24 April–9 May 2017
Whiskered Screech-owl, Buff-collared Nightjar, Elegant Trogon, 10+ species of hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, Greater Pewee, Dusky-capped, Buff-breasted and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Thick-billed Kingbird, Mexican Whip-poor-will, Mexican Jay, Mexican Chickadee, Olive and Red-faced Warblers and Five-striped Sparrow are just some of the special breeding birds not found anywhere else in the US. We also visit to the world-famous Grand Canyon.
Day 1 Scheduled flight from London to Phoenix, followed by a 30-minute drive to Tempe, Phoenix, for a one-night stay.
Day 2 We will head north to Mount Ord, where the elevation will provide some relief from the Phoenix heat. Scrub-dwelling species in the foothills could include Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay, Grey Vireo, Juniper Titmouse, Black-chinned Sparrow and Scott’s Oriole. We then head east to Aravaipa Canyon, a drive of about two hours, stopping for lunch on the way. The main target for the afternoon is the rare Common Black-hawk, a species with a tiny breeding population in the USA. Zone-tailed Hawk, which is easily confused with the abundant Turkey Vulture, may also be present and nearby we will also look for Mississippi Kite and Gambel’s Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Gilded Flicker, Cactus Wren and Broad-billed Hummingbird among other common desert species before heading south towards Tucson, birding en route. Two nights Tucson.
Day 3 We will drive up into the Santa Rita Mountains, where it will be cooler and where we will pass through several different life-zones. Our first stop will be in the oak/juniper woodlands at Proctor Road where we will look for Acorn Woodpecker, Bushtit, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jay, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bewick’s and Canyon Wrens, Lucy’s and Black-throated Grey Warblers. Above 1800 metres we could encounter Spotted Towhee, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hepatic Tanager, Plumbeous and Hutton’s Vireos, Band-tailed Pigeon, Arizona Woodpecker, Western Wood-pewee, Grace’s, Red-faced and Virginia’s Warblers, and Painted Redstart. We may also see Wild Turkey, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creeper, while overhead will be White-throated Swifts and Red-tailed Hawks. Montezuma Quail, Northern (Mountain) Pygmy-owl and Elegant Trogon are among the scarcer, higher elevation species we will search for.
Day 4 Rufous-winged Sparrow can sometimes be found in low lying grassland areas around Tucson and as we pass through the open grasslands with Cholla cactus we will reach Florida Wash where we will stop to look for Pyrrhuloxia, Varied Bunting, Bell’s Vireo and Black-throated, Lark, Rufous-crowned, Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows, the latter two being hard to separate by sight alone. Madera Canyon hold both Dusky-capped and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers whilst at Santa Rita Lodge the many feeders attract White-winged Doves, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbirds and Black-headed Grosbeak. Next we will return down the canyon to visit one or two less-well-known canyons in the Santa Rita range. In recent years Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-capped Gnatcatcher and Five-striped Sparrow have been found breeding here. In late afternoon we shall visit Kino Springs to look for Costa’s Hummingbird, Lazuli Bunting, Abert’s Towhee, Phainopepla and Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbirds with their commoner Western and Cassin’s cousins. Black Vultures are likely to be around, together with the very local Grey Hawk and we may also see Great Blue Heron, American Coot and Pied-billed Grebe depending on water levels. In the locally varied habitat Common Ground-dove, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Vermilion Flycatcher, Bullock’s and Hooded Orioles, Great-tailed Grackle, Indigo and Painted Buntings, and Bronzed Cowbird can all be found. Two nights in Nogales.
Day 5 Today we will start early and head towards the Mexican border, firstly along the freeway then on dirt roads where we will keep an eye out for Montezuma Quail, most commonly seen at the roadsides. Finally we will reach the rugged California Gulch. We may have a longish walk down canyon for the principal speciality, Five-striped Sparrow, but there will be plenty of other birds to look out for along the way including Zone-tailed Hawk, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Bushtit and Varied Bunting. Common Black-hawk, Rufous-capped Warbler and Black-capped Gnatcatcher have also been found here in recent years. After a break for lunch in Nogales we will visit the Patagonia area for Thick-billed Kingbird, Chihuahuan Raven and Violet-crowned Hummingbird. If the weather is fine in the evening we may try for some nocturnal species including Elf, Western and Whiskered Screech-owls, Buff-collared Nightjar, Common Poor-will and Mexican Whip-poor-will.
Day 6 Black-bellied Whistling-duck and Neotropic Cormorant can usually be found at today’s first destination, Patagonia Lake State Park. Other species we will search for include Bell’s Vireo, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, various flycatchers including Northern Beardless-tyrannulet and northbound migrants such as Hermit Warbler. Later we will cross the Sonoita Grasslands where Golden Eagle, Burrowing Owl, Scaled Quail, Eastern (Lillian’s) Meadowlark and Grasshopper Sparrow can be found. In the afternoon we will take our first look at the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains where some of the rarest birds in the US can be found. Here we shall search for White-eared, Beryline and Lucifer Hummingbirds among hordes of commoner hummingbirds. As dusk falls, Lesser Nighthawks can be seen cruising over the desert areas, while Common Nighthawks forage over the upper grasslands. Three nights in Benson.
Day 7 Early morning is a good time for flycatchers in Carr Canyon and we will search for Buff-breasted Flycatcher, a colonial breeder, as well as the solitary Greater Pewee, far rarer than its commoner cousin, Western Wood-pewee. Arizona Woodpecker is often present, and other birds at this elevation could include American Robin, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Spotted Towhee and House Wren. Raptors require careful study as Short-tailed Hawk, a rare summer breeder, may be found with luck. Depending on local information, we may also visit a roost site for Spotted Owl. After lunch in the quaint mining town of Bisbee we head for Whitewater Draw, a lowland wetland area with excellent birding. Key birds should include Great Horned and Barn Owls, Scaled Quail and Bendire’s and Crissal Thrashers. Swainson’s Hawks are commonly seen foraging over the fields and this is a good spot for Northern Harrier. A broad range of wetland species may be present including Cinnamon Teal, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher.
Day 8 The sleepy town of St David will be our first stop where a small population of Mississippi Kites has been established for some years. Summer Tanager, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Tropical Kingbird can also be found here. From there we will return to the Huachuaca Mountains to search for any species missed on previous visits, or to chase any reported rarities. In the last few years these have included Tufted Flycatcher, Flame-coloured Tanager and Slate-throated Redstart.
Day 9 We leave Benson early to concentrate on a full day in the Chiricahua Mountains. This mountain range is key for Mexican Chickadee and is the only place in the US where the species is present on publicly-accessible land. However, Montezuma Quail, Band-tailed Pigeon, Olive Warbler, Pygmy and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Blue-throated Hummingbird and Arizona Woodpecker are also all quite common and worth searching for. Rare raptors could include Northern Goshawk, Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks. Night in Lordsburg, New Mexico.
Day 10 The day begins with some fairly lengthy driving but with opportunistic birding stops along the way. We pass through Silver City, New Mexico before climbing through several life zones to reach the spectacular White Mountains region. Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlarks, Lewis’s Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker could be among the first birds we see. Luna Lake offers excellent waterfowl viewing as well as being a good spot for Bald Eagle. Sora and Virginia Rail and Brewer’s Blackbirds are common at the lake while careful scanning may reveal Sandhill Crane. After lunch in Alpine we will explore more upland meadows and lakes, perhaps finishing at Sipe Wildlife Management area where hummingbirds could include our first Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Black and Say’s Phoebes and Mountain Bluebirds are possible along the nature trails, with Pronghorn Antelopes in the meadows. Two nights in Springerville.
Day 11 We will leave the motel shortly after dawn to look for Dusky Grouse, a rare resident in the White Mountains; Dark-eyed (Grey-headed) Junco, Green-tailed Towhee and Vesper Sparrow also occur in the same areas. We shall also visit a site for the very-local American Dipper, while Townsend’s Solitaire, Pinyon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker and Grey Catbird can all be found at nearby South Fork. Sunrise Lake has numerous ducks and Savannah Sparrow, while both Clark’s and Western Grebes are possible. The nearby campground attracts Grey Jays and gives us a chance of American Three-toed Woodpecker. In the evening we may go to Becker Lake, where both Eastern (Lilian’s) and Western Meadowlarks can be found and Common Nighthawks forage overhead.
Day 12 A final morning in the beautiful White Mountains to search for any of yesterday’s birds that may have been missed. These may include Northern Pygmy-owl, Mountain Bluebird, Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers. In the afternoon we’ll enjoy the superb scenery of the Petrified Forest. New birds will be few but Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons breed in the park, with Scaled Quail, Rock Wren and Grey Flycatcher possible on the outskirts. After admiring the spectacle of the mineralized logs we will drive the short distance to see the Painted Desert, particularly spectacular in the late afternoon light. Pronghorn Antelopes are fairly common in the park, and the bushes around the visitor centre can be good for migrants such as MacGillivray’s Warbler. It is then a two-hour drive on fast roads to Flagstaff, our base for the next two nights.
Day 13 The journey to the Grand Canyon is about 90 minutes, although stops for birds may delay us. When we reach one of the greatest spectacles on Earth, however, birds will be almost of secondary importance, for the sight is simply breathtaking. Black-throated Grey Warbler, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch and Red Crossbill are all quite tame around the tourist trails and reintroduced (now ABA countable) California Condors sometimes appear along the cliffs but can be surprisingly difficult to locate due to the scale of the mighty canyon! In addition, there may be an opportunity to take a tourist flight at a cost of about £120 per person.
Day 14 We will eventually return to Phoenix today but we will have all day to make the journey, so we can visit suitable locations en route including Upper Mary and Mormon Lakes. In fact, the Flagstaff area has some very good birding including American Three-toed Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped, Olive and Red-faced Warblers as well as the highly-attractive Abert’s Squirrel. Night in Tempe, Phoenix.
Day 15 There may be time for some local early-morning birding before our overnight flight back to London. The Greater Phoenix area can have some surprisingly good urban birding including Gambel’s Quail, Inca Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, and the now ABA-countable Rosy-faced Lovebird.
Day 16 Arrival in London.
General Information It can be very hot at this time of year and there may be some rain/thunderstorms. There are no special medical requirements and there should be little problem with insects. The pace of the tour is moderate but with early starts and some more arduous walks up canyon paths. Visas (ESTA) are required. Food is excluded from the tour price but is relatively inexpensive; allow about £25 per day depending on your requirements.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.