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ARIZONA 2006

During July 27th through August 10th a small band of enthusiastic Brits set forth into the monsoon rains in Arizona. It turned out to be an exceptionally lucky Birdfinders tour in many respects, though not before severe weather in Chicago caused a back log of air traffic all over the western states, delaying the arrival of everyone on the trip. That event was a mere blemish and was soon forgotten as we hiked up Madera Canyon on a damp, foggy morning to be rewarded with prolonged views of two Aztec Thrushes (a major rarity in the USA) feeding in a Choke Cherry tree. On an equally damp morning in Sycamore Canyon we again scored when, eventually, all of our group got to see a stunning singing male Rufous-capped Warbler, another very rare species in the US. The warbler was closely followed by exceptional views of singing Five-striped Sparrows in California Gulch.

Many of our days in Arizona were filled with quality birds such as these. Raptors featured as always with highlights being a morning with nine Mississippi Kites near Benson, and six Zone-tailed Hawks at the Gila Box Riparian area, but it would be difficult to top the close-up-and-personal views that we had of California Condors in the Grand Canyon. They were simply amazing.

Always unpredictable, we'd just about given up on Montezuma Quail, when we had a stunning male cross the road in front of our tour bus in the Apache National Forest, well north of its expected range. There was a Sandhill Crane at Luna Lake in the White Mountains, and the Willcox twin lakes produced an excellent variety of shorebirds including a Marbled Godwit and a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, the latter being a pretty good bird for Arizona. American Black Terns graced three different sites on the trip. Greater Roadrunners were popular as always, most of them being in the Sulphur Springs Valley on a muggy morning which rather remarkably produced a Bendire's and a Crissal Thrasher teed up right next to each other! That just doesn't happen, especially in the middle of the morning in August!

The star birds of any trip to Arizona must be the hummingbirds and the timing of this tour ensures that we get to see the greatest variety and the greatest volume. It has to be said that the hummingbird spectacle that we observed at Tom Beatty's feeders in Miller Canyon was the best we've ever seen. The sheer concentration of hummers here was just mind boggling. In just one afternoon here we saw no less than five individual White-eared Hummingbirds, and with Lucifer Hummingbirds here and in Ash Canyon, plus a Berylline Hummingbird in Ramsey Canyon, we closed all the gaps in our hummingbird list – 14 species in all!

Woodpeckers were again good, with Lewis's and Arizona Woodpeckers being highlights. Carr Canyon again proved to be the best spot for Buff-breasted Flycatcher and Greater Pewee, and Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbirds gave wonderful views in the Patagonia area. Mountain Bluebirds were a nice surprise near Alpine in the White Mountains and we just had an excellent trip for Townsend's Solitaire with multiple birds being seen at three different locations. Although the Grand Canyon is an outstanding spectacle in its own right, it also produced its share of great birds, with a flock of 40 Pinyon Jays, and several Red Crossbills and Juniper Titmice in the Kaibab National Forest nearby. We were also exceptionally lucky to have a vireo 'sweep' with Grey, Plumbeous and Cassin's amongst the six species seen. Arguably even better, the western wood warblers did not disappoint, with Black-throated Grey, Townsend's, Hermit, MacGillivary's, Grace's, Red-faced and Olive Warblers, as well as the delightful Painted Redstart all being seen well. The grassland sparrows were again superb at this time of year, all of them in song during monsoon season with Grasshopper, Botteri's, Cassin's, Rufous-winged, Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows being found in various parts of the state. We also had wonderful views of Green-tailed Towhee in the White Mountains, Varied Buntings in California Gulch and almost 200 Lark Buntings in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

Outside of the rarities mentioned earlier, we also came across a selection of unexpected waterfowl, namely a Brown Pelican and a Wood Duck at Avra Valley sewage pools and a lingering Ross's Goose at Green Valley sewage works that had remained from the winter and hadn't migrated back to the Arctic. All in all this was a richly rewarding tour shared by a group of good humoured folks that saw so much more of Arizona than most other bird tours. Special thanks go to Alwyn and Jackie England, Linda and Michael Hunt, Stewart Mclean and Paul Sellers for making the trip so enjoyable.

Our tour loop began in Phoenix and covered some 2400 miles. This incorporated most of the traditional birding areas in the south-eastern part of the state, the White Mountains, the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, a visit to the Grand Canyon and the Flagstaff area, finishing off in the Superstition Mountains north of Phoenix. While most of the USA baked in a mid-summer heatwave we found the generally cool, temperate conditions dictated by the rainy period ideal for birding. We recorded some 240 species.

Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker