South Eastern Arizona
Trip report 12th April -22nd April 2001
Flying out to Phoenix with KLM Airways via Amsterdam and Minneapolis was always going to be tiresome and so it proved with 22 hours in airports and flying time. Cost £530 not cheap! My plans for South Africa were dashed so I was late booking my flight, and KLM were the only airline with a schedule to Phoenix........never again!
April 12th . As I was alone on this trip the cost of hiring a car added to my expenditure £275 for ten days. A compact which was more like a reasonable size saloon in England. Having picked up my hire car and negotiated my way through Phoenix which was surprisingly busy. I arrived at my hotel at 11.30 pm. All my motels were booked online saving me 10 % on each room. Motel 6 having been refurbished throught their chain averaging £23 per night, they were of a reasonable standard as you would come to expect from an American chain, clean and adequate. Despite being tired my body clock had me on the road by 4.30 am. the next morning and eager to tick off my first birds.
Saguaro National Park 13th April
Driving south to Tuscon and onto the Saguaro National Park I picked up my first birds. It was 6.30 a.m. and surprisingly chilly. House finch and Pyrrhuloxia were a good if not expected start to the day, as was the Cactus Wren. (Is this a Wren?)
I encountered my first hummer, a male Black chinned Hummingbird, probably the commonest hummer during my trip. White winged Dove and Gambels Quail proved easy birds on my way to the Sonora Desert Museum.
A pre-arranged meeting with Eugene Lorring a local and knowledgeable birder proved both interesting and rewarding. Thanks Eugene!
Temperatures began to soar, and birding surprisingly got better. A fine male Hooded Oriole feeding in the trees surrounding the Parking Area was a taste of things to come.
A male Anna's hummingbird, found feeding at the entrance of this outstanding outdoor museum, was my second hummingbird species. Birds hanging around the grounds included the fore mentioned species plus a superb Bullocks Oriole, Gila Woodpecker, Abert's Towhee and Turkey Vulture.
Eventually it was too hot for birding to be productive anymore, so I wandered around the grounds with Eugene,who educated me on the many species of plants.
As the midday sun began to give way to early evening I decided to head for the Sweetwater Wetlands and picked up Harris Hawk, Cinnamon Teal, Least and Spotted Sandpiper, Peregrine, Ladder backed Woodpecker, Curve billed Thrasher, Yellow Headed Blackbird, Red winged Blackbird and Lesser Goldfinch.
After a prompt phone call to Kelly Hutton, an exceptional and enthusiastic wild life biologist who had agreed to meet and bird with me the following day, I set off for the San Pedro Riparian Area, south of Sierra Vista.
The temperatures were already comfortable when I arrived at the San Pedro river. While waiting for Kelly to arrive I ticked off the enigmatic Vermilion Flycatcher -- a bird I most wanted to see. They are in fact abundant here much to my delight.
Kelly arrived right on cue and brought along a companion, Bill Scott a knowledgeable Texan birder who loved nothing better than to sort out the Empidonax flycatchers a challenge for anyone. Birding the cottonwoods that skirt both sides of the river brought new birds. Common Ground, Dove, Virginia's Warbler, Lucy's Warbler, Grey Hawk. Cassin's Kingbird, Green tailed Towhee, and Plumbeous Vireo were all lifers for me. Other warblers included Yellow rumped (Audubon and Myrtle), Wilsons, Yellow and Common Yellowthroat.
News of a Lucifer's hummer at Beaties had us on the road to Millers Canyon. Though at this point in time I did not see the Lucifers, I was not too disapointed, as the show put on by Broad-tailed, Rufous, Calliope and Magnificent hummingbirds made the trip worthwhile. A Yellow eyed Junco was also ticked.
News of a bird high on every visiting birders list, an Elegant Trogon at Gardner Canyon had us back on the road again. Expectedly on our arrival there were birders looking around for the Trogan. We had to be content for now at an obliging Buff breasted Flycatcher, a good bird to add to ones life list all the same! A pair of these flycatchers have set up territories here for the past couple of years and this one eventually gave excellent views.
A flash of red gave away the bird we had come to see as it landed in a nearby tree, not yards from where we were standing. The Elegant Trogon seemed curious and presented great photographic opportunities (I hope my pictures turn out)! The only other lifers for me today were a Western Pewee and a Mexican Jay.
San Pedro 15th April
Without Kelly along with her much appreciated knowledge of calls and her and Bill's tenacious thirst for a new lifer, it was left to me to try and grip them off. I obliged with Lucifer's Hummingbird which had returned to Beaties. Sorry guys! Most of the morning was spent trying to photograph Vermilion flycatcher.
A nice diversion from my busy quest for more lifers came in the form of new trip birds -- Loggerhead shrike, Great Horned Owl, and Coopers hawk. This kept away my hunger pangs while I added a Rufous Crowned Sparrow Roadrunner and Bewick's Wren as new lifers without me trying. My list was growing.
Ramsey Canyon April 16th
I was to pay dearly for making the mistake of venturing into Ramsey Canyon without my camera. It hit me with a vengence as I came across a group of birders standing just three feet away from the nest a pair of Painted Redstarts were building along the edge of the trail ( what was I thinking of!!) Typically the birds had given up for the day by the time I had hiked down and back up the Canyon again carrying my cumbersome equipment. Ahhhhhggg!!!!!
An appreciated relief from my bad luck came in the shape of two more lifers -- a Dusky Capped Flycatcher and a Brown Crested Flycatcher. They weren't as difficult to separate as the book had suggested, probably due to seeing both species within minutes of each other. The Dusky Capped is much smaller and has a smaller bill than the Brown Crested. The Dusky's call was also diagnostic, a call which Kelly had me imitating over the coming days. We also ticked a Bridled Titmouse and Black Throated Grey Warbler.
French Joe Canyon April 17th
For the second or third consecutive year a Rufous capped Warbler was reported at French Joe Canyon. Along with the Trogon, it was possibly the bird of the trip. It's an elusive Mexican vagrant, which Kelly had seen before, but many had failed to see. Maybe they just didn't fancy the long hike up the Canyon for such a hit or miss bird. We decided to go for it!
Accompanying us was another birder, Martha Auslander, who became part of a great birding foursome, and a friend to boot. I ticked a Black throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee and Rock Wren -- all new birds for me. Half way to the Canyon we met David McCree from Georgia, a sorrowful and exhausted birder. He was gutted to hear he had taken the wrong trail but delighted to have someone who knew the location where the bird was last observed.
The importance of local knowledge needs to be made here. All the maps and directions became insignificant to David an experienced birder who had both!
Wearily and with much effort, David came along with us. Only ten minutes after our arrival, we were all rewarded with superb views of the bird. The sun on the bird made the 30 second view stick in the memory as its bright yellow throat and Chestnut cap stood out as a Rufous-capped Warbler.
On our way back to our four wheel drive vehicle that Kelly had so skillfully maneuvered through some very rocky terrain to get us here I added a Canyon Wren and Bushtit to my lifers and also saw a few difficult birds such as Black chinned Sparrow, and Cassin's Vireo. Nice one Kel!
After a quick stop for refreshments, we headed to the Patton's house. The Pattons have their garden open to the public 7 days a week, and the birds they get are mouth watering. We arrived to get unexpected Cassin's Finches, and Violet crowned Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Zone tailed Hawk Acorn Woodpecker, Broad-billed hummingbird Gambels Quail, White winged Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Anna's Hummingbird, Black chinned Hummingbird, Stellers Jay, Coopers hawk and Yellow shafted Flicker came and went. We rounded the day off with short a journey to Kino Springs, stopping at the famed Patagonia roadside rest. Although we had great birds no more lifers were added. We did nearly manage to stand on an Olive green snake which turned out to be a Rat snake.
Buenos Aires National Wildlife refuge 18th April
Bill Scott and astronomer and birder Carol Neese joined. New trip birds included Bells Vireo, Black Vulture and Brewers Sparrow. Only lifer here was a Verdin. So we set off for Madera Canyon for the evening appearance of an Elf Owl. which obliged right on cue. As we approached the entrance to the Canyon, we tcked off a Black Phoebe and Phainopepla.
Patagonia April 19th
Birding alone again I decided to try my luck for the Black bellied Whistling Duck at Kino Springs. On the way I stopped at the Pattons and was rewarded with Black Headed Grosbeak at the feeder but still no Lazuli's.
On the way to Kino I finally heard Chichuan Raven and was able to at last tick the bird. On arrival it became apparent the Black bellied whistling Ducks were here as three birders returning from the ponds were smiling to me and pointing toward the southern bank. Sure enough, two birds were standing upright in the middle of a sand bank. A reported Fulvous Whistling duck could not be relocated. (Not a lifer for me so I was not to disapointed) Green heron, Belted Kingfisher, Grey Hawk and Zone tailed Hawkwere here as well. A Beardless Tyrannulet at the roadside rest was ticked on my way back to Patagonia. Great birding followed but no more life birds that day.
Madera Canyon April 20th
If I was to have any chance of reaching a mile stone of 1,000 Species, I had to be sure of at least 8 more lifers. Bill had given me some directions for Rufous winged Sparrow which I dipped on. Fortunately in the same area I found two target species -- Bendire's Thrasher and Black tailed Gnatcatcher. I was told the latter was quite easy......That was the only one I saw!! A good start! So off to Madera Canyon.
The good start continued with a surprise bird, a Band-tailed Pigeon. Then a long hike up the Canyon for a Red faced Warbler, which eventually obliged thanks to directions from two birders Eddie and Julie Edwards who had managed to see a single bird up on the higher elevations.
My next lifer was the monstrous looking empidonax look-a-like, the Greater Pewee. A lucky break came my way when Eddie and Julie, claiming they had Scott's Oriole coming to a hummer feeder,invited me back to their cabin near the visitor's centre. They were right!
I was certainly on a roll, but all good things come to an end. My last lifer for the day, a male Hepatic Tanager, was feeding in the canopy. There were birds everywhere but no more lifers.
This great day put my life list within five birds of a thousand. Would I manage the 1000?.....there was hope yet with one full day of birding left before going home.
Mount Lemmon 21st April
An invitation from Martha Auslander to come around for a barbeque and to talk strategies with Bill Scott and Kelly Hutton was a good idea.
We were now a team with goal! I needed their local knowledge to find out where the best places were to get to grips with four species that I knew I had a reasonable chance of getting.
The fifth Species was becoming an embarrassing joke as everyday I was assured "Don't bother; the bird will be ticked off en-route" so common were they.........
Well turns out Martha's cat got my Says Phoebe before I got it! If only you could tick dead ones! I shouldn't have fretted because a walk around Martha's housing estate gave me the nuisance bird. The Says Phoebe became #996.
The road to Mount Lemmon had been closed all week due to construction work. As it was now Saturday and the road re-opened, we decided that was our best plan for higher altitude birds.
All three of the most productive sewage treatment plants where closed during my 10-day stay ( just my luck) so it made sense. We arrived early and being first out of the car I had a very easy Red faced Warbler (and to think I tramped up that Canyon!) Within minutes we had more birds, including Western Bluebird, Yellow rump Warbler, Red backed Junco, Plumbeous Vireo. No more lifers, however.
We moved on, and a brief stop at Rose Canyon rest gave us one more of our target birds a Graces Warbler It was lifer #997 for me.
A Pigmy Nuthatch (a lifer for Bill) came in view before our next target bird obliged ME, an Olive Warbler.
I was on 998 We discussed whether we had time to do a detour for a reported Lewis's Woodpecker at a local park. It had been put out on the Rare bird Alert (RBA). Bill had seen the bird early in the week but was unsure if it had stuck around. The decision to go for it was a good one. The bird greeted us from a telegraph pole as we alighted from the car. But it immediatley flew off into the distant trees within a minute of Bill getting out his scope. It was #999 for me.
We decided to head back to Patagonia as anything could turn up there. A quick visit to the Pattons was more of a "lets just see whats there," but within minutes of our arrival...BINGO!
A stunning male Lazuli Bunting made a fitting bird to commemorate the milestone. I was congratulated with high fives and hand shakes from each of my American colleagues, fitting company to witness the event. Cheers guys!!!!
I missed Striklands Woodpecker at Madera and dipped after a final try for Rufous winged Sparrow on an unusual windy day Instead we were rewarded with another sighting of an Elegant Trogan at one of the footbridges. I finally had my Thousand!!
Before setting off to the airport I thought I would try one last detour for MacGillivary's Warbler. Bill Scott had rang to say more than one bird had been seen in a wash not far from where I was staying. I tried for the bird but didn't get it, although I did get #1,001, a Bronzed Cowbird. Might as well carry on for 2,000 now I've started!
Leaving without saying goodbye to three people who had been both helpful and great company would have been a blot on what was a great trip, so we met for breakfast and talked over a possible Texas trip next year........sounds good to me!!!!!!!
23 April Memphis
An unexpected missed connecting flight from Memphis to Amsterdam due to a bad weather delay may have been tiresome, but every cloud has a silver lining so they say. My silver lining was 1,002 --a superb Worm Eating Warbler in a woodland right in the middle of midtown Memphis. Also saw Scarlet Tanager, Northern Waterthrush, Indigo Bunting, White Throated Sparrow, Hermit and Wood Thrush. Sure beat sitting in hotel room!
I ended my trip with 167 species. It wasn't the largest total I've had on birding trips, but seeing 11 species of hummingbird, Trogans and other great birds was wenough to make the total secondary.