A family trip to Arizona

A trip to Arizona produced this accommodating Five-striped Sparrow - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I just returned from a week in Arizona. My parents asked me if I wanted to join them on a trip and I jumped at the chance even though it would be extremely hot. Most days were 43C or 109F! So birding had to be done at very early mornings or evening but there were many great birds to be seen!
I got all my targets except for one but more on that later. Because I was with my parents I was not able to bird as hard as I liked to or did last year (see our trip report HERE) but we still did OK!.

We started out from Phoenix heading north towards Marble Canyon. As we drove up from the desert we watched the geography change from barren sage brush to barren rocks, to forested green evergreens and large herds of elk back to huge rock canyons! We stayed at the very nice Marbled Canyon Lodge after our 4 hour drive. The lodge and delicious restaurant is run by the Navajo First Nations. I got up early and went to the impressive Navajo Bridge. It was here that I saw a huge immature California Condor perching on the arch of the bridge directly across from me!.

California Condor at Marble Canyon - Photos: Melissa Hafting

At the bridge there was a biologist who is studying the condors. She had a huge antennae attached to her hip. She was tracking apparently a few condors soaring a few miles away over the cliffs but not in view. She told me that the bird I saw was 1 year old and sometimes is still seen with his parents but mostly now on his own. Look how big his feet are! Anyways she said he has no number on his wing tags because at the time he was born they had no number ones left. You can see his radio transmitter on the wing in the photo above.  I really never appreciated how big they were because I never saw one so close until now. They are truly impressive birds.

The Navajo Bridge area is truly stunning with the huge red rocks and canyons lots of nice birds there too. I had White-throated Swifts, Canyon and Rock Wrens, Cassin's and Western Kingbirds and Virginia Warblers.

The view from the Navajo Bridge is spectacular in Marble Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The Condor perched on the arch pictured here! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After this we drove to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The views in there were truly spectacular! 

South rim of the Grand Canyon  a real wonder of the world! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We saw much more Elk and then headed to Mormon Lake to look for the reported Common Crane. We searched for several hours but could not find it. It was subsequently not seen again despite others looking  but of course was seen on the day I left for home. Such is life but not too sure I would have been satisfied with the views as even with a scope most people just got a view of it's head peeping out for the briefest moments. It definitely became hard to see after June 25th with people devoting whole days and seeing no crane or just a glimpse like THIS on the day I left. Too bad though as it would have been over very cool lifer for me! I knew my parents would not want to drive back 5 hours from southeastern Arizona so this as my only shot.

After this we drove back to Phoenix via Sedona and here I stopped in at Cave Springs Campground where I immediately picked up a rare but long staying Yellow-throated Vireo singing his heart out.

The next day I woke up at 4 am to get out to look for LeConte's Thrasher. I have gone to the famous "Thrasher Spot" in Tonopah and have almost died from heatstroke in the fall so knew I had to get there even earlier for the end of June. I was on site at 4:30 am.  It was pretty dead except for some Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Abert's Towhee and Verdin. Then things picked up a bit with many doves, a Gilded Flicker (a cool bird for this barren sight) and a singing Loggerhead Shrike. Plus weirdly a Great Blue Heron flew over the drought filled desert!. All of a sudden a LeConte's Thrasher started to sing. I caught him in the distance in my bins and then he flew quickly and I saw the rusty undertail. I wanted a photo so persisted. An hour later after searching for other thrashers and him again I refound him in the same spot. He probably never left haha. He started to sing again and guess knew I was not going to leave and was obliging for quite a few photos. He let me see his pale body and white throat. He is such a pretty thrasher. Over the years I have now photographed all 3 Thrashers (Bendire's, Crissal and now LeConte's) at this site.

LeConte's Thrasher in Tonopah - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was a triumph for me I have tried here so many times and in Borrego Springs in CA to try and photograph this guy so glad I don't need to go back to the Thrasher Spot. It is a very desolate place and now is strewn with tons of garbage. People are dumping everything wrecking the environment and also lots of ATVs are wrecking the thrasher's nesting habitat a real shame. I hope birders will get this important bird area protected. As I was leaving I spotted a couple Burrowing Owls nearby and one let me take his picture!.

Burrowing Owls are always fun to see in Buckeye! - Photos: Melissa Hafting

I did not go to see the nearby Glossy Ibises at Hidden Lake because they were scope views only. The birds were in a large flock of White-faced Ibis and I didn't have the time, plus it was pay entry and I had such great views of Glossy Ibis for free in Texas  at Anahuac so I didn't bother. 

Next while my parents were still sound asleep I was off to try for Black-chinned Sparrow and Gray Vireo on Mt. Ord. Almost immediately after stepping out the car by the green corral I had Black-chinneds doing their bouncing ball song. I have struggled in the past to find this species and although going to Sunflower to see Common Black Hawks last year never went up Mt. Ord. With the Black-chinneds there was also singing Gray Vireos. I have seen them in Texas but never in AZ so that was super cool. I also got my first photo of this species.

The Black-chinned Sparrows at Mt. Ord did not cooperate well for photos - Photos: Melissa Hafting

This Gray Vireo was much more cooperative than the sparrows at Mt. Ord - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Mount Ord was extremely birdy. Here I had Woodhouse's Scrub Jays, Acorn Woodpeckers, Phainopeplas, Painted Redstarts, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Lesser Goldfinches, Grace's and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Ash-throated Flycatchers,  Crissal Thrashers that were singing, Plumbeous Vireos and Hepatic Tanagers just to name a few!

The next day we went to Madera Canyon my parents and I had fun sitting by the feeders. Here we got to see a beautiful male Varied Bunting. I had seen this species before but never at the feeders at Madera. We also saw a Coati which is a new animal for my parents so they were thrilled. Some of the other birds present were Rufous-crowned Sparrows, Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Acorn Woodpeckers, Dusky-capped and Brown-crested Flycatchers and a Hepatic Tanager.

Varied Bunting at Madera Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Rufous-crowned Sparrow at Madera Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

My mom was also really excited to see a family of Northern Pygmy-Owls. The adults were feeding the young and it was really cute. The Pygmy Owls were in the same spot that Thor, Ilya and I saw them last year. Which would prove true for other owls I would see during my trip but I'll talk about that later.

Adult Northern-Pygmy Owls (Mountain Subsp.) at a nest in Madera Canyon - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Rivoli's Hummers were at the feeders and people were discussing that Blue-throated Hummingbirds are now officially called Blue-throated Mountain-Gem. I didn't like the change to Rivoli's and not a fan of this one either but oh well. I was not going to Portal this trip so wouldn't see one anyways.The feeders were humming especially at dusk it felt like I was in Ecuador all over again with 60 hummers at the feeders buzzing like bees!. There were at least 50 Broad-billeds, a single Rufous, many Black-chinneds and a few Anna's and a couple Rivoli's.

The Mexican Jays always delight me and I got some photos of them as we walked through the park along with a pair of Arizona Woodpeckers. There was also Painted Redstarts and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets singing everywhere.

Immature Mexican Jay (note the pink around the bill)  at Madera - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Arizona Woodpeckers are so pretty! Madera is the best spot to see them - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Elegant Trogons were calling from all over had one in the picnic area, amphitheatre and on the upper Mt. Baldy Trail. I never tire of their barking calls. It's such a gorgeous bird to have such an unattractive call haha.

As we drove out on the road in we had Greater Roadrunners and Swainson's Hawk and a Chihuahuan Raven showing off his white throat and calling to clinch the ID. 

Greater Roadrunner in Green Valley, AZ - Photo: Melissa Hafting

 We were now on our way to Paton's in Patagonia. Here we hoped to see the Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. We quickly saw them but they weren't the highlight a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was as he flycatched. I see them so rarely that it was so great seeing him. There was also many Blue Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-breasted Chats, Gambel's Quails, Curve-billed Thrashers, Lucy's Warblers, Summer Tanagers, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpecker and the like. It was extremely birdy despite being baking hot. My parents couldn't handle the 40 C heat even in the shade so we left but I would have loved to have stayed. On our way out via Nogales we saw a beautiful Gray Hawk perched by the side of the road.

Gray Hawk in Nogales - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next day I didn't get to do much birding but in the evening went to Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson. Here I saw Common Gallinules, Vermilion Flycatchers with chicks, Black Phoebes, White-winged and Mourning Doves, Yellow and Lucy Warblers and Common Yellowthroats just to name a few.

Male Vermilion Flycatcher at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Baby Vermilion Flycatcher in Tucson - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next day I had made plans with my friend Thor Manson who used to live in BC to do a half day of birding. We set out to find Five-striped Sparrows and a Lucifer Hummer that had been seen at Box Canyon. Box Canyon is very near to Madera Canyon. I had never been before but I knew it was a hell of a lot easier road than California Gulch. You may remember from our report last year that we had got a flat tire in California Gulch and no Five-striped Sparrow!. There is no cell service in the Gulch but good birds we did see Montezuma and Scaled Quail, an Elf Owl and Buff-collared Nightjars so it was worth it but since I would be alone didn't want to go back in there and risk another flat alone this time!

So we went out at 6 am and quickly found 1 then 2, then 3 and 4 Five-stripped Sparrows! They are such a beautiful sparrow. I only wished Ilya was with me after the hours we put in searching for this species last year and difficulties we encountered with it. Hopefully they will stay put here so I can show them to him soon. These birds must be spreading north because this year they were viewable in 3 readily accessible canyons including Montosa Canyon.

Anyways Thor  and I got great views of these beautiful Sparrows here is a shot in addition to the one at the top of this page:

Beautiful Five-stripped Sparrows in Box Canyon - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We also had Hooded Orioles here, a barking Elegant Trogon and more. Thor had found a Lucifer Hummingbird nest and showed it to me. I was amazed but how he could spot such a tiny nest. He played a few calls because the nest was empty. Amazingly she responded and flew up from down slope giving us a quick but adequate view of her orange wash, dark ear patch and decurved bill!. As Thor told me you sure appreciate seeing them like this more than at a feeder where you don't work for it haha. On the way out we had some Black-throated Sparrows and Pyrrhuloxias! I just love those birds.

After this very happy we went to Madera Canyon to look for a Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and Trogons. On the way there we stopped at Thor's favorite spot for Cassin's Sparrows. We did not see any this time but I came back later on my on and saw 4 singing there after a rain shower. 

At the top of Madera Canyon we heard the Elegant Trogon immediately after ascending Mt. Baldy Trail but sadly didn't see it as they had fledged from their nest. We did see one Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher sitting high up on a tree doing his "squeaky toy" call. Sadly he never perched in an open spot for a photo though. He always had a branch in front of him.

Record shot of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher in Madera Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

While looking for birds up there I looked up in the sky and spotted a gorgeous Zone-tailed Hawk flying right over us!

Zone-tailed Hawk flying over Madera Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we went to Tumacacori  in search of Rose-throated Becards. I told Thor I wanted to photograph a male because I didn't get to when Ilya and I found a female and male at the nest last year in Tubac. So we got there and by now it was baking hot. We had a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling as we walked in and refound a Black-chinned Hummingbird nest that his friend Dan Carnie had found.

Black-chinned Hummingbird in a nest at Tumacacori - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Thor quickly showed me a marker on the ground where his friend Bill had left to mark the large Becard nest. For small birds they make huge nests. Well we never saw the female but the male posed very nicely for us. It was a bit distant across a small creek but I got my shots of this beautiful bird!. Thor warned me that it would be extremely hot here as we had to stand in the open to view the nest. It got so hot over 40 degrees celsius and my cell phone suddenly shut off and a warning came on it with a red thermometer saying that read "Temperature iPhone needs to cool down before you can use it." Hahah that has never happened to me before...That's just how hot it was!. We left when I had got the record photos and couldn't stand it anymore. It was just a mere 5 mins!.

Male Rose-throated Becard in Tumacacori - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After dipping on a reported Hooded Warbler and just coming up with Yellow Warblers and Bell's Vireos, we went to look for the reported Green Kingfishers in nearby Carmen. By now it was baking hot and 12 pm. We looked found some Black Phoebes  but the creek that Thor saw it at before was now all dried up! No self-respecting Kingfisher would sit at such a site. 

Here is a photo of the Green Kingfisher that Thor Manson got:
Green Kingfisher in Carmen - Photo: Thor Manson

Later we learned that people were actually seeing the Kingfisher down by the river. I would later return in the evening with my mom and we found the Kingfisher sitting briefly down by the creek. We also saw a Wild Turkey there and Black Phoebes, some deer and a thankfully friendly bull.

Anyways back to Thor and I. We then went to Santa Gertrudis Lane I had been there last year to look for the Rufous-backed Robins and Sinaloa Wren. I had found the robins but no wren and today as it was super hot we did not find the Thick-Billed Kingbirds. Again later I returned the next day in the early morning on my own and found 2 loud as ever near the parking lot.  Ilya and I  had seen a Thick-billed Kingbird in San Diego but it was only my second time seeing one in Arizona.

Thick-billed Kingbird on the DeAnza Trail in Tumacacori - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I thanked Thor for a fabulous day and after he dropped me to my nice airbnb I went home to rest. It sure was nice of him to take me out and great to see him again and all these great birds together.

 That night we had the best buffet dinner I had ever had. It was at a casino. I''m not a fan of Casinos but I'm a fan of the buffet at Desert Diamond Tucson Casino. The food was 14.99$ and included fresh King Crab and Prawns. It was endless and all of it was so tasty and the desert too. Usually buffet food quality isn't great but this place is. If you go it's definitely worth it.

I forgot to mention another great food option for foodies out there! Soto's Outpost in Tubac is probably the best Mexican Food I ever had and they are so friendly there. There isn't a time I don't go there when I'm down in AZ!

Anyways, back to the birds. As I mentioned the weather was super hot. We knew this but certain birds like the Five-striped and Sulphur-bellied don't show up until end of May. Of course a White-throated Thrush disappeared before I got there. So we grinned and bared it. The next day we went for a drive up Mt. Lemmon to Rose Canyon Lake to look for Buff-breasted Flycatchers. One had been staked out at the Bobcat Communal Picnic Area. I had seen these guys before up Carr Canyon but wanted to see again. Well I searched for several hours with my mom cheering me on but didn't find it! I found Cordilleran Flycathers though, Western Bluebirds, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Grace's and Olive Warblers, Painted Redstarts, Pygmy Nuthatches though!.

It was a nice time in cooler temperatures in fact it was like a fool monsoon up there for a brief hour but the rain was welcome. The weather was funny during my stay generally hot but a bit of the start of monsoon season with some thunderstorms and one day I sat in a huge hail storm at the Madera feeders at Santa Rita Lodge. It was crazy getting drenched in that hot weather and seeing thick hail in the end of June!

It's a beautiful drive up and down Mt. Lemmon and on the way home we found a Harris's Hawk sitting on pole in Tucson. They are such gorgeous hawks.

Adult Harris's Hawk in Tucson - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next morning my family wanted to go visit the old town of Bisbee. My parents wanted to see the old time architecture of this cute little town. On the way there I wanted to stop at St. David's Monastery as this is a known spot to see nesting Mississippi Kites. I didn't see any but others had before I got there. I unfortunately did not have adequate time to look as my parents were anxious to get to Bisbee. I did see some Kestrels and many Turkey Vultures though. It is a peaceful place with  bird sanctuary and I'm anxious to go back and check it out more thoroughly.

Male Blue Grosbeak at San Pedro House in Sierra Vista - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After a nice time in Bisbee I drove back to our Air BnB in Green Valley via Sierra Vista. Here I stopped at San Pedro House. Here we saw many stunning Blue Grosbeaks. We also saw a cute Western Screech-Owl in the same place Ilya and I found him last year!.

A cute Western Screech-Owl sunning himself at San Pedro House - Photos: Melissa Hafting

On the way home we saw several Lesser Nighthawks flying alongside our car which was cool to see in the daytime.

The next day I drove to Elgin to visit Audubon's Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch to see Scaled Quail. They also had Montezuma Quail present. I saw dozens of Scaled Quail here. Some of the hens had chicks. I also saw many Botteri's Sparrows, a few Cassin's Sparrows, a Grasshopper Sparrow and 6 Eastern Meadowlarks and other goodies!

Scaled Quail at Elgin - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Botteri's Sparrow in Elgin - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Record shot of a Lesser Nighthawk in Elgin - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Elgin is truly an incredible place I wish I had more time to explore it as it is the last remaining intact grassland in Arizona and the birds are so cool here. As I drove out of here a gorgeous buck Pronghorn stopped me dead in my tracks. We locked eyes and then he sauntered away.

Next I was off to Carr Canyon to look for Buff-breasted Flycatchers. I was really nervous to go back up there. I went last year and almost had tears in my eyes as a passenger!. I am not afraid of driving rough roads and usually have no fear of heights but this road frigging scares me. It quickly climbs to over 7000 feet and is one lane and switchbacks with little places to pull off for 2 cars. Also there are straight 400+m drop offs and no barriers and it is a rough road with no service and lots of rocks that could give you a flat tire.  They advertise it as one of the most dangerous roads in the USA and not for acrophobes. Well I was proud of myself for conquering my fear and making it up and down in one piece. I don't know what was worse up or down haha. Anyways at the top I almost immediately found the Buffies! They were so cute calling and fighting and perching at the totally empty campsite!. I ended up seeing 4 Buff-breasted Flycatchers here. There were lots of good birds here like Grace's and Olive Warblers among others!.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher at Carr Canyon - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After descending I decided to go to Ash Canyon B&B. It was the first day it has reopened since the death of Mary Jo Ballator. I have to admit that it was not the same there without her. I spent time with her lovely son David. I gave him my condolences. There was lots of good birds there including Scott's, Hooded and Bullock's Orioles. There were also Montezuma Quails there that I didn't see but I enjoyed watching the birds with David. I was surprisingly the only one visiting there on the first day it opened which I thought strange. I enjoyed watching all the nuthatches, nesting Ash-throated Flycatchers, Blue Grosbeaks and hummers. There was also a family of Gray Hawks which was cool.

This is the easiest and best place to see Lucifers and I'm glad volunteers are helping to keep this place open 3 days a week! It is also a lovely legacy for Mary Jo. 

If you have ever visited Ash Canyon B & B you will know how special it is and how hard Mary Jo worked all on her own to keep it going. It is a huge job and expense to run this place and her family and the volunteers need all the help they can get to keep it running and open to the public. If you can donate any amount please do so by clicking HERE

Male and Female Lucifer Hummingbirds at Ash Canyon - Photos: Melissa Hafting

With no reports and lots of people looking I decided to not drive 5 hours to check out the Common  Crane it was a mistake I guess because he showed up July 1st again  and the day I left July 2nd. Oh well next time!

I took a walk with my dad along the DeAnza Trail in Tubac one evening and ran into a ten Javelinas! It was my first time seeing these cute wild pigs. I don't know who was more excited my dad or I!.

Javelinas in Tubac on the DeAnza Trail - Photos: Melissa Hafting

I went to one of my favorite place the Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch before flying home. My parents went to a Casino and I birded in 44 C heat!! Boy it was painfully hot but I was there to see the Least Bitterns that were nesting there. It was only my second time seeing this species. I have only seen them in Texas before.In addition to the Least Bittern I also saw a Green Heron here. There was also a Great Blue Heron here who are known to eat Least Bitterns. Thankfully these tiny guys stayed far away from the larger egrets and herons!.

Least Bittern in Gilbert - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It truly was a great trip!


  1. Sounds like a fantastic trip! Beautiful pictures and great birds found!

  2. Wonderful post Mel with your usual superb photos. If this is from not birding as hard as you wanted, I can only imagine what a hard birding trip would have produced.

    1. haha probably the common crane ;) thanks my friend means a lot

  3. Wonderful pics and stories as always

  4. Lovely trip report and super special to be able to do it with your parents.

    1. yes was really nice to spend some quality time with them! thanks q

  5. Sounds like another very successful trip and wonderful photography. It's impressive how many little trips and great birds you have been able to squeeze in this year. I wish I was able to join you on more of them. Congrats on finally connecting with the Five-striped Sparrows!


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