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Mark Lawlor

Not a hardcore bird holiday since I was with Mum and Dad, but I still needed to be hardcore myself to get the most out of it. There wouldn't be opportunity to drag them around whilst studying feather tracts, so it would be a case of get in, tick and get out, wherever we went. We did manage to cover plenty of sites and habitats resulting in 95 new birds for me.

Mon 12th July

LAX Airport and City

We were whisked away on a bus to the car hire place where we picked up the wheels. The journey through the urban wastelands was spent looking out for dangerous gangsters rather than birds.

Starlings, Feral Pigeons, House Sparrows, American Crow 5+, Northern Mockingbird 1

Ramada Hotel, Culver City, Los Angeles

Our first hotel was in a decent area of the city, approaching Santa Monica. Our room overlooked the city and there was a storm drain (or open sewer) next door which had a surprising variety of birds around it. I suppose any piece of water attracts birds in such a dry climate. I spent a good hour 'scoping from the window where I managed three new birds.

Mourning Dove 3, Starlings

Western Gull 6 adults, 2 first-sum, 1 3rd-sum

  • Mantle colour variable, between LBB and GBB.
  • Single white mirror.
  • Bulky, especially round bill.
  • 1st-year has dark tail but quite a pale rump.

Northern Mockingbird 2, Barn Swallow 5, Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1, American Crow 19

Spotted Dove 1

  • An introduced species which only occurs in the Los Angeles conurbation, where it is apparently widespread and doing well - i.e. tickable.
  • Slightly larger than the Mourning Doves present with distinctive spotty nape pattern.

Brown-headed Cowbird 1 male, 3 fem/juvs

  • A black bird with a brown head - nothing else to say!

House Finch 1 pair + 3 juvs, Brewer's Blackbird 1 pair, Killdeer 2

Tuesday 13th July

Ramada Hotel, Culver City, LA

Before breakfast had another scan of the drainage ditch.

Northern Mockingbird 1 pair, Starlings, Western Gull 11, Mourning Dove 1, American Crow 3, House Finch 3+, Killdeer 3

Hollywood Bowl

The first morning at least was devoted to being a tourist but this place was not where you could see the letters on the hill as we had thought. The bushes here were too dense to get any definite new birds.

Mourning Doves, House Finch 2/3, ( Swift sp.)

Hollywood Boulevard

Movie-star-central, we walked down the star-studded pavement and embarrassed ourselves at the hand-prints outside Mann's Chinese Theatre. There were some Swifts flying around the rooftops but I didn't have my bins on me.

Griffith Observatory

This is a park on the outskirts of the city centre on a scrubby hillside, where you can see the HOLLYWOOD sign from. There is an astronomical observatory there and a couple of trails through the groups of Pine Trees, which I explored. It took a while of searching before any birds were seen then they all came at once.

Mourning Doves, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-tailed Hawk 2

White-throated Swift 5+

  • A terrific pied bird hurtling around the air around me. Really close views of these birds feeding close to the ground compared to most Swifts.

Scrub Jay 2

  • Both these birds were very scruffy individuals and so I couldn't appreciate how nice they actually are. Probably from the city and been rioting in the projects.

California Towhee 3

  • Dark, rufous and chunky with a long tail. Recent split of Brown Towhee has created this species.

Band-tailed Pigeon 2

  • These two birds breezed in and breezed out quickly, not giving much time to study them. Basically a dark Woodpigeon - no confusion species

Hooded Oriole 1 male

  • An orange and black beauty with a large black throat patch.
  • Chased off a small Woodpecker before I could identify it.

Red-shafted Flicker 3, Bushtit c.10

Wrentit 1

  • One of the specialities and targets of the trip, restricted to the Pacific coast of North America.
  • A strange little bird which is apparently related to the babblers.
  • Dark, brown with a beady white eye. A long tail cocked up.
  • Very difficult to see even in this isolated bush - noted for its skulking.

Malibu Area

In the late afternoon we decided for a drive up the Pacific Highway and then into the foothills to see some real Californian countryside. Passing through the town of Malibu Beach there was a small pool which had some birds around it.

Mallard c.10, American Coot 1, American Kestrel 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1

Tapia Country Park

We got plenty of sites from the Lane's guide that I had bought and this was one of them. The habitat in these hills has plenty of trees and shrubs, more than I expected, and wasn't too dry either. This was the place where they filmed the TV series M*A*S*H. There were picnic tables and special camping areas but I managed to find a small creek with muddy pools which was excellent.

Western Bluebird 2 pairs, 5 juvs

  • I found a brood of recently hatched bids being fed by their parents.

Scrub Jay 1, Fox Sparrow 3

Black Phoebe c.7

  • An excellent Flycatcher closely associated with water. Where there is water they're there, no water, no birds.
  • These were catching flies above the still pools along the creek.

California Towhee 10+, Song Sparrow 1,Bullock's Oriole 1 female, Northern R-W Swallow 7

Plain Titmouse 10+

  • The western version of Tufted Titmouse.
  • The first one spent ages feeding at very close quarters for ages.

Gnatcatcher sp. - probably a blue-grey.

Nuttall's Woodpecker 1 pair

  • A real speciality of California, one of the small ladder-backed group of Woodpeckers.
  • It was a bit distant for my bins to watch it detail.

Dark-eyed Junco 1 'Oregon' race, California Quail 1 female

Mulholland Highway, near Malibu Lake

We moved on to look for a lake which was marked on the map but when we found it seemed like an unlikely place for birding being surrounded by gardens. I managed to see some Canada Geese there but nothing else. Driving back, we passed a small pool at the bottom of a hill surrounded by cultivated fields of some description, and birded from the roadside. We seemed to have picked a most fruitful spot with birds just appearing in the tree next to us.

Mallard 20+, Goldfinch sp.

Phainopepla 2 males, 4 females

  • One of my most wanted birds of the trip. A glossy black bird, flashing its white wing patches as it displayed along the waters edge. The males seemed to be fighting over a territory.

Nuttall's Woodpecker 1 male, Cliff Swallow 1, Hooded Oriole 1, Scrub Jay 2

Black-chinned Hummingbird 4+

  • Hummingbirds are a major prize in this state but this was one of the commonest species of the region, although it took a while before it settled.

Ash-throated Flycatcher 1

  • This is the only one of the Myiarchus Flycatchers in California, so ID was not a problem. A greyish-brown bird but with striking chestnut in wings and tail.

Malibu Beach

As we returned to the hotel we again drove down along the beach. There were plenty of gulls loafing on the beach which included Heerman's although we didn't stop the car to watch them.

Red-winged Blackbird 1 male, Brown Pelican 2, Western Gulls

Heerman's Gull 20+

  • Basically a Common-sized gull but dark all over.

Wed 14th July

Pacific Coast Highway

Our itinerary then took us away from the huge mass of the city of LA, and down along the coastline towards San Diego. Passing by Huntingdon Beach, a good bird spot, we saw some birds loafing on the beach, but we couldn't stop.

House Finch, Mourning Dove, American Crows, Western Gulls, Heerman's Gulls, Black Skimmer 1

Long-billed Curlew 1

Upper Newport Bay

This was one site that we got from the book which can easily be covered from the car. In fact you can use the road as a trail to check out the many tidal ponds in the area. We were disappointed to find most of this closed however due to landslides. The habitat is a wide estuary covered in saltmarsh with many creeks for birds to hide in. We also found a very large area of open mud and sand which was covered in various species.

Barn Swallows, Great Blue Heron 3

Forster's Tern 50+ adults and juveniles

  • This was obviously a breeding or post-breeding site for the species which were in their full breeding-plumage.
  • Very, very similar to Common Tern although the wing pattern was different slightly.

Song Sparrow 2, Willet - many

Clapper Rail 1

  • A bird seen in typical habitat, restricted to coastal saltmarshes of America. Mum spotted this as it ran across the mud and later it swam across a channel.
  • Basically a large Water Rail.

Spotted Sandpiper 1, Black Phoebe 1

Elegant Tern 4

  • One of my most wanted birds of the trip was seen with ease. This species wanders up from Mexico after the breeding season and so is not too difficult to observe.
  • A pale tern with an extremely long bill, giving the impression of a wader when in silhouette. I wouldn't mind seeing this in Britain.

American Kestrel 3, Hummingbird sp. 3, House Finches, Northern R-W Swallow 10+

Marbled Godwit 12+

  • Gave a similar impression to our godwit species, but seemed chunkier with a cinnamon hint to the plumage.

'hudsonius' Whimbrel 1, Loggerhead Shrike 2, Long-billed Curlew 11+, Black Skimmer 100+, Black-crowned Night Heron 2, Double-crested Cormorant 1, Brown Pelican 1, Killdeer 2

Savannah Sparrow 1+

  • The bird was observed feeding within the saltmarsh and along the mud sometimes.
  • This race, known as Belding's Savannah Sparrow which is restricted to the coastal marshes of the Pacific South West, is most unusual in that it is one of the few species which is able to live on salty water.

American Avocet 6

  • - This small flock was quite a way away on the mud but were still really nice. A pinky version of an Avocet.

Common Yellowthroat c.6 Hooded Oriole 1 male, American Goldfinch 3, Black-necked Stilt 2, Snowy Egret 2, Least Tern 10+, American Coot c.5, Caspian Tern 1, Pied-billed Grebe 2, Green Heron 1

Waders on mud including Dowitchers and peeps.

California Gull 2 adults

  • These were well away and I had unsatisfactory views, believing that I'd have chance to study them later - which was not to be the case.

Plenty to see in the Bay but much of it quite distant. It was disappointing that the Whimbrel did not fly to see its dark rump. There was no opportunity to study the waders and terns up close which was a shame.

Pacific Coast Highway

The first Vultures were seen as we carried on down towards San Diego. The continuous nature of the towns started to halt and we started to pass through smaller villages and coastal towns. San Diego is still a large city but the way it appeared was much more spread and 'leafy' compared to LA. Basically it was a much nicer place and somewhere you could spend a full week or so without getting paranoid.

Heerman's Gulls, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Turkey Vulture 5, American Kestrel 1

San Diego Visitor Centre

We came here first to get information on the location of motels in the city. This was quite fortunate since it was great to observe species at close quarters and take photographs. Gulls and Blackbirds frequented the grassy lawns beside the still waters of the bay, feeding on scraps from us tourists.

Western Gulls, Heerman's Gulls, Brewer's Blackbird 3/4

Tricoloured Blackbird 4 males

  • I was quite astonished to find this species here so easily since there are specific sites pinned down for it. This is a very local species restricted to the marshes of California and is a top target.
  • Just like a Red-winged Blackbird but white instead of yellow on the shoulder.

San Elijo Lagoon

During the afternoon, we spent some time on a beach just to the North of the city, with a pool located nearby just inland a block or too. It wasn't very large but had some islands and quite an extensive reedbed. Around the edge were plenty of trees which were quite dense and a narrow trail cutting through them.

American Avocet 4+, American Coot 50+, Black-necked Stilt 10+, Mallards

White-faced Ibis 2

  • Basically what I saw were 2 Glossy Ibises snoozing on an island but you don't get them here - they're White-faced!

Great White Egret 20+, Green Heron 2, Great Blue Heron 10+, Snowy Egret 5+, Forster's Tern 20+, Long-billed Curlew 5+, Yellowthroat 1 male, Cliff Swallows, House Finches, Bushtit 2, California Towhee 1, Wrentit 2, Black Phoebe 2, Brown Pelican 20+

Black-headed Grosbeak 1 male

  • Quite a common bird in woodlands of the region.

Anna's Hummingbird 2

  • A stunning Hummingbird with a bright pink throat. This throat looks black until it swings its head around and it flashes at you. One of the many species of hummer I hoped to see on the trip.

Torres Pines Reserve

This reserve on the Northern outskirts of the city was set up on this exposed coastal hill to protect the restricted Torres Pine, which grows only here and on the offshore islands. So the habitat is both pine woodland and scrubby hillsides with a winding trail snaking down to the sea.

American Robin 1, American Kestrel 1, Anna's Hummingbird 4, Bushtit c.5, White-throated Swift 2, California Towhee 3, Wrentit 3, Rufous-sided Towhee 1 male

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 3

  • Quite a nice, chunky Sparrow with a rufous cap, seen in typical habitat.

Thursday 15th July

San Diego Visitor Centre

Brewer's Blackbird 3+, Tricoloured Blackbird 1m 1f 1 im

Point Loma

This peninsula sticking out into the Pacific is really good for passerine migrants on migration, but we came here as it was quite scenic and I hoped for some seabirds. There is an lovely lighthouse there which Mum really liked. The seabirds I had hoped for were non-existent except for ubiquitous Pelicans.

Wrentit 2, American Kestrel 1, Barn Swallows, Brown Pelican a few 100, Red-tailed Hawk 1 ad 1 imm, Cliff Swallow 1, Hummingbird sp. 1

Cooper's Hawk 1 fem/imm

  • This bird shot past and soared a while on the thermals over the cliffs.
  • I could get a very good idea of the size as the much smaller kestrel mobbed it - so ID was not too much of a problem.

San Diego Bay

An excellent cruise around the bay - the best way to see the city.

Heerman's Gull 30+, Western Gull 25+, Great Blue Heron 2, Snowy Egret 1, Caspian Tern 1

Tijuana Slough

This estuary to the South of the city is practically on the Mexican border. In fact the hills just to the South were actually part of that country. The sandbars here were recommended by Ian and indeed held lots of gulls, terns and shorebirds to study. Other parts of the area are saltmarsh and held very little species. Mum and Dad left to find a cafe in the town but my jaunt down the beach didn't produce any ticks just excellent birding.

Least Sandpiper 17+, Western Sandpiper 1, Sanderling 30+, Semipalmated Plover 2, Snowy Plover 20+, Long-billed Curlew 4, Willet 30+, Forster's Tern 25+, Least Tern 30+, Brown Pelican 50+, Western Gulls, Heerman's Gulls, Black Skimmer 7+, Marbled Godwit 2, Snowy Egret 2, Cliff Swallow 6+, Yellowthroat 2 fem, Song Sparrow 1

The waders were very confiding along the beach and the Snowy Plovers were my first of this pale race of Kentish. A potential tick perhaps? Also it was interesting to note that Least Terns do in fact have grey rumps!

Friday 16th July

After our night in San Diego we headed inland, over the Sierras. We were heading for the Desert, a totally new avifaunal region.

Highway 8

Buteo sp. 3, Hummingbird sp. 3

Cuyamaca Park

Reaching the crest of the mountain ridge we were in a real Pine Forest zone. The weather was still rather warm making it similar to Mediterranean Pine Forests. This area is very popular since it is easily reached from the cities, and there are plenty of picnic grounds and trailer parks around. One of these was Paso Picacho Campground which we explored quite thoroughly, although there were plenty of birds along Highway 79 approaching the park.

American Coot 4, House Finches, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Black Phoebe 1, Western Bluebird 9, Cliff Swallows

Acorn Woodpecker - common here

  • Apparently this is a very common bird in California and so I was surprised not to see any before now. They were very common around the Pines.
  • A really unusually-plumaged 'pecker which hangs around in small, roving flocks

Lesser Goldfinch - 4+

  • All the male Lesser Goldfinches I did see on the trip were of the green-backed race.

Scrub Jay 4, Turkey Vulture 5, Plain Titmouse 4, Steller's Jay 12+, Dark-eyed Junco 6, Band-tailed Pigeon 2,

Mountain Chickadee - 11+

  • A really top titmouse with a natty supercilium breaking the cap.
  • Restricted to the high forests in California.
  • Bird number 500 on my world list.

White-breasted Nuthatch - 1

  • Extremely close views as it fed on a trunk.

Western Wood-Pewee - 2

  • A brownish, wing-barred Flycatcher - unexciting.

Nuttall's Woodpecker 1, Ash-throated Flycatcher 3, Rufous-sided Towhee 1, Yellowthroat 1 fem, Red-tailed Hawk 1 ad 1 imm

Lazuli Bunting - 1 male

  • Just before leaving, found this bird feeding along the edge of a small meadow. A stunningly beautiful bird.

Highway 78

The journey down from the high tops to the low lying desert was quite spectacular. A rest-stop gave a great view of the plains below. The trees suddenly gave way to small bushes and scrub and we were in the semi-desert. We stopped and got out of the car just to feel the mid-afternoon heat, since we had never been in a true desert before. It was quite unpleasant. We drove through various climatic zones, some rocky, some sandy, until we reached the town of Brawley.

Scrub Jay 1, Common Raven 2, Western Bluebird - common, Acorn Woodpecker - common, Cattle Egret 3

Brawley area

We pulled into the town of Brawley where we intended to find a place for the night. Taking a bite to eat, Dad decided that he didn't like the look of the place and thought that we should look for another town. It did indeed look a bit seedy in places with shifty characters.

Burrowing Owl 1

El Centro

This town a few miles South was much better with a couple of nice hotels. We stayed at the Vacation Inn, where we dropped our stuff before setting off up towards the famous Salton Sea.

Common Ground Dove 2, Red-winged Blackbird 30+, Cattle Egret 13

Roadrunner - 1

  • This bird was seen from the car as we whizzed past, feeding from a well watered lawn by the side of the road.
  • We turned around on the dual carriageway as soon as possible but it had disappeared from view.
  • beep-beep!


Our first stop at the South end of the Salton Sea was at the nature reserve headquarters. This huge expanse of a lake was created almost 'accidentally' in years gone by during irrigation schemes. It flooded a great area of Southern California and it always produces unusual seabirds inland. We arrived at the centre in the evening and found it totally deserted and so we didn't know where to go. We certainly couldn't see any water anyway. It was just a case of walking around the bushes.

Black-necked Stilt 1, Forster's Tern 3+, Long-billed Curlew 100+, Western Kingbird 3+, Laughing Gull 1/2, Burrowing Owl 4

Lesser Nighthawk - 1

  • As we pulled into the car park we were startled by a Nightjar flying in front of us. I suspected that it was a Lesser Nighthawk since they are meant to be common in the area.
  • Quite astonishingly it landed in a tree above the path and we were able to walk right up to it.

Gull-billed Tern - 1 over

  • There was no water around here but a few drainage channels, but waterbirds were flying around these. A few terns included this species and identification was not a problem.

Verdin - 2 adults, 2 juveniles

  • These small warbler or tit-like birds are quite unusual and don't have a great deal of identification pointers. At first I saw a couple of small, grey-brown birds with bright pinky-orange bills and I couldn't identify them. Luckily two adult Verdins joined them with their yellowish heads.

Abert's Towhee - 4+

  • In the same area of bushes as the Verdins there were some birds scrabbling around in the leaf litter on the ground. Although difficult to see they were Abert's Towhees, a restricted species living only in these SW American deserts.
  • Plumage is all buffish with blackish face-patches.

Gambel's Quail - 2

  • As we were leaving the car park a couple of these true desert birds scurried out of the shrubbery. Very similar to California Quail.

Red Hill Landing

This is another place to view the Salton Sea, a bit further North. At least here you could reach the water and so there were plenty of waterbirds to be seen. The water was quite low with lots of smelly mud between us and the edge. Also there were some lagoon type areas and drainage canals. There was a proper American birder there and we had a good chat about his listing activities.

Black-necked Grebe 1, Double-crested Cormorant 3, Ruddy Duck 3, Great Egret 40+, Snowy Egret 20+, Cattle Egret a few, Great Blue Heron c.10, Green Heron 2, Black-crowned Night Heron c.10, Wood Stork 1 over, American Avocet 4, Black-necked Stilt 200+, Killdeer 1, Marbled Godwit c.6, Willet a few, Long-billed Dowitcher 2/3, Western Sandpiper 500+, Bonaparte's Gull 1 w-pl, Laughing Gull 30+, Forster's Tern 15+, Caspian Tern c.5, Gull-billed Tern c.5, Black Tern c.10, Black Skimmer c.10, Black Phoebe 1, Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) 1, Cliff Swallows and Tree Swallows - small parties going South.

Yellow-footed Gull - 40+

  • This is the only site in the US where you can find this Mexican species with any regularity, and indeed it was very easy to see.
  • very similar to the Western Gull and the only noticeable difference being the yellow legs. they do also appear darker above in general.

Cinnamon Teal - 3 males

  • The first bird was noted flying over above the sea, and two more swam in the water later on. A very familiar bird from Slimbridge etc.

Redhead - c.20

  • A small mixed raft of Aythyas were swimming on the lake but I didn't really get very close views to study them at all. It mainly breeds further North but there are isolated outposts in the South-West including here.

American White Pelican - 6

  • These birds were seen very far off indeed and mainly in flight, but no identification problems though.

Salton Sea to El Centro

Burrowing Owl 25+, Lesser Nighthawk 2, American Kestrel 1

Great-tailed Grackle - 10+

  • A flock of these birds were feeding along the roadside just North of El Centro. Very similar to Common Grackles but bigger and with longer tails like the Boat-tails in Florida.


Saturday 17th July

Highway 8 - El Centro to Yuma

Black-necked Stilt 8, Burrowing Owl 16, Roadrunner 3, American Kestrel 1, Cattle Egret c.65, Loggerhead Shrike 1, Cliff Swallow a few

Yuma to Tucson, ARIZONA

Burrowing Owl 1, Turkey Vulture 32, Red-tailed Hawk 2, Great-tailed Grackle 1 fem, Gambel's Quail 1 imm, Buteo sp. 1

White-winged Dove - 1 near Yuma, then lots

  • A very common bird in the desert of Arizona, first seen just after we had crossed the border.
  • It has bright white covert bars, reminiscent of Woodpigeon but smaller

Gila Woodpecker - 4+

  • Rest-stops are frequent in these arid regions and at this one there were a few birds including a group of these desert woodpeckers. These are the ones which nest on the large Saguaro cactuses.
  • Very plain below but stripy above, in the same genus as the Eastern Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Days Inn, Tucson

Although it looks modern and quite pleasing, Tuscon is not one of the greatest cities that I've visited mainly because in the middle of the day it is so damn hot. It is very unpleasant during the daytime I don't know how the locals can stand it.

Great-tailed Grackle 1 male

Old Tucson

Just south-west of the town the area is true Cowboy-desert with huge, three-pronged cactuses amongst rugged and rolling sagebrush. For the tourists and for film sets they have built a mock wild west town. We intended to go in but it was exceedingly expensive.

Harris's Hawk - 1

  • On the main road just outside the town, we bumped into this bird perched upon a telegraph pole. We parked the car just underneath and I took some excellent photos.
  • They can be difficult to find but I've read recently that they have started to move into the suburbs of Tucson.

Saguaro National Monument/Tucson Mountain Park

A couple of National Parks set aside to preserve the excellent habitat of the area. There was a sort of arboretum set out for all the desert plants and various pull-ins on the roadside. I must say that you aren't really inclined to go cross-country hunting for birds with signs warning of the dangers of rattlers!

Gila Woodpecker 10+, White-winged Dove common, Gambel's Quail 7, Western Kingbird 1, 'Gilded' Flicker 1, Myiarchus sp. 1, Purple Martin 1 m 2 f, Raven sp. 2, Verdin 1 juv

Curve-billed Thrasher - 4

  • The vegetation in the area is very dense even though it is really the desert and this species does hide itself very well. I never got a really good look at one. The Thrashers are a group of birds which are famous for skulking and I didn't see any of the other species.

Cactus Wren - 13

  • This is a common bird of this part of America and was singing at the top of the Saguaro cactuses at this time of year.
  • Large and dazzlingly-plumaged - in fact not much like a Wren at all.

Bronzed Cowbird - 1

  • This is a real speciality of the region which makes up for the fact that it is still a boring Cowbird.
  • It does have a red eye however and is a bit more bronzy than its commoner relative.

Black-throated Sparrow - 1 male

  • An absolutely cracking bird with its face pattern more similar to a Passer sparrow with its large black bib.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher - 1 fem

  • In the same little 'gulley' as the Sparrow this was feeding warbler-like in the small shrubby trees, where it makes its home, unlike the blue- grey which lives in moist forests.
  • However, it was a female and needed to be checked and so careful observations of the undertail were required. The all dark undertail was not difficult to see.

Canyon Towhee - 2

  • The other half of the Brown Towhee complex which does indeed look very different from the dull-brown birds of California. The crown and nape of these birds was bright rufous and the plumage was much paler.

Inca Dove - 2

  • These doves really are tiny, even smaller than the minute Ground Doves, but their long tails make them look longer. The fine scaling above is very distinctive.
  • It was rather strange to see a Cactus Wren fly in to fight with one of them and to see there was no size difference at all.

Sunday 18th July

Days Inn, Tucson

The immediate vicinity of the hotel room was good with birds attracted to the sprinklers around the pool.

Great-tailed Grackle 2+, Cactus Wren 3, White-winged Dove 1, Inca Dove 1

Tucson to Sierra Vista

We left the city of Tucson to drive to the Mexican Mountains of South-eastern Arizona which is one of, if not the, top-spot for birders in America. Here many species have overshot from Mexico into these valleys which are really an extension of the Central American montane forest habitat. So there are plenty of species which breed here and nowhere else and are still quite common. The rolling lowlands and dry riverbeds between the hills are similar to those around Tucson.

Turkey Vulture 8, White-winged Doves

Chihuahuan Raven - 3

  • The Ravens which inhabit the desert lowlands in this area are of this species, the Common Raven existing only in the mountains.
  • They are a small Raven, slightly larger than American Crow.

Ramada Inn, Sierra Vista

This growing town in the middle of the SE Arizona hot spots is an ideal base and we spent the middle of the day lounging around the pool and I attempted to brave the heat of the day for a short walk in the adjacent rough ground.

Eastern Meadowlark 1, Verdin 1 ad, Chihuahuan Raven 1, Lesser Goldfinch 1 fem, Hummingbird sp. 2

Sierra Vista to Tombstone

Turkey Vulture 3, Chihuahuan Raven 2


The afternoon spent here was one of the highlights of the holiday. The town has been preserved similar to how it was in the old wild west, with a wide dusty street, saloon bars and even real life cowboys. It was one of the most important towns in the old days and we visited the OK Corral where the famous gunfight happened. I could imagine the Kingbird which was looking down into the courtyard doing exactly the same all those years ago.

Western Kingbird 1, Turkey Vulture 3, House Finches, White-winged Dove

Boot Hill Cemetery

Another very famous site where we saw the graves of various outlaws and lawmen, including the unlucky ones at the famous gunfight. The area was well vegetated and I explored a track a while.

Hooded Oriole 2, Phainopepla 1 male, Verdin 1 adult, Gambel's Quail 2, Hummingbird sp. 1

Scott's Oriole - 1 male

  • A gaudy yellow Oriole with a full black head, which is unlike any of the other species. I didn't see it very close since I did not have my telescope with me and I couldn't approach it due to fencing blocking my path.

San Pedro River

This lowland river must only come alive in the rains since it was totally dry when we were there. There must be some water deeper underground because there were very large trees along the watercourse. I climbed down the bank where the road bridge crossed the river and wandered up the bed for a while. I was very wary about rattlesnakes as I climbed around the rocks and logs strewn around by the last floods.

Cliff Swallows 10+, Red-tailed Hawk 1

[ Tarantula 1 - crossed road in front of car ]

Blue Grosbeak - 1 pair

  • The male of the species is an incredibly deep blue colour with rufous in the wings.

Summer Tanager - 1 pair

  • The pair of Tanagers were seen feeding high in the tops of the Willows as is typical of the group. But I could see the rose-pink plumage of the male as it crept around the foliage.

Fort Huachuca

We overestimated the amount of time we had during the evening and didn't get any birding done before it got dark. During the drive back we saw that Lesser Nighthawks are common in the area.

Lesser Nighthawk 4

[ Tarantula 1 ]

Monday 19th July

Ramsey Canyon

We got up quite early in the morning to pay a visit to Ramsey Canyon and I experienced one of the best mornings birding I have ever had. The wooded valley jutting into the mountains was filled with birds and seemingly every flock I came to had a new species in it. I started down in the valley bottom and climbed the valley sides getting higher and higher and every time I reached a new level a different selection of bird species would appear. The 15 ticks that morning in a few hours was breathtaking, as was the multi-coloured snake that passed between myself and the path as I popped into the bushes for a call of nature. The reserve centre had hummingbird feeders and the variety which visited was truly astounding. I could have spent days and days here and would have really liked to look hard for the Eared Trogon, the only one in America.

White-breasted Nuthatch 4, Western Wood-pewee 9, White-throated Swifts many, Western Tanager 1 male, Black-headed Grosbeak 2 fem, Black-chinned Hummingbird 3, Anna's Hummingbird 3, Turkey Vulture 3, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Rufous-sided Towhee 1 male, Brown-headed Cowbird 2

Grey-breasted Jay - 15+

  • A large noisy species obvious in the woods even as we drove up the approach road to the canyon. It seems quite lanky with pale blue upperparts and powder grey below. Quite tame as it fed around bird tables and the like, one of the target species for this part of the country.

Zone-tailed Hawk - 1

  • A few yards from the reserve centre, through a gap in the canopy I saw a couple of raptors circling in the sky. They did look similar at first but one was a Turkey Vulture and the other the above species.
  • They both have similar wing patterns and flight, but the tail of this species is stripy and of course it is still obviously a Buzzard-like bird.

Painted Redstart - 9+

  • A few minutes later I came across a feeding flock of birds roaming the trees like tit flocks do in the UK, and this single flock contained the next 4 ticks, and I was struggling to cope!
  • This species is rather common in these sub-tropical forests, and is one of the best looking birds here, although it is rather dark along the streams and tree bases it seems to like.

Solitary Vireo - 1

  • Following on behind the Redstarts was an eye-ringed Vireo which was all grey in plumage. It also had obvious wing-bars which identified this species. This Rocky Mountain form of the species lacks any yellow or green of the Eastern race, which must be a candidate for the British list.

Bridled Titmouse - c.20

  • This species is another restricted range species nesting only along these chains of mountains, but it is common here. There were plenty roving around the trees.
  • It is strangely similar to Crested Tit in both its appearance and habits.

Black-throated Grey Warbler - 1

  • The final bird of this flock was a dazzling warbler with a zebra-striped head and streaks down the flanks, easily identifiable as this fab species.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher - 6

  • A few yards further we heard loud calls from high in the tree-tops but we found it difficult to see anything, until one of the birds flew, revealing bright yellow underparts with cinnamon coloured tail and wings being very striking.
  • Quite unlike any of the other American flycatchers and very restricted to these canyons.

Red-faced Warbler - 2

  • The birds then gave us a break and Dad left me to climb up the zig-zagging trail to reach the more coniferous zone near the tops. I went hell for leather up the trail and didn't see anything until I had levelled out again. One of the first birds I saw was one of my most sought-after birds for the trip.
  • In the books the Red-faced Warbler looks rather outstanding with an unusual combination of colours. It looked just as good in real life as it crept around the tree-tops.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher - 1

  • Perching along the gloomy forest trail was a small flycatcher similar in shape to the Ash-throated Flycatchers I'd seen in California. It had a totally different jizz to that species, looking much tinier and it was higher up the mountain than that species gets. Species seem very restricted to their own altitude level more than anything else.

Hepatic Tanager - 1 male

  • Although the trail through the high forest was very tempting I realised that I had to descend and near the spot that I saw the snake, I heard a bird calling from a dense bush next to the path. I felt it needed investigating and eventually had glimpses of a pink-coloured tanager which I identified as this species.
  • These are supposed to be quite uncommon and so I was pleased to see one. It is similar to Summer but with darker bill and cheek patch, making it seem a more aggressive bird somehow.

Hutton's Vireo - 1

  • Descending a bit further I bumped into another feeding flock of forest birds, containing the second Red-faced Warbler, and a very small Vireo.
  • had trouble getting good views of this as it fed quickly around the tree, but apart from the wing-bars, the most unusual feature was a pale 'blob' in front of the eye, rather than the true spectacles that the Solitary had. Looking in the book this was typical of Hutton's.

Bewick's Wren - 1

  • Still in the same flock this Wren followed on behind feeding at the base of the tree trunks. The striking supercilium being the most obvious feature of the species.

Magnificent Hummingbird - 1

  • I collapsed back at the reserve centre after my trek and sat down to watch what would appear at the Hummingbird feeders. Nothing was coming at first but someone pointed out a Magnificent Hummingbird perched on a washing line. I didn't see it very well but saw one better at Madera Canyon. This is one of the biggest hummers and the male is a terrific combination of glossy green, violet and black.

White-eared Hummingbird - 1 male

  • This is a rarity in the US and I was hoping that the male which had been present here for a while would visit the feeder. In fact this bird put on the best display of the lot even perching nearby. I later learnt that mum had it on her list before I had it on mine!
  • Again, an excellent bird with a violet head and a bright white eyestripe curling back from behind the eye.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - 1 male

  • A common hummer and the final one seen at this spot. The Western equivalent of the Ruby-throated with a metallic rose-pink throat patch. Prefers the open glades on mountainsides in the Rockies.

Paton Residence, Patagonia.

We headed off next towards the town of Green Valley where were to stay as our base to bird Madera Canyon. To get there we had to travel almost to the Mexican border and past the good spot of Patagonia, another top rarity spot for Mexican species. Firstly we visited a garden that the owners open to visiting birders. There was nobody in when we got there but there were signs inviting people in. So we edged our way round to the back of the house where there was a lovely canopy and picnic chairs set up looking over an assortment of hummer feeders. Hummingbirds were flying in and out really quickly and it was difficult to keep track on how many.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird 1 male, Rufous Hummingbird 1 male, Black-chinned Hummingbird many, Lesser Goldfinch 1 male

White-eared Hummingbird 1 female - We did not notice at the time, because we were taking pictures but looking at the slides there is a bird which looks just like a female of this species. The books aren't really excellent for identifying female hummers but for the moment, waiting for further research, I reckon it was one of these rarities.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - many

  • This very dark, glossy hummingbird was very common here and they were coming in and out so fast it was difficult to even estimate numbers. this is the commonest red-billed hummingbird.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird - 1 male

  • Another rare hummer which I knew had been visiting these feeders. Very easily identified, luckily, by its pearly white underparts and violet cap. I say, luckily because I only saw it momentarily. I was watching one of the feeders through the bins and the bird zipped in and zipped out. I couldn't find it again.

Sonoita Creek Sanctuary

Just down the road from the garden is a great birding location, a low-lying valley containing many of the best species of the region. I didn't really expect much though because it was now the middle of the day. Also I was a bit wary about the 'chiggers' lurking in the undergrowth. These are small tick-like creatures which buried into Ian's ankles when he came last year. I armed myself with tucked-in trousers and a profusion of insect repellent and I made sure I didn't touch a strand of vegetation.

Northern Cardinal 1 m 2 f, Bewick's Wren 2, Lesser Goldfinch 1 male, Phainopepla 3+

Grey Hawk - 1

  • On the edge of the sanctuary, from the car, I spotted a raptor perched on a roadside tree. It was quite small and pale and horizontally barred below, with striking yellow bare parts. It was a Grey Hawk, a species that I never thought I'd get to see as it is very rare and very skulking in the streamside woods. It soon flew off into the trees.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker - 1

  • A few yards into the woods, an example of this species was noted. It is very similar to the Californian Nuttall's Woodpecker.

Nogales to Green Valley

The town of Nogales is right on the border and indeed does seem to have a much larger Mexican population than American. The afternoon was spent driving North back up towards Tucson.

Chihuahuan Raven 2, Turkey Vulture 5

Quality Inn, Green Valley

This town at the base of Madera Canyon seems to be a popular retirement town for rich Americans and was kept immaculately. the hotel was a popular one with birders and they have a discount voucher in the Birders World Magazine.

Cactus Wren 1, Gila Woodpecker 1, White-winged Doves, Gambel's Quail 1

Florida Wash

In the desert just before you reach Madera Canyon the road crosses a bridge above a dried out river bed known as a wash. I suppose because the water washes down after the storms. There was plenty of bushes though and I diced with death trying a cross-country trek - for a hundred yards anyway.

Black-throated Sparrow 4+, Blue Grosbeak 1 male, Verdin 1 juv, Bewick's Wren 3+

Lucy's Warbler - 2+

  • Along the roadside a few examples of this subtle species fed in the trees. The pale grey plumage was set off by a deep, almost burgundy, rump.

Madera Canyon

We carried on up into the canyon just to have a look really since it was getting quite dark. We hoped to hear or see some nocturnal species but we didn't spend very long waiting.

Black-headed Grosbeak 2 males, Lesser Nighthawk 4+

Common Poorwill - 1

  • On the drive back down to the lowlands we had a blob sitting on the road in the headlights. It took flight and was certainly one of the Nightjar family - but which one?
  • It clearly lacked white in the wing and so was one of the poorwills. It did seem very tiny and no white was obvious in the tail corners, leading to a Common Poorwill rather than a Whip-poor-will.

Tuesday 20th July

Madera Canyon

We spent this morning in this canyon birding at various spots along it. It has similar birds in it as Ramsey so there wasn't loads of ticks. The birding here is not as satisfying as yesterday as the valley is much more populated. There is a road right the way up and lots of buildings and hence lots of cars and people. Most of the birding was at picnic stops so plenty was seen considering.

Cooper's Hawk 1, Red-tailed Hawk 2, White-throated Swift many, Broad-billed Hummingbird 10+, Magnificent Hummingbird 1 m, Black-chinned Hummingbird 10+, Rufous Hummingbird 1 m, Acorn Woodpecker 30+, Western Wood-pewee 3, Black Phoebe 1, Grey-breasted Jay 30+, Common Raven 2, Bridled Titmouse c.30, Bushtit 3, White-breasted Nuthatch c.10, Bewick's Wren 3, House Wren 6, American Robin 1, Loggerhead Shrike 1, Painted Redstart c.6, Black-headed Grosbeak 1 m 2 f, Brown-headed Cowbird 2, Oriole sp. 3 fem

Brown-crested Flycatcher - 3

  • Very similar to the more common Ash-throated Flycatcher and it took a while sorting out a few from the plenty of Myiarchus flycatchers in the valley.
  • Identification features from Ash-throated included:
  • A yellowish belly. - A thick, dark bill. - Call "ke-oooow"

Blue-throated Hummingbird - 1 fem

  • Another large Hummingbird, in fact the largest one.
  • This female has a very dark tail with white tail corners.

Continental Road

Black-throated Sparrow 1 m 2 juv, Chihuahuan Raven 1, Cactus Wren 1

Wednesday 21st July

Quality Inn, S. Pheonix

As far as cities go Pheonix is Tucson with knobs on. Pheonix is a huge, baking chunk of concrete in the middle of the desert. I can't even think of why a few million people want to live in an oven. We stopped here heading up North towards the Grand Canyon.

Inca Dove 5, Cactus Wren 1, Turkey Vulture 1

Pheonix to Montezuma

White-winged Dove 1, Buteo sp. 1, Turkey Vulture 4, Common Raven 1

Black Canyon City

Black Phoebe 1, Green Heron 2, Phainopepla 1 m, Cliff Swallow 30+, Inca Dove 2, Brown-headed Cowbird 2+,

Sunset View Rest Area

Hooded Oriole 1 pair

Montezuma Castle

We took a rest here, an ancient civilisation carved itself a hole in the cliffs and built a rock village.

Hooded Oriole 1 fem, White-throated Swift 3/4, Cliff Swallow many nesting on cliffs

Rock Wren - 2

  • A large, pale wren hopping around its typical habitat in the cracks of the cliff face and the boulders below.

Montezuma to Flagstaff

The journey towards Flagstaff took us higher and higher until we reached the coniferous forest zone which would give us a different selection of species.

Turkey Vulture 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Common Raven 1

Rest Area North of Munds Park

This small rest area near the crest of the mountains was excellent. A short walk around the car park and into the pine trees produced a good selection of species, including an excellent 5 ticks.

Steller's Jay 3+, White-breasted Nuthatch 2, 'Grey-headed' Junco 2, Common Raven 1, American Robin 1, Mountain Chickadee 1, Western Bluebird 1 fem 1 juv

Lark Sparrow - 1

  • I was surprised to see an example of this species perched half-way up a Pine Tree since they seem to prefer open country and parkland. I think it was a lot clearer in the valley nearby.
  • The head pattern of the species is astoundingly striped and there is an unusual dark spot in the centre of the breast.

Chipping Sparrow - 3+

  • A few other sparrows fed amongst the pine needles on the floor with some Juncos. These had a chestnut cap with a strong eyestripe and supercilium.

American Treecreeper - 1

  • If there is any difference between these and our birds, I don't know about it.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1 fem/imm

  • A very poor view of a brown-plumaged bird as it flew away through the pines. A wire fence blocked my intentions to follow these birds into the woods.

Pygmy Nuthatch - 2

  • When I got back to the car I was surprised to see one of these birds drinking from a water fountain outside the toilet block. A very tiny and very tame bird.


This Northern Arizona town is totally different from the ones further South being much more pleasantly cool and it is even a ski resort in the winter. It is the base for most people wishing to visit the Grand Canyon and so we had trouble getting ourselves a room. We did in the end, and we went for a drink in a western bar on Route 66.

American Crows appeared again, House Finches

Flagstaff to Grand Canyon

This drive went through plenty of habitat which we hadn't seen before from upland grassland to large swathes of Pines.

Barn Swallows, Turkey Vulture 3, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Kingbird sp. 10

Grand Canyon

To say that the Grand Canyon is the most spectacular thing that I've ever seen is not an understatement. It is difficult to imagine how massive the thing is until you actually see it. It's not just huge in area but is so unbelievably deep, and the colours are endless. Also it is quite amazing how good birding it is since the density of people is similar to Briggate on a Saturday afternoon. I took a short walk down below the rim which was quite hot to say the least.

Pygmy Nuthatch 4, Western Bluebird 4, Common Raven common, American Robin 6, Turkey Vulture 3, Bushtit 40+, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 4, Plain Titmouse 2, Mountain Chickadee 3, Violet-green Swallow c.13, Rock Wren 2, Lesser Goldfinch 10, Steller's Jay 1, Western Kingbird 1, Rufous-sided Towhee 2 juv, Scrub Jay 6, Hummingbird sp. 2, White-throated Swift 2, Red-shafted Flicker 1, Northern Mockingbird 1

Virginia's Warbler - 1

  • Very similar to Lucy's Warbler this individual was found feeding a short way down the slope of the canyon. Its grey plumage is offset by a yellow breast patch.

Grand Canyon to Flagstaff

Pygmy Nuthatch 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Buteo sp. 1, American Kestrel 1, Barn Swallow 1, Nighthawk sp. 1

Rest Stop by Kendrick Park

We stopped for a brief birding spell as we crossed the highest part of the road. The area was Pine forest interspersed with grassy meadows.

Common Nighthawk 2, Grey-headed Junco 2 ad 1 juv, American Robin c.6, Steller's Jay 1, Acorn Woodpecker 1, Red-shafted Flicker c.6, American Kestrel 2, Hummingbird sp. 1 fem ( prob Broad-tailed)

Friday 23rd July

Flagstaff to Las Vegas, NEVADA

Following the famous Route 66, we made our way West across the state. The habitat changed to rolling prairie-like grassland. The prairie-loving Ferrug Hawk flew over the car near to the town of Seligman where we took a late breakfast in a roadside caf' filled with pick-up truck-type red-necks. But it was friendly enough though. We carried on and the terrain gradually turned more desert like and we crossed the Colorado over the famous Hoover Dam. After here the desert was much more desolate and totally flat until you arrive at Las Vegas, another town sitting in the bottom of a frying pan. The city is an experience to say the least but we didn't stay out too late since it can be quite dangerous. Las Vegas is over-indulgent tackiness but it was good fun, sticking the coins in the slot at Caeser's Palace.

American Kestrel 2, American Crows, Common Ravens, Buteo sp. 1, Red-tailed Hawk 6, Turkey Vulture 21, Pygmy Nuthatch 1, White-throated Swift 1, Double-crested Cormorant 2 (Lake Mead, Hoover Dam)

Ferruginous Hawk - 1

  • A Buteo flew South over the road and the most striking thing was the totally white tail, both above and below. The upperparts were very rufous.

Saturday 24th July

Las Vegas to San Bernadino

Heading back towards the coast we left the desert, skirting the edge of Death Valley, and into the edge of the Los Angeles conurbation at San Bernadino.

Buteo sp. 2, Common Raven 11, Turkey Vulture 2, Black-throated Sparrow 2, Red-tailed Hawk 3, House Finches

Sunday 25th July


We took a day out into these mountains just inland from San Bernadino which go quite high up and contain various lakes and marshes. We did a circular route taking in a variety of different sites. A problem was the large number of people taking a day out from Los Angeles on this sunny Sunday.

Grout Bay Picnic Area/Fawnskin

Anna's Hummingbird 3, Steller's Jay 2, Red-shafted Flicker 2, American Robin 4, Acorn Woodpecker 2, Killdeer 1, Mountain Chickadee 2, Mallard many, House Wren 1, Brewer's Blackbird 10+, White-breasted Nuthatch 1, Cliff Swallows

Big Bear Lake

Killdeer 1, Great Northern Diver 4 - well out of usual summer range.

Baldwin Lake

Least Sandpiper 11, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Willet 1, Killdeer 25+, Semipalmated Plover 1, Dowitcher sp. 5, American Coot 100's, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Pied-billed Grebe 3, Black-necked Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Lazuli Bunting 1 male, Mountain Bluebird 2, Scrub Jay 2

Cassin's Kingbird - 1

  • After seeing plenty of Kingbirds perched on roadside wires during the previous few days, I finally got round to really looking at one and identifying a Cassin's Kingbird.
  • It differs from Western Kingbird by its greyish-tipped tail, without white outer-tail feathers.

Onyx Summit

One of the highest points of the trip, I hoped for some different species as I climbed around the steep-sided forest trails.

Chipping Sparrow 2, Mountain Chickadee 3, Western Bluebird 4, House Wren 5, Pygmy Nuthatch 1, 'Oregon' Junco 2, Steller's Jay 1, Violet-green Swallows

Forest Falls

Steller's Jay 2, Violet-green Swallows, Western Bluebird 2, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Western Wood-pewee 3, Red-breasted Nuthatch 1, Hummingbird sp. 1 fem, 'Oregon' Junco 2, White-breasted Nuthatch 1, Band-tailed Pigeon 2

White-headed Woodpecker - 1

  • Quite unsatisfying views were obtained when a bird of this species flew over the forest trail I was walking down. No other woodpecker has the combination of black plumage with a pure white head and wing patches.

Monday 26th July

San Bernadino to Los Angeles

The final morning was spent driving back to LAX airport and we left the country in the afternoon.

American Kestrel 1, Western Gull 2