14 – 23 AUGUST 2022
By Jacob Roalef
The brilliant green Berylline Hummingbird was one of thirteen hummingbirds recorded!
This ten-day set departure tour of Southeast Arizona commenced in Tucson, Arizona on the 14th of August 2022 and concluded back in Tucson on the 23rd of August 2022. On this tour we visited numerous fantastic birding locations including Santa Rita Lodge, Mt. Lemmon, Sweetwater Wetlands, Montosa Canyon, Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds, Ash Canyon B&B, Las Ciengas National Conservation Area, Rustler Park, the George Walker House and many more.
This tour connected with many fantastic target birds and regional specials, including 13 species of hummingbirds, giving us a quality list for our ten days in the desert. Avian highlights included Greater Roadrunner, Montezuma Quail, Lucifer and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, Black Tern, Northern Goshawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Western Screech-Owl, Arizona Woodpecker, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Rock Wren, Five-striped, Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows, Red-faced Warbler and Pyrrhuloxia. We were also able to see some rarities for Arizona including two Berylline Hummingbirds, White-eared Hummingbird and Ruddy Ground-Dove.
A total of 189 bird species were seen, with two additional heard only species bringing the total recorded to 191, which is a new record for this trip. In addition to the birds, some other animals were spotted including Pronghorn, Black-tailed Prairie-Dog, Harris’s Antelope Squirrel, Striped Skunk and a Desert Tarantula. Full bird and mammal checklists can be found at the end of the report.
The Greater Roadrunner was a highlight species of the desert.
Day 1, 14th August 2022. Arrival and Sweetwater Wetlands birding
The first morning of the trip was mainly spent gathering up some of the participants who were already in the area from the night before. We decided to head off and do some mid-morning birding at Sweetwater Wetlands. These lovely little oases near Tucson are a great introduction to desert birding and species and here we got our first taste of desert specials, including Vermillion Flycatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Abert’s Towhee and Verdin. After a tasty lunch, we ventured to another local park called Lakeside Lake where we saw a lingering and probably injured Snow Goose. This was a strange bird for the desert, in extreme heat. In addition to the goose, there was Lark Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle and Gila Woodpecker. We headed to the airport to gather the rest of our group before heading to a superb Mexican food dinner. Sadly, an incoming monsoon prevented any evening birding, so we headed to the hotel for rest instead.
Gila Woodpecker was a common species throughout our southeast Arizona trip.
Day 2, 15th August 2022. Mt. Lemmon and down to Green Valley
We had breakfast and coffee at the hotel before loading up our van and heading up Mt. Lemmon. Our first stop on the way up was the Babad Do’ag Vista where we were surrounded by Saguaro Forest. Here in the desert lowlands, we noted a few species including Cactus Wren and Black-throated Sparrow before we continued our journey upwards. Pulling off at the Windy Point Vista, we enjoyed some spectacular views before a Zone-tailed Hawk cruised right over our heads! Down below us in the rocks and shrubs, we managed to find Rock Wren, Black-throated Grey Warbler and Mexican Jay. More driving and higher altitude led us to Rose Canyon Lake, an area full of conifers which were quite different from the cacti down at the bottom. Temperatures were pleasant and a lovely mixed flock kept us entertained with Red-faced, Grace’s and Hermit Warblers, Painted Redstart, Western Bluebird and Pygmy Nuthatch all present and an Olive Warbler made a brief appearance. Yellow-eyed Junco and the striking Acorn Woodpecker were plentiful throughout the area as well.
We traveled to the small town of Summerhaven on top of the mountain and enjoyed some pizza for lunch. We noted Steller’s Jay, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-headed Grosbeak and Pine Siskin before making our way down the mountain and towards Green Valley.
Once we arrived in Green Valley, we headed straight for Santa Rita Lodge, a relaxing spot full of feeders, which always makes birding that bit easier. This was a great way to spend the remainder of the afternoon as we enjoyed Broad-billed and Rivoli’s Hummingbirds, Mexican Jay, Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse and Lesser Goldfinch. It was back to Green Valley and dinner at the hotel after a long day of successful birding.
Day 3, 16th August 2022. Montosa Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains
This morning we grabbed some coffee nearby and headed off to Montosa Canyon. It was a beautiful morning with a pleasant temperature and we began birding along a small creek and ridge of the canyon.
Right away we were onto some interesting species including Varied Bunting, Bell’s Vireo, Loggerhead Kingbird and Northern Mockingbird. We continued further along the road to a known location for our target species of the day. While we were searching, we managed to come across some other nice species such as Hooded Oriole and Crissal Thrasher. Finally, the Five-striped Sparrow began singing and flew down the slope to give us some incredible views, before moving back into the dense vegetation.
We headed back out of Montosa Canyon and got a nice breakfast at the hotel before spending the rest of the morning at Canoa Ranch Conservation Park and Desert Meadows Park in Green Valley. These lovely little parks held some great birds and despite the heat we picked up Redhead, Spotted Sandpiper, Swainson’s Hawk and Yellow-headed Blackbird. The Desert Meadows are full of native plants and birds. After a quick loop through the park, we had a list containing Bewick’s Wren, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher and Gambel’s Quail.
After lunch we took a little siesta before meeting up again for some evening birding. We headed back up Madera Canyon to the Old Baldy Trail, however the bird activity was slow. A few Mexican Jays, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and a family of Acorn Woodpeckers highlighted our time here. We headed down the mountain slightly for a picnic style dinner and enjoyed views of a Hepatic Tanager while we ate. As the sun was setting, we headed back up to try for some night birding, however a huge monsoon rolled in right as it was getting dark and we had to bail out. It wasn’t raining at the bottom yet and we managed a new experience with some Lesser Nighthawks hunting the streetlights.
Day 4, 17th August 2022. Madera Canyon and Santa Gertrudis Lane
We headed back up Madera Canyon as we still had some unfinished business with a few key target species. We started off with a brief check-in at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders. Unfortunately the feeders were empty, but still hosted the usual suspects like Rivoli’s Hummingbird, Lesser Goldfinch and Mexican Jay.
We quickly moved on to the Old Baldy trail to take another hike up along the river. Again, the birding was rather slow and our targets nowhere to be found in their usual area. However, we did manage to see Painted Redstart, Acorn Woodpecker, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Hutton’s Vireo.
We checked back in at the lodge which was now open and full of food. Action was certainly better than earlier in the morning with new species like Wild Turkey, Hepatic Tanager and Black-chinned Hummingbird. We waited for a while, staking out the feeders, while some of us visited the nice gift shop. After about 45 minutes, our target made a quick appearance, a brilliant Berylline Hummingbird and a true rarity for the United States.
We were feeling lucky and got a nice tip that the targets at the top of the mountain were hanging out further up than previous years, so we ventured back and hiked that trail for a third time. This time, we went even higher up and scored fantastic views of a male Elegant Trogon and a recently fledged juvenile! Our determination paid off.
The Madera Canyon area was a great place to find Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.
We headed back to Green Valley for lunch and a siesta before meeting again for some evening birding. We headed south to Santa Gertrudis Lane. This little area was hopping with great bird activity (and mosquitoes). Despite the biting insects around us, we had a fantastic time here, scoring species like Grey Hawk, Black Phoebe, Tropical Kingbird, Lucy’s Warbler, Summer and Western Tanagers, Indigo Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole and the regional special species Thick-billed Kingbird. It was a great way to close out an amazing day of birding.
Day 5, 18th August 2022. Through Patagonia and over to Sierra Vista
Leaving the Santa Rita Mountains behind, we headed off to the Huachuca Mountains. We went back to Canoa Ranch for our first stop, to give this location a shot in the morning before the temperatures began to soar. The birding was better and we observed Great Blue Heron, Pyrrhuloxia, Cassin’s Kingbird, Vermillion Flycatcher and American Kestrel.
From here we continued on our way to Patagonia with a quick drive-through stop at Patagonia Lake. We noted Black Vulture, Mexican Duck and Say’s Phoebe. Next up was the famous Patagonia roadside rest area. There was a small group of White-throated Swifts circling overhead to greet us as we disembarked from the van and headed across to the small trail. Along the trail we managed to find our target species, a nesting Rose-throated Becard. Unfortunately, we had to maintain distance as the female was frequently visiting the nest, her movements so fast that she made it near-impossible to catch a clear view. We gave it a while, hoping to catch a better glimpse, which a few of us managed, before we moved on and headed for lunch.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird was one of the stars.
After lunch we visited the peaceful Paton Center for Hummingbirds. There was lots of bird activity here with the star of the yard, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, making frequent appearances. Amazingly a Berylline Hummingbird dropped into the feeders three times, making it the second one in a single trip for us!
A few of us also managed views of the rare Ruddy Ground-Dove which had been visiting the yard on and off. In addition to these rarer species, we also saw Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Anna’s Hummingbird, Inca Dove, Green Heron and Northern Cardinal.
A quick cruise through the nearby neighborhood had us finding a Mississippi Kite. A pair were known to recently have a nest in this area, so it was great to catch up with one of these magnificent birds. We finally made it to the Huachuca Mountains and our first stop was the Ash Canyon B&B feeders. Possibly one of the most peaceful areas to bird, the yard was highlighted by Lucifer, Costa’s, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Black-headed Grosbeak. Another quick drive through a neighborhood had us enjoying some Scaled Quails in addition to many Gambel’s Quails. We finally settled down for a delicious Italian dinner after a top-notch day of birding.
This cute Western Screech-Owl gave us a nice view from its cavity.
Day 6, 19th August 2022. Carr and Miller Canyons
After breakfast we headed up the rocky and bumpy switchbacks which led into Carr Canyon. The cooler air at this higher altitude was perfect for birding as we wandered the campsites throughout the morning. We came across several mixed flocks which included Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos, Grace’s, Black-throated Grey, Hermit and Red-faced Warblers, Brown Creeper, Northern Flicker and White-breasted Nuthatch.
We circled around for a few hours before finally spotting the top target of this site, the Buff-breasted Flycatcher! This little bird finally cooperated and gave us all a nice view. On our way back down the canyon, we spotted several other new species including Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Virginia’s Warbler and Eastern Bluebird.
After lunch and a much-needed siesta, we headed back out for a little more birding. Along the entrance road to Brown Canyon we managed to find an adorable Western Screech-Owl sticking out of a tree cavity, despite the light rain. We then headed off to the Beatty’s Guest Ranch for a little feeder watch as we kept a careful eye on the sky and the storms looming nearby. Rivoli’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds highlighted the feeders here and we eventually called it a day as the rain began creeping in.
Day 7, 20th August 2022. Las Cienegas NCA and Whitewater Draw
The forecast for the day did not look promising so we routed the best we could to avoid storms and rain. Our first birding destination after breakfast was the grasslands of Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.
Right at the entrance we were greeted by singing Chihuahuan Meadowlarks (recently split from Eastern Meadowlark) and a Horned Lark perched along the wire fence. We drove through this massive area, scanning closer and listening for any activity, making stops whenever we spotted something. This area yielded some fantastic birds including Cassin’s, Botteri’s and Grasshopper Sparrows, Blue Grosbeak, Grey Flycatcher, Northern Harrier and Lark Bunting as well as a few sightings of Pronghorn.
Unfortunately, our progress was halted when we came across a stream rushing across the road. We had to turn around and go back to a different entrance to finish our birding and visit a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Overall, it was a great morning and we managed to stay out of bad weather.
We headed towards the town of Tombstone for lunch and a little cowboy western scenery. After this we ventured out to Whitewater Draw, a body of water in the middle of desert habitat. We picked up tons of new species for the trip as we made a circle around the lake. Highlights included Eared Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Sora, Wilson’s Phalarope, Great Egret, Black and Forster’s Terns, Black Phoebe, American Yellow Warbler and Lazuli Bunting.
On our way out of the park we noticed a sign stating this was an owl roosting area and about 15 seconds later we were all enjoying views of a Great Horned Owl in the trees! Then a little further up we noticed a strange structure on a collapsed building, so we looked into the hole with our scope and there was the face of an American Barn Owl staring back at us. A five-minute whirlwind of unexpected owls. After this we headed back to Sierra Vista for dinner and to celebrate the day’s birding, where we managed to avoid the monsoons.
Day 8, 21st August 2022. Stateline Road and the Chiricahua Mountains
We set off before sunrise, as we had some distance to travel and wanted to be birding in the desert before it got too hot. After a quick stop in Douglass for restrooms, we made it to Stateline Road where an unkindness of Chihuahuan Ravens were waiting for us, allowing us time to better study and properly ID them. We continued along this road, with New Mexico on our right and Arizona on our left. We logged species such as Cactus Wren, Lark Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Loggerhead Shrike and Blue Grosbeak for our New Mexico list.
We then left the desert behind and headed into Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains. First up were some feeders in town where we picked up our first Blue-throated Mountain Gem as well as Canyon Towhee, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a covey of Gambel’s Quails. It had been raining overnight and into the morning so we decided to go to Paradise first and let the river crossings up the mountain reduce a little. Paradise was home of George Walker House, another fantastic feeder setup. We were greeted by the pleasant host and owner, who gave us a full breakdown of the yard whilst we watched the feeders. It wasn’t long before the rare White-eared Hummingbird made a visit at a far feeder. This yard was also the best location in southern Arizona for Juniper Titmouse and it did not disappoint, as two birds made multiple visits to the feeders.
It was time to head up the mountain towards Rustler Park at the top. As we got higher, we got into a nice flock of birds along the road, so we hopped out. It turned out to be one of the best flocks of the whole trip! It was loaded with birds including Townsend’s, Grace’s, Hermit and Red-faced Warblers, Brown Creeper, Bridled Titmouse and the true regional special Mexican Chickadee. Not much further up the road we spotted a lone Band-tailed Pigeon perched in the distance. It would take a few more encounters before we all managed a view, but we did in the end.
After a nice picnic, we did some birding at the Pinery Campground and Rustler Park. Nothing new was seen but we did see another Mexican Chickadee as well as Hermit Warbler, Spotted Towhee and Painted Redstart. It was raining off and on throughout our time up the mountain, but overall things were pleasant and ok for birding. On our way down we had perhaps the best sighting of the trip, a Montezuma Quail in the middle of the road! We watched as it slowly crossed and walked into the grass next to the road allowing us all to see. Incredible! After dinner a few of us went out for some night-time exploring where we managed to score a curious Striped Skunk in the road, but the birds were being quiet.
Day 9, 22nd August 2022. Wilcox and back to Tucson
We headed back out to the desert along Stateline Road to look for new species. We came across our first Scott’s Oriole of the trip as well some other nice species like Bullock’s Oriole, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cassin’s Sparrow and Swainson’s Hawk. We then headed back to Portal and the feeders there.
The skies were clear and we had a few new sightings, like a Harris’s Antelope Squirrel. The real highlight had to be a juvenile Bronzed Cowbird following its ‘mom’ – a female Hooded Oriole – around as it was begging for food. After watching these birds eat, it was our turn for a delicious brunch. We loaded the van up and took off on our long trip back to Tucson. We stopped at the Pinery Campground again on our way out of the mountains and found a distant Great Horned Owl as well as our first House Wren of the trip.
This juvenile Bronzed Cowbird was following its ‘mom’ Hooded Oriole around.
Continuing onwards, we made another stop at Lake Cochise in Wilcox. This location was loaded with waterbird species. We ticked off many species including Cinnamon and Green-winged Teals, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Least and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope and White-faced Ibis.
After another hour or so of driving, we made it into the outskirts of Tucson where we stopped for dinner. Since most evenings had been a rain-out so far, we decided to have another try and headed off to Saguaro National Park East. Desert birding here was enjoyable and highlighted by Rufous-winged Sparrow and Gilded Flicker. Scenery to match and a breath-taking desert sunset and rainbow helped us see the day out. As the sun set, we spotted a huge Desert Tarantula crossing the road. We headed off to our hotel for our final night of the tour.
Day 10, 23rd August 2022. Local Tucson birding and departure
After saying goodbyes, most of the participants were dropped off at the Tucson airport for their morning flights home. Two participants, however, did not have to leave until the afternoon, so we decided to do a little local birding at Reid Park. Before leaving the hotel, we were greeted by a friendly Greater Roadrunner next to the van and a Vermillion Flycatcher on the nearby fence.
Reid Park hosted a tiny pond which held mostly domestic farm ducks, however, there were a few interesting species including two new ones for the trip, American Wigeon and Neotropic Cormorant. This was a great way to finish off a very successful tour of Southeast Arizona! All the participants were asked to list their top five favorite species of the trip and the winners were Montezuma Quail, Elegant Trogon, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Red-faced Warbler.
Observing a Gambel’s Quail placed a smile on everyone’s face.
Bird List – Following IOC (12.2)
Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen. Species seen only on the pre-trip day of this trip are marked with (+) after the common name.
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: CE = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened.
|New World Quail (Odontophoridae)
|Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
|Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
|Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
|Rock Dove (Pigeon)
|Common Ground Dove
|Ruddy Ground Dove
|Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
|Stilts and Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
|Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
|Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
|Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
|Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
|Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
|Great Blue Heron
|New World Vultures (Cathartidae)
|Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
|Barn Owls (Tytonidae)
|American Barn Owl
|Great Horned Owl
|Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
|Tyrant Flycatchers, Calyptura (Tyrannidae)
|Tityras and Allies (Tityridae)
|Vireos, Greenlets, Shrike-babblers (Vireonidae)
|Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
|Northern (Common) Raven
|Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
|Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
|Canyon Wren (H)
|Mockingbirds, Thrashers (Mimidae)
|Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
|Common (European) Starling
|Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
|Olive Warbler (Peucedramidae)
|Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
|New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)
|Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteriidae)
|Oropendolas, Orioles, Blackbirds (Icteridae)
|New World Warblers (Parulidae)
|American Yellow Warbler
|Black-throated Gray Warbler
|Cardinals & Allies (Cardinalidae)
|Squirrels and Relatives (Sciuridae)
|Harris’s Antelope Squirrel
|Black-tailed Prairie Dog
|Arizona Grey Squirrel
|Round-tailed Ground Squirrel
|Rabbits and Hares (Leporidae)
|Raccoons and Relatives (Procyonidae)
|Deer, Elk, Mooses (Cervidae)