Last August (2012) I was part of a team of U.S. bird bloggers who gathered in southeast Arizona to find birds, talk about blogging, and to test out the new Swarovski ATX, a modular scope—the first of its kind—whose component parts will suit just about every situation you’ll encounter in in the field. More on that, below.
The three-day gathering was convened by Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik NA with the help of Sharon Stiteler of BirdChick and Rabbit fame. Included in the fun was Nate Swick (who administers the Amercan Birding Association blog), Robert Mortenson of Birding is Fun, Mike Bergin of 10000birds, Jim Cirigliano of Bird Watchers Digest and Rue Mapp from Outdoor Afro.
After a good day of discussion, we explored popular birding spots around Tucson and the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains, including Mt. Lemmon, Miller and Ash canyons, and Coronado National Forest. And while I am far from an expert on birding southeast Arizona, I highly recommend the following iconic sites for your next southwest birding trip. Special thanks to Nate, by the way, because his meticulous and legendary eBird notations make this late trip report possible. (Nate would like wealthy travelers to know that he’s available for hire as an eBird listing sidekick. You travel and bird; he travels with you and ebirds, your online list grows! We’re only half joking.)
On our first day, we spent time at Agua Caliente wetland park in Pima County. Here we saw birds such as Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and Rufous-winged Sparrow. Some in our group saw a Verdin, and another highlight was watching an adult Blue-throated Hummingbird feeding a fledgling.
We moved onto Mt. Lemmon, located not far from our hotel, where we saw Arizona Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hepatic Tanager, Pine Siskin, Phainopepla, Blue Grosbeak, Scott’s Oriole, plus the western form of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
On day 2 we scaled Mt. Lemmon again and saw raptors (Zone-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon) soar overhead, hummingbirds feed from flowers in full bloom, and warblers (Black-throated Gray, Painted Redstart) and vireos (Plumbeous, Hutton’s, and Warbling) flit in the bush. We saw Cordilleran Flycatcher, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, and the stunning Yellow-eyed Junco.
On day 3 we got up very early and headed south to the Fort Huachuca campsite playground, had a little childish fun, and spotted Gray Hawk, Acorn Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, and Summer Tanager.
We were joined this day by hummingbird expert Sheri Williamson and her husband Tom Wood, who is an accomplished tour guide. Sheri wrote the book on hummers (A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America) plus she’s the director of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO). Needless to say, we were in good hands and received good instruction in the way of hummingbird identification (consider contacting SABO about tours should you go down there; Sheri and Tom incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic).
Continuing our tour into Huachuca Canyon, we had a marvelous birding experience picking up a great tick: ELEGANT TROGON! This is the only trogon in the U.S., and it’s only here by a hair. What a site!
Other birds in the canyon included: Dusky-capped and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Plumbeous, Hutton’s and Warbling Vireos, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Bewick’s Wren, Black-throated Gray Warblers, Wilson’s Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Western Tanager, and Black-headed Grosbeak, among others.
We then headed over to Beatty’s Guest Ranch & Orchard near Miller Canyon. Here we saw White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Acorn Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Things got really exciting when we traveled up the canyon on a treacherous road with deep, ankle-twisting ruts and spotted my first Mexican Spotted Owl! The owl was roosting in the shadowy crick of a tree and allowed long looks. Of course, the two Swarovski ATX’s we had along made this an easy and bright experience, without disturbing the owl (please follow the ABA Code of Ethics). During the entire weekend, both Sharon and Clay schooled us on digiscoping techniques using both digital SLRs and smartphones. They are two of the best and I found my digiscoping skills go from zero to just plain bad.
We continued south to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast to watch hummingbirds. Ash Canyon has a fabulous hummingbird feeder set up just hopping with hummers such as Magnificent, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Rufous, Broad-billed and the brilliant Lucifer. While there, Sheri spotted two hybrids, the Costa’s x Lucifer Hummingbird and Costa’s x Black-chinned Hummingbird.
Hummers make for a frustrating subject to photograph, so I was glad when this Mexican Jay came close and let us enjoy a few snapshots.
During incidental birding, our team picked up Lesser Nighthawk, Cassin’s Kingbird, Cliff and Barn Swallows, Cactus Wren, and Curve-billed Thrasher, Great-tailed Grackle, and many more. Towards dusk one evening, we staked out near a utility pole to watch a nesting Elf Owl emerge from its nest; while waiting, we “enjoyed” a Tarantula making his way across the road.
This was a successful trip in many ways. Sitting around a table of bright, go-getting people who love birds, blogging and business like I do was enlightening. Picking up life bird after life bird in these wonderful Arizona canyons was a true gift. And testing out a stunning new piece of optics technology before it hits market was brilliant. Many thanks to Swarovski and Birdchick for organizing this tour.
I didn’t have an opportunity to test the Swarovski ATX thoroughly, but several bloggers have given reviews, so I’ll refer you to their sites.
- Jeff’s Gordon’s on the ABA blog here
- Gus Axelson on Cornell blog here
- Michael and Diane Porter here
- Corey on TenK Birds here
- Martin Garner on Birding Frontiers here
And you can watch a Swarovski intro video on the scope here: