Courtesy James P. Smith
During the summer of 2011 parts Arizona were ravaged by fire, and then by floods. In late July the prospects for a successful bird tour did not look particularly good. Undeterred, our small group met in Phoenix and subsequently enjoyed one of our most successful Arizona trips for years. With many of our planned forest areas closed to public access due to fire and flood damage, we concentrated on alternate locations finding a wealth of excellent birds and some impressive wildlife observations. Outstanding amongst these were hummingbirds, and we recorded an amazing 13 species with only the ultra-rare White-eared eluding us. This was still a mightily impressive tally and included a staggering crop of Violet-crowned (at five different locations), and Lucifer Hummingbirds (four birds at three locations, including three males!).
Raptors once again proved to be a big attraction on this trip, this year belonging firmly to the Common Black-hawk – we saw four individuals at three locations, pretty amazing for a species that can elude us altogether in some years. Also, Grey Hawks seemed to be everywhere in the south-east. We also spent a glorious morning with Mississippi Kites near our accommodation in Benson, and another morning in the San Rafael grasslands with White-tailed Kites. Of course, California Condor is becoming an integral part of this trip and this year was no exception. After a little work, we were rewarded with fantastic views of a perched adult on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Of the nocturnal raptors, we all got to see Mexican Spotted Owl after a vigorous hike up Scheelite Canyon, thanks to the persistence of our excellent local guide. And for the first time ever on the trip, we were fortunate enough to see fledgling Western Screech-owls at a cavity in a giant Cottonwood in Patagonia. Incidentally, the latter area also gave us many sightings of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, more so than we've had in previous tours.
Further outstanding moments included close-up and personal views of Bendire's and Crissal Thrashers, both of which can be very difficult in mid-summer. Lewis's Woodpeckers and American Dippers were found in the White Mountains, a place where we also came across Black-throated Grey and Red-faced Warblers, Williamson's Sapsuckers and the first Grey Jays that we've seen on the tour since 2001! And then there was the extraordinary views of Five-striped Sparrows, which seemed especially abundant in California Gulch this year, a site which also gave us outstanding views of Varied Buntings and Northern Beardless-tyrannulet. The beautiful Olive Warbler waited until the very last full morning of the trip before revealing itself in the pine woods above Flagstaff, but it was well worth the wait!
Ultimately, we only missed a handful of higher elevation species due to forest closures which in no way marred what was otherwise a highly successful trip, and all of which was enjoyed amidst the beauty of Arizona in the height of the mid-summer monsoon and its spectacular electrical storms.
Special thanks to all our participants for making this such an enjoyable tour, and for sharing excellent camaraderie through the trip.
James P. Smith, Gill, Massachusetts, USA