Monday, April 29, 2013

A weekend full of Owls and more in Southeastern Arizona

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the late report, but I just now had time to write it up.  On Friday, April 26th, 2013, Laurence Butler and I decided to head down to Southeastern Arizona in primary pursuit of the Crescent-chested Warbler when we saw the reports came in.  We originally planned on having a 24 hour big day in Maricopa County, but how often do you see a Crescent-chested Warbler!?  Our plans were reversed in the snap-of-a-second, and we headed south.  During our trip, we spent the night and owled at Mount Lemmon on the 26th, before continuing to the Huachucas on the 27th.  We joined forces with Mark Ochs and Nathan Williams, and the four of us spent our day birding in Miller and Ash Canyons, as well as the grasslands surrounding Sierra Vista.  We didn't get the Crescent-chested Warbler, but it was one of the funnest birding trips I've had.

Laurence and I arrived at Mount Lemmon around 8:30 P.M., where we spent over three hours owling throughout the many stops within the area.  We first started at Bear Canyon, in pursuit of Mexican Whip-poor-will and Flammulated Owl.  In this stretch, MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILLS ended up being numerous and were a pleasure to hear.  This was a lifer for both of us, and is probably the most overdue bird I haven't seen or heard prior to this night in Arizona.  We didn't get Flammulated Owl here, but we did hear a few WHISKERED SCREECH-OWLS.  There were a lot of cars traveling up the highway, and it made the night birding in Bear Canyon a challenge to hear things.  We then headed up to the Bear Wallow Picnic Area.  Almost immediately, we head a FLAMMULATED OWL calling fairly close and up a steep forested slope, one we wouldn't attempt to climb in the dark.  It was counter-calling with a second bird.  Walking further down the road, we had two more Flammulated Owls vocalizing.  None of them were close enough to chase in the dark.  After getting Flam, we headed back up the highway to bird the road that leads to Ski Valley.  Our primary target here was NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL, who we heard calling once about a half-mile up the road.  This was also a life bird for both of us, and is also one I've been wanting for a long time.  Now I need to work hard on getting a visual.  There were also several GREAT HORNED OWLS in the area where we heard the Saw-whet Owl.  We camped out at the Mt. Bigelow Road, and Laurence heard another FLAMMULATED OWL a few times during the night, making our count 5 birds for the species.

On the 27th, we woke up at 3:30 A.M. and headed for Miller Canyon.  We hoped the Crescent-chested Warbler would find our binoculars as we made our way to the Huachucas.  Once we got there, there were plenty of other birders looking for the warbler, and we joined Mark Ochs and Nathan Williams for the remainder of the day.  Birders walked up and down Miller looking for the warbler without luck.  When I was walking by a birder from California who was familiar with the Crescent-chested Warbler's vocalizations, we both heard what we were almost certain was the bird singing once briefly by Split Rock.  It didn't vocalize again, but it sounded perfect for the bird.  There was a mixed-flock of birds around when this situation happened, and none of the birders found the target bird.  Hopefully the bird is still in the canyon somewhere and will re-surface again.  Other than missing the warbler, Miller Canyon was hopping with incredible birding.  My highlight of the trip came in finally getting to see the SPOTTED OWL.  This was my sixth or seventh attempt at Spotted Owl in the Canyon, and it was a life bird I felt like I've already had.  It sat in it's favorite cherry tree, and provided many birders with awesome views.  This bird is no longer a nemesis of mine!  Another awesome highlight was a NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL that Kurt Radamaker found in a hole.  I've never seen a Pygmy-Owl in a cavity, and it was also an awesome highlight.  Another crowd pleasing bird were three different BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS in the canyon, with two of them being up from Split Rock.  One of them was cooperative for many and was a lifer for quite a few people in the group, only the second time I've seen this SE AZ specialty.  Miller Canyon also produced highlights of WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRDS, ARIZONA WOODPECKERS, 3-4 GREATER PEWEES singing "Jose Maria", WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, HAMMOND'S, DUSKY, and CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHERS; DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, PLUMBEOUS, CASSIN'S, HUTTON'S, and WARBLING VIREOS; RED and WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, ORANGE-CROWNED, NASHVILLE, VIRGINIA'S, YELLOW-RUMPED, GRACE'S, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, TOWNSENDS, WILSON'S, and RED-FACED WARBLERS; PAINTED REDSTART (10 warbler day still), RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, HEPATIC TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK, LAZULI BUNTING, and SCOTT'S ORIOLE.  The four of us then headed over to the hummingbird feeding station.  We found the female BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, which was the main highlight while sitting at the feeders.  A hyped up PHOENICIAN KINGBIRD also made an appearance.  We spent almost five hours at the canyon.

Spotted Owl (finally!)

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Magnificent Hummingbird

Rock Wren

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Townsend's Warbler

Phoenician Kingbird (seen by only a few lucky birders)

We then headed to Mary Jo's awesome feeders at Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast.  We went there hoping for Lucifer Hummingbird, who never came in for an appearance.  There were many birds there at the feeders to entertain us and the other birders present.  Highlights included COOPER'S HAWK, MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD, ARIZONA WOODPECKER, GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, LARK SPARROWS, WESTERN TANAGER, abundant BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAKS, abundant LAZULI BUNTINGS with a few INDIGO BUNTINGS in the flock, and BULLOCK'S and SCOTT'S ORIOLES.

Black-headed Grosbeak

 Lark Sparrow

 Lazuli Bunting

 Scott's Oriole

Between a few stops at Mary Jo's, Laurence, Mark, Nathan and I also went to a few grassland areas in Sierra Vista to look for SCALED QUAIL.  This is also a species we haven't seen much of, and Mark quickly found an individual as we started walking through the grass.  It popped up for us at close range, and we had excellent views of this cool quail.  Also in the area was a pair of SWAINSON'S HAWKS, who we had excellent looks at also.  Both birds were perched along the road we were on but on opposite sides of the road before they joined each other.  A PYRRHULOXIA was heard and seen also.   Heading home, a few LESSER NIGHTHAWKS were seen.

Scaled Quail

The Scaled Quail celebration!

Swainson's Hawks

It was another fantastic birding day in Southeastern Arizona.  I would also like to thank Tom Beatty Sr. and Mary Jo for their awesome hospitality, birding knowledge, and birding locations!

Good Birding,



  1. Wow, great trip, and what a grand troupe of birders the four of you make!

  2. Hey Tommy!

    Friggin' great photos from a friggin' fantastic day of birding. I got about 20 year birds and a half-dozen lifers--thanks for a superb trip!

    Great write up too. So many birds and places...but you kept track of it all.
    Looking forward to the next one!

  3. Fantastic!!! I think the Scaled Quail is probably the hardest bird of the group to find. We stumbled on several by accident this weekend. You have way better shots! Mine are terrible:) Cool birds and tricky! They sure love the tall grasses. Now Montezumas.....:) Glad you both finally saw the Spotted Owl....Pygmy was bonus! Nice!