When people hear that I’m interested in birds, they often ask me to identify a bird they’ve seen. One of the most common bird query goes something like this: “I saw this really cool bird the other day it was a black bird with a yellow head, do you know what that is?”. When I tell them it’s a Yellow-headed Blackbird they think I’m joking. It is a really descriptive name for a bird, and it is a really cool bird. Yellow-headed Blackbirds might be one of my favorite birds. Anyway, here are a couple of pictures I took the other day of this really cool black bird with a yellow head.
Saguaro Cactus, Phoenix, AZ 2009
For a while now (15 years or so), I’ve been wanting to get down to SE Arizona to do a little birding and experience that landscape. Susan was kind enough to let me go over my short break between semesters. My friend Steve Butterworth and I drove down early Friday morning and spent five days birding around Phoenix, Tucson, Patagonia, and Douglas. It was a really neat place and I managed to get 34 life birds out of the trip. I missed a few, but not many. I guess that means I’ll need to make another trip, hopefully sometime in the next 15 years.
I’m posting a loose itinerary, some highlights, and some pictures.
Day one was mostly driving. We left Idaho Falls at 6 and got to phoenix at around 8. We didn’t see a lot bird-wise, but we drove through some neat country.
Day two was when the birding began. We got up early (really early, because Arizona isn’t on daylight savings) and drove forty-some miles west of Phoenix to search for Thrashers. It was rainy and sort of miserable (this was the first rain the Phoenix area had in 52 days according to the local news). After a couple of hours of fruitless searching we began to see and hear a few birds. First we heard and saw Bendire’s Thrasher, then we had a Curve-billed Thrasher (neither were life birds for me or Steve). After a bit more searching we began to find numerous LeConte’s Thrashers and Steve managed to find us a Crissal Thrasher (life birds for the both of us). We got back to town and birded The Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert. I managed to find my first Gila Woodpecker and several other typical Arizona birds. In the afternoon we began our trek to Tucson. We decided to bird along the way. We found a Bronzed Cowbird (new bird for Steve), and at dusk we found several Lesser Nighthawks flying around some farms.
We began day three East of Green Valley in Florida Wash. This was a really neat spot. The main draw was a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers that had been discovered earlier in the year. We hiked up the trail a half mile or so and found a lot of cool birds, including Costa’s Hummingbirds, Summer Tanager, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Painted Redstart, and eventually the Rufous-capped Warblers. We then drove over to Madera Canyon, one of the most famous birding locations in the country. While there we found Magnificent Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, Greater Peewee, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Hepatic Tanager, and many others. Madera was really crowded though, so we decided to get out of there and come back another day. We drove down towards Nogales to try to get Steve some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, we found them along with my first Cassin’s Kingbirds and several good looks at Vermillion Flycatchers. We then drove a backroad towards Patagonia. Along the way we found Gray Hawks at a couple of different stops. We stopped at some hummingbird feeders in a private residence. The homeowners welcome birders and we had a good time and ended the day with fantastic looks at Violet-crowned Hummingbirds.
We got up the next morning and came back towards Patagonia. At daybreak we found a singing Sinola Wren that has been present there for several months. This is the first record of Sinola Wren in the U.S., so it was a pretty cool bird (coincidentally another Sinola Wren was discovered in another location while we were down there). Another birder was kind enough to show us some nesting Zone-tailed Hawks in the general area as well. We decided from there to head back to Madera Canyon to try for some birds we missed there the day before, particularly Elegant Trogon. We arrived at Madera fairly early and birded its lower reaches. We were fortunate enough to find a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers as well as some Montezuma Quail in this area. We then drove up to the top parking lot of Madera to try for the Trogon. We parked and I hiked about 3/4 a mile up the trail. I found my first Yellow-eyed Junco and several other good birds. After enjoying looks at the Junco I continued hiking and saw a bright red and green bird sitting on a small tree right next to the trail. The Elegant Trogon allowed close long looks. I sat down and observed the bird for about five minutes before it flew down to the ground for a bit and then I left (of course my camera was in the car). The Trogon was definitely my favorite bird of the trip. I could have had unbelievable photographs.. oh well. We then decided to drive up Mount Lemon, which is a tall mountain NE of Tucson, to find high elevation birds. We drove up the steep winding road until we reached 7,100 feet in elevation and began our search. We found Olive Warbler and Graces Warbler, but missed Red-faced Warbler. After enjoying these birds we drove back to Madera to try for Owls at dark. We got there just at dark and found Elf Owl, Western Screech Owl, and Whiskered Screech Owl.
On Day Four we drove to Sierra Vista to visit a hummingbird feeder and to try again for a few high elevation birds up Carr Canyon. We arrived at Mary Jo Ballator’s hummingbird feeders in the morning. The specialty bird here is Lucifer Hummingbird. We spent quite a bit of time watching her feeders and waiting for the bird to arrive. She has a lot of feeders and we enjoyed looks at Orioles, Buntings, Goldfinches, and several species of Hummingbirds. After 90 minutes or so we got great looks at male and female Lucifer’s Hummingbirds. We then drove up Carr Canyon. The road up Carr Canyon is a well-maintained gravel road that climbs up above 7000 feet. It’s a little scary at times, but we made it just fine. We enjoyed looks at Grace’s and Olive Warbler, but again couldn’t find Red-faced Warbler. Steve found us a pair of Buff-breasted Flycatchers as well.
On Day five we drove over to Slaughter Ranch, near Douglas to try for a Blue Mockingbird. A rarity that was discovered a couple of months ago. The wind was howling when we woke up and we wondered if it was worth the drive, but we went for it anyway. Along the way we drove some back roads through Sierra Vista hoping to find Scaled Quail. After a few minutes of searching we saw one cross the road. After a bit of persistence he allowed for close looks and a photograph. We then proceeded to Slaughter Ranch. We arrived just before they opened and began our search. After about two hours of searching somebody located it. There were probably 35-40 birders in the area, so it was no easy task getting a look at the skulking bird. It was really hanging tight, probably because of the wind, but also because of all of the birders. Steve and I both managed decent, if brief looks at the bird. We then got out of there, the wind and heat were really wiping us out. We then drove as far as Mesquite, NV. We arrived in Mesquite at 2:30 and crashed.
On the way home we birded Lytle Ranch, near St. George, UT. It was ok, but we couldn’t find any of our target birds. It was snowing and raining. I think we had both had enough, so we drove towards home and arrived at about 9 pm in Rexburg. It was quite a trip, but I had a blast. Below is our complete list of birds. The birds marked with an asterisk were life birds for me.
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Common Ground Dove
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Gray Warbler
*34 life bi
172 species total