Courtesy James P. Smith
The height of summer may seem like an odd time to visit Arizona, a state usually regarded as one of the hottest in the US. But mid-summer brings the cooling effect of the monsoon rains producing a ‘second-spring’ for breeding birds and an abundant food source for early southbound migrants. With this in mind, we’ve consistently run a Birdfinders tour to Arizona in July/August and 2012 proved to be one of our most successful trips to date.
Highlights were many but this year was unusual in the sense that many of the best bird moments were challenged by non-avian events. For example, we had a breathtakingly close encounter with a Black Bear in Madera Canyon, and Neil’s sharp eyes managed to pick out a small rattlesnake in Montosa Canyon, which proved to be rarest sighting of the tour – it was a Tiger Rattlesnake, an animal so rare that many of the locals had never even seen one! But the tour was very much focused on bird finding and we did superbly well with certain groups such as raptors, as we notched up Common Black-hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk and Grey Hawk in one evening in Arivaipa Canyon, and woodpeckers with eleven species including Arizona and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, Gilded Flicker, and Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers. Most birders wouldn’t think of coming to Arizona in summer for shorebirds, yet we had a really impressive selection at Willcox Twin Lakes. Here we found 1500 Wilson’s Phalaropes, 150 American Avocets, over 60 Baird’s Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpiper and even a Willet – the latter being new to our tour list.
For many the hummingbirds provide much of the appeal in Arizona. No other US state can boast the diversity of species to be found in Arizona and this year was no exception. Star hummers included Violet-crowned, Magnificent, Blue-throated, Costa’s and Calliope Hummingbirds. Although we did see a good male White-eared Hummingbird in Miller Canyon, several rare species were simply not present, including Berylline and Lucifer Hummingbirds seen on previous tours. By way of compensation, we were treated to brief but excellent looks at a Plain-capped Starthroat in lower Miller Canyon. In US terms, this great rarity occurs only in south-eastern Arizona and it was the first time that we had connected with the species during a tour – it became the fifteenth species of hummingbird on the Birdfinders Arizona tour list!
So many enjoyable elements spring to mind when thinking of this tour, not least of which was the spectacular scenery which seemed to get bigger and better towards the end of the trip as we passed through Silver City in New Mexico, back into Arizona via the White Mountains, through the Petrified Forest and culminating in a full day at the Grand Canyon. Arizona 2012 was hugely enjoyed by all participants and I’m especially grateful to them for excellent group camaraderie throughout. Special thanks go to Wendy Ecob for putting up with an otherwise all male tour but at least she got to see her much wanted life Black Bear!
James P. Smith, Gill, Massachusetts, USA