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February 2nd, 2013
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Madera, Florida and Montosa Canyons

I had the pleasure of birding again with my friends Marianne and Peter Hosford from Massachusetts. We met at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon at dawn, but the birding takes a while to warm up in the canyon, so we headed out into the desert.

Florida Wash gave us good views of RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW and CANYON TOWHEE for starters, after which we headed towards the excellent Florida Canyon. Not long before crossing the canyon and arriving at the parking area, we happened upon an interesting flock in the roadside oaks, mostly BRIDLED TITMOUSE and RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS. My attention was drawn to a gnatcatcher which, despite my initial suspicions of something rarer, proved to be a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER.

Continuing to the parking area, we walked back along the road to search the often productive area around the concrete stream crossing. Before we got there, another gnatcatcher began calling, and this one immediately struck me as exciting. We eventually had brief views, good enough to confirm it as a BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER, one of SE Arizona’s rare specialty birds. Also in the area, a nice BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER was in the oaks and several WILD TURKEYS dropped from their roost trees to keep us amused.

Heading up into Florida Canyon proper, we were impressed by the number of BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS on show, probably a dozen in all. We had brief views of LINCOLN’S SPARROW, then prolonged views another,followed by a couple of HOUSE WRENS and SPOTTED, ABERT’S and finally a showy GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE for the full towhee set (not including rarities, before you write in). Talking of rarities, we spent the morning looking for potentially rare birds, including the often elusive RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS that frequent the canyon at times. We heard one calling in one of their usual spots, but it just wouldn’t show, which was a shame.

A female NORTHERN HARRIER passed by numerous times but skilfully managed to elude Peter’s camera. We had better luck with a couple of majestic GOLDEN EAGLES overhead.

After a pleasant picnic lunch, we made our way to Montosa Canyon. On the way, we made a brief stop at the Santa Cruz River in Continental, where the regular wintering HARLAN’S RED-TAILED HAWK was perched in the pecan grove.

It was mid afternoon, but even so, I was absolutely amazed at how quiet Montosa Canyon was. I’ve never seen it so birdless, which was a pity as this is normally a fabulously birdy site. We noticed that, unlike in other areas, the hackberry trees were largely devoid of fruit, which may have contributed to the absence of our avian friends. The only bird of any note was a single WESTERN SCRUB JAY. On the way out of the area, we were slightly compensated by a smart roadside BLACK-THROATED SPARROW and, as luck would have it, three different GREATER ROADRUNNERS in the space of a mile.

Finishing the day back in Madera Canyon, we searched briefly for the wintering Red-breasted Sapsucker around the Whitehouse picnic area without success, but a showy PAINTED REDSTART and a male HEPATIC TANAGER went some way to making up for the slow afternoon.

It was a case of quality over quantity today, with some great birds punctuating periods of silence. Thankfully I was with some of my favorite clients, which made it another fun day in the birding paradise of SE Arizona.

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