We couldn’t have chosen a greener time to visit Arizona. This year it went from the driest of dry spells to the wettest of monsoons on record. In the month of July it rained over 8 inches in Tucson, turning the parched desert into a thriving tangle of vines and leaves. This made for a beautiful week of bountiful birding.
Our tour started in Tucson and for the first morning we zigzagged up to Mount Lemmon to see Red-faced Warbler. This is a species that tends to depart early for Mexico, so I wanted to make sure we saw it right off the bat. We reached Bear Wallow and as soon as we got out of the van we heard the sweet, thin song of a Red-faced from up the drainage. We followed the song to the source and had fabulous looks at the bird glowing among the Doug Fir needles. Shortly thereafter, a Short-tailed Hawk sailed overhead—what a way to start the tour!
From Mount Lemmon we crossed to Willcox where we had our first experience with shorebirds. Migration was well underway and there were many Wilson’s Phalaropes, Long-billed Curlews, a Pectoral Sandpiper, and a line of Western Sandpipers. Then it was up over the glorious Chiricahuas to Portal Peak Lodge, our base for the next couple days. Our first morning of birding the Chiricahuas, we went to South Fork and watched a nest of Elegant Trogons that Rose Ann Rowlett and Richard Webster had alerted me to. The adults were bringing in large katydids, walking sticks and caterpillars and we could hear the strange begging calls of the chicks from within the nest cavity. That same morning at South Fork we saw our first Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and a mixed feeding flock with Hermit Warblers, Painted Redstarts and Brown Creepers.
Our day in the high elevations was productive, too. We saw Black-chinned and Rufous-crowned Sparrows on our way up to Onion Saddle, and Mexican Chickadees, Red Crossbills, Zone-tailed Hawks and a Greater Pewee around Barfoot. I was setting up our picnic lunch at Pinery Canyon when Gerry called us over—he’d found a covey of Montezuma Quail! We watched as a male crossed the road right in front of us followed by a line of cotton-ball-sized chicks. What a delight! This was surely one of the best moments of the tour.
The day we crossed from Portal to Sierra Vista was long and eventful. We birded first along State Line Road then crossed over Onion Saddle. As we approached the saddle, I noticed a hissing sound coming from outside and soon realized it was the rear tire rapidly deflating. I found a level, shady area to pull over and after a sweaty half hour of teamwork we managed to change the tire, but boy those bolts were tough to loosen! We crossed to Willcox and, while we were at lunch, I had the tire patched up. Then we were on our way to Benson, all our tire troubles behind us…so we thought! I checked on the tire and yet again it was going flat, so yet again we had to change it out. Long story short, we ended up getting a brand-new tire in Sierra Vista the next day.
Back to the birding. On our first morning of birding the Huachucas we birded Miller Canyon where we saw the lingering White-eared Hummingbird at the feeders. The next day we drove up the bumpy switchbacks to Carr Canyon to look for the remaining high elevation species. We were focused on a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds when Geruza spotted a Black Bear with two cubs lounging peacefully on the slope! They didn’t seem to mind us at all, so we watched them for over ten minutes. I’ve only seen Black Bear a few times in Arizona—this was certainly the best observation by far.
Our final days of the tour we birded around Nogales dodging thunderstorms and finding specialties like Rose-throated Becard, Five-striped Sparrows, Gray Hawks, Thick-billed Kingbirds and Brown-crested Flycatchers. We finished the tour in the expansive San Rafael Grasslands surrounded by buzzing Grasshopper Sparrows and Lilian’s Meadowlarks. I’d like to thank Caroline Lewis for setting up the tour and Dave Stejskal for getting me up to speed on SE Arizona birding. Thank you all, too, for joining me—I hope we can bird again someday!
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
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
A few were out at Lake Cochise, Willcox.
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
Also at Lake Cochise, Willcox.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)
MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)
We spotted a few of these at the Benson water treatment facility while we were working on replacing the second flat tire of the day.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata)
We had great looks at a small flock off State Line Road.
GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)
We ran into these at multiple sites throughout the tour.
MONTEZUMA QUAIL (Cyrtonyx montezumae)
Fantastic! Certainly one of the highlights of the tour. While we were setting up lunch at Pinery Canyon, Gerry alerted us to a flock with several chicks! We had great looks at a male with a line of chicks behind him.
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)
We saw a flock near the Ash Canyon feeders.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)
We saw them a couple times in the Chiricahuas and at the Lee Clark feeders.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
We had our best view of one at the Tucson Airport right before tour ended. Just in time!
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus)
Heard and seen at the San Pedro House. We also saw one the evening we were setting up our picnic dinner out at Harshaw Creek.
COMMON POORWILL (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)
One flew right over us at Harshaw Creek.
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)
We had a swarm of 25 chattering above us near Onion Saddle in the Chiricahuas.
RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)
Seen at most of the feeders we visited.
BLUE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (Lampornis clemenciae)
These have declined considerably in the Huachucas, but are still reliable in the Chiricahuas.
LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD (Calothorax lucifer)
Stunning views of both males and females at the Lee Clark feeders and Ash Canyon.
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)
Regular at the feeders.
ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte anna)
Ash Canyon is where we saw most of these.
BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)
We saw good numbers of these throughout the trip.
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)
Common throughout the tour.
CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus calliope)
We saw a few female plumage types at the Lee Clark feeders.
BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)
BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia beryllina)
Seen by a few at the Ramsey Canyon feeders.
VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia violiceps)
We had great looks at the Beaty's Guest House feeders.
WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD (Hylocharis leucotis)
One of these rare Mexican visitors made an appearance at the Beaty's Guest House, Miller Canyon.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
Lots were out at Lake Cochise, Willcox.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
These elegant shorebirds were lined up at Lake Cochise.
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)
A few were mixed in with all peeps at Lake Cochise. We could see their boldly patterned backs.
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
Several distant birds at Lake Cochise.
WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor)
It was cool to watch them spinning around in circles at Lake Cochise.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
We saw both Yellowlegs at Lake Cochise.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
Also at Lake Cochise.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
A few seen on the drive to Montosa Canyon.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
We saw a couple our final afternoon at the San Rafael Valley.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus)
Seen at the San Pedro River and Harshaw Creek.
SHORT-TAILED HAWK (Buteo brachyurus)
We saw this rarity our first morning at Mount Lemmon.
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)
It was cool to watch the juvenile with the adult along State Line Road.
ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus)
We had our best looks at Barfoot in the Chiricahuas.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL (Megascops trichopsis)
We saw one the evening we went out to Miller Canyon. We also heard a few at Harshaw Creek.
WESTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops kennicottii)
We saw one on the road to Paradise our final evening in the Chiricahuas.
NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium gnoma) [*]
We heard this species twice, but unfortunately they wouldn't show themselves.
ELF OWL (Micrathene whitneyi) [*]
We tried hard to see this species, but they just wouldn't come out.
ELEGANT TROGON (Trogon elegans)
Watching the nesting pair at South Fork was certainly a highlight. They were bringing in large walking sticks, caterpillars and grasshoppers.
ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)
GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Dryobates scalaris)
We had excellent looks our first afternoon at Box Canyon.
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
ARIZONA WOODPECKER (Dryobates arizonae)
Our best views were on the road up to Onion Saddle in the Chiricahuas.
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)
GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)
We scoped one out on the drive up Mount Lemmon.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
ROSE-THROATED BECARD (Pachyramphus aglaiae)
Yay! After several attempts to see this bird we finally saw a beautiful male off Blue Haven Road where Dave Stejskal had seen it the week before.
NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (Camptostoma imberbe)
We saw one at Harshaw Creek and Montosa Canyon.
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contopus cooperi)
GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax)
I thought we were going to miss this one since they tend to leave early, but we found one on the way to Barfoot in the Chiricahuas.
WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)
BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax fulvifrons)
Watching this little guy in the scope in the Chiricahuas was a delight.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Nice close views at the San Pedro House.
DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)
There was one hanging out behind the feeders at Paton's.
BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tyrannulus)
We saw a pair along Harshaw Creek our final afternoon.
SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Myiodynastes luteiventris)
Numerous sightings throughout the trip. We had our best views along South Fork, Chiricahuas.
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
We scoped a bird at the Guy Tobin trailhead on the Santa Cruz River.
CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)
THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)
We spent some good time watching a family group at Harshaw Creek.
WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)
BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii)
Heard and seen multiple times throughout the trip.
HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)
One of the only birds we saw on our walk up Miller Canyon.
PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)
Seen throughout the trip. Our best views were on the way up to Onion Saddle.
WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus)
Some got on this rarity at the Paton's Hummingbird Center.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)
WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)
MEXICAN JAY (Aphelocoma wollweberi)
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)
These were nesting right behind the restaurant at Willcox.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)
We ran into a couple flocks of these in the Chiricahuas.
BRIDLED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus wollweberi)
JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)
Seen on the road to Paradise.
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
A couple flew over while we were birding the San Rafael Grasslands.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
We saw all three nuthatch species our first morning on Mount Lemmon.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)
PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
Heard and seen at various locations throughout the tour.
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]
HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
CRISSAL THRASHER (Toxostoma crissale) [*]
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
Seen at Carr Canyon near where we saw the Black Bear.
WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
A couple were hopping around at Pinery Canyon near where we had lunch.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)
One single male was seen at Paton's.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
A flock flew over us in the Chiricahuas.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (Peucaea carpalis)
We pulled off the road to Montosa Canyon to see some singing in the Ocotillos.
BOTTERI'S SPARROW (Peucaea botterii)
One of my favorite birds in SE Arizona. We saw one close to Portal.
CASSIN'S SPARROW (Peucaea cassinii)
Very similar to Botteri's, but has a totally different song.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
Several were out in the San Rafael Valley.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
BLACK-CHINNED SPARROW (Spizella atrogularis)
These are pretty local in SE Arizona. We saw one on our way up to Onion Saddle in the Chiricahuas.
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)
FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW (Amphispiza quinquestriata)
Yip yip yip! After rather unsatisfying views at Box Canyon, we had one in our face at Montosa Canyon. See video.
YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (Junco phaeonotus)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)
ABERT'S TOWHEE (Melozone aberti)
We got on this one at the San Pedro House.
RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)
We saw one in the same area where we saw the Black-chinned Sparrows on the way up to Onion Saddle, Chiricahuas.
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (Icteria virens)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
EASTERN MEADOWLARK (LILIAN'S) (Sturnella magna lilianae)
Singing beautifully in the San Rafael Valley.
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (Icterus bullockii)
One zipped past us near Montosa Canyon.
SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)
These are easy to miss in August, but luckily we saw one in Box Canyon our first afternoon.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
Tristan spotted one near our hotel in Nogales.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)
LUCY'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis luciae)
We spotted one at the Guy Tobin trailhead.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)
One of the most abundant birds of the trip. Seen just about everywhere we went.
VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis virginiae)
We saw one in a flock of migrants on the road to Paradise.
MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)
Our best looks at this species were at the San Pedro House.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)
We saw a few of these pine forest warblers in the Chiricahuas.
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)
Common in the feeding flocks we encountered on the tour.
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
Susan spotted one in the Chiricahuas.
HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)
We ran into a few of these migrants in the Chiricahuas.
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
RED-FACED WARBLER (Cardellina rubrifrons)
One of the iconic breeders in Arizona. We had great looks at one on Mount Lemmon.
PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)
Another icon of the Arizona highlands. Seen throughout the tour.
HEPATIC TANAGER (Piranga flava)
A pair were hanging out at Beaty's Guest Ranch.
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)
WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)
BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)
LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena)
A few migrants were seen out in the weedy fields at San Pedro House.
VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)
One of my favorite specialty birds of SE Arizona. We saw them at multiple locations throughout the tour.
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)
A few seen around Portal.
BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)
CLIFF CHIPMUNK (Tamias dorsalis)
We spotted a few dashing across the road in the Chiricahuas.
HARRIS'S ANTELOPE SQUIRREL (Ammospermophilus harrisii)
ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)
MEXICAN FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus nayaritensis)
A Chiricahua specialty. We saw a couple around Cave Creek.
ARIZONA GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus arizonensis)
We had nice looks at one at Carr Canyon.
COYOTE (Canis latrans) [*]
BLACK BEAR (Ursus americanus)
Awesome! While we were watching some Eastern Bluebirds on the ridge, Geruza spotted a mother with her two cubs! We watched them lounging around on the slope above, completely undisturbed by our presence.
RINGTAIL (Bassariscus astutus)
This was kind of a surprise. After stopping to see a Black-tailed Rattlesnake on the road we spotted a pair of Ringtails running along the creek at South Fork.
WHITE-NOSED COATI (Nasua narica)
One scampered in front of our van on the way to Portal.
COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)
Regular visitors at Portal Peak Lodge.
MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)
We encountered one our first afternoon at Box Canyon.
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
We encountered them just about every day. The population here are Coue's White-tails.
PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana)
Distant views at the San Rafael Grasslands.
GOPHERSNAKE (Pituophis catenifer)
An enormous individual was basking at the edge of the Santa Cruz River.
GREEN RATSNAKE (Senticolis triaspis)
One of my personal favorites (and it was a lifer too!). We saw it crossing the road on the way back from Paradise.
COACHWHIP (Masticophis flagellum)
One darted in front of us on our way up to Madera Canyon.
BLACK-TAILED RATTLESNAKE (Crotalus molossus)
We saw a couple around Portal.
SOUTHWESTERN FENCE LIZARD (Sceloporus cowlesi)
The common "Sceloporus" of the tour.
CLARK'S SPINY LIZARD (Sceloporus clarkii)
One kept hiding behind a tree at the San Pedro House.
YARROW'S SPINY LIZARD (Sceloporus jarrovii)
Lots were out basking on the rocks on the way to Onion Saddle, Chiricahuas.
SONORAN SPOTTED WHIPTAIL (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
These were the common whiptails out at the San Pedro House.
GILA MONSTER (Heloderma suspectum)
We found a dead individual on the road to Montosa Canyon.
Totals for the tour: 174 bird taxa and 15 mammal taxa