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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.

Good birding,

James P. Smith, Northfield, MA, USA

Canada Goose (<em>maxima</em>) Pacific Loon
Black-vented Shearwater Black-vented Shearwater
Brown Booby Red-shouldered Hawk
Sandhill Cranes
Scripps's Murrelet Cassin's Auklet
Heermann's Gull Yellow-footed Gull
Iceland (Thayer's) Gull Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird Costa's Hummingbird
Allen's Hummingbird Broad-billed Hummingbird
Williamson's Sapsucker Prairie Falcon
Black Phoebe Cassin's Vireo
Mexican Jay Oak Titmouse and Fox Sparrow
Pygmy Nuthatch Sinaloa Wren
California Gnatcatcher California Gnatcatcher
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Black-capped Gnatcatcher
Varied Thrush Rufous-capped Warbler
Spotted Towhee Abert's Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow Baird's Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrows Eastern Meadowlark
Evening Grosbeak Grey Whale
Mule Deer
Grassland birding
Sandhill Cranes
Salton Sea
Heermann's Gull

Heermann's Gull