& ARIZONA - JULY 1993
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
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
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
- Single white mirror.
- Bulky, especially round bill.
- 1st-year has dark tail but quite a
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
Northern Mockingbird 1 pair, Starlings,
Western Gull 11, Mourning Dove 1, American Crow 3, House Finch 3+,
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
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.
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
California Towhee 3
- Dark, rufous and chunky with a long
tail. Recent split of Brown Towhee has created this
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
- One of the specialities and targets
of the trip, restricted to the Pacific coast of North
- 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.
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
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
- 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
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
Western Gulls, Heerman's Gulls, Brewer's
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
- 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
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
Black-headed Grosbeak 1 male
- Quite a common bird in woodlands of
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
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
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
- 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
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
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.
Buteo sp. 3, Hummingbird sp. 3
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
- 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
- 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
- A really top titmouse with a natty
supercilium breaking the cap.
- Restricted to the high forests in
- Bird number 500 on my world list.
- Extremely close views as it fed on
- A brownish, wing-barred Flycatcher
Nuttall's Woodpecker 1, Ash-throated
Flycatcher 3, Rufous-sided Towhee 1, Yellowthroat 1 fem, Red-tailed
Hawk 1 ad 1 imm
- 1 male
- Just before leaving, found this
bird feeding along the edge of a small meadow. A
stunningly beautiful bird.
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
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
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
SALTON SEA - NWR
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
Black-necked Stilt 1, Forster's Tern 3+,
Long-billed Curlew 100+, Western Kingbird 3+, Laughing Gull 1/2,
Burrowing Owl 4
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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
American White Pelican
- These birds were seen very far off
indeed and mainly in flight, but no identification
Salton Sea to El Centro
Burrowing Owl 25+, Lesser Nighthawk 2,
American Kestrel 1
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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
Cactus Wren -
- 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.
- This is a real speciality of the
region which makes up for the fact that it is still a
- It does have a red eye however and
is a bit more bronzy than its commoner relative.
- 1 male
- An absolutely cracking bird with
its face pattern more similar to a Passer sparrow with
its large black bib.
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 1 pair
- The male of the species is an
incredibly deep blue colour with rufous in the wings.
- 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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Again, an excellent bird with a
violet head and a bright white eyestripe curling back
from behind the eye.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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
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
Black-throated Sparrow 4+, Blue Grosbeak
1 male, Verdin 1 juv, Bewick's Wren 3+
- 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.
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
Black-headed Grosbeak 2 males, Lesser
- 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
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
- 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
- A yellowish belly. - A thick, dark
bill. - Call "ke-oooow"
- 1 fem
- Another large Hummingbird, in fact
the largest one.
- This female has a very dark tail
with white tail corners.
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
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
Sunset View Rest Area
Hooded Oriole 1 pair
We took a rest here, an ancient
civilisation carved itself a hole in the cliffs and built a rock
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 -
- 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.
- 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.
- If there is any difference between
these and our birds, I don't know about it.
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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)
- 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
Sunday 25th July
SAN BERNADINO MOUNTAINS
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.
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
- 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
One of the highest points of the trip, I
hoped for some different species as I climbed around the steep-sided
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
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
- 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
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