• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

SE Arizona, June 16-19, 2005 (1 Viewer)

Michael W

Mountain Chickadee

My dad and I are just back from a 3 ½ day trip to SE Arizona. We planned the trip within a week of our departure! But sometimes those trips are the best kinds, and this was definitely one of those.

After arriving in Tucson at about 10:00 PM on June 15, we picked up our rental Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove south to Green Valley, where we spent the night. Early the next morning (6/16/05), we headed east to Madera Canyon. But first, there were Great-tailed Grackles, White-winged Doves, and a Cactus Wren in the Best Western parking lot. On the road to Madera, we saw Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, a few Lucy’s Warblers (lifer #1), Phainopeplas, Northern Cardinal, a nice male Blue Grosbeak, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-throated Sparrows, and a Botteri’s Sparrow that responded immediately to a playback. There was a kettle of Turkey Vultures.

Until just before the trip, we have used a thirty-some-year-old Bausch and Lomb scope that Dad got in college. But we (he) just got a new Swarovski ATS-80mm HD scope, and it arrived the day before we left for Arizona. WOW!!! What an improvement! We hauled it all over Arizona, using it for land birds like we never have before. It is so amazing to use. Next step will be to get a camera and adapter to do digiscoping! ;)

Madera Canyon produced many interesting birds. Around the lower picnic area, we saw White-breasted Nuthatch, Mexican Jays, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, a male Broad-billed Hummingbird, Painted Redstart, Acorn Woodpecker, Yellow-eyed Junco, Brown-crested Flycatcher (and nest hole), and some Bewick’s Wrens. So many of these birds and more all through the trip were only 2nd sightings for me–—we went to SE Arizona six years ago when I was nine. It was great to see most of the specialties once again.

At the Santa Rita Lodge feeders, we saw tons of House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches, plus Bronzed Cowbird and Black-chinned Hummingbird. We stopped at the Madera Kubo cabins to look for the Flame-colored Tanagers that had nested there, but it was a no-show while we were there for maybe 15 minutes. But we did see Plumbeous Vireo, a beautiful Magnificent Hummingbird at a feeder, Western Wood-Pewee, a sub-adult male Summer Tanager, and a brief look at a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. We decided to move on up the canyon and come back for the tanager later.

Two hikes (one being a few hours later with new directions) up Old Baldy Trail netted us some great birds. We saw Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos, Black-headed Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatchers (lifer #2), 2 Wild Turkeys, a Hermit Thrush, an Arizona Woodpecker (lifer #3), a female Hepatic Tanager (lifer #4), and Bridled Titmice. Although we looked for trogons quite thoroughly, they were not seen, but we heard 2 in what we think was a nest-sitter-change! Oh well…

We returned mid-morning to Madera Kubo for a couple hours and watched with some others for the Flame-colored Tanagers to show up. No such luck, although we were shown the nest that they used earlier this summer. We sighted a Band-tailed Pigeon, too.

On the way out, we stopped at Florida Wash. Since it was so hot, probably near 100 degrees, we didn’t see much but a Canyon Towhee, a Bell’s Vireo feeding a fledgling, a Western Kingbird, and a fly-over Swainson’s Hawk.

Next it was off to the south. Just past Arivaca, we got good looks at Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbirds, Red-winged Blackbird, Barn Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, and American Kestrel. A Yellow-breasted Chat and a Yellow Warbler were very nice too.

And here began our escapade into California Gulch, off Ruby Road east of Arivaca. The “road” (if it can be called such) was incredible! It took forever just to cover a few miles of the potholes, ruts, washes, rock slopes, etc. On the way in we saw 2 Greater Roadrunners. But at the other end, we saw what we were looking for. First of all, in an area past Oro Blanco Mine over the ridge, we saw a Five-striped Sparrow (lifer #5) at one of the two spots in the US they are known to be. Excellent scope views of this bird! Shortly thereafter, we had absolutely fantastic scope views of a male and a female Varied Bunting! Although this wasn’t a life bird, it was basically the same as one as I had never seen a male; only a female-type. Wow! Also in the canyon were a Canyon Wren (living up to its name), a Rock Wren, Cassin’s Kingbirds, and a male Summer Tanager.

We came back to Oro Blanco Mine to await darkness, and a special bird that would come with it. Meanwhile, there were a few Hooded Orioles, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and some kingbirds to occupy our binoculars. At about 7:45pm, Common Poorwills started to call. Although we heard many on the trip, we never saw any. At 8:21 by my camera (which is a little ahead), we heard the first call of a Buff-collared Nightjar (soon to be lifer #6)! We chased (more like “stalked”) it around for about an hour, not getting any good views except for a couple times in flight. There were actually two of them. They have the coolest call! We heard Elf and Western Screech-Owls from the mine.

On our way out of California Gulch (in the dark this time!), I caught the sounds of owls right beside the car. When we got out and shined the light, there was an Elf Owl, actually two of them! I got some great pictures before we left a few minutes later. Such neat little owls, and they were very tame, allowing us to get within 15 feet [or basically right under them]. Another really cool thing!

After reading a report of someone seeing Whiskered Screech-Owls at Sycamore canyon just east of CA Gulch, we decided to check it out. It was about 11pm by now! But sure enough, we had great views (and a couple pics) of one Whiskered Screech-Owl (lifer #7) that came in to check us out!

Thus ended day one. We got into Nogales near the US/Mexico border past midnight, and grabbed a few hours sleep before heading out again at about 5am the next morning (isn’t it funny how we birders do that!).

So here goes day 2 (6/17/2005). Like I said, we got up at about 5 o’clock and headed back west to check out a few areas for Montezuma Quail. Having already watched at several good areas for them, a jinx was beginning! And it continued all through the trip. Oh well…you always need some excuse to go back! We visited Peña Blanca Lake on Ruby Road. We had great views of a Green Heron, Pied-billed Grebes, American Coots, Gila Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Violet-green Swallow, and Anna’s Hummingbird. There were some Bushtits along Ruby Road.

While picking up our things at the hotel, we noted Cliff Swallows nesting under the hotel’s canopy. Then we went north and east to Kino Springs. There were lots of birds there, starting with Killdeer, Mallard (“Mexican” Duck) , Say’s Phoebe, Gilded Flicker, Common Raven, Inca Dove, and Gambel’s Quail at the first pond. At the main ponds by the buildings, there was a very obliging pair of Gray Hawks, a couple Varied Buntings, Common Yellowthroats, Song Sparrow, and a Great Blue Heron. For dragonflies, there were some Red Saddlebags and Black Saddlebags cruising around, both lifers.

We made a very quick stop at Patagonia Lake State Park, where we saw the only reliable Neotropic Cormorants in SE Arizona, 4 Ruddy Ducks, and a couple more Green Herons. There were tons of Blue Dashers (dragonflies) and Blue-eyed Darners here as well.

Next was a quick stop at the famed Patagonia Roadside Reststop. Because of our short stay, we didn’t see much, but there were White-throated Swifts zipping overhead and a Rufous-winged Sparrow gathering nesting material on the path.

After this, we went over to Paton’s Feeders in Patagonia, where we saw some good hummingbirds: Broad-billed, Black-chinned, and Violet-crowned. A Sharp-shinned Hawk scared away the White-winged and Mourning Doves at the feeders.

Just north of Sonoita, we saw a Horned Lark on the fence, and at the San Pedro House, we saw Common Ground-Doves, Abert’s and Canyon Towhees, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, [/b]Cassin’s Kingbirds[/b], and a Vermilion Flycatcher. There were lots of Flame Skimmers and more Blue-eyed Darners (dragonflies again) along the creek.

After this, we headed south to the Huachuca Mountains to spend the next day or so. Our first stop was Miller Canyon, and up the trail we saw one or two stunning Red-faced Warblers (lifer #8). We watched a young Cooper’s Hawk finishing off a bird (unID’ed), and saw a couple Grace’s Warblers. At the famed Beatty’s Feeders, we had our hummingbird amazement, with 8 ½ species seen!: Anna’s (the most common), Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Violet-crowned, Magnificent, White-eared, Costa’s, and a Magnificent X Berylline hybrid. It’s the coolest thing to sit there and have dozens of hummingbirds flying around! The hummingbirds themselves make a trip to southeast Arizona worth it for me.

We also heard here from a few great guys that we kept running into that the Flame-colored Tanager had showed that morning at Madera Canyon. This set us to thinking about how to go back and look for it…

After we had had our fill of the hummingbirds there (although you really could never have enough of it!), we went just south to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast to see some more hummingbirds. There we saw Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Magnificent, Anna’s, and 2-3 Lucifer Hummingbirds (the target). We had fantastic scope views of the male Lucifer as he sat and preened in one of the trees! As we were leaving, a couple Common Nighthawks flew and called overhead.

On our way back north to where we were staying in Sierra Vista, we saw at least 15 Lesser Nighthawks flying about above a large lit parking lot. It was really cool to watch, and they were well lit from the lights below, making viewing conditions very good.

Now for day 3 (6/18/05), the highlight day of the trip. We started out very early, heading into Fort Huachuca just west of Sierra Vista. We were greeted by a singing Botteri’s Sparrow as we drove through, and soon after we had seen a Pyrrhuloxia, a Lark Sparrow, 8 Eastern Meadowlarks, 3 Loggerhead Shrikes, and 8 Wild Turkeys. We headed up through the lower part of Garden Canyon, again passing through great Montezuma Quail habitat but not seeing any. Apparently, if you’re going to see them, you can’t be looking for them.

We stopped at the Upper Picnic Area, and as soon as we got out of the car, we detected the calls of an Elegant Trogon! After tracking it down, we had stunning views of adult male trogon (lifer #9). We have looked many times for this species, and finally have seen it! Later, we saw it feeding a fledgling. I was able to sneak up on the young bird to within 10 feet without disturbing it. Wow! The male trogon was even more amazing to look at! Of course, once we saw it, we heard several more through the day…

After the great looks at the trogon, we started back through a different part of the picnic area, and I detected the calls of another of our targets. We soon had the singing Buff-breasted Flycatcher (lifer #10) in sight, and had awesome views of it. The buffy breast really stood out. Other birds in the picnic area included an Arizona Woodpecker, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, an Acorn Woodpecker, my first male Hepatic Tanager, and Mexican Jays.

After this, we went farther up Garden Canyon and spotted a Western Tanager above us. Where Sawmill Canyon cuts off at above 6,000 feet, we went on another little walk. We soon had our target for here in sight, a very nice singing Greater Pewee (lifer #11). We heard a couple Elegant Trogons and a Cordilleran Flycatcher, and saw Grace’s Warblers, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and other birds that we became accustomed to (for instance: Mexican Jay—the magpies of SE Arizona).

Our plans then led us to Scheelite Canyon just downhill from there, the regular location of Spotted Owls. Since we were batting 1000 at this point, we had high hopes for the owls. On the way, we saw Bridled Titmice, a Cordilleran Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and a Spotted Towhee. The Arizona bird-finding guide has very nice directions on how to find the owls, and they were spot-on. About half a mile up just past a cliff on the right is where they roost most often. We ran into a guy named Roy, and he showed us where one of the owls was roosting. We soon had the Spotted Owl (lifer #12) in the Swarovski, and had amazing views of it! It was probably 50 feet away. We were talking about how the other one was probably nearby, when Roy turned around and spotted it (pun intended)! It was pretty funny how it worked out, but it was sure great! I hooked up my camera to the tripod and got some really satisfying pictures of them half-dozing in the oaks. Also in the area of the Spotted Owls was another Arizona Woodpecker.

And so, still hitting all our targets, we set sail for Madera Canyon in hopes of seeing the tanager in the afternoon, but planning to look again in the morning if we didn’t have success. We drove through Sonoita, then through Box Canyon and dropped down onto the road to Madera Canyon. Then we began our wait at Madera Kubo.

There were many interesting birds to occupy our waiting time; around the place there were families of White-breasted Nuthatches, an Acorn Woodpecker nest hole, Blue Grosbeak, a young Hooded Oriole, a juvenile Painted Redstart or two, House Finches, Western Wood-Pewees, and Mexican Jays.

After an hour, I heard a tanager calling beyond the pyracantha with orange halves. It sounded like a Western, but was slightly slower. After scanning the trees for a minute, I spotted the male Flame-colored Tanager (lifer #13)!!! It came down and drank from an orange for a few minutes, and gave us outstanding full-frame scope views and some decent pictures with my Canon 300D. Then it even started to sing! After a bit, it retreated to the trees behind the oranges and continued to sing out of sight. The song also was almost like a Western Tanager, but was quite a bit slower, almost like the nearby Plumbeous Vireo. We left it singing happily after we spotted a pair of Hepatic Tanagers in the same trees. It was a very satisfying experience, and both Dad and I decided that this bird and the Elegant Trogons tied for the coolest and best bird of the trip.

From Madera Canyon, we went back up through Tucson and took Hwy 10 NW to Red Rock, at about 1,900 feet elevation (a drastic change from 6,000 ft!). We had read a report of some Ruddy Ground-Doves at the Red Rock Feedlot and decided to give them a shot. After some driving around, we saw a few ground-doves, but they turned out to be Common’s. But we finally got some decent looks at what had to be a male Ruddy Ground-Dove (lifer #14). The looks weren’t completely satisfying, but it had apparently left. The feedlot was dove heaven, with Common and Ruddy Ground-, Inca, Mourning, and Eurasian Collared-Doves, plus a few Rock Pigeons! White-winged Doves are also seen there but we didn’t have any. I’ve never seen 6 species in one place before!

We also got a very brief view of a Bendire’s Thrasher (lifer #15). It flew in and must have been getting a drink in the water troughs, because it immediately flew way off across the grassland to what looked like suitable nesting habitat. It was the size of a mockingbird (actually looked like one for a second by profile!), had a very short bill, and was definitely a thrasher. Once again, not completely satisfying views, but definitely enough for an ID.

Here we went east to Oracle Junction for the night. We got up at 4:45am (6/19/05) and went to Catalina State Park in search of three targets. We struck out on the Black-chinned Sparrows that were supposed to be there, but got the other two. We saw 31 species; among them, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Abert’s and Canyon Towhees, a male Varied Bunting, the sought-after Rufous-winged Sparrows (lifer #16, turned out to be all over), Vermilion Flycatcher, Lucy’s Warbler, Gilded Flicker, Pyrrhuloxia, Ash-throated Flycatchers, and Gambel’s Quail. Dad spotted a few thrashers that we had to chase for a while to get a definite ID, but they ended up being Crissal Thrashers (final lifer #17). By 9:00 when we left, it was already very hot even though it had been almost chilly at 5:15.

We still had some time before having to catch our flight, so we buzzed back over to the Red Rock Feedlot. After driving around the place once, we finally came across some doves. They were hiding in shade at this time of the day. After looking through a few, we got a couple that looked very interesting. Through the scope, we could see absolutely no scaling on the pale heads, extra spots on the scapulars (all spots were black), white edging to the greater coverts, all-gray bills, and all the other field marks pointing to female Ruddy Ground-Doves. Unlike the last sighting, this one was very satisfying, and it made a great end to an incredible SE Arizona adventure!

Here’s a complete list of what we saw; 131 species in all. I got 17 lifers, and my dad got 13! Lifers for just me are marked with ‘*’, and lifers for both of us are marked with ‘**’.

Pied-billed Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Mallard ("Mexican" Duck)
Ruddy Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
Gambel's Quail
American Coot
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove**
Inca Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Whiskered Screech-Owl**
Great Horned Owl
Spotted Owl**
Elf Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
Buff-collared Nightjar**
White-throated Swift
Broad-billed Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon**
Acorn Woodpecker
Gila Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker*
Gilded Flicker
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Greater Pewee**
Western Wood-Pewee
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Buff-breasted Flycatcher**
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher**
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cassin's Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Horned Lark
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cactus Wren
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Bewick's Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Bendire's Thrasher**
Curve-billed Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher*
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Bridled Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Loggerhead Shrike
Mexican Jay
Common Raven
European Starling
House Sparrow
Bell's Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Lucy's Warbler*
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Grace's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Red-faced Warbler**
Painted Redstart
Yellow-breasted Chat
Hepatic Tanager*
Summer Tanager
Western Tanager
Flame-colored Tanager**
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Abert's Towhee
Botteri's Sparrow
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Rufous-winged Sparrow**
Five-striped Sparrow**
Lark Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Varied Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole

Mammals of the trip were Whitetail Deer, Arizona Gray Squirrel, Roundtail Ground-Squirrel, Collared Peccary, an unidentified skunk seen from the rear, either Antelope or Black-tailed Jackrabbit (?), either Desert or Eastern Cottontail (?), and some rat that I have yet to identify.

I also took an interest in butterflies recently, so I actually paid attention to the butterflies in Arizona. Most of what I saw was new for me. I took pictures of just about all I saw, and am now identifying them from the pics. So far, I have identified these species, lifers marked with ‘*’:

Pipevine Swallowtail*
Two-tailed Swallowtail*
Mexican Yellow*
Leda Ministreak*
Marine Blue*
Reakirt's Blue*
Spring Azure
Texan Crescent*
California Sister*
Nabokov’s Satyr*
Red Satyr*

I have many more yet to identify, and will probably be calling on you, my dear friends that I know will help me. ;) The same goes for my lizard pictures, which I don’t have a guide for but am still interested.

As I go through my 800 or so photos, I’ll be posting some to my gallery at:
[so check it out! ;)]

Good birding, and thanks for reading!
Last edited:


registered guy
WOW!! Michael, sounds like you had a wonderful time! I'm really jealous of you... ; ). I will probably be going to AZ next summer, and now it will be even harder to wait!!!

Katy Penland

Well-known member
What a great report, Michael! Makes my mouth water reading your species list since I'd've had a few lifers in there, too, especially the owls. Thanks for sharing, and look forward to seeing your pics in the Gallery. :t:

You mentioned the "Arizona bird-finding guide." Is this its exact title? And did you use any other guides that you found helpful? I'd love to know since I've only been to the SE part of the state once but plan to go again.

Michael W

Mountain Chickadee
I sure hope you can go! Don't worry...next summer will be here before we know it!

We started out with an old guide published in 1999, titled "Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona", by the Tucson Audubon Society. But the first day in Arizona, we picked up a new 2005 book titled "A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona", by Richard Cachor Taylor. It's in the ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide series. It was very helpful, including detailed directions on how to get into California Gulch (you need good directions for that wild place!) for the nightjars, and information on very recent discoveries like the Ruddy Ground-Doves at the Red Rock Feedlot. This is definitely the book I'd recommend.

Another observation that I meant to put in my report was the difference between the climate for June this year vs July 1999. When we were there six years ago, they had the most rain and flooding that they had had in about 80 years, and many of the roads were blocked by flooding or overrun creeks. Even when we could get in to places, the water was so loud that it was hard to hear things!

In stark contrast was this June trip. We saw barely any water, and the rushing roaring rivers last time were now bone-dry washes that we walked in! We only saw a little bit of running water. It was also very hot this trip, up just past 100 degrees at times. But I didn't mind the heat so much because there is basically no humidity, and that was very nice! It was interesting to see the difference between June (the hottest month of the year) and July (the "second Spring", when the monsoon rains hit).

Katy Penland

Well-known member
Thanks very much for the titles, Michael. Yeah, the ABA/Lane Guides are great books; the one for southern California is fantastic in its detail, down to telling people not to turn off a particular water faucet in one highly birded area that is left open at a slow drip just for the birds.

Thanks also for the observations about the weather variations. One thing lots of people forget when they bird desert areas, especially in the late summer/early fall is the danger of flash flooding. SE Arizona is particularly interesting because it has some very high mountains and lots of steep canyons, and you won't even know there's been a storm upslope until you hear the thunder of water and mud heading your way in a ravine! A very scary sound. ;)

Michael W

Mountain Chickadee
Curtis Croulet said:
Rats! You mean the one I bought last year at Ramsey Canyon is already out-of-date?

Weeellllllllll........... ;) It's probably not out of date, just not the newest book out there! It's like getting a computer or a camera or a scope or anything like that....as soon as you get one, there's a new and better one!

Dave B Smith

Well-known member
Great report. Really loved reading it. We made a similar trip to this area May 04 and loved it (though it was not as successful as y'all's). And I guess your 2005 year list is going to be even tougher for us to catch up to now :cool:

Michael W

Mountain Chickadee
Okay, in case some of you wondered what happened to my regular posting of AZ pics (yes, I'm sure you were looking... ;)), it's because I've been in Oregon. But I'm back to my regular posting for the rest of the week (hopefully...).

ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
Warning! This thread is more than 17 years ago old.
It's likely that no further discussion is required, in which case we recommend starting a new thread. If however you feel your response is required you can still do so.

Users who are viewing this thread