We went for birding and baseball. Neither of us had ever been to southern Arizona but Floyd had always wanted to see spring training in Phoenix. But aside from two daytime games, it was really all about birding for me. I knew the majority of birds would be “lifers” – first time seen or heard ever! As soon as the plane landed we had about two hours until check-in at the hotel so our first stop was Papago Park in central Phoenix. At midday, the temperature was already in the low 90’s and it became quickly apparent we couldn’t take a planned hike. Instead we moved from one shaded tree to the next near the small lake – or stood under one of the many scattered ramadas in the shade – listening, watching. I had studied the Arizona bird id books and the eBird lists for the park however I wasn’t familiar with their sounds so it was a simply a cacophony of wondrous calls, whistles, hoots and songs. But honestly, it didn’t take long to figure out the sounds of a Verdin, a Great-tailed Grackle, a Greater Roadrunner, a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and much more. After about an hour I already had 10 new species!
Our first morning we went for an early before-breakfast hike to beat the heat. This rather barren landscape with some cactus, shrubby trees and dry washes turned out to be magical for birding and was one of our favorite morning hikes on the trip.
The second morning we visited the beautiful Desert Botanical Gardens with different demonstration habitats.
On the third day we were off to Tucson! Again, the heat was nearly intolerable so we went up Mt. Lemmon where the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler and birded up the road at several stops. Many other life birds that were seen but not photographed included the Northern Bearded-Tyrannulet, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Lucy’s Warbler, Cassin’s Kingbird, Yellow-eyed Junco, and a Scott’s Oriole…
We were so happy with the welcoming casita at the Hacienda del Desierto B&B where we stayed in the out-skirts of Tucson. When we said we were cooking for ourselves, they gave us a half-dozen fresh-laid eggs for our breakfasts. Surrounded by bird feeders, the casita was a place where you walk out the door or sit on the patio in the cool shade and watch new lifers show up right in front of you. Plus the Elf Owls were calling at dusk every night just below us. One evening we tried to find which cactus they were nesting in but were unsuccessful.
Some of the native wildlife strolling by our casita…
On our fourth day we were off to Madera Canyon where even more lifers – and a few familiar birds – were waiting to be seen…
Sitting on chairs and taking pictures of hummingbirds at the numerous feeders at Santa Rita Lodge was unbelievably fun and restful after our hike at Proctor Road. We saw not only the Broad-billed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, but also Magnificent and Anna’s Hummingbirds.
On our way home this “Fuertes” Red-tailed Hawk was by the roadside. His different look from our Pacific NW Red-tails was confusing at first – his belly band is hardly noticeable and his head is much lighter.
On the fifth day we went to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson and then back up Mt. Lemmon for another hike. I had been hoping to get a decent picture of a male Vermilion Flycatcher and finally got a distant one.
Other lifers picked up on the trip included the following raptors – a Harris’s Hawk, a Common Black Hawk, a Gray Hawk, and a Zone-tailed Hawk. Although hoping for a Black Vulture, all the vultures I had seen were Turkey Vultures so far. Common Ravens were also living up to their name…
Finally on the last day back in Phoenix we went to a wetland area and suddenly I was looking at a kettle of over thirty Black Vultures. My last lifer on this trip!
At the wetland, I was hoping to see some Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks but just missed them by two days. Instead there were over twenty Black-neck Stilts and some other shorebirds migrating north among the ducks reminding us that we too were heading north back home tomorrow.
What an amazing birding trip. By the way, the baseball wasn’t bad either – especially watching “King Felix” Hernandez pitch for the Mariners!