ARIZONA AND CALIFORNIA 2015
Courtesy of James P. Smith
This fine tour ran for the first time in January 2012 and has subsequently run every year since. The group size was large enough to justify two vehicles this year and we were especially grateful to have Dermot Breen step in at relatively late notice, not only to drive the second vehicle, but also act as co-leader. He did a superb job and made a huge contribution to the trip.
There was a damp and drizzly opening to the trip... not exactly what we expected for a desert tour. However, once the rain cleared we had two weeks of almost unbroken sunshine and near perfect weather. Indeed, it was so warm that Tucson experienced record highs for mid-February.
This tour continues to surprise us with the sheer diversity of species recorded. Just by way of example we found all four North American sapsuckers on this tour, and even more impressive, all four possible species of gnatcatcher including the ultra-rare Black-capped. The San Diego whale watch excursion not only gave us Grey Whales but also a fantastic range of seabirds including Brown Booby, Black-vented Shearwater, Scripps’s Murrelet, and Cassin’s and Rhinocerous Auklets. A few days later we were scouring the grasslands for Baird’s Sparrows and Sprague’s Pipits... we got them both! The Arizona canyons gave us fine views of rarities such as Rufous-capped Warbler and Sinaloa Wren though both required some work. Indeed, the Sinaloa Wren has been recorded just a handful of times in the USA and is an ABA Code 5 rarity. While rarities provided a focus for some days in the trip, many other days were filled with the most special species of the region including thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese (Salton Sea), Barrow’s Goldeneyes (Lake Havasu), Gambel’s and Scaled Quails (Willcox), Common, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, American Bittern (Salton Sea), Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Ridgeway’s Rail (both subspecies), Mountain Plover (Santa Cruz Flats), Black Turnstone (La Jolla), Yellow-footed Gull (including adults – Salton Sea), Heerman’s, Thayer’s and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Whiskered Screech-owl (Patagonia), Allen’s, Costa’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds (all males!), Nuttall’s and Arizona Woodpeckers, Vermilion, Hammond’s, and Grey Flycatchers, Mexican Jay, Bridled, Juniper and Oak Titmice, Wrentit, Bendire’s, Crissal, Le Conte’s, Sage and California Thrashers, Sprague’s Pipit (Salton Sea), Phainopepla, Cassin’s Vireo (Patagonia) and a spectacular final morning with Evening Grosbeaks on the outskirts of Phoenix.
This fabulous tour will take place with a slightly amended itinerary during 6th–22nd January, 2016. In the meantime, do enjoy the photo gallery from the 2015 trip, and gracious thanks to all our participants for making the trip so enjoyable.
James P. Smith, Northfield, MA, USA