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AlexHenry

SE Arizona Trip

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I had the good fortune of living in Arizona for a short while (although the Phoenix area in summer is so unbearably sweltering, it was at times difficult to appreciate). What with work, and only having access to a shared company vehicle, I had only a couple chances to get out for a full day of birding. When I did, though, I certainly took full advantage of it. 

Perhaps my best trip during that time was a day trip to the Santa Ritas in mid-July.

The drive from Phoenix to Florida Canyon (a near straight shot south from Tucson) takes a while. So, I was up at 3:45 AM; teeth brushed, coffee brewed, and binoculars and water packed by 4:00; on the road immediately thereafter. By 6:30, I was driving on dirt roads south of Tucson through desert scrub, the early morning sun coaxing the animals into a brief period of activity before it got too hot to do anything whatsoever. A Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, Black-throated Sparrow, and Rufous-winged Sparrow were a few of the birds visible along the road on the way in. 

At 6:45, I rolled into the Florida Canyon parking lot; before I could get out of the car, a curious Varied Bunting popped out of the nearby scrub and landed on my sideview mirror. I could tell it was going to be a good day.

In the area of the parking lot were a number of Cassin's Kingbirds, a family of Gray Hawks (the parents got agitated and called incessantly if you approached too closely), Yellow-breasted Chats and Bell's Vireos in the shrubs nearby. In the taller trees near the creek bed, there were several Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets, Hooded Orioles, Blue Grosbeaks, Lucy's Warblers, and Nothern Cardinals. Out of the floor of the canyon, up on the drier hillsides, Cactus Wrens, Brown-crested Flycatchers. From an area of dense undergrowth came the "churee churee" call of a Crissal Thrasher - a second answered. I worked my way into the edge of the thorny patch and stood, silent, still; after a few moments, one of the birds popped up into full view in a bush and eyed me suspiciously before ducking back into its impenetrable abode. 

As I began my way back to the parking lot, a very small bluish gray bird flew across the road into the scrub on the hillside above. It was a gnatcatcher for sure - a bit low in elevation for Blue-gray in the summer, but not quite desert either, given the nearby riparian area, not quite Black-tailed habitat. The bottom of the tail was white, ruling out black tailed, and the bill was quite long. Then it gave its mewling call and cinched it - female Black-capped Gnatcatcher!

By about 9 AM I was done with Florida Canyon, having birded the lower canyon fairly thoroughly. I made a brief detour to Box Canyon, where I picked up a Five-striped Sparrow as well as numerous Phainopeplas and orioles. 

As the morning progressed, the temperature began to rise, so I beat a hasty retreat up into the cooler forests of Madera Canyon. Cardinalids were numerous - Varied Buntings, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hepatic and Summer Tanagers, plus there were Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Painted Redstarts, Arizona Woodpeckers, Wild Turkeys, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and even a couple Elegant Trogons. At the Santa Rita Lodge hummingbird feeders were the usuals - Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Rivoli's, and Anna's Hummingbirds, and a nice male Rufous Hummingbird passing through jazzed things up a bit.

All in all, this day was a great success. However I have to say the absolute best part of the day was Florida Canyon. I have birded at a lot of spots in SE AZ - Carr, Miller, Hunter, Ramsey, Garden, and Huachuca Canyons in the Huachucas, Cave Creek Canyon and the Portal area in the Chiricahuas, plenty of places around Patagonia and in the Green Valley and Santa Ritas. But I don't think I have ever had anything as amazing as the 2 hour stretch after sunrise that morning in lower Florida Canyon. Everything happened so fast, there were so many good birds, and I got amazing looks at many of them - especially a Crissal Thrasher, which is relatively easy to hear but can be very tough to see. I'm not sure if or when I'll be back in Arizona, but I know Florida Canyon will be on my itinerary. I highly recommend it. Rarities show up there regularly, too - in addition to Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Rufous-capped Warblers are seen there with some regularity (though Hunter Canyon is still your best bet), Lucifer Hummingbirds have been seen, etc.

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Jealous of the Crissal Thrasher. Missed them in my trip in June. Also missed BC Gnatcatcher at Florida, but was able to pick one up at the small and underbirded Leslie Canyon NWR. Box Canyon is awesome. Very obliging Five-striped Sparrows. Had the Lucifer Hummingbird at Box Canyon left her nest by then? 

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On 1/16/2020 at 7:08 PM, blackburnian said:

Jealous of the Crissal Thrasher. Missed them in my trip in June. Also missed BC Gnatcatcher at Florida, but was able to pick one up at the small and underbirded Leslie Canyon NWR. Box Canyon is awesome. Very obliging Five-striped Sparrows. Had the Lucifer Hummingbird at Box Canyon left her nest by then? 

I didn't see the Lucifer Hummingbird at Box Canyon. It was probably in the area at the time but I didn't try for it. I opted for the easy one at Ash Canyon B&B. I have never been to Leslie Canyon, I will have to check that out some time! Looks like its really out there in the middle of nowhere.

Still plenty of specialties I need to find in SE AZ. Montezuma Quail has foiled me many times....

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