ARIZONA AND CALIFORNIA 2012
Courtesy of James P. Smith,
Gareth Rees and Chris Rose
This much anticipated tour ran for the first time in January 2012 and more than lived up to its billing as an exciting winter trip to the deserts of the south-west. Rare birds provided much of the focus of tour but certainly didn't impede the finding of so many key species that inhabit the region in winter. Indeed, the tour was a remarkable success, greatly enhanced by our cordial group whose enthusiasm never waned from day one.
The trip started in whirlwind fashion where the unlikely backdrop of urban Phoenix provided us with some of the rarest birds of the tour. With careful planning we saw Rufous-backed Robin, Rusty Blackbird, Smith's Longspur, Cackling Goose and Lewis's Woodpecker all in a single day, and long before we'd encountered some of Arizona's most familiar species – all of those would come later in the trip. In terms of rarity value, the bird of the tour had to be the Nutting's Flycatcher wintering along a beautiful 'wash' by Lake Havasu in Western Arizona. This exceedingly rare bird was just the fifth ever to be recorded in the United States but I wonder how many of our group actually preferred the bright, sprightly Rufous-capped Warblers seen near Tucson just a few days previously?
Picking out a truly outstanding theme wasn't easy on a tour with so many highlights but the thrasher show on this tour was just incredible. We saw all the possible species for the region including Sage, Bendire's, Curve-billed, California, Crissal and Le Conte's, and there was even an out-of-range Brown Thrasher to give a remarkable total of seven species. The sparrow tally was no less impressive with almost twenty species seen including the near-mythical Baird's Sparrow and a handsome Golden-crowned Sparrow. Woodpeckers provided much excitement as they do on most tours and the eleven species we found included Gilded Flicker, Williamson's and Red-naped Sapsuckers, White-headed and Nuttall's Woodpeckers.
Both the Sulphur Springs Valley in Arizona and the Salton Sea in California provided us with some of the best avian spectacles of the trip where we found tens of thousands of Snow and Ross's Geese, American White Pelicans, Sandhill Cranes and California Gulls, not to mention a memorizing roost of thousands of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Once in California, the Salton Sea gulls simultaneously provided us with entertainment and identification challenges. We found a Glaucous Gull (rare in southern California) but perhaps the close up study of several Thayer's Gulls was much more rewarding. Group participant Bill Dixon even managed to photograph an immature Yellow-footed Gull, quite rare in the winter months.
As always on our tours we encountered plenty of mammals. On this trip Grey Whale, Bobcat, Pronghorn, Collared Pecary and Botta's Pocket-gopher provided some of the highlights.
Grateful thanks go to the entire group for making the tour such a pleasure to lead, and in particular, special thanks to Bob Bailey, Jim Hamilton, Garry Milks and Chris Rose for graciously assisting in various ways.
This thrilling tour will take place once more (with a slightly amended itinerary) during 5th–21st January, 2012. In the meantime, please enjoy the photo gallery from the 2012 trip.
James P. Smith, Gill, MA, USA