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Day 1 (Friday, 16th May)

Map of Tucson area

View over Shannon Road

View along Shannon Road

View over Shannon Road

View along Shannon Road


After a journey which was about 20+ hours long (can’t remember the exact timing, but it was long), we stayed at a Super 8 motel about half an hour out of Phoenix, at Casa Grande (junction of the Interstates 8 & 10). Taking into account the time difference and jet lag, the plan was to set the alarm for 5:30am and reach the outskirts of Tucson and the first birding sites a sedate hour or two after first light. However, the predictable happened – we had very little sleep, woke up at 4:30, and were at Shannon Road by 6:00.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

This site is a great introduction to South-east Arizona birds. The road is little more than half a mile long, and is located at the very edge of Tucson suburbia, on the fringe of the thorn scrub and low hills of the desert. The problem in leaving the car was which way to turn – so many birds of so many new species, a sizeable number of which were quite approachable. This was definitely a foretaste of the superb birding ahead of us. Greater Roadrunner, one of the species that we most wanted to see, fell very early on, following many Gambel’s Quail trundling across the roads, seemingly in all directions. Unbelievably, it appeared just behind our car, in front of the houses, before striding the length of the block in front of us. This was to be one of only 3 Roadrunners seen on the trip. Other birds seen at first turned out to be common here, such as Gila Woodpecker, Cactus Wrens, and White-winged Doves (interspersed by the odd Inca Dove). We meandered along to the end of this road, which led us to the base of the thornbush covered hills, and enjoyed some excellent views of Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia, Verdin, House Finch, and Gilded Flicker. Birds really were everywhere in this small road, and despite all species being seen at some time later in the week, it was hugely enjoyable.

We also saw the first of our many hummers around here, with 1-2 male Magnificent Hummingbirds feeding on the flowering trees. An earlier Sparrow had been hastily called as Rufous-winged, but we hadn’t realised how similar they are to Rufous-crowned. Video evidence in strong light revealed the double malar stripes and white area between, confirming it as the former species. The first of the Flycatchers to show was Ash-throated, which was very approachable. At this stage, we were still using wing patterns to separate from Dusky-capped, but they were quite obviously larger in body and bill. One of the most common sounds, apart from Mockingbird, was that of Curve-billed Thrasher.


Gila Woodpecker

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Gila Woodpecker

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Inca Dove

Curve-billed Thrasher

Inca Dove

Curve-billed Thrasher

Pyrrhuloxia

Verdin

Pyrrhuloxia

Verdin


 

Saguaro view

Brown-headed Cowbird

Saguaro National Park

Brown-headed Cowbird

I wasn’t sure if it was because we had such a superb start to the morning’s birding at Shannon Road, or because the severe heat was beginning to kick in over this exposed hilly desert, but there were definitely fewer birds, both of species and numbers. This couldn’t detract from the significance of being in such a typical Arizona desert environment, with literally a forest of tall saguaro cactus canvassing the open hills. The temperature was climbing quite rapidly, with clear blue skies and dry heat. We were greeted at the visitor centre by rising Turkey Vultures, and further around on the circular loop, a Red-tailed Hawk with a snake in its talons.

We left the car to hike up part of one of the hill trails a short way around Hohokam Road. A family party of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers were feeding through the bushes almost as we started the walk. The walk was hard going for energy and birds, punctuated by the regular House Finches and Gila Woodpeckers, the latter of which must have been in their element amongst the field of saguaro cactus. There was a suggestion that they had taken the easy way out, since carving out a hole in cactus must be much easier on the head than wood (apart from the psychotic Gila Woodpecker earlier on at Shannon Road which was trying to tap its way through a metal signpost!). Black birds on top of the flowering Suguaro Cactus turned out to be Brown-headed Cowbirds. The first of many! It has to be said, despite these birds usually having the unfortunate position of being overlooked, the sun on them at the top of the cacti showed them at their best.

After returning to the car, we continued round the rest of the loop, finding more Red-tailed Hawks high up with Ravens, as well as a female Hooded Oriole across the road.

The next part of the plan was to go straight to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, but we stopped to admire a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a telegraph post at the junction of Sandario and Mile Wide Roads, which then led us to a smart Western Kingbird.

Western Kingbird

Red-tailed Hawk

Western Kingbird

Red-tailed Hawk

We didn’t arrive at the museum at the best of times, as testified by hordes of kids and sightseers lurking around the grounds. Yet this is not such a massive problem here (most of the time), until they pop up behind you muttering “ooh, what are you looking at?” at the top of their voices. The grounds cover quite an area, and this tends to swallow most of the other visitors up – a majority hover around the restaurant and gift shop in any case! Temperatures were even hotter now, but there were birds to be seen. Most of the gardens are reasonably manicured, and divided into differing desert sub habitats, with zoological exhibits (aviaries and caged animals) dotted around. There is a desert loop of about half a mile at the northern end of the trails. This loop was particularly hot, but was provided with plenty of water fountains to drink from, and some birds to keep us company.

Most of the species were becoming familiar from earlier in the day – more copious Cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpeckers, and White-winged Doves. Pick of the crop had to be the hummingbirds, with one small feeder in a shaded culvert being very busy with birds, but slightly off the visitor trail. The hummers here laid on an excellent display, with a handful of individuals trooping in and out regularly. Two of these enjoyed chasing each other through the bushes and high into the air, with a suicide dive downwards to follow. One of these was a smart male Costa’s Hummingbird, with a second male possibly being a subadult, with dark throat and purple sheen. Another bird was found on a favoured perch nearby while on the trail of a Wilson’s Warbler. The visit was finished with a slow ramble around the desert loop, and was worthwhile for the family of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and a prominent Verdin, both watched from the comfort of a trailside canopy.

Overall, the variety of birds here is not vast, and all were seen at other times through the week, but it was still an enjoyable diversion.

Brown-crestd Flycatcher

Verdin

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Verdin

Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Male Costa's Hummingbird

Immature male Costa's Hummingbird

Home

Paintings gallery

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Content

Introduction

Day 1

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Day 4

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Day 6

Day 7

Species list

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