April 25 -27: Southeast Arizona is undeniably one of the premier birding areas in all of North America, and it’s always a treat to go back. This time I was particularly tempted to make the impromptu trip by the appearance of a Fan-tailed Warbler that appeared on April 13 in a private yard in the Chiricahua Mountains, not far from where another rare (for North America) warbler, a Slate-throated Redstart, also was being observed.
I arrived in Tucson at 10 AM on April 25 and headed south directly to Tubac, along I-19, to look for the Sinaloa Wren that has been seen there off and on just south of Santa Gertrudis Lane. This species is becoming a kind of nemesis since I missed the one at Fort Huachuca two years ago after a morning of fruitless searching, and missed it again this time despite spending most of the day looking and listening. The wren had not been reported for the previous four days so there was no being certain that it was even still there, but it turns out it was indeed seen again sporadically by a few others later in the week. This is an extremely shy bird, more often heard than seen, and very difficult to see well let alone photograph.
My good Arizona friend Matt VanWallene met me back in Tucson in time for dinner, and together we set out early on April 26 for the Chiracahuas, two and a half hours southeast and not far from the New Mexico border. Unfortunately the Fan-tailed Warbler had turned out to be only a five-day wonder and was already long gone before my flight west, so we concentrated our search instead on the Slate-throated Redstart up in Pinery Canyon. The specific area to search is along a hilly trail adjoining a creek some 200 yards uphill from the roadside parking spot which is some two miles west of the campground at 7000 feet elevation. The bird can possibly be anywhere along a 100 yard or so stretch of the trail, so it is best to park oneself and just remain stationary and observe until sooner or late it is spotted. We were fortunate to see it several times, once at very close range at eye level which afforded an unusually furtunate opportunity for good photographs.
Because of the vigil for the Slate-throated Redstart, we paid only scant attention to the other species present including Townsend’s and Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstarts, and one Mexican Chickadee. I also had a two-second view of one brightly green-backed hummingbird that I suspected was a Berylline – a prospective life bird, and the Chiricahuas are indeed the place to see it – but I managed to miss the opportunity to document this would-be rarity with a photo.
Next stop, still in the Chiricahuas, was the George Walker House in Paradise. No rarities, although there was an Ovenbird which, although common in the east, is rare for Arizona.
The following morning we headed for the Huachucas where we had planned to seek out the Tufted Flycatcher in Ramsey Canyon, but the spot is a two mile hike uphill from the montane parking area and, discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to forego this particular trek, so instead we drove up to the campground at the top of Carr Canyon Road. This is a steep narrow dirt road with no guard rail and continuous very sharp switchbacks which leave no margin for error, so do not try this without a four-wheel drive vehicle with adequate ground clearance. The road up featured a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks. The roughly 26 species tally was rewarding with the highlights being a resident group of Buff-breasted Flycatchers and a Greater Pewee loudly singing its unique “Jose Maria” song.
In the afternoon we stopped at the Ash Canyon B&B which I had visited once before back in 2009. It’s a well-known birding hot spot where you can spend a leisurely few hours relaxing while the myriad species come in to the many feeders. Highlights here among the some 28 species I counted were Scott’s Oriole and a male Lucifer Hummingbird that the B&B is especially known for.