Journal 252 - ARIZONA DREAMIN'

May 13/08

Anyone who is interested in birds knows that Arizona is one of the great birding meccas in North America. It is on the itinerary of tour groups and individual birders from around the world. I was no exception. I have been dreaming of Arizona for the past two years, and as I have said before, "What good is a dream if it isn't realized?" All it took was a little planning and a little saving, and it happened. We caught the 5:15 AM ferry at Duke Point on Apr. 24 and arrived back at 12:45 AM on May 10. After 3 days of sleep, I think I've recovered from "road lag" and I'm ready to rock. As you might suspect, my only regret was that we didn't spend more time there.

Raven Highway

With deference to the distinguished Mr. Kaufmann, the bird that shared our journey from Vancouver Island to Arizona and back was the Common Raven. We didn't see our first kingbird until we were in California.


As we were driving we didn't intend to bird along the way except for the occasional rest stop. The first couple of stops in Washington and Oregon weren't to interesting with only House Sparrows and Brewer's Blackbirds to greet us. It probably didn't help to have rain and wind for most of the journey through the state, but our luck changed at the first stop in California. The Randolp-Collier Rest Stop was handily situated beside a river and lined with deciduous trees that were just starting to bud. It looked like the perfect spot for a few migrating warblers.

I was right. A group of Yellow-rumped Warblers were busy at the water's edge hawking insects from the over-hanging branches. Suddenly one popped out right in front of me. I couldn't resist a point-blank shot after shooting from a distance all spring. I think it is one of the most beautiful warblers, and like the raven, it was also with us for the entire trip.

Next I spotted a Wilson's Warbler in a nearby cedar. It wasn't quite as cooperative as the Yellow-rump, but it finally offered a clear shot after ten minutes of patient tracking.

A yellowish bird stayed high in an alders despite another fifteen minutes of waiting. All I got was a distant shot, but to my delight, it was my first new bird of the trip - a Nashville Warbler. There were also a few other birds up high including an Orange-crowned Warbler, but it was time to travel.

The host bird at the rest stop was the Ring-billed Gull. Unlike a few gulls seen around V.I., they were very polite and unobtrusive.

I took a parting shot of a crow in a tree just to see if you can tell whether it was an American Crow or a Northwestern Crow. I don't mind admitting that I can't tell the difference, but we were in California.

We stopped briefly at Woody, a small town in the foothills just north of Sacramento. There seemed to be birds everywhere. The first bird I saw was a Black Phoebe - another new one for me.

Next a female Phainopepla landed at the top of a nearby tree. It was also new to me.

I spotted a different looking bird in a distant willow. Just a record shot of a Blue Grosbeak, but another new bird.

Finally, the streak of four new birds ended with a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers. Not bad for fifteen minutes. The next bird was a very familiar Western Kingbird. A pair of warblers zipped by before I could get a focus. If we had more time, I suspect that we would have found a few more new birds.

By the time we reached Palm Springs, I was dying to take a picture of my first desert bird. The botanical garden sign at the east end of the strip caught my attention immediately.

The first bird I saw was a small yellow-headed species. From pictures I'd seen previously, I knew it was a Verdin - it was my first desert bird.

There were a few hummingbirds buzzing around checking out the various cactus and desert flowers. The proprietor said they were all Costa's.

The gardens had the potential for many birds, but it was the heat of the day. The next bird I saw was the familiar Northern Mockingbird.

Besides the Mockingbird, there were a few Mourning Doves, a Bewick's Wren, several House Finches, and a few birds that were too quick to identify.

Finally, Arizona ... After a long day, we arrived in Marana at 10 PM, just north of Tucson. The first motel we spotted was a Day's Inn. The clerk greeted me at the door with, "We have one room left and the best price I can give you is $79. I was in no mood to argue as we had been on the road for 16 hours. However, as I was talking about birds while registering, he said, "I'll give you $10 off since you know so much about birds!" My wife had a good laugh when I told her we got a birding discount!

The next morning was our first real birding session, and like many tourists in Tucson, we headed for the Desert Museum. As we wound through the hills on a skinny road, I thought we were lost, but eventually we came to a huge parking lot. We could tell it was a popular spot, but we were early so there were plenty of spaces. Ooops, back up a few steps. Before we got there, we stopped to take some pictures of cactus flowers when we spotted a bird. It disappeared then popped out in a cholla cactus right in front of my wife. I followed it a short ways until it hopped onto a branch. It was the state bird - a Cactus Wren. I thought it was a good find until I saw them everywhere on the Museum grounds.

The museum is comprised of many acres of natural desert habitat as well as an enclosed aviary for desert birds, another aviary for hummingbirds, and many other facilities. As I mentioned, Cactus Wrens were common.

Some of the wrens lived at the museum in the suguaro apartments.

Mourning Doves were the most common, but White-winged Doves were also plentiful. I hadn't seen one since 2004 in Port Alberni.

The flicker looked familiar, but a closer look at the rufous-brown cap suggested that it is a Gilded Flicker.

Further down the trail I spotted another suguaro apartment. It was occupied by two Gila Woodpeckers.

The Gilas were very considerate as they foraged in a nearby snag and flew repeatedly to and from their home.

The next bird I spotted was stunning in its bright orange feathers and black hood. As I took some pictures, another birder mentioned that the Hooded Oriole was quite uncommon in the area.

As I was having coffee outside the restaurant, I noticed a movement in the nearby bushes. It was a young Phainopepla waiting for it's lunch.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, Dad arrived with a snack. While I was watching the Phainopeplas, I missed a shot at a Northern Cardinal and an Abert's Towhee. After three hours in the desert heat (high 80's), I had enough, and we headed for Green Valley where planned to spend the night.

Green Valley is a quiet golf course community. Even the roads have dedicated lanes for golf carts only. The landscape is dominated by golf courses and residential developments. Driving through Green Valley we spotted some black birds on one of the golf courses. They were too long to be crows so I knew they had to be Great-tailed Grackles. The females were much smaller and more brown than males.

Crows don't like the heat so they are replaced by grackles in mid and southern Arizona.

I don't know how the grackles compare to the crows in intelligence, but I think they have them beat in character.

The washes and roadside sidehills were very birdy in Green Valley. It didn't take long to find a Canyon Towhee.

In fact, the Canyon Towhees were quite plentiful as I heard them everywhere.

At first glance I thought I saw a cardinal, but I soon realized it was a Pyrrhuloxia. The first few stayed hidden in the bushes, but when I looked across the road, there was one on a tree.

I was surprised that the Pyrrhuloxia stayed for about 15 minutes. Every other one I saw on the trip never stayed still for more than a second.

I actually left for about 10 minutes and when I returned, there was a Curve-billed Thrasher on the same tree.

Gambel's Quail were also very common. I saw them on the golf course with the grackles and they were common in the roadside bushes as well as near the motel.

They were very similar to the California Quail in size and shape, but the rufous crown is unmistakable.

Another familiar bird was the Lark Sparrow. It reminded me of the one I saw at San Malo in Nov. '04.

I know I just posted the Gambel's, but this one is in a tree!

Talk about a cool looking bird! I just loved the features of the Blck-throated Sparrow.

I saw one lonely one the day before in the desert. They were as common as golfers in Green Valley.

I'm still not sure of this sparrow. My best gues is a Brewer's.

I missed my first Ash-throated Flycatcher last fall in Victoria. I had to go all the way to Green valley to find another.

Since the Mourning Doves were everywhere, they deserved a picture.

Here's another Verdin. It is an attractive little bird.

After we left Green valley, we popped into Madera Canyon and stopped at Santa Rita Lodge. Most of the lodge area is for guests only, but there is one section open to the public where a number of photographers were staked out at hummingbird and seed feeders. As I preferred to be away from the crowd, I didn't take note of what birds were present.

The White-breasted Nuthatch was in a tree away from the lodge.

The one shot I got from the public area by the lodge was the Acorn Woodpecker.

There were several different warblers and vireos in the trees that I missed, but I managed one shot of my first Bridled Titmouse. I didn't realize it but we later drove right by the area where the Flame-coloured Tanager hangs out.

SIERRA VISTA is renowned as a birding destination because of its proximity to famous birding locations like Patagonia Lake (Kino Springs, Sonoita Creek, Rest Stop); Huachuca Mountains (Miller, Carr, & Ramsey Canyon); San Pedro River; and the Chiricahuas. Rather than bore you with idle chatter I'll just show you the birds I photographed in the Patagonia Lake region. Bear in mind, we saw a lot of other birds that we couldn't photograph. By the way, Patagonia Lake is a wonderful habitat to bird with easy access, good trails, and lots of birds. Avoid the weekends if possible.

Ash-throated Flycatcher on an Ocotillo

Botteri's Sparrow

Rufous-winged Sparrow

Cassin's Kingbird

Vermillion Flycatcher (male)

Vermillion (female)

Vermillion (almost adult?) male

Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet

Northern Beardless-Tyrranulet

Thick-billed Kingbird at the Rest Stop

On the way back from Patagonia Lake, we stopped at Paton's to check out the birds at her feeders. There were many different species like Blue Grosbeaks, Inca Doves, and Lazuli Buntings, but the set up is for bird-watchers, not photographers. The feeders were too far away and poorly situated for light and obstructions. I focussed on a couple of nearby trees and was lucky to catch a Broad-billed Hummingbird on a branch.

My best find was the Violet-crowned in the shade of another tree. I think most people missed it because they were looking in the wrong direction.

Lesser Goldfinch (m) at San Pedro House

Lesser Goldfinch (f)

Common Ground Dove on San Pedro trail

Vesper Sparrow by San Pedro River

orange-crowned Warbler by San Pedro pond

Summer Tanager by San Pedro River


On May 1 we tried to go to Carr Canyon for some of its specialties, but Mother Nature had other plans. Winds gusting to 80 km/h changed our minds when we were half way up. That left us with some foothill birding and a wasted trip to Whitewater Draw. (We did see a few good birds at Whitewater like the Scaled Quail and Barn Owls, but there was nothing we could photograph.

I just missed on a Cordilleran Flycatcher but had better luck with the Dusky-capped.

A Rufous-crowned Sparrow was cooperative as far as distance was concerned, but not for lighting as it managed to stay in the shadows.

I had one quick (and slightly obscured) look at a Ladder-backed Woddpecker before it flew.

I had close looks at an Arizona Woodpecker but it wouldn't come into the sunlight.


While Paton's was not photographer-friendly, it was just the opposite at Mary-Jo's in Ash Canyon. The feeders are located in several trees in the center of her yard and the seating was ideal for proximity and sunlight. Her specialty is the extremely rare Lucifer Hummingbird which we saw several times but half obscured by the feeders.

I wish the other hummers were as obliging as this pollen-covered Anna's. She leisurely fed on the flowers for a few minutes before moving on.

This male Broad-billed regularly landed on a branch about 6 feet from me, but it was too close and in the shade. An hour later the sun shone through and I got my picture.

Mexican Jays snuck in now and then to help themselves to the feeders.

Here's another Curve-billed Thrasher. They were quite common.

Mary-Jo has her own recipe of jelly to attract the orioles. The Scott's Oriole was a regular visitor.

The Bullock's also came regularly but had to yield to the Scott's.

We had planned to leave Sierra Vista early on May 2, but because our Carr Canyon visit was aborted the day before, we decided to make a quick trip to Ramsey Canyon before heading for Flagstaff. I'm glad we did as we found a couple of surprises. The Loggerhead Shrike on the entrance road was a good sign.

The first was a few wild Turkeys. They wandered up the canyon on our way in and down the canyon on our way out.

The Hammond's Flycatcher was the first bird to greet us on the trail.

Further up the trail we found a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We also found several Painted Redstarts but fanned on the photos.

There were several feeders at the visitor's centre. The Black-chinned were cooperative but the Magnificents weren't. They preferred to sit on the feeders and didn't provide any flight opportunities.

The female Broad-billed did cooperate for a flight shot.

What's a trip to Arizona without seeing the Elegant Trogon? Just listen for the barking dog. That's what it sounds like. We were lucky to hear the barking at Ramsey Canyon.

Grand Canyon Birds - Yes, we did see several Condors, but they all have tags which doesn't make for a good picture. I have a distant shot of A9 on one of my fash cards.

I was happier to get a picture of a Mountain Chickadee. I didn't recognize it at first so I had to impose on Dick to take me out of my misery.

The Grand Canyon warbler that I did recognize was the familiar Black-throated Gray Warbler.

The warbler was very oliging as it landed on a nearby branch.

At the entrance to the north rim, we stopped at Jacob Lake for coffee and apple pie. After the break we checked out the picnic area across the road. We were greeted by a pair of Western Bluebirds.

A few minutes later a pair of warblers fluttered by and landed close by. That was my first look at the Grace's Warbler.

Further into the picnic area I missed a couple of unidentified woodpeckers but found a Pygmy Nuthatch nest in a tall pine.

Late that afternoon we decided to call it a day at Kanab, Utah where we were greeted by a pair of Western Kingbirds in the parking lot.

We tried birding at Jordanelle near Heber city, but it was very quiet. There was still snow on the ground in many areas. I had to settle for a Magpie. I forgot to take a picture of the Magpie in Salinas, California. It could have been a different species.

Birding was cancelled today because of rain so we took in a few sights such as the Mormon Tabernacle organ and noon concert. We did see the monument to the California Gulls which was birding in a sense.

Bear River Revisited - The Bear River NWR at the north end of the Great Salt Lake is one of my favorite photography venues. We only had about 3 hours, but in that time we saw well over 50 species, and I had a very enjoyable time with the camera. All the expected species were present. There were no surprises, but the vast numbers of swallows was impressive. In some spots thousands would take flight on our arrival and literally blacken the sky. There seemed to be many juvenile Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows while the Cliff and Barn Swallows were still building their nests.

Duck numbers were low compared to las year. As usual, the Cinamon Teal seemed to be the most abundant species.

It's always fun to see the Pelicans and they were present in the usual spot near the entrance. We saw large numbers later in the flooded fields.

The eared Grebe was a pleasant surprise. Last year there were none. We saw about 20 this year.

Black-necked Stilts were scattered here and there throughout the estuary.

This one only had one leg. We couldn't tell at first, but when it flew, we could only see the lone limb.

White-faced Ibis were all over the place. There were large flocks and scattered individuals everywhere we looked.

The Snowy Egret is another favorite bird. It looks like a little ball of cotton candy on a licorice stick.

Despite being 2 feet long, the Snowy is very dainty bird and weighs less than a pound.

Looks like the Franklin's Gull is having a good laugh at the expense of the White-faced Ibis.

I was hoping to spend some time working on flight shots with the Cliff Swallows, but they weren't too cooperative. I had to settle for a peek-a-boo nest shot before carrying on.

There weren't very many raptors around. Besides this distant dark Swainson's Hawk, we saw a Red-tailed and a Northern harrier.

The Wilson's Phalarope was another bird we didn't see last year, but we saw a couple of dozen this year.

As usual, Western Grebes were abundant. We had to go a long ways before we found a few Clark's.


I've saved my favorite for the end. I think I could spend the whole day just photographing the American Avocet. It is such a gorgeous and elegant bird.

There were scores of Avocets everywhere - much more abundant than last year.

I didn't have time to work on flight shots, but I did get a swimming shot which was a new one for me. This was the end of my birding. I had a phenomenal time exploring new habitats and seeing new birds, but, unfortunately, I have to end on a sad note. In a moment of carelessness, I didn't place my tripod securely, and it tipped. The bang you heard was my heart breaking as my camera and lens crashed to the ground. Surprisingly, the camera still works despite a large dent on the left side. The same cannot be said for my lens. It is now hinged in the middle and held together by duct tape. I will be out of action indefinitely. Perhaps it was a rude awakening to get caught up with my domestic chores that I've neglected for the past 5 years. Meanwhile, I wish you all good birding, and I hope to see you all by the fall migration.











VICTORIA - BOLEN BOOKS, MUNRO'S, Crown Publications, Ivy's



CHEMAINUS - Willow's Wild Bird Store







Comments, questions, or book orders? email