SE Arizona – Day 4 (July 19): Tubac, Aravaipa Canyon and the Santa Catalinas

Our original plan for Day 4 was to start at Aravaipa Canyon, then make our way up into the Santa Catalinas. However, a report of a Rose-throated Becard from the De Anza Trail south of Tubac seemed too good to pass up.

We ended up putting in two hours at the trail to no avail. Summer Tanager, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Lucy’s Warbler were all present, but alas no Becard.

After our miss on the De Anza, we headed straight up to Avavaipa Canyon. Our major target here was Common Black Hawk, still common in areas like this in Central AZ.  We spied a dark hawk fairly quickly but we soon IDed it as a Zone-tailed which provided us with good looks before flying off. We continued down the road, searching all the trees but still coming up empty-handed.

Suddenly we noticed a nest mid-way up in a cottonwood with a nice juvenile Common Black-Hawk perched in it. Although the bird flew off rather quickly after spotting it, we nevertheless had one target safely in the bag.

Continuing to the start of the Aravaipa Wilderness Trail, we turned around and headed back down the road and this time got terrific views of an adult Common Black in the nest, feeding on some small mammal.

Common Black-Hawk

Common Black-Hawk in nest, not the small piece of meat in the bird's bill

After spending a few minutes watching the Common Black-Hawk devour its meal, we continued down the road, getting nice views of two adult Gray Hawks before heading out.

From Aravaipa, we moved on to the Santa Catalinas, opting to take the rugged and dirt Oracle Road to Summerhaven instead of going all the way around the mountain range to enter through Tucson. Most of my targets up here would be some of the iconic Rocky Mountain species that inhabit the top of Mount Lemmon, which contains that coniferous alpine habitat type

It took us a couple of hours to climb Oracle Road but along the way we enjoyed gorgeous views of the land below and noted the real change in habitat as the elevation changed.

It was also pretty birdy along the road and we netted birds like Rufous-crowned and Cassin’s Sparrows, Western Kingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Bell’s Vireo. Canyon and Rock Wrens were also common along this stretch.

Canyon Wren moving away from its nest

We began to get very excited as the habitat slowly started to change from a dominance of oaks to that of conifers. Upon hearing our first Pygmy Nuthatch, we knew we had gotten to the good stuff. As we exited the car, more Pygmies began to call down the hillside and we were able to gain a couple nice visuals. A Steller’s Jay soon appeared in a nearby pine and Mountain Chickadees and a Cordilleran Flycatcher began to sound off.

Where were we: Colorado or Arizona? We were shown soon enough when two Yellow-eyed Juncos appeared along the roadside, reminding us we were still in the Cactus State.

Continuing along, we netted a gorgeous pair of Western Tanagers up the road and noted more and more Yellow-eyed Juncos along the edges.

Not only were we greeted by a family of Western Bluebirds when we reached the top, but an absolutely stunning vista awaited us at Summerhaven. We spent a few minutes enjoying this view and trying to track down the Northern Pygmy-Owl sounding off down the hillside before moving on.

Our next stop was the Iron Door Restaurant, whose feeder area contained multiple Broad-tailed and Magnificent Hummingbirds as well as a few curious Mountain Chickadees. We enjoyed the show for a while and noted a calling Mexican Whip-Poor-Will further up the road.

male and female Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Another look at a male Broad-tailed

More of the same was present farther down the road but we were also able to gain a new bird here in the form of two Violet-green Swallows that made a couple of passes over the car.

Mountain Chickadees and Western Bluebirds were also quite confiding at this spot and allowed for a few photos:

Mountain Chickadee

young Western Bluebird

By this point dusk had fallen and we knew a return trip was needed to visit all the good areas leading up to Summerhaven. On our way down after dark, we noted three Common Poorwills, two calling and one that flew across the front of the car.

-AB

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