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ARIZONA 2004

This year's Arizona tour was a tremendous success in so many respects. Most of the region's specialties were found as well as a number of rather unexpected bonus species, often set amidst spectacular scenery and some surprisingly changeable weather conditions. We were amazed to encounter rain storms on almost every day of the tour except the first and the mid-summer 'monsoon' period lived up to its reputation.

We ended up with a group list of about 240 species not including three species which were only seen by the leaders and a single species (Yellow-billed Cuckoo) which was seen by just one participant on the tour. The total was just short of the all time tour record of 247 species from 2001.

This year's tour was highlighted by largely quality views of some very rare and scarce US birds. Outstanding amongst these were Grey Hawk, Elegant Trogon, (Mexican) Spotted Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Arizona Woodpecker, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Northern Beardless Tyranulett, Greater Pewee, Thick-billed Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Le Conte's Thrasher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Mexican Chickadee, Mexican Jay, Grey Vireo, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Yellow-eyed Junco, Five-striped Sparrow, Botterri's Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow and Varied Bunting.

After a slow start in the early stages of the trip, hummingbirds began to feature more prominently once we reached Sierra Vista. As usual, the Beatty's feeders in Miller Canyon were outstanding, as was the hospitality offered by Tom Beatty. We had exceptional views of two White-eared Hummingbirds here, one of rarest hummers in the US. A little further down the road, the feeders at Ash Canyon B&B gave us fine views of Lucifer Hummingbird. We also just happened to be in Ramsey Canyon when news broke of a Berylline Hummingbird coming into a private yard just outside the preserve. Again we scored with brief but good views of this beauty on our very last afternoon in the Huachuca Mountains.

Leaving the south-eastern corner of the state might have signaled the end of hummingbird opportunities had we not discovered a small snack bar displaying loads of hummingbird feeders at Luna Lake in the White Mountains. The feeders here heaved under the buzzing of 30 Broad-tailed, 20 Rufous and at least 5 Calliope Hummingbirds, not to mention innumerable unidentified Rufous/Allen's types. Indeed, the birding show at this little snack bar was one of the highlights of the tour where our group was spoiled with simultaneous opportunities to view male Calliope Hummingbirds, Mountain Bluebird, Williamson's Sapsucker, Lewis's Woodpecker and the ghost of the coniferous forests, American Three-toed Woodpecker. The Sandhill Crane and Bald Eagle that we'd seen earlier that afternoon were almost forgotten.

The tour closed with twelve species of hummingbird and ten species of woodpecker being seen. In terms of unexpected highlights, surely pride of place must go to the two California Condors which came as complete surprise on our short visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Watching these beasts soar over hordes of oblivious tourists was an incredible experience. Though our group had largely split up to explore the canyon, thankfully the two-way radios that Peter and I used throughout the tour came into their own. With Peter's memorable cry of "Condor" inside the visitor centre at the South Rim, all of our party managed to see them. Although the Grand Canyon birds are not officially countable on US lists, the reintroduction scheme is going well and California Condors bred successfully in the Grand Canyon this year. Long may they continue to do so because the Grand Canyon is surely the ultimate setting in which to see them.

Thanks to all ten tour participants for making the tour so enjoyable and to Peter Basterfield for his unflinching co-leadership.

Happy Birding

James P. Smith

Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker