- Southeast Arizona Birding Guide, Richard Fray - https://www.arizonabirder.com -

Patagonia, Miller & Ash Canyons

Bewicks-Wren-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-02 [1]I spent a memorable day birding with Dave Levene from New Hampshire. I doubt I’ll have another day like it!

Today’s snow was clearly the main factor. Let’s remember: this is southeast Arizona in late April. It was a total whiteout passing through Sonoita at 6.30. I collected Dave from Circle Z Ranch and we headed back to Patagonia. On the way a small duck flew up from the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek near the rest stop. Given the location, Wood Duck may be the most likely candidate. Snow was falling heavily at Paton’s. A clever VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD was huddled together with two male BROAD-BILLEDS a couple of inches off the ground directly under the large tree up against the house, totally sheltered from the alien conditions. SUMMER TANAGER and BULLOCK’S, HOODED and SCOTT’S ORIOLES came in for jelly, a couple of LINCOLN’S SPARROWS are hanging around, the GRAY HAWKS were calling and the LAZULI BUNTINGS were dazzling in the snow.

Black-headed-Grosbeak-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-02 [2]We headed back through blizzard conditions around Sonoita and cloud at ground level. Dave got to Sierra Vista without seeing a mountain!

We pulled onto Miller Canyon Rd and the first bird we saw was a GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. We stopped to take a look and a MacGILLIVRAY’S WARBLER appeared in the next bush. Interesting. A few more birds caught our eye as we passed Broken Arrow Rd so we stopped again, two miles below Beatty’s, just before the pavement turns to dirt. Straight away we were into warblers: YELLOW-RUMPED, TOWNSEND’S, HERMIT, WILSON’S and a VIRGINIA’S WARBLER. With them were both PLUMBEOUS and CASSIN’S VIREO, another GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE, DARK-EYED and YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS, DUSKY-CAPPED and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER and a surprise GREATER PEWEE. The best flock I’ve seen all year…

Black-headed-Grosbeak-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-01 [3]We stopped at the restroom just along the road and found the MAIN flock! It was staggering; I’ve NEVER seen anything like it, anywhere. We flagged down a few more birders and all stood in awe as somewhere between 200 and 300 birds, almost all of them warblers, streamed downhill away from the snow. We only got binoculars on a fraction of the flock but we picked out nine warbler species.

YELLOW-RUMPED was the most numerous, but there were more than 20 BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS, double figures of TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS, a few ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, a couple more WILSON’S and HERMIT WARBLERS, a LUCY’S WARBLER, another VIRGINIA’S WARBLER and a RED-FACED WARBLER. Wow! They were accompanied by a couple of HERMIT THRUSHES, AMERICAN ROBINS, HEPATIC TANAGER, GRAY FLYCATCHER and a HAMMOND’S/DUSKY.

At this stage I was somewhat taken aback… I almost fell over when a gorgeous BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER appeared right in front of us, atop a shrub under an oak tree at 5,100 ft. Mind blowing!

Dazed and confused, we arrived at Beatty’s to find a couple more RED-FACED WARBLERS in the first tree. The hummers were quite a sight amongst the snow, the prize being a little male CALLIOPE at close range which just won over two bright male RUFOUS fighting it out at the public feeders. Tom Jnr. pointed out a sparrow at the back of the pond, which appeared to be a SWAMP SPARROW. Thinking about it now, I wish I’d taken a longer look or got some photos as it does seem unlikely. It was one of those days though… take a look, if you go. Thanks to Toms Snr. and Jnr. The setup at Beatty’s is first class.

Cassins-Finch-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-06 [4]Heading back down, half a mile below Beatty’s we had another surprise – Dave spotted a GRAY HAWK by the road which gave us great views before it flew across the canyon. When the Gray Hawks are higher than the Buff-breasted Flycatchers, surely the world has gone mad!

We spent an enjoyable early afternoon at Ash Canyon B&B. We got lucky with the LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRDS, with multiple visits by a male and female. A bright male WESTERN TANAGER was a nice new addition to the eye candy, which included SCOTT’S, HOODED and BULLOCK’S ORIOLES, SUMMER TANAGER, ARIZONA WOODPECKER and a female CASSIN’S FINCH.

Western-Tanager-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-01 [5]Mexican-Jay-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-02 [6]Chipping-Sparrow-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-02 [7]Black-headed-Grosbeak-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-03 [8]Arizona-Woodpecker-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-03 [9]Ladder-backed-Woodpecker-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-01 [10]Lucifer-Hummingbird-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-04 [11]Lucifer-Hummingbird-Ash-Canyon-10-0423-01 [12]Heading back to Patagonia we got close views of several HORNED LARKS near Elgin, which was now bright, sunny and free of any sign of snow. Amazing! We dropped in at Paton’s again and chatted with Michael Marsden, and ended the day with another good view of GRAY HAWK and a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET along Blue Haven Rd, a little way beyond the preserve entrance.

11 warblers + nine hummers + four towhees + three tanagers + three orioles = good times! One of the most eye-popping days I’ve spent in Arizona. Fantastic stuff!