An extremely successful day of target birding to the north and west of Tucson, taking in Catalina State Park, the Santa Cruz Flats, and Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains, with 70 species.
Catalina State Park:
Our main target was the RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN that has been present for much of the winter. We eventually found it in the hackberry trees near the parking lot.
Later, near the start of the Birding Trail, we either re-found the same bird some distance away, or found another RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN. It’s hard to say, either way.
In the same area we also found another target bird, several LAWRENCE’S GOLDFINCHES.
The creek was flowing, and many birds were coming to drink at the same spot. We waited and watched, and saw among other things a couple of BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS.
While walking through an area of thick mesquites, I commented that a NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET had wintered here last year. Within a few seconds I heard a tyrannulet calling, and soon we were enjoying great views of what was presumably the same bird as last winter.
In the same area we found a stunning male BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, an early migrant.
The park was really hopping, and we also found SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, GRAY FLYCATCHER, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, ROCK WREN, HERMIT THRUSH, AMERICAN ROBIN, GREEN-TAILED, ABERT’S and CANYON TOWHEES, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW, and BREWER’S and LINCOLN’S SPARROWS.
A wintering TURKEY VULTURE drited overhead as we headed towards the freeway.
Santa Cruz Flats:
We entered the flats via Sunshine Boulevard. One of the first birds we saw was a superb dark morph FERRUGINOUS HAWK. A pale morph later joined it for an excellent comparison.
Our main target was MOUNTAIN PLOVER. We struck out at the normal area of Evergreen Sod Farm area at the intersection of Pretzer and Tweedy Roads, but eventually found a flock of about 40 on the sod fields to the south. When they are on a brown background, they can be very difficult to detect.
We found BURROWING OWLS in a number of locations. I’d seen a group of four in one spot a couple of times recently, but today there were only three.
Nearby we found a pile of feathers, the typical aftermath of a kill by a Northern Harrier or one of the large falcons. It turned out to be, presumably, the fourth Burrowing Owl. Unlucky.
Also in the flats we found LEAST SANDPIPER, CRESTED CARACARA at a couple of locations, LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, HORNED LARK, more early TREE SWALLOWS, plenty of AMERICAN PIPITS, and a flock of LARK BUNTINGS. The feedlot at Red Rock had RED-WINGED, YELLOW-HEADED and BREWER’S BLACKBIRDS, and BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD.
Gates Pass, Tucson Mountains:
We only had a few minutes late afternoon, but we managed to find our target bird, GILDED FLICKER, as well as BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER.