Walt and I left the Phoenix area at 6:00 a.m. Our first stop was at the Santa Cruz Flats. Along the way, we saw Common Ravens, and then smaller Chihuahuan Ravens.
As soon as we exited the interstate highway, we stopped when we saw lots of sparrows along the road. There were at least four sparrow species there: White-crowned, Lark, Vesper, and Brewer's. Some of the Vesper Sparrows showed their usually hidden rufous lesser coverts.
Farther down the road we saw a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and a fair number of Meadowlarks. Although we didn't get really good looks at the Meadowlarks, they appeared to be Eastern (Lillian's) because of their bold crown pattern and white malar.
Eastern (Lillian's) Meadowlark
The Tuscon birding guide recommended searching the sod farms in Santa Cruz Flats for Mountain Plovers. We didn't find the plovers, but saw a fair number of Horned Larks, and our first (of many on this trip) Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Northern Harrier.
We stopped at one of the sod farm fields to search for plovers. Soon after we got out of the car, a husband and wife birding couple also stopped. They told us that two Sprague's Pipits had been seen in this area. We did see two Pipits with some Horned Larks there, but they appear to be American Pipits to me. Sprague's Pipit would be a life bird for me, so if anyone wants to convince me that either or both of these Pipits are Spraque's, please go ahead and do so.
Walt and I chatted a bit with this couple, and they said that we looked familiar. They were from Michigan, and after a few minutes we figured out that Walt and I had met them birding last November on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Island #1 in Virginia - small world!
Most of the roads there were hard packed dirt, and heavy rains during the previous week had made the roads soft and muddy in a few places. At one point we drove for a mile or two and had to turn back as the rest of that road was closed and impassable, even in the four-wheel drive Jeep we had rented. We took a different route to a house where two rare avian species had been reported. We saw several local birders there who had been searching for a couple of hours without success, but they did tell us that there was a large flock of Lark Buntings near the stockyard a few miles away. When we got to the stockyard we saw a mixed flock of Brewer's Blackbirds, along with a few Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Female and male Brewer's Blackbirds
When we got to the other side of the stockyard, we found the Lark Buntings (my life bird # 621). Some of them were already in partial breeding plumage.
As we drove back roads out of Santa Cruz Flats, we saw our only Harris's Hawk of the trip, and the first of three Prairie Falcons. The Prairie Falcon was enjoying a meal atop a large pole.
We made a detour at the Pinal Air Park where White-tailed Kites were possible, but without success. Our next stop was Reids Park in Tucson, where a Zone-tailed Hawk had been reported for a few weeks. I had a quick glance at a Zone-tailed Hawk in May 2105 while birding in Texas, and this species was one of thirteen species on my life list that I had not photographed. When we got to the park, it was jammed with people, as it was a Sunday afternoon. We parked and walked around, but no hawk. With all those people at the park, any smart hawk would have remained out of sight! After searching without success, we did one more drive around the park, and as we drove by the zoo there, the Zone-tailed Hawk flew low in front of our car, and over a tree-lined fence and into the zoo. We decided that trying to find it with all the people there would be tough and time-consuming, and if time permitted, would try again at the end of the week on the way back to Phoenix.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at Green Valley, and we made a quick drive up the nearby Madera Canyon Road. First stop there was at Santa Rita Lodge where bird feeders were maintained. We saw two Acorn Woodpeckers and some Yellow-eyed Juncos (my life bird # 622), but there wasn't much light for good photos. But not to worry, we had planned multiple trips there for the week.
Farther up the road was Kubo's Gift Shop which also had feeders. A female Hepatic Tanager (my life bird #623) was there, and then a Magnificent Hummingbird (life bird #624) came to one of the feeders. A few minutes later, a dozen or more Wild Turkeys (southwestern sub-species) showed up. On the way down, we saw a Coues White-tailed Deer.
Female Hepatic Tanager
Click here to continue on the trip to Patagonia State Park
Coues White-tailed Deer