Trip report: Arizona: Hopping the Sky Islands (Jul-Aug 2020)

Guided by Ben Knoot. This was a set-departure birding tour.

What an interesting tour! This was a personal first for me. And what I mean by that is not my first Arizona birding tour but simply the conditions on which the tour occurred. Every guest on this tour had visited Arizona in the past and were very good, experienced birders. This meant that aside from getting away from their house for awhile, they really just had a few targets they needed to see to boost up their life lists. They made it very clear they wanted to see all of the species they could and they held true to their word and enjoyed the beautiful local but common birds that most people come on this tour specifically to see. And so, with that in mind, I made a few adjustments to try and get the best for my guests.

The plan was simple, travel to the same general areas but instead of spending time in locations that gave us a large species list like we would have normally done, we would travel to places that held a new species for a member of the group. In total, there were about 25 new birds we had to find over the duration of the tour. Some were local specialties like Red-faced Warbler and Elegant Trogon and some were more rare, like the season dependent Berylline Hummingbird, White-eared Hummingbird and Rose-throated Becard. We aimed to complete our mission via a combination of eBird Rare Bird reports, my personal experience and locations, as well as local knowledge. I am happy to report we were able to find almost of the species on my guests wish-list. We missed two species (Flame-colored Tanager and Tufted Flycatcher) because the area to look for them (Ramsey Canyon) was closed this year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Another missed bird was the very difficult Flammulated Owl which unfortunately had already vacated the area for the year. Other than those few the one that really got away was the Mexican Whip-Poor-Will. Though we heard the bird clearly and we were right on top of it at one point, it proved a bit too elusive. Oh well, a reason to come back!

It was also amazing that even though we were sort of on a “target-chase” we still managed to see most of every bird that we would have normally seen on the regularly scheduled tour so it all worked out which is always fun! But anyway, I hope all of the guests will agree the tour was a great success and it is always a pleasure to bird in southeast Arizona, surrounded by the stunning “Sky-Islands”.

Top Five Birds
1. Berylline Hummingbird
2. Buff-collared Nightjar
3. Plain-capped Starthroat
4. White-eared Hummingbird
5. Rose-throated Becard

Top Three Other Animals
1. White-nosed Coati
2. Gila Monster
3. Desert Tarantula 

Arizona: Hopping the Sky Islands Trip Report July-August 2019 (2 MB PDF).