To join Greg on one of these tours visit BigYearTours.com or call 888-875-9453

In 1998, Greg zig-zagged 130,000 miles across the USA, while trying to hold down a full-time job, aspiring to reach at least 700 species of birds in one calendar year. "The Big Year," a novel by Mark Obmascik detailed his travails alongside two competitors. The book was later turned into a movie of the same title that starred Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson!

Southeast Arizona – Day 6

Chiricahua Mountains as seen from Mt Lemmon
Chiricahua Mountains (tallest & furtherest mountains) as seen from Mt Lemmon

 

Whoosh! Another week flies by. The last full day of birding was today. We started at Tubac on the De Anza Trail where we found Tropical Kingbird and 5 species of doves. Then we drove to Proctor Rd in Madera Canyon. There we found Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Verdin, and Arizona Woodpecker. From there we headed up in elevation to the highest parking area and hiked to Mt Baldy Trail. The highlight there was definitely a dapper-looking male Elegant Trogon!

We ate out lunches (which we had purchased earlier in the day) while sitting at Santa Rita Lodge watching hummingbird feeders for the rare and elusive Plain-capped Starthroat–a large, vagrant hummingbird from Mexico. Unfortunately, we dipped on this rare bird.

We spent a little time in Florida Wash with little success. And we birded the area of Tanque Verde Wash near Catalina Road. We found a few Purple Martins there. Finally, we drove up the road to Mt. Lemmon. We made pit stops along the way to listen for Rock Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow, and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. We found none of those species.

We stopped briefly before reaching Sumerhaven atop Mt. Lemmon when we found a hawk flying around. It was a Zone-tailed Hawk! And that’s not all. we found a couple Virginia’s Warblers in the scrubby habitat near the road.

We finished the day walking some roads in Summerhaven. We found a warbler flock with a number of goodies like Olive Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler.

What a trip! We have 180 species for this tour now and 489 species for the Big Year Tours total. This was trip #7 of 11 one-week trips to see 500 species in North America in one calendar year…with participants.

Too bad this tour’s almost over. I love Arizona’s fabulous birds. And I love Arizona’s spectacular scenery.

Southeast Arizona – Day 5

Sunset at California Gulch in Southeast Arizona
Sunset at California Gulch in Southeast Arizona – photo by Greg Miller

 

Today was a loooooong day with many stops, lots of driving, and stifling heat. But, wait until you hear the stories! We began our day at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve where we missed seeing any Thick-billed Kingbirds. That was a first for me. I have always been able to see them there. And there were no Varied Buntings. Wow #2. Vermilion Flycatchers were in good supply as were Cassin’s Kingbirds. We added a Black Vulture for the trip list. Our next stop was Paton’s Yard where Violet-crowned Hummingbirds put on a show. A Yellow-breasted Chat came in for a bath, and both Inca Doves and Common Ground-Doves were in the yard. And Gray Hawks were calling often.

We had lunch in Patagonia and then went to the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest. We easily ticked Thick-billed Kingbird and Varied Bunting. After that we drove to Kino Springs where we saw our first Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. A Cinnamon Teal was also present and a Gray Hawk flew overhead. On our way west we stopped briefly at Pena Blanca Lake which was quiet. The campground was also slow. We stopped briefly at Sycamore Canyon and saw Black-headed Grosbeaks and Phainopeplas.

Finally we committed to the long drive on Ruby Road to a tiny dirt and stony road to California Gulch–only a 1/2 mile from the Mexican Border. The big draw at the gulch is a very rare Mexican species that nests in small numbers in the U.S. We saw numerous Border Patrol vehicles along the way. The road was in better shape than I last remember it. It took us about 1.5 hrs to make the trip from Nogales to California Gulch. It’s an arid valley with habitat that is far more like Mexico than the U.S.

It didn’t take us long after we parked to hear our first Five-striped Sparrows. We set up telescopes and the whole group got good looks at this handsome and rare species. But we weren’t finished. We found a Black-capped Gnatcatcher, another Mexican species that only sporadically appears near the Mexican Border. Bam! We had a beautiful sunset and waited for darkness to set in. Our next target was another Mexican species. It is related to our Whip-poor-will. It is called a Buff-collared Nightjar. It has a very distinctive call. We waited for 1.5 hrs after sunset but never heard a peep out of the nightjar. Was it there? We’ll never know.

It was a looooong drive to Green Valley this evening. It’s late. And tomorrow is our last full day of birding. Sigh. This area of the country is so special that time literally just evaporates. I love Southeastern Arizona. It holds so many wonderful birding memories for me. And the scenery always dazzles me. Tomorrow we will visit one of the most popular birding destinations in the United States–Madera Canyon. Hopefully, the Plain-capped Starthroat (a large Mexican hummingbird) will put on a show for us. But if not, we are going to have fun birding in this magical place. We will probably finish the day with a drive up Mt. Lemmon and return to Tucson for the night.

Oh, as of last night our Big Year Tours total for the year was at a whopping 480 species. I don’t know how many species we added yet. That comes next. Or sleep may interrupt me. Tonight will be very short.

[update]: as of the end of Day 5 of Southeastern Arizona we are at 488 species total for the Big Year Tours. We have added an amazing 66 species to the 422 species we had going into this week. And now sleep calls loudly and I will answer.

 

Southeast Arizona – Day 4

Eastern slope of the Chiricahua Mountains viewed from Rodeo NM
Eastern slope of the Chiricahua Mountains viewed from Rodeo NM – photo by Greg Miller

 

So long, Chiricahua Mountains. I will see you again soon. Today was Day 4. We started before sunrise and headed out to the desert near Rodeo, NM. Yup. We skipped the State line. Why? Well, we got to see Bendire’s and Crissal Thrashers. After our morning birding, we ate our last meal at the Portal Peak Restaurant. It’s quaint but has character. It’s a small complex of lodge, restaurant, and store. And I love it.

We pulled ourselves away and headed south to Douglas and west to Bisbee for gas and lunch. In the afternoon we hiked for several hours in Hunter Canyon but failed to turn up the reported Rufous-capped Warblers. We did however score several Buff-breasted Flycatchers and a Northern Pygmy-Owl. It was a tough hike in the afternoon heat.

Our next stop was far more relaxing in neighboring Miller Canyon where we sat on bleachers and watched hummingbirds at Beatty’s B&B. Neither Berylline nor White-eared Hummingbirds cooperated. But we easily observed Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Calliope, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Magnificent. As the sun dipped below the mountains to the West we left Beatty’s and headed to Ash Canyon B&B. And our target hummer–Lucifer Hummingbird–was there as well as Costa’s. Bridled Titmouse, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers also came in to the suet and seed feeders. And 5 Wild Turkeys joined us as sunlight faded.

After dinner we drove up to a higher elevation and listened for Whiskered Screech-Owl. Unfortunately, the birds were silent on this moonlit night. But the skies here are dark, clear, and beautiful. What an awesome place!

The species list will be posted shortly.

 

Southeast Arizona – Days 2 and 3

Chiricahua Mountains - view near Rustler Park
Chiricahua Mountains – view near Rustler Park – photo by Greg Miller

 

Last night’s internet was spotty. Of course, we are in a wonderfully wild area with hardly any people. Tonight’s connection is better. I am doing updates for days 2 & 3. Wow. Just wow. So many birds already. And the scenery is stunning. I have to say that I am in my favorite part of Arizona in the Chiricahua Mountains.

First, the numbers. I had hoped to add 40 species to the Big Year Tours total by the end of this week. It is the end of day 3. And we have added…<drumroll>…52 species to the Big Year Tours total. Yep. We’ve gone from 422 species for the year to 474 species. And after 2 full days of birding plus about 3 hours of birding on day 1 we have a trip total of 145 species. Yay! Rockin’ it!

Yesterday we left Tucson early and headed towards Ramsey Canyon. We birded Box Canyon on the way and added some grassland species. At Ramsey Canyon we split up into 2 groups. The aggressively fit group made the tough hike to see the Tufted Flycatchers. They were successful. The less aggressive hikers went for the Flame-colored Tanager, but dipped on it. Both groups did well, picking up quite a list of Arizona specialties.

Then we drove to Willcox  and Cochise Lake where we picked up a few species of waterfowl and shorebirds. We made it to Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains by sundown. We broke 100 species for the day.

Day 3 we drove to Paradise Cemetery and birded our way back to Portal for breakfast. After breakfast we headed up to South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon. From there we headed to the upper elevations of the Chiricahua Mountains visiting Onion Saddle, Barfoot Park, and Rustler Park. The scenery was just fabulous! And the birds. Wow. Elegant Trogon, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Zone-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, and so many more. Be sure and check out our species list here.

Tomorrow is another big day. Sleep is calling…

 

Southeast Arizona – Day 1

Catalina State Park near Tucson AZ
Catalina State Park near Tucson AZ – photo by Greg Miller

 

Day 1 of my Big Year Tour to Southeast Arizona started today! I am totally excited to be back in this fabulous birding area. With stunning scenery and magnificent birds this region of the country is just plain magical.

This is the 7th of 11 one-week tours this year as we attempt to see half of all the species in North America–with participants. And, we are raising money and awareness about American Birding Association’s Young Birders, too!

Today Chris Brown and I finished participating in the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival. Meanwhile, Steve Ritt was picking up our tour participants from the airport. Everyone had arrived and we all convened in late afternoon. We quickly checked into our hotel and then…we went birding.

We headed a short distance north to Catalina State Park to do some desert birding in 98-degree heat. There were a fair number of birds active. We tallied 45 species this evening before dark. Cool birds included Greater Roadrunner, Gilded Flicker, Gray Flycatcher, both Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak. On the way out of the park after sunset a few Lesser Nighthawks joined the many Mexican Free-tailed Bats in flight, feeding over scrubby landscape. What a treat!

I’ll update the official online list later. It’s already 11:22pm and we’re getting up quite early tomorrow to head east. It will be a big day. We hope to search for some rare birds in the southern Huachuca Mountains and then finish up at Portal on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains. We should see many fantastic birds tomorrow!

Montana Day 7

  Today was the last day of our Big Year Tour in Montana. We finished with 152 species for the trip and the Big Year total is now at 422 species. We started the day at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls. 150 million gallons bubble up here and feed the Missouri River every… Continue Reading

Montana Day 6

Today started out with some difficulty. I was rudely awakened at 5:30am by a sharp pain in my right calf. It was excruciatingly painful. I managed to hobble to the bathroom and drank a few glasses of water thinking maybe I was dehydrated. But I have taken care to  stay hydrated. I was dubious. Unfortunately… Continue Reading

Montana Day 5

  Montana Day 5 is history. Was it a great day? Well, yes. Yes it was. The people who missed Gray Partridge last night got to see it today. And we found a Mountain Plover. And several Sharp-tailed Grouse (including babies!). And more Sprague’s Pipits (this time displaying) and Baird’s Sparrows, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs,… Continue Reading

Montana Day 4

  Lots of driving happened today. We drove from Billings to Malta with one long but enjoyable pit stop at Charles M. Russell NWR. Although we did not add any new birds for the year, we had fun exploring the western portion of the refuge. The views were amazing!     And we got permission… Continue Reading

Montana Day 3

  Amazing! Montana does not disappoint! What a day…again! We started the day in Helena at the Mount Helena City Park. From the parking area we saw 2 Calliope Hummingbirds. Then we made the long drive to the expansive grasslands in the Harlowton area. We made a pit stop at Martinsdale Reservoir where we saw… Continue Reading

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