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Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed tour, Arizona: A Winter Week in the Southeast

February 09: Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed tour, Arizona: A Winter Week in the Southeast

Another wonderful week in the desert southwest as our Winter Week tour comes to a close. Just over 1,000 miles of wonderful scenery were traversed and just under 140 species of birds were seen. Our home base at Casa de San Pedro provided an extremely comfortable spot for us to return to daily, and look forward even more to the divine breakfasts awaiting us in the mornings.

Our group high above Cave Creek Canyon.

The Patagonia Lake area was hopping with birdlife and we were met by Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows, Bewick’s and rare Winter Wrens, and empidonax flycatchers such as Hammond’s and Gray Flycatchers. Our patience was awarded when we all watched a Virginia Rail creep out from the brush along the lakeshore and award us with amazing views of this normally shy denizen.

A normally shy Virginia Rail out and about.

The Huachuca Mountains provided a perfect backdrop for daily sunsets and the canyons here produced two avian highlights of the tour. On a short walk up Hunter Canyon my owl imitations invoked a spontaneous response from the bird itself when a “Mountain” Pygmy Owl was eventually tracked down. In a large oak tree this tiny bird hunter broadcasted its presence to us for at least 15 minutes as we watched, and took pictures, through the scope. In the nearby Carr Canyon we were about to come around a bend when a male Montezuma Quail was spotted sitting right in the middle of the road. Our group watched as at least 4 vehicles nearly hit this stunning bird but eventually it worked its way off the road. We cautiously went over to get a closer look, were stumped not to see it anywhere, and were shocked when at least 7 of these burst right out of the grass at our feet nearly giving us all heart attacks.

Monotonous tooting alerted us to this tiny Northern Pygmy Owl.

The Sulphur Springs Valley was ripe with avian highlights including residents like Bendire’s Thrasher perched next to the van and wintering rarities like Eurasian Wigeon in Willcox. A stately Ferruginous Hawk vied for our attention as we enjoyed one of several Greater Roadrunners seen on the tour. The showstopper in this area continues to be the Sandhill Crane show however. We stood in awe as wave after wave of these gray monstrosities came pouring into the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Management Area. Seeing a sea of thousands of these birds is something one never forgets.

A rare resident Bendire’s Thrasher posing just outside the window.

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes poured in as we ate our picnic lunch.

In the famed Chiricahua Mountains we spent a day exploring Cave Creek Canyon with its pockmarked sheer pink walls and abundance of birds. In the flats a Streak-backed Oriole won as rarest bird seen on the trip, and close by a pair of Crissal Thrashers sat up for scope views.

The only known Streak-backed Oriole north of Mexico seen well in Portal.

Our week was filled with perfect weather unabated by any snow or rain. We were overjoyed to soak in the daily sunshine, lots of lifebirds, and endless scenery this tour has to offer. What a week!

Posted: February 09, 2017