Sunday, 24 May 2009

Arizona - Part 1

As usual, Tucson was the base for the first three nights of our tour in Arizona. It's a great place to start, giving easy access to several really good birding sites. We began with a visit to Sabino Canyon, located on the south side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, for a gentle introduction to the birds of the desert. Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Greater Roadrunner, Gila & Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Black-throated Sparrow and Verdin were all seen very easily in spite of the canyon being unusually crowded with people even for a Sunday morning. After that we crossed town to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum with a stop on the way that found us a Gilded Flicker. Later in the day a pair of Burrowing Owls along Golf Links Road in Tucson delighted everyone.

Cactus Wren
Burrowing Owl
We spent a whole day on Mount Lemmon spending time at Babad D'oag Lookout, Molino Basin Campground, Rose Canyon and Summerhaven on the way up to Ski Valley. A drive of only about 25 miles took us from the desert to an altitude of about 8300 feet asl. As we travelled through changing habitats from desert scrub through oak to mixed conifers the views were spectacular and the birding was good, too. Rose Canyon provided the highlights with stunning Red-faced, Olive & Grace's Warblers, Hairy Woodpecker, a female Williamson's Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatches and a particularly confiding Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

From Tucson we drove to Portal on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains. A stop on the way there at Willcox Twin Lakes produced an excellent selection of ducks and shorebirds plus Eared Grebes, Horned Lark, Black-crowned Night Heron and, surprisingly, a Least Tern.

American Avocet

Everyone we have taken to Portal over the years remembers this little town as one of the main highlights of the tour. It really is a special place. Where else can you find four species of owls nesting within a few yards of the main street and half a dozen gardens along the same street that have bird feeders attracting such colourful gems as Lazuli Buntings, Baltimore, Hooded & Scott's Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Acorn Woodpeckers and many more?

And we always stay at the splendid Portal Peak Lodge, owned and managed by the Webster family

Of course, finding Portal's owls requires local help and we quickly hooked up with our old friend Dave Jasper for an evening 'owl prowl'. The birds weren't maybe as co-operative as we would have liked but we finished up having good views of Elf, Western & Whiskered Screech Owls but only heard Great Horned Owl, Common Poorwill and Whip-poor-will.

Next morning we had a quick pre-breakfast visit with Dave to Rodeo, New Mexico that produced Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Inca Dove, Loggerhead Shrike and Bendire's Thrasher. Later we visited what Dave calls his 'office', the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon where, much to our relief, Elegant Trogon was seen really well. It was a day during which we saw 85 species and yet we spent quite a while during the hottest part of the afternoon just sitting at the feeders at Cave Creek Ranch.

Arizona Woodpecker

Cliff Chipmunk

The following day was centred on a trip out to the nearby 'town' of Paradise and Jackie Lewis's feeders at the George Walker House, a reliable place to see Juniper Titmouse amongst many other species. In the silver mining days Paradise had a population of about 1500 but now has only about a dozen full-time residents. George Walker built his house in 1902 during the town's heyday. The book 'A Portal to Paradise' by Alden Hayes gives an interesting account of the history of the area. Not too far from Paradise we were pleased to find a low-elevation Mexican Chickadee.

That takes us almost halfway through the tour - more to follow...

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