Whether you were on one or both of these winter birding vacations, I suspect you felt the same way I did on the day to return home – I didn't want to go. Not only was it hard to leave behind all those great birds and places in California and Arizona, but the return to the reality of Minnesota's weather was hardly an inviting prospect. True, it was much drier than normal where we were, especially in CA where temperatures in the 80s on a few days made for some slow birding. But we can hardly complain when it reached the 70s on most days, our "coldest" day had a high in the low 60s, and there was only a day or two on the windy side. Indeed, consider that the temperatures in Minnesota were – and still are – around 100 degrees colder on many days once the winds are factored in!
No matter what the weather here or there, of course, the birding was our highest priority, and overall it did not disappoint. In all during the two weeks, we found a grand total of 244 species, just 6 shy of this MBW's best composite total, and this included no fewer than 115 birds not normally seen in Minnesota. While the CA week "only" came up with 180 species, perhaps due to the excessively dry and warm weather (we usually reach 190+), the week in AZ totaled no fewer than 170 species (around 10 more than our average). This difference of only 10 species between the CA and AZ portions was especially interesting: normally this difference has been around 30 or so.
With so many birds found on our lists, it's hard to know where to start with the highlights. On the CA MBWeek, what stands out most in my mind were the 2 Eurasian Wigeons we saw in San Diego, the closer-to-shore-than-usual Black-vented Shearwaters at La Jolla, the Blue-footed Boobies at Lake Skinner (only my second sighting ever), finding tattlers and turnstones and Surfbirds on the rocks, the return of the Thick-billed Kingbird to San Diego, California Gnatcatchers at San Elijo Lagoon, Tricolored Blackbirds again at Lindo Lake, and of course my only lifer – the Nutmeg Mannikins by Tecolote Nature Center.
Our main highlights in AZ mostly included coming up with so many staked-out rarities – birds which are not to be expected every year: the flock of Lawrence's Goldfinch rewarding our hike along Rillito Creek, that Greater Pewee in Tucson's Evergreen Cemetery, the Sinaloa Wren eventually emerging into view in Huachuca Canyon, cooperative Ruddy Ground-Doves at Whitewater Draw, an uncharacteristically "tame" Elegant Trogon at Patagonia Lake, Florida Canyon's pair of close and cooperative Rufous-capped Warblers, and the mostly-heard and elusive Black-capped Gnatcatchers in Montosa Canyon. And don't forget the lovebirds (both human and Rosy-faced) at Phoenix's Granada Park.
Also of note during our two weeks were those owls (especially the Barn Owl at Sonny Bono NWR and the responsive Whiskered Screech-Owl in Miller Canyon), 5 species of hummingbird (with Anna's almost everywhere), 13 woodpecker species (highlighted by Lewis's, White-headed, and Williamson's Sapsucker in CA; Arizona Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers in AZ), no fewer than 6 thrasher species (with 5 of these at the famed Baseline Rd flats, along with a more cooperative Crissal at Estrella Park), and an impressive 25 sparrow species (with perhaps Rufous-winged, Brewer's, Sagebrush, Bell's, and Golden-crowned at the top of the list).
(There will always be some should-have-seen "misses" on any trip, but there were relatively few on these MBWs. About our only real disappointments were the lack of California Quail, White-tailed Kite, Mountain Plover at both Salton Sea and Santa Cruz Flats, some sought-after gulls at Salton Sea, Mountain Bluebird, and wintering orioles in San Diego.)
Besides the nice weather and impressive lists of birds, there was also some nice scenery to remember: along the California coast, the vista from Cabrillo National Monument, the San Jacinto Mountains, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, and the canyons of the Huachuca and Santa Rita Mountains. I was also pleased by the generally smooth logistics involved with both MBWs, and the lack of any traffic problems in San Diego and Phoenix. (In addition, it was gratifying not to encounter any problems in the field despite my inability to get an elusive permit from the unresponsive forest service in AZ.) Finally, special recognition goes to Sue who came up with no fewer than 114 lifers (!) over the two weeks, and to Bernice who managed to see all 6 of her targeted lifers in AZ.
January 11 - Early afternoon arrival at SAN, Robb Field and north jetty along San Diego River (dinner at Point Loma Seafood; first of 3 nights at Vagabond Inn Airport Marina).
January 12 - La Jolla, San Elijo Lagoon, Fairbanks Ranch, and Lindo Lake (dinner at Miguel's, with my nephew Paul).
January 13 - Tijuana Slough & vicinity, 7th Street mudflats, 2222 Leon St, Birds & Butterflies Sanctuary, Dairy Lake, Thick-b Kingbird stake-out, Sweetwater River, and Lake Murray (dinner at The Pearl / Pizza Nova / Pt Loma Seafood).
January 14 - Tecolote Nature Center, north jetty, Seacoast Blvd cormorant rock, Cabrillo National Monument, and drive to Hemet via Pamo Road and Lake Skinner (dinner at Mimi's; first of 2 nights at Hemet Quality Inn).
January 15 - San Jacinto Mountains, including McCall Park, Humber Park, Idyllwild Nature Center & County Park, Hurkey Creek Campground, and Ramona Trailhead (dinner at Sweet Baby Jane's).
January 16 - Anza-Borrego State Park, including Borrego Springs visitors center, Roadrunner Club, the "basin", and "sculpture garden"; drive to El Centro via Mecca, VanderVeer Road, and Salton Sea Recreation Area visitors center (dinner at Chili's; first of 2 nights at El Centro Fairfield Inn).
January 17 - Salton Sea & vicinity, including Finney Lake, Calipatria Prison fields, Sinclair Road & vicinity, Sonny Bono NWR headquarters & Rock Hill Trail, Red Hill Marina, and levee road from Obsidean Butte to Young Road (dinner at Johnny Carino's).
January 18 - Morning at New River and Fig Lagoon; drive to Phoenix via Old Highway 80 and Baseline & Salome Roads thrasher flats (dinner at Mucho Gusto; final night at La Quinta Sky Harbor Airport).
January 19 - Afternoon at Gilbert Water Ranch, Granada Park, and Tempe Town Lake (dinner at Thai Basil / Oregano's; first of 2 nights at La Quinta Sky Harbor Airport).
January 20 - Return to Old Highway 80 and Baseline & Salome Roads area, Estrella Mountains and South Regional Parks, and Tempe Town Lake (dinner at Thai Elephant).
January 21 - Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, Oak Flats Campground, and drive to Casa Grande (dinner at Bedillon's; night at Casa Grande Comfort Inn).
January 22 - Santa Cruz Flats, Dan Felix Park, Rillito Creek, Evergreen Cemetery, and drive to Sierra Vista (dinner at La Casita / Olive Garden; first of 2 nights at Sierra Vista Days Inn).
January 23 - Huachuca Canyon, Whitewater Draw & vicinity, and Miller Canyon owling (dinner at Mesquite Tree).
January 24 - Sierra Vista sewage ponds, San Pedro House, Paton's feeders, and Patagonia Lake State Park (dinner at Steak Out; drive to Tucson for first of 2 nights at La Quinta Airport).
January 25 - Florida Canyon, Madera Canyon, Amado sewage ponds, and Montosa Canyon (dinner at Claim Jumper).
January 26 - Morning return to Florida & Montosa Canyons; afternoon flights home.
BIRD LIST (composite total = 244 species)
- CA = seen only on California MBW, January 11-18 (180 species, incl 5 AZ-only birds on Jan 18)
- AZ = seen only on Arizona MBW, January 19-26 (170 species)
- species not annotated CA or AZ were seen on both MBWs
- CAPITALIZED SPECIES = rarities not to be expected every year
Greater White-fronted Goose CA
Wood Duck CA
Mallard - incl "Mexican" Ducks in AZ
Surf Scoter CA
Common Merganser AZ
Red-breasted Merganser CA
Wild Turkey AZ
Red-throated Loon CA
Common Loon CA
Horned Grebe AZ
Clark's Grebe CA
American White Pelican CA
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron CA
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron CA - hiding in a pine near Tijuana Slough
White-faced Ibis CA
Bald Eagle AZ - relatively rare here
Red-shouldered Hawk CA
Golden Eagle AZ - brief fly-bys at Florida Canyon
Virginia Rail AZ - mostly heard-only
Sora - heard-only
Common Gallinule CA
Sandhill Crane AZ - thousands at Whitewater Draw
Black-bellied Plover CA
Semipalmated Plover CA
Spotted Sandpiper CA
Lesser Yellowlegs AZ
Marbled Godwit CA
Ruddy Turnstone CA
Stilt Sandpiper CA
Short-billed Dowitcher CA
Parasitic Jaeger CA - leader-only at La Jolla
Bonaparte's Gull CA
Herring Gull CA
Caspian Tern CA
Great Horned Owl AZ
Hairy Woodpecker CA
Merlin CA - only in Arizona
Prairie Falcon - best at Estrella Regional Park in AZ
Tree Swallow AZ
N. Rough-winged Swallow AZ
House Wren AZ
Townsend's Solitaire AZ
Cedar Waxwing CA
Common Yellowthroat CA
Chipping Sparrow AZ
Vesper Sparrow AZ
Lark Sparrow AZ
Fox Sparrow CA - with Golden-crowneds at Cabrillo
Northern Cardinal AZ
Yellow-headed Blackbird AZ
Pine Siskin AZ
* * *
WINTER ARIZONA PHOTO GALLERY
~ Also see the photo gallery on the Summer Arizona MBWeeks page ~
The summaries of the 2017 Arizona and 2014
California-Arizona MBWeeks follow; note that several species
in 2014 were only seen in CA but not in AZ.
Also see the PHOTO GALLERY following the summaries.
One would think that reports of staked-out rarities at the time of a tour would be welcome news. Curiously, though, such is not necessarily the case. If there are too many of them, the time spent searching for them can cut into the time needed to look for other things. While it was fantastic for us to relocate the Nutting's Flycatcher at California Gulch (a lifer for all, including Jeff and me!), this side trip took up most of Day 5. Exciting as well was finally seeing the Rose-throated Becard along the de Anza Trail on Day 8, though most of the day before was spent coming up empty looking for both the becard a staked-out Rufous-backed Robin on this trail. And our first vigil at the alleged Rufous-backed house was rewarded by a Ruddy Ground-Dove on Day 4, although we spent too many hours then and on Day 8 waiting in vain for that robin to emerge into view from its back-yard hiding place.
But don't get me wrong here – for us to connect on these three rarities was quite a feat, especially considering that they were so elusive (almost as difficult as those robins), and many other birders were never able to find them! Still, it would have been nice to have more time to look for other birds missing from our list – things like geese, cranes, thrashers, and sparrows at Whitewater Draw and vicinity; tyrannulets, bushtits, Rufous-capped Warbler, Painted Redstart, and others at Madera and Florida canyons; and we could have used more time trying to improve the looks we had of Elegant Trogon (at The Gulch) and Black-capped Gnatcatcher (at Patagonia Lake).
Besides more time, we could have also used better weather on some days. Witness the 40-degree temperatures and steady rain as we tried to watch the feeders at Madera Canyon on Day 7, and it was again around 40 the next day at Florida Canyon as this time we faced snow/sleet showers, strong winds, and a swollen creek that precluded any access beyond the parking lot. And there were no thrashers to be heard on our two visits to those desert flats west of Phoenix as it was too cool and overcast for anything to sing.
Our final species total managed to reach an even 150 – as expected, given our retraints of time and weather, this was below our average for this trip (previous MBWeek totals here in winter have ranged between 158 and 170). Still, we had a long list of special and memorable birds in addition to those five rarities highlighted above. In all, we found 67 "non-Minnesota" birds, with probably the best of these including the Violet-crowned Hummingbird at Paton's, the flock of 22 Mountain Plovers right near the road and the Ferruginous Hawks at the Santa Cruz flats, both Whiskered and Western screech-owls on the same morning near Sierra Vista, a good variety of woodpeckers (especially Acorn, Red-naped Sapsucker, Arizona, and Gilded Flicker), Rosy-faced Lovebirds in Phoenix (Jeff's other lifer), both Hutton's and Plumbeous vireos, the five wren species at Boyce-Thompson, no fewer than three Crissal Thrashers, handsome Black-throated Gray Warblers, Canyon Towhees perched on our minivans' mirrors, an abundance of Abert's Towhees at Gilbert Water Ranch, side-by-side Sagebrush and Bell's sparrows at the thrasher flats, a striking Yellow-eyed Junco in the rain at Madera, and much more.
January 14: Arrival at PHX; late afternoon option to Kiwanis Park; dinner at Joe's Crab Shack and first of 2 nights in Tempe.
January 15: Thrasher flats @Salome Hwy & Baseline Rd, Estrella Mountain Park, Encanto Park, and Scottsdale Ranch Park; dinner at Claim Jumper.
January 16: Gilbert Water Ranch, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, and Oak Flat campground; dinner at Red Estilo Mex and night in Casa Grande.
January 17: Santa Cruz flats (especially Evergreen Turf Farm and Baumgartner & Wheeler house), El Rio Open Space, and Reid Park; dinner at Cattletown and night in Tucson.
January 18: California Gulch (via Arivaca Rd, Ruby Rd, and Warsaw Canyon Rd), Paton's feeders in Patagonia; dinner at Steak Out and night in Sierra Vista.
January 19: Pre-dawn owling in Miller Canyon, San Pedro House, Sierra Vista WTP, return to Paton's feeders, Patagonia Lake State Park, and Amado sewage ponds; dinner at Cow Palace and first of 2 nights in Tucson.
January 20: Tumacacori part of de Anza Trail, Tubac portion of de Anza Trail, and Madera Canyon; late lunch/early dinner at Cow Palace.
January 21: Return to de Anza Trail @Clark Crossing Rd area, Florida Canyon, Saguaro Nat'l Park West, Mile Wide Rd, and return to Baumgartner & Wheeler; dinner at Carlito's and final night in Tempe.
January 22: Morning option to Salome Hwy & Baseline Rd, and return flights home from PHX.
• boldface type = "non-Minnesota" birds (i.e., those absent, Accidental, or Casual in MN)
Cinnamon Teal (dozens at Patagonia Lake S.P.)
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Dark-eyed Junco (incl Pink-sided, Oregon, and Gray-headed forms)
Eastern Meadowlark (the "Lillian's" subspecies)
* * *
Ruddy Ground-Dove, Gilbert Water Ranch, 2011
Mountain Plover, Evergreen sod farm, 2017 (Jeff Stephenson photo)
Elegant Trogon, Patagonia Lake State Park, 2014
Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, 2012
Nutting's Flycatcher, California Gulch, 2017 (Lynn Glesne photo)
Rose-throated Becard, de Anza Trail, 2017 (Jay Vancura photo)
Bridled Titmouse, Madera Canyon, 2012 (Vija Kelly photo)
Western Bluebird, 2017 (Jeff Stephenson photo)
Rufous-backed Robin, Anthem, 2012 (Vija Kelly photo)
Le Conte’s Thrasher, Baseline Road flats, 2011
Black-throated Gray Warbler, de Anza Trail, 2017 (Lynn Glesne photo)
Green-tailed Towhee, San Pedro House, 2017 (Jeff Stephenson photo)
Bell's Sparrow, Baseline Road flats, 2017 (Jay Vancura photo)
Bendire's Thrasher, Baseline Road flats, 2014
Rufous-capped Warbler, Florida Canyon, 2014
Whiskered Screech-Owl, Miller Canyon, 2014 (David Luth photo)
Arizona Woodpecker, Madera Canyon, 2011
Crissal Thrasher, Estrella Mountain Park, 2014
Ferruginous Hawk, Buckeye, 2012
Gila Woodpecker, Gilbert Water Ranch, 2011
Hutton's Vireo, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, 2011
Cactus Wren, Boyce-Thompson Arboretum, 2014
Lawrence's Goldfinch, Gilbert Water Ranch, 2012
Rufous-winged Sparrow, Florida Canyon, 2014
Gilded Flicker, Gates Pass, 2014
Hepatic Tanager, Madera Canyon, 2014