We’re thrilled to have Naturalist Journeys, the Small Group Birding and Natural History tour company based out of Arizona, as our newest advertiser. My fetish for travel is well-known so it should come as no surprise that I asked Peg Abbot, the head honcho at Naturalist Journeys, for a glimpse into one of her most excellent AZ expeditions. She shares this excerpt from 2009 trip leader Bob Behrstock…

They call it Arizona’s Second Spring. Dramatic afternoon thundershowers paint the landscape green and bring life to the region’s rivers. For those in the know, it’s a fabulous time to be in Southeast Arizona. The allure is the possibility of finding vagrants – both birds and butterflies – north from Mexico.

Above all, it’s the hummingbirds made our trip so special; indeed, about 10% of the trip list was represented by these marvelous little creatures. Specialties included White-eared, Berylline, Violet-crowned, and the very rare Plain-capped Starthroat. Other great birds were: Virginia Rail, Gray and Zone-tailed Hawks, Thick-billed Kingbird, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and the perennial favorite—Vermilion Flycatcher. However, as the company’s name implies, we weren’t totally focused on birds and were able to enjoy many other natural highlights including almost 30 dragonflies and damselflies, 42 butterflies, a selection of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, interesting vegetation, and with the exception of one rainy morning, good birding weather.

Monday, August 10, 2009
Near Montosa Canyon on the west face of the Santa Rita Mountains we encountered our first Cactus Wrens, Cooper’s Hawk, Lark and Rufous-winged Sparrows. With little warning, an amazing change in the weather occurred that produced strong, cool winds, beautiful lighting, and rain squalls to the south. After photographing clouds and admiring cactus flowers, we returned to the Inn. Here, a tasty barbecue buffet at Kristofer’s Bistro fueled us for the next day afield.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
After breakfast in the Inn’s attractive atrium, we drove just a bit northward to Madera Canyon. In the grasslands approaching the canyon, we stopped for Botteri’s Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Phainopepla. Continuing at the Proctor Road Trail, we had great looks at subtly beautiful male Varied Buntings, Canyon Wren, and Black-capped Gnatcatcher—one of the area’s special birds. Roadside birding in the oaks, a creek trail, and a bit of feeder watching produced many species such as Wild Turkey, Mexican Jay, Hooded Oriole, Bridled Titmouse, Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Black-headed Grosbeak, and several species of hummingbirds. After a lunch of Italian food and a short break at the Inn, we drove westward to the town of Arivaca, obtaining good looks at an adult Gray Hawk along the way. At Arivaca, we walked a two-mile loop that’s part of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The area, a combination of scrub and marshes surrounded by huge cottonwood trees had a number of migrants such as Wilson’s Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, and a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. We compared Cassin’s, Western, and Tropical Kingbirds, had excellent looks at several damselflies and dragonflies (including Malachite Darner, a large dragonfly that barely occurs in the U.S.), and added a number of butterflies to the trip list. Perhaps the favorite of the afternoon was a Virginia Rail that wandered into the open, then flew over a narrow channel—affording better than reasonable looks at this reclusive marsh dweller.

Wednesday, August 12
Departing after breakfast, we drove south to Rio Rico, checking a pond that borders agricultural fields. Here we added Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, and the target species, several dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, which were perched on the ground amid grazing horses. These colorful, goose-like birds have little presence in Arizona and this was our best bet for seeing them. Indeed, this was our only sighting. Progressing to the golf course in Kino Springs we found migrant Lazuli and Painted Buntings, Common Yellowthroat, and a few other species typical of the area. At the roadside rest west of Patagonia, we saw the nesting Thick-billed Kingbirds, another bird that barely penetrates U.S., as well as Black Vultures, an unusually local species in SE Arizona. In the town of Patagonia, we stopped at the public restrooms where a very excited fellow birder ran up to our van and asked us: “Do you know about the Starthroat?” A Plain-capped Starthroat, one of North America’s rarest hummingbirds had been confirmed at a B&B not far from town and we immediately left to try to see it…

Read the rest of the story or sign up for the 2010 Southeast Arizona: Monsoon Madness – Birds, Butterflies, Dragonflies & More! slated for August 9-15 at the Naturalist Journeys website.

(Text and photos courtesy of Naturalist Journeys)

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