Spring Grand Arizona May 12—22, 2018
Posted by Jacob Drucker
Nowhere else in the United States is a better lesson in biogeography than southeast Arizona. Whether appreciating how rainfall and elevation affect the habitat gradients within the “Sky Island” matrix of mountain ranges, the plethora of adaptations that the flora and fauna have evolved to cope with life in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, or the dramatic influence of the Madrean line on species distributions, it is impossible to avoid thinking about the forces that make this region so unique. As all VENT participants know, birds make an excellent avenue for enjoying the beauty and wonder of natural history, and on our Spring Grand Arizona tour, we were remarkably successful at capitalizing on the teachings of the avian world.
Our journey began on a hot afternoon, as we wandered through the open-air exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This was not only a great way to get great looks at rare and elusive creatures in captivity, like Mountain Lion, Ocelot, and Thick-billed Parrot, but also a lovely introduction to the more common Sonoran birds, such as Cactus Wren, Verdin, Pyrrhuloxia, Curve-billed Thrasher, Abert’s Towhee, Gambel’s Quail, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. The green space provided by the museum also held a few surprises in the form of a late migrant Cassin’s Finch and a Green-tailed Towhee. After visiting the museum, we made a short detour through the parking lot of a Chase Bank in downtown Tucson, where a very urbanized Burrowing Owl amazed us all as it sat perched on a post between the parking lot and a major city road.
The following morning we set off north towards Aravaipa Canyon—a riparian corridor set between rugged, Saguaro-laden hillsides and cliffs. Year-round water here meant a very birdy visit for us, with great looks at Gilded Flicker; Vermilion, Brown-crested, and Ash-throated flycatchers; Inca Dove; Phainopepla; Hooded Oriole; Bronzed Cowbird; and more. The real highlights in the Aravaipa area were raptors. We stumbled on a few Zone-tailed Hawks, including a pair on a nest; Harris’s Hawks surveying the landscape from the top of Saguaros; some distant Gray Hawks; a few Red-tailed Hawks of both calurus and fuertesi subspecies; and the real highlight—fantastic looks at a vocalizing Common Black Hawk guarding a nest in a large cottonwood in the heart of the canyon. We also got more distant looks at this rare and local specialty soaring high above the adjacent mountains.
Read Jacob’s full report in his Field Report.