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Courtesy of James P. Smith

For the second year in succession, Birdfinders enjoyed a truly fabulous tour of the south-western deserts in winter time. Attractions ranged from hundreds of Black-vented Shearwaters cruising around Grey Whales off San Diego to the true spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes in the Sulphur Springs Valley, and the thrilling pursuit of winter rarities for which the region is justly famed.

This year we dealt with cooler than average temperatures bringing snow to the higher ground in Arizona, but otherwise enjoyed almost perfect winter weather for birding.

Highlights were many including Cackling Geese (in Scottsdale), Barrow’s Goldeneyes (Lake Havasu), Gambel’s and California Quails, Red-throated and Pacific Divers (Lake Havasu), American Bittern (Whitewater Draw), Ferruginous and Rough-legged Hawks (rare in the SW), Yuma Clapper Rail (actually seen at the Salton Sea), Mountain Plover (Santa Cruz Flats), Black Turnstone and Wandering Tattler (La Jolla), Yellow-footed Gull (Salton Sea), Thayer’s, Glaucous and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Rhinocerous and Cassin’s Auklets (San Diego), Ruddy Ground-dove (Patagonia Lake), Rosy-faced Lovebird (Phoenix), Western and Whiskered Screech-owls (Patagonia), Broad-billed Hummingbird, male and female Elegant Trogons (Patagonia), no less than fourteen species of woodpecker including Red-naped and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Arizona, Lewis’s, Nuttall’s and White-headed Woodpeckers, as well as Gilded Flicker (Scottsdale), Vermilion, Hammond’s, Dusky and Grey Flycatchers, Cassin’s and Thick-billed Kingbirds (Del Mar), Mexican Jay, Bridled and Oak Titmice, California Gnatcatcher (San Diego), Wrentit, Bendire’s, Crissal, Le Conte’s and California Thrashers, Sprague’s Pipit (Salton Sea), Phainopepla, Olive and Rufous-capped Warblers (Florida Canyon), Painted Redstart (San Diego), Green-tailed, Spotted, Canyon, California and Abert’s Towhees, Rufous-winged Sparrow (Patagonia), Botteri’s Sparrow (Patagonia – unprecedented in winter), Black-chinned Sparrow (Florida Canyon), Baird’s Sparrow (San Rafael), Golden-crowned Sparrow (San Diego), Tricoloured Blackbird (San Jacinto), Lawrence’s Goldfinch (St. David), and a spectacular hybrid Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal (Salton Sea).

Our new itinerary now includes a whale watching trip off San Diego for Grey Whales, Pacific Alcids and good possibilities for Black-vented Shearwater. Indeed, the addition of a ‘pelagic’ element to the tour raised the trip diversity considerably and we concluded the tour with a total of 264 species!

This exciting tour will be running once more in January 2014. In the mean time, please enjoy this gallery of images from this year’s trip.

James P. Smith, Gill, MA, USA

Snow Geese
Snow Geese and Ross's Geese
Horned Grebe Red-necked Grebe
Black-vented Shearwater American Bittern
Rough-legged Hawk Heermann's Gulls
Yellow-footed Gull Western Screech-owl
Elegant Trogon Arizona Woodpecker
White-headed Woodpecker Prairie Falcon
Thick-billed Kingbird Loggerhead Shrike
Cactus Wren California Gnatcatcher
Le Conte's Thrasher Sprague's Pipit
Olive Warbler
Chestnut-collared Longspurs
Rufous-capped Warbler California Towhee
Golden-crowned Sparrow Grey Whales
Otey Lakes
Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull