After information from other birders, we crossed the road to the stream side this morning, which is reputed to be much better for birds. After a short walk through the trees, we came upon a couple of very interesting passerines, feeding in the canopy, and obtained good scope views from below for 5-10 minutes of birds that we failed to identify. Both seemed to be vireos, with rounded shape and quite stout bills, greyish back tinged with olive, an eye ring which was barely obvious, dark to black upper tail, and two wing bars which were more or less just thin lines. Both had yellowish undertail coverts, one with beige underparts, the other with pale yellow continuous up to the throat. This trail through the woods was quite short – only about 100 metres – and quite cool this early in the morning, being in the shade of the cliffs and trees. More birds appeared as we covered this small location, the best spell being when we stopped for a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, which had a favourite perch that it returned to for very short periods of time. An absolutely pristine male Broad-billed Hummingbird fed on the flowers only about 2 metres from our lookout point, and showed off magnificent colours even in the shade. Aside from Yellow Warbler and Dusky-capped & Ash-throated Flycatchers, the most surprising find was as we about to leave – 2 Black-bellied Whistling-ducks flew presumably from the stream below us.
Back to the other side of the road where the car was parked, more birds responded to the increasing warmth of the morning. Amongst the usually ubiquitous Phainopepla were Summer Tanager, Lucy’s Warbler, and one or two other passerines which couldn’t be seen very well. However, our best find here was a pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds, which were building a nest in a tall tree directly above a “Camping Prohibited” sign. They visited regularly, often alighting on open branches, in the vicinity. The find of yet another species either on a nest or nest building just had to be celebrated, so we constructed an improv breakfast by making up ham and cheese sandwiches in the boot of the car. Delicious!
The first job here was to spray well with Deet insect repellent, since chiggers are apparently a major problem in this type of habitat. The wetter months between July to September turned out to be the crucial months for this, but better safe than sorry! We were also greeted at the visitor centre car park by a mass of parked cars – this location obviously becomes quite popular by mid morning. On the positive side, we were also greeted by Say’s Phoebe and single Black amongst Turkey Vultures circling overhead. Other Flycatchers in the open area surrounding the visitor centre were Vermilion, with at least a couple of males, and Cassin’s Kingbird. We decided to do a circuit of the preserve, starting on the Creek Trail, which consisted of pleasantly open woodland, with a centre of grassland. We had again been hoping for some frustrating Empidonax flycatchers, but this was probably a little too late in the season for them. They were replaced by an abundance of other flycatchers, the most common being Cassin’s Kingbirds, Western Kingbird, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, but we also realised by now that Thick-billed Kingbird was a little easier to see in this part of the state than we had expected, with another 2 separate birds along the Creek Trail. On the paths we had some Sparrows, which mainly consisted of Song, and singles of Abert’s Towhee, White-crowned & Lark Sparrow. At the beginning of the trail, we had Grey Hawk which landed in one of the high trees to the rear, and Hermit Thrush closer to. A stop for a rest about half way along the Creek Trail unearthed Yellow-breasted Chat and plenty of Western Wood-pewees. Shortly after dragging our backsides from the comfort of the seat, we came across a pair of Grey Hawks, male Blue Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat and White-breasted Nuthatch all in the same area. This was just above a small flowing stream. Predominant Woodpeckers along the trail were Gila, with only lone Acorn at the start, and a much smaller Ladder-backed at the end of the Creek Trail.
Returning back towards the visitor centre on the Railroad Trail, the first half was very much more enclosed than the Creek Trail, with not much more than a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers. This opened up somewhat after the half way mark, and we immediately found another male Summer Tanager, with a female in close attendance. The trail following this continued to be fairly quiet, apart from single of Wilson’s Warbler and Brown-crested Flycatcher.
After a lunch of pre-made cheese and ham sandwiches, which were big enough to fill a horse, we had two aborted attempts at different sites. We initially walked some way around the Roadside Trail, still at Sonoita Patagonia Creek Preserve, which lived up to its reputation as the dry area of the preserve, with a bit of a climb through open thorn scrub. The dryness and time of day most likely explained the lack of birds – we only saw 2 Black-throated Sparrows as we walked back to the car. Next, we tried for Nogales Sewage Works, which we found with little problem, but it was reported by security to be under construction. Dead loss here as well!
The last stop of the day, and the trip, was the best of the afternoon. We left the Interstate just before Arizona City (at junction 212), and headed into some of the very, very, very flat farmland. This looks just as you would expect in Arizona – extremely flat with mountains dotted around in the background. Initial sparse low cactus and scrub gave way to miles of gravelled, and dusty, track. Along this track, we found a couple of Blue Grosbeaks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and 8-10 Shorelarks. We eventually arrived at cultivated turf fields, which were huge – about 800m wide by 1km, and are wide strips of very flat turfed soil, with a linked 16 part watering spray system standing at the entrance. Along the central channel for the motorised hub of the spray system, and 150 metres or so along, were 2 Burrowing Owls, perched characteristically out in the open. This was an excellent find to end the birding on, being seen as the light started to fade, and was possibly even matched by a Coyote which stood stock still in a ploughed field as we left Arizona City towards Phoenix.