Patagonia and Kino Springs
The day with Melody on Mount Lemmon was so good we asked her if she could make another day, either Saturday or Sunday. Saturday was OK with her so we agreed to meet at 4.30am in the ranch carpark.
Our first stop was a carpark on Sahuarita Road in Tucson. Here, flying around the lights, were at least five Lesser Nighthawks. They hawked for insects right above our heads showing pretty much every detail. Also an Elf Owl chattered from a nearby saguaro.
We started to head south to look first for Scaled Quail. We did get Rufous-winged Sparrow and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. As the light began to appear we came across two Common Nighthawks feeding around the road. Melody pointed out that these birds do not flap as much as Lesser Nighthawks and that they look bigger and bulkier. Once realised the differences were obvious. Also, Common Nighthawks, at least in this part of Arizona, look darker.
Heading south towards Sonoita, as we looked for the quail, stopping occasionally, we had Cactus Wren, Cassin's and Western Kingbirds, Gambel's Quail, Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch, White-winged Dove, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee, Lucy's Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole, Purple Martin, Black-throated Sparrow, Say's Phoebe and Northern Cardinal – you know, the usual birds!
Our first long stop was 'in the Santa Rita foothills', a secret site of Melody's for Crissal Thrasher. This is an area of dense scrub and low hills. The first thing we heard was howling Coyotes! As we walked along the paths we had the ubiquitous Gambel's Quail, Black-throated Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, the usual two kingbirds, Verdin, Lucy's Warbler and a male Costa's Hummingbird. We kept hearing Northern Beardless-tyrannulet but it didn't sound very close.
Western Scrub-jay was the next life bird, flying low through the bushes. As Melody pointed out these birds tend to be solitary and quiet, unlike Mexican Jays. We had not-too-good views of a male Varied Bunting singing from the top of a tree by the path, then we headed into deeper shrubland. Here we got a few warblers - Hermit, Townsend's, Wilson's and an Orange-crowned. As we skulked in the bushes we found a close Northern Beardless-tyrannulet which showed well. As we watched this bird Melody suddenly grabbed Helen and pulled her across to where she was standing trying to shout quietly 'Crissal, Crissal, Crissal'! Frantic but quiet movement then occurred as we looked low in the shrubs to see the skulking Crissal Thrasher – but no! – it sat on top of a bush right in front of us and even let me 'scope it. It was very obviously different from Curve-billed Thrasher. Crissal is a much classier-looking bird, with more curve to the bill and very bright russet undertail coverts. Seeing this bird was probably the highlight of the whole Arizona trip – thanks Melody!
Walking back to the car, in a somewhat euphoric state, we added Summer Tanager, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbird and Canyon Towhee.
As we drove closer to Sonoita, from the car we spotted Cliff and Barn Swallow plus Acorn Woodpecker on a telegraph pole, Red-tailed Hawk and Hooded Oriole.
We stopped at Sonoita, where there is a border checkpoint despite it not being near the border with Mexico. After a quick trip to the washrooms we scanned the grassland. A Killdeer flew in one direction and two Lark Buntings flew in the other. Eastern Meadowlarks were seen here and we thought we heard a Western Meadowlark. White-crowned Sparrow, Cassin's Kingbird, Lark Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Bullock's Oriole were also seen here.
Next stop was the town of Patagonia. A school field held 40+ Lark Sparrows and Cassin's Kingbird. Barn Swallows and an Ash-throated Flycatcher were also seen here. The first actual stop was when Melody did a sudden halt because she'd heard a singing Blue Grosbeak. The bird sang from a fence about 20 metres away and looked a lot better-coloured than in the field guides.
Helen and Melody
We turned off the main road and headed north-east along a road which gradually got smaller and rougher as it left the town behind. Along here we had Brewer's Blackbird, Phainopepla, Chipping Sparrow, House Finch and Vermilion Flycatcher. We stopped at various spots to check for Montezuma Quail but 'only' got Bridled Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Bronzed Cowbird, Hutton's Vireo, Summer Tanager, Loggerhead Shrike, our first Lincoln's Sparrow, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Western Wood-pewee, Rock Wren, American Robin and Bushtit. By a small stream we had Black Phoebe, Northern Flicker and Black-headed Grosbeak. A check of some nearish mountains added ten distant Mexican Jays calling loudly.
Another sudden stop was due so Melody stamped on the brake and yelled 'Gray Hawk'. This superb bird sat in a nearby tree showing very well. It then flew off slowly and landed in another nearby tree. It didn't seem bothered by us discussing its glories.
The small road we were on looped back to Patagonia town so we went to the famous Paton's - a private garden, stocked well with hummingbird and other bird feeders, plus seats and a sheltering canopy, and open to birders. At the entrance we started with the tiny Inca Dove, soon followed by a very green-backed Green-tailed Towhee.
We set up the 'scope and started to check what was about. The hummer feeders held Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbird, plus one of our target birds, a Violet-crowned Hummingbird. The other feeders held Black-headed Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal, both the usual doves, House Finch, Abert's Towhee, Summer Tanager, Gila Woodpecker, Brown-headed Cowbird and another target bird, a female Lazuli Bunting. Fortunately the male soon turned up and was 'scoped. Overhead we had Merlin, TVs and Cooper's Hawk. A Song Sparrow was heard here.
Next stop was a very dusty road that ran past Sonoita Creek Preserve - an area of cottonwoods which had been hit by an insect infestation and many trees were stripped bare. As we drove, and occasionally stopped, on this road we had American Black Vulture overhead, Gray Hawk (heard and two more seen), Yellow Warbler, Western Wood-pewee and Bell's Vireo. We stopped when we heard a Yellow-breasted Chat. A spot of pishing seemed to bring the bird closer but it was still invisible in the bushes. Melody went off to see if she could gently move it towards us but only succeeded in seeing it herself. We rushed round the bushes and walked carefully along the road. Simultaneously Melody and I said 'Montezuma Quail' as a male showed it's head for less than a second. It disappeared into the grass and sat still, well hidden. We walked to where it had been and a pair suddenly flew up and away from us, disappearing into the bushes. Back to chat hunting we had two birds fighting, showing occasional flashes of bright yellow. Varied Bunting was also heard singing here.
Another sudden stop (we were moving slowly - so slowly a walker overtook us) was for a kingbird in a tree. It turned its head and showed a huge-looking bill – Thick-billed Kingbird for the list. Nearby we also had a brief view of a Common Black-hawk flying across the road in front of the car. Stopping to look for this bird only meant we saw more TVs and Chihuahuan Ravens. A little further one another stop for a flycatcher on a tree added yet another life bird, a lone and unexpected Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Next site was Patagonia Rest Stop where, in past years, some good rarities have been found. We had Canyon Wren singing, White-throated Swift, Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, TV, Yellow and Lucy's Warblers, Phainopepla and Thick-billed Kingbird.
Our furthest south stop was Kino Springs which comprises a few ponds and a golf course. The ponds held only American Coot and Red-winged Blackbird. We did get Gray Hawk, Rock Wren, Cassin's Kingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Brown-headed Cowbird and our target bird, a Tropical Kingbird. We had expected to have to go hunting for this bird but it showed nicely in a tree about 5 metres from the roadside. Also here we watched a flicker-type bird which was classic Gilded Flicker. Then it flew and showed red underwings! Somewhat surprised we concluded it might be a hybrid between Gilded and Northern Flicker.
Heading back north we drove to Patagonia Lake State Park - basically a large (2.5 miles long and up to half a mile wide) artificial lake in the desert. The water is surrounded by fine riparian habitat which quickly becomes desert. Also here are reed and marsh habitats.
Woodland to desert in a few metres
We walked down the steep path from a carpark into the woods. Our first bird was a single Lincoln's Sparrow feeding on the ground. The path ran next to a small area of water bordering some reeds. This water contained quite a few Bull Frogs. Soon, this area became more open and marshy and we came across a Sora and a Virginia Rail feeding in the open. The Sora looks better but the Virginia is harder to get. Walking along the side of this area added another three Soras, all showing really well plus our first Common Moorhen for North America – a strangely exciting bird to get!
Also along here we had a strange-looking saltonis Song Sparrow, Vermilion Flycatcher, Great-tailed Grackles everywhere and great views of an in-the-open-and-close-by Yellow-breasted Chat. Bell's Vireo sang from the larger trees as did Northern Cardinal and Bewick's Wren and three male and two female Northern Shoveler flew over the water, seemingly not wanting to land.
Riparian habitat near the lake
Not surprisingly we also had Red-winged Blackbird here plus a single Spotted Sandpiper feeding in the mud, and a few American Coots. More passerines appeared in the form of male and female Summer Tanagers, Pyrrhuloxia, Cordilleran Flycatcher, White-crowned Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, Western Kingbird, Western Wood-pewee, Brown-headed Cowbird and Northern Beardless-tyrannulet (heard and again seen).
The open water of the lake held a Pied-billed Grebe, an Eared Grebe, one Double-crested Cormorant and three Neotropic Cormorants. Overhead were Northern Rough-winged, Tree and Cliff Swallows plus a single Great Blue Heron, TVs and a Black Vulture.
Working our way back through some woods towards the car we added Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lucy's Warbler, Broad-tailed and Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Verdin. We found two more Lincoln's Sparrows feeding together in a tree just a metre or so in front of us. The reeds briefly held a nice male Common Yellowthroat (chryseola subspecies) and we again found a couple of Soras feeding in the open. Finally, just before we reached the car I had another look at the lake and found a female Ruddy Duck near the shore.
Lunch was had a the Patagonia rest stop but no new birds were added. It was very nice none-the-less
Heading back north towards the grasslands we had an American Kestrel feeding from a telegraph wire, Lark Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlark and TVs. As we drove through the town of Sierra Vista we had a Loggerhead Shrike on a telegraph pole.
Heading for San Pedro we made a quick stop when we saw a group of sparrows by the side of the road. We had 6+ White-crowned Sparrows (gambelii and oriantha), two Brewer's Sparrows (noticeably smaller than W-C Sparrow) plus Red-winged Blackbirds.
Next stop was San Pedro House - a shop/info centre for a couple of things. By the house were 30+ White-crowned Sparrows and another couple of Brewer's Sparrows. Also here we had two Black-chinned Hummingbirds, three Canyon Towhees and a Gila Woodpecker. Unfortunately time was against us and we couldn't check this area properly (one can get Green Kingfisher here).
Now we headed for the Huachuca Mountains in search of hummers.