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This year's Arizona tour was a mixture of superb birding and having to contend with some poor weather conditions. On the plus side, we did very well on certain groups, especially the raptors with highlights including California Condor, Bald Eagle, Mississippi Kite, White-tailed Kite, Harris's Hawk, Grey Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Common Black Hawk and even Short-tailed Hawk, the latter now breeding in south-eastern Arizona in very small numbers and possible in the 'Sky Islands'.

Unfortunately, our birding plans (especially night birding), were disrupted by a late monsoon season with very heavy rain preventing access to a number of our favoured birding locations. We couldn't get to California Gulch at all this year with the road being impassable, even with our high-clearance vehicles. This meant having to give up the chance of Five-striped Sparrow. But, on the very same evening, our disappointment moderated when we had great looks at Common Poorwills on the drive out along the Ruby Road. These were quickly followed by stunning, prolonged spotlight views of a Montezuma Quail in the middle of the road! For many, this was the bird of the trip, and welcome compensation for missing the Five-striped Sparrow!

Of the owls, we were lucky enough to see two quartering Barn Owls at Whitewater Draw, and also saw Burrowing Owls near Tucson, and a fabulous Great Horned Owl near Phoenix that flew overhead in a continuous glide, much to the delight of our group.

In terms of spectacles, the hummingbird show, as usual in Arizona, was superb. Tom Beatty's yard remains a true gem where we had cracking views of one or two White-eared Hummingbirds and a single Violet-crowned. Later that same afternoon, we had wonderful views of two male Lucifer Hummingbirds at the Ash Canyon B&B. The following day, with our local guide Helen Snyder, we were treated to a Beryline Hummingbird on a nest near Portal during the wettest day that we'd ever seen in the Chiricahuas! The rain just kept coming, though it did seem to bring in an early flock of 200 Lark Buntings near Rodeo, New Mexico, which we enjoyed from the buses. Despite a gallant effort, the rain scuppered our plans for owling on the same evening though we did have good spotlight views of a Hognose Skunk on the road at South Fork.

Away from the south-east, we found drier conditions at elevation in the majestic White Mountains after a spectacularly scenic drive through the Apache National Forest. Here, Calliope Hummingbirds were the stars amongst hordes of Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds at Luna Lake. The 'Whites' also gave us some great woodpeckers with Lewis's and American Three-toed, and an especially good showing of Williamson's Sapsuckers. Other notables in the White Mountains included Sandhill Crane, Clark's Nutcrackers, Mountain Bluebirds and some terrific views of Red-faced Warblers.

Our journey through the enchanting Petrified Forest and Painted Desert was as relaxing as ever and a pleasant break from the birding for just one afternoon. The next day we visited the Grand Canyon where Sally and Helen took a helicopter flight over the canyon and came back awestruck! It was beyond words they said, a life-changing experience which they'd recommend to even the most nervous of flyers! The surrounding forest close to the canyon rim had its share of good birds including Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse and Grey Flycatcher – but most of the action was over the south rim where awe inspiring California Condors flew onto the cliffs in late afternoon.

Towards the end of the tour we reflected on the species for which many birders visit south-eastern Arizona, species that can be difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in the USA. Some of these were seen very well indeed including Elegant Trogon (at the nest), Gilded Flicker, Arizona Woodpecker, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Greater Pewee, Thick-billed Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher (fantastic views of a male), Mexican Chickadee, Mexican Jay, Grey and Plumbeous Vireos, Painted Redstart, Lucy's, Olive, Red-faced and Grace's Warblers, Hepatic Tanager, Yellow-eyed Junco, Botteri's Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow and Varied Bunting. Many of these, and others of the 230 species seen, are depicted in the gallery of images from this year's tour. Enjoy!

Special thanks go to Peter Lansdown for his co-leadership, and to Eddie Baxter, Adrian and Christine Blagden, John Clark and Mary Ward-Jackson, Sally Hammond and Helen Hewland, Jim and Annabel Millar, Ron Shewring and Graham Walshe for their individual contributions to this year's tour.

Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker