Once heading north towards Green Valley and Tucson, our first stop was in Montosa Canyon. This location has become famous for birding in recent years in southeastern Arizona, and it is also scenic and beautiful. Black-capped Gnatcatchers breed here, Five-striped Sparrow has become annual, and it is a great location for viewing southeastern Arizona specialties such as Varied Bunting. Rarities often show up here, such as our main target for the outing, a Yellow-green Vireo. The vireo has never been reliable and is seen on and off during searches by many birders. Our party wasn't counting on adding this bird to our life lists. It seemed to be a needle in a huge haystack. Birders who were searching for this bird found other cool things. One example came from Andrew Core, who found a Buff-collared Nightjar in broad daylight while searching for the Vireo! In my opinion, that is a better find than the Yellow-green Vireo itself. Definitely one of the best consolation finds in Arizona birding history. When we arrived at Montosa and started birding, we got the feeling the bird was indeed a needle, and the idea of waiting around for bored us to death. The Northern Cardinals here seemed to be begging for attention. This male cardinal was cooperative and fun to see.
Soon, the songs of birds started to fill the canyon. I soon picked up on the sound of a calling Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Gordon, Muriel, and I chased it down the wash for a good distance only to have it be a skulker right in front of us before we eventually lost it. We saw the shape and heard it's key vocal features, which was still cool. While keeping an eye out for the vireo, we heard what distracted us for the majority of our Montosa Canyon visit. It was the song of the Varied Bunting. We found ourselves enjoying and photographing this spectacular and beautiful bird. Varied Buntings are usually shy, and the first few males gave us limited views and photograph difficulties. I managed to sneak close to a poorly lit male to get these decent pictures with the exposure obviously adjusted.
We then went up on a separate dirt road from the main road that goes through more good habitat. This road also gives a neat scenic overview of the surrounding area.
We then had another Varied Bunting encounter. This Varied Bunting perched up in the open and sang for the three of us. Unlike typical Varied Buntings, this bunting wasn't so shy and gave us the best looks for the species, which resulted in these photographs.
After the Varied Bunting showdown, we were speechless. It was so great. We then made our way back down to the main road level of Montosa Canyon. The number of birders increased.
We then walked by a few birders, and one of them had the Yellow-green Vireo a few minutes prior to us walking by! While we were looking at a studly Varied Bunting, we missed the Vireo. Did we regret it-no, not for a second! Oh well, you can't get all of em. After waiting for ten minutes, we got bored and moved on. While looking down the long road, we saw a familiar and distinctive shape in the birding world, even at a distance. With a combination of loafers, flashy shorts, and a tucked in t-shirt, we knew it had to be the rare Phoenician Kingbird.
We confirmed the identity when we called out to the Kingbird and he quickly made his way over to us.
Normal Name: Phoenician Kingbird Scientific Name: Mark Ochs
By the time we left Montosa Canyon, we didn't find the Yellow-green Vireo, but it was still an awesome and successful visit.
More of Montosa Canyon
After we finished up at Montosa, we headed north to the well known Florida Canyon, in pursuit of the Rufous-capped Warblers that have been seen there reliably lately.
In the area, we found an adult Gray Hawk, MacGillivray's Warbler, Golden Eagle, and many migrants. However, we had another rarity dip, and missed the Rufous-capped Warblers during our search. Two hours earlier however, Laurens Halsey observed the Rufous-capped Warbler pair. I guess timing is everything. The Golden Eagle did make for a good consolation.
Heading towards Madera Canyon, the surrounding mesquite grasslands were filled with the songs of Botteri's and Rufous-winged Sparrows. It is always a treat to hear these songs.
Before we headed to Madera, we saw that storms were moving in quickly. These clouds covered the upper limits of the Santa Ritas.
Once in Madera Canyon, we knew of several goodies that had been reported of late. These included both Lucifer and Beryline Hummingbirds. It has been awhile since I have seen either, and I would be happy if I saw at least one of them. The three of us started at Madera Kubo Bread and Breakfast. Magnificent Hummingbird was the best hummingbird there, and we also enjoyed several songbirds who visited the area of the feeders.
While exploring in the canyon, we heard one of our highly desired targets for the trip, the Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. This is one of the coolest southeastern Arizona specialties, and it's squeaky-toy like call echoes throughout the canyons where these unique flycatchers are present. They often sit very still while they call, and can be hard to spot sometimes, until they fly to a different perch. That was the case on this day, but with a focused effort, the three of us got good views of not only one but five Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers. They were a family group and watching an adult feed the fledglings was very entertaining. And the youngins' never stopped squeaking!
Before the three of us knew it, it was already 1:30 P.M. in the afternoon. We had time for one more stop, and that would be at the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. We were joined by Mark Ochs/Phoenician Kingbird. It started to rain hard, but we sat under covered seats to remain dry and enjoy the numerous birds feeders at the Lodge. Many birds came around during our watch, and it was the perfect way to close out the day. We even got one of our hummer targets, the Lucifer Hummingbird! This is an awesome hummingbird to see, and was the first I've seen since 2010.
We also had Anna's, Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-billed and maybe even an Allen's Hummingbird at the feeders. The Allen's is a lifer for me, but we remained uncertain of the birds identity and will need to get better looks in the future. It was definitely a great chance it was an Allen's, as Mark got a few really good looks at it.
Gordon, Muriel, and I called it quits when the rain came flying down. The trip was an amazing success and the three of us had a great time. Certainly a trip I won't forget and one I'll like to repeat very soon. After reviewing notes, we tallied 105 different species over the two days. Thanks Gordon and Muriel for an awesome trip!