe a parent and chick snoozing in the high country of the Chiricahuas.

Trogonidae (Trogons)

ELEGANT TROGON (Trogon elegans)

It was a tough year for trogons, but thanks to patience and some of Lori Conrad's good karma, we did manage to see it!

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)

This was a super quick flyby along the Santa Cruz River. This species is a scarce breeder in the state.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

The clowns of the woodpecker tribe, it is always a treat to watch their antics.

GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)


HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

ARIZONA WOODPECKER (Dryobates arizonae)

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This Elegant Trogon is bringing food to a nestling in Cave Creek Canyon. This species bred very late this year. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)

GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)

Good views of this species in the Tucson Mountains in the saguaro covered hills that they prefer.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

One flew past the Benson ponds and stirred up the Black Tern flock.

Tityridae (Tityras and Allies)

ROSE-THROATED BECARD (Pachyramphus aglaiae)

Good views of the male becard at the Roadside Rest.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


We had three different encounters with this tiny flycatcher.

GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax)

We got to study this species well at Barfoot Park in the Chiricahuas.

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

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One of the Greater Pewees seen in Barfoot Park high in the Chiricahuas. Note its bright orange mandible. Photo by Paul Beerman.

CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax occidentalis)

BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax fulvifrons)

Seen up in Carr Canyon.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

This species is always a crowd-pleaser; well, at least the males. The females can be surprisingly puzzling at times.

DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)

BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tyrannulus)

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This juvenile Sulphur-belled Flycatcher was waiting around for a parent to feed it in Ramsey Canyon. Photo by Paul Beerman.

SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Myiodynastes luteiventris)

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

We enjoyed a family group of these near Rio Rico.

CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)

THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)

We saw a pair of birds near their nesting area in Portal.

WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii)

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)

Surprisingly few around on the tour.

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This Bendire's Thrasher put in a quick appearance near the golf course in Willcox. Photo by Paul Beerman.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)

MEXICAN JAY (Aphelocoma wollweberi)

CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)

Our side trip to Mt. Lemmon gave us a chance to see this species.

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We had a great study of this Botteri's Sparrow in the Sonoita grasslands on the tour. Photo by Paul Beerman.

MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)

We only found one pair of birds high up in the Chiricahuas.

BRIDLED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus wollweberi)

Remizidae (Penduline-Tits)

VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

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Acorn Woodpeckers are always entertaining to watch. This one, photographed by Paul Beerman, is a female, told by a black patch separating the white forehead from the red crown.
Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura)

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)

Very few around this trip. We did see one in Box Canyon however.

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This handsome Blue Grosbeak was a welcome sight. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)

BENDIRE'S THRASHER (Toxostoma bendirei)

We had quick looks at this species in Willcox and again near Rodeo in New Mexico.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

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A Rufous-winged Sparrow belts out its song in its characteristic mesquite - palo verde habitat. Photo by Paul Beerman.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)

Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler)

OLIVE WARBLER (Peucedramus taeniatus)

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

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We were shocked to see this ephemeral waterfall flowing in Box Canyon. All of the locals were stopping to take photos. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (Peucaea carpalis)

BOTTERI'S SPARROW (Peucaea botterii)

About the only cooperative grassland sparrow we encountered.

CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii) [*]

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)

FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW (Amphispiza quinquestriata)

We had nice studies of a bird in Box Canyon where this species has been recently detected.

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (Junco phaeonotus)

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A wonderfully confiding Five-striped Sparrow showed for us in Box Canyon. Photo by Paul Beerman.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)

ABERT'S TOWHEE (Melozone aberti)

RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (LILIAN'S) (Sturnella magna lilianae)

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It wasn't until the last full day that we finally connected with Varied Bunting, but this one even sang for us. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)

SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)

Great looks at this species on our final full day while in Box Canyon.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)


GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

LUCY'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis luciae)

We saw a couple of these in Harshaw Canyon but it was otherwise absent for us.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)

Funny to see this species breeding in the bunchgrass in the Sonoita grasslands.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

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One of my favorite plants indicative of the monsoon season is the Velvetpod Mimosa, which lines some hillsides at this time. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)

GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)

A few seen in Carr Canyon were the only ones encountered.

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)

We did bump into three in Barfoot Park.

RED-FACED WARBLER (Cardellina rubrifrons)

It took us a while to track down this species but Mt. Lemmon came through for us in the end.

PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

HEPATIC TANAGER (Piranga flava)

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)

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Paul Beerman managed to capture our Red-faced Warbler from Mt. Lemmon.

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)

BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)

VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)

Seen in Box Canyon.


DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

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Arizona Poppies were everywhere along the roadsides and fields, brought out by the monsoon rains. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

CLIFF CHIPMUNK (Tamias dorsalis)

HARRIS'S ANTELOPE SQUIRREL (Ammospermophilus harrisii)

ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)

MEXICAN FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus nayaritensis)

ARIZONA GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus arizonensis)

ABERT'S SQUIRREL (Sciurus aberti)

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

BLACK BEAR (Ursus americanus)

Rick spotted this one along the road in Cave Creek Canyon!

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Beyer's Jewel Scarab, Chrysina beyeri, is one several colorful scarab beetles found in the sky islands. This one came to visit while we were owling in Miller Canyon one evening. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

RINGTAIL (Bassariscus astutus)

NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)

BOBCAT (Lynx rufus)

COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

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This massive Tohono Vinegaroon caught our eye while out nightbirding in the Chiricahuas. Despite its fearsome look, this species is harmless to humans. When threatened, this species will spray acetic acid however. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

Totals for the tour: 173 bird taxa and 15 mammal taxa