Southeast Arizona continues to blow me away. Laurens Halsey, birding expert and professional birding guide with his guiding business Desert Harrier took us out this morning and my oh my it was amazing! Laurens gave us much more time and covered much more area than what he normally does for this kind of trip (but he does a wide range of things from day long trips to 3 hour bird walks for Santa Rita Lodge). He was able to get me 15 new birds (including 14 lifers) and tell me what I was listening for for number 16 for the day. THANK YOU Laurens! He is an incredible guide and if you're coming to the Madera Canyon area and need a birding guide, no one is better than Laurens and please use him: www.desertharrier.com
We met Laurens at 7 am at the parking lot at Santa Rita Lodge. He told us that there had been a Lunar Eclipse and we went to look for the end of it but the moon had already set. On a checklist provided by the Santa Rita Lodge (which Laurens helped compile!) I circled the birds I really wanted and showed that to him and from what he saw he said the first place we should go was nearby Florida Canyon where several RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS had even bred in previous years and 2 had been reported for the first time since 2010 a few days ago. But we had to swing back to Santa Rita Lodge to pick up my dad's binoculars and on the way added a few common life birds for me at some easy roadside spots: Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart (a beautiful bird at a sapsucker sap well), and Mexican Jay (although just heard, until later when they were commonly seen). On our way to Florida Canyon we stopped at a certain location and was able to pick up Green-tailed Towhee, one of my most wanted life birds. A beautiful bird and I was able to learn it's distinctive, interesting call (of course, thanks to Laurens who taught it to me). GTT was number 413 for the year. On the walk into the Rufous-capped Warbler I added several year birds, which was terrific. The first one was Acorn Woodpecker, which we ended up seeing by large numbers later in the day. They were a year bird but the one today that was not a lifer, I got to see them back in 2009 in Monterey, CA. Great to see them again. A little bit later Laurens reported hearing Olive Warbler and I quickly picked up on the sound of this number 415. Later several gave very nice looks. I was concerned I wouldn't get an OW in Arizona but they were one of my most wanted birds so it was a great thrill. Soon after Olive we heard Rufous-crowned Sparrow, a lifer of course. Hermit Thrush was a nice "trip bird". We met several other nice birders (which Laurens knew) and we searched for the Rufous-capped Warblers. Someone called out possibly hearing Rufous-capped. Laurens heard it too, and so did I. Laurens thought it was Rufous-cap but he said that they were calling an offal lot and actively. Then one popped up. Yellow breast and rufous cap! Oh yes baby! We watched it for probably a solid 5-10 minutes. Once complete with the warbler we headed back to bird Madera Canyon. On our drive out of Florida Canyon Laurens spotted a bird that I didn't see and I asked him what it was. He replied "probably just a Canyon Towhee" but Canyon Towhee was music to my ears! I needed that as a lifer and didn't even imagine it on this trip. Laurens said that the one bird was gone but he knew a trail where they were common. That trail was our next stop and indeed we found several Can. Towhees as well as 3 other lifers! We spotted a flycatcher and it was immediately ID'd as one of the empids and because of the active wing-twitching among other identifying things, Hammond's. That was a very nice bird for me to get because every once in a while I want to kick myself for not chasing one in Texas that was there when I was, but that turned out to be okay because I got it here in Madera Canyon, 2 states to the west. Soon after that Laurens was pleased and sort of surprised to find a Townsend's Solitare which was my number 420. 425 was really within easy reach this year, and possibly today! They kept coming with Dusky Flycatcher as 421. Laurens was a little bit surprised that we found Hammond's and Dusky but not the easier one, Gray. We went back to the same sap well as we got Painted Redstart at earlier because a Red-breasted Sapsucker had been frequenting that. And believe it or not, it was there right when we pulled up and gave awesome looks to several birders! What a gorgeous life woodpecker! We searched relentlessly for an Arizona Woodpecker and once we found one we found many. My dad really liked that one as did I. That was a good 423. I was inching up to 425. Laurens took us to a good spot for Yellow-eyed Junco as well as where a Williamson's Sapsucker was seen yesterday. We didn't find the sapsucker but did the juncos. It was about time to leave Laurens but I asked him for advice. Some of my main targets were owls: Northern Pygmy, Whiskered and Western-Screech. He taught me the calls and locations and said that Pygmy may call in daylight as well. Maybe 45 minutes later I heard a Pygmy: the double-toot owl, 425! At dusk and shortly after we tried multiple locations for the screech-owls but got skunked.
I was silly enough to forget my camera this morning so I don't have many pictures but after our time with Laurens I was able to see some of the common birds again and will post a few photos from today tomorrow.