After some extremely successful birding in our previous two days in Arizona (though not devoid of misses), my dad and I departed our lodging in Green Valley before sunrise on the eighth day of our adventure, headed for the Santa Rita Mountains and Florida Canyon.
This would be a pivotal day of our trip, in which we would see a lot of the final opportunities to see a number of targets we had missed on previous days come up. It would be crucial to take advantage of these opportunities and attempt to nail down these birds, as we weren’t sure of the next time we’d be in their ranges.
Arriving at Florida Canyon, just off of the road headed to the famous Madera Canyon, site of an unbelievable morning of birding two years ago, my dad and I began making our way up the trail. Our main target here was Rufous-capped Warbler, a species I had seen in Costa Rica back in 2009, but one I was looking forward to getting some more looks at, in the ABA area to boot.
We were also hoping for Black-chinned Sparrow, a top target on this trip, and an overall higher priority species than the warbler.
Over a period of over two hours, we covered around a kilometer of a portion of the trail leading up Florida Canyon. Neither us nor any of the other birders looking, came across any of the Rufous-capped Warblers that frequent this location. However, we were able to come up with a nice total of twenty-five species, that included: Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Dusky and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Hutton’s Vireo, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Painted Redstart, Green-tailed and Spotted Towhees (we ended the trip with four species of towhee recorded), Lincoln’s and White-crowned Sparrow and Pyrrhuloxia.
The biggest highlight at this location, however, came in the form of four awesome Black-chinned Sparrows seen along the length of the trail. Although this species can be rather skittish and flighty, a few birds stuck around and provided nice views and photos, which was a real treat. I had been yearning to see this sparrow for quite some time, and it was awesome to finally catch up with it.
After hitting the canyon, my dad and I headed north, en route to Tucson. We had to finally admit defeat on Montezuma Quail, as our last opportunity to see this almost mythical species had come on the road into Florida Canyon, an opportunity we were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. I have now missed Montezuma Quail on two trips to Arizona (with a good deal of effort spent for this bird on each).
We arrived at the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson in the late morning hours, as the temperature continued to rise. Our top targets here were not the typical wetlands fare as was expected, but instead two terrestrial species: Red-naped Sapsucker and Cassin’s Vireo.
We had been keeping our eye out for these birds at a good deal of very good locations for them over the course of the trip, and had come up empty every time. Our visit to Sweetwater was no exception. We missed them both.
Highlights at this fun (but stinky; don’t let the name fool you!) location included thirty-seven species, including numerous waterfowl that were comprised of Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Common Gallinule and American Coot.
Other highlights were Gambel’s Quail, Harris’s Hawk (one of the specialty birds at this spot), Black-necked Stilt, Gila Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Verdin, Marsh Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Orange-crowned and Yellow Warblers, Abert’s Towhee, Song and Lincoln’s Sparrows and Yellow-headed Blackbird.
After spending some time at the Sweetwater Wetlands, we continued making our way towards Phoenix, stopping at one last location of the day in a last-ditch effort for Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon, the Santa Cruz Flats.
To cut to the chase, we missed them both. Again. Our last opportunity of the trip for Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon, birds we had opportunities to see on every single day of the Arizona portion of the trip, was another bust.
At this point, I had gotten pretty fed up with these birds. Looking back, though, I can’t wait for my next trip out West to nail down these not-so-little buggers, when I can finally claim victory over two species that have brought me so much trouble. It will be I who will have the last laugh.