TRIP REPORT: ARIZONA: Black Hawk Migration 2022
PRIVATE TOUR OPTION
This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.
After two years of postponements, we were finally able to run our new short tour targeting the incredible spring migration of Common Black Hawks into the United States! Alex had a wonderful group of folks (mainly visiting from Florida) join on this inaugural run, and everyone enjoyed a relaxing five days based out of Green Valley, Arizona. In total we observed 60 Common Black Hawks, and had some stunning views of these massive, tropical raptors! In addition to the black hawk migration, we racked up a nice list of 149 species total. Between standing among the surprisingly large and very enthusiastic crowd of birders at the Tubac Hawkwatch to exploring the pine-oak forests at the top of Madera Canyon, we packed in as much as we could to this quick trip and came away with some great experiences and awesome bird sightings! With lingering winter residents and returning spring migrants, the diversity was surprisingly high for the relatively small area that we covered and this is sure to be a fun tour for years to come! Follow this link to see our detailed eBird Trip Report with our full species list, map of our route, and loads of photos!
March 11, 2022 – Sweetwater Wetlands, Christoper Columbus Park, Madera Canyon
Most participants arrived a few days early, so we were able to kick off our first day by visiting Tucson’s famous Sweetwater Wetlands first thing on March 11th. During a casual 3.5 hour lap of the wetland complex we managed to find a whopping 61 species including 14 Cinnamon Teal and many other waterfowl species, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Bittern, and Gambel’s Quail. We had our first nice views of tiny Neotropic Cormorants and vibrant Vermilion Flycatchers. Some notable songbirds were spotted including Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Plumbeous Vireo, “Cassiar” Dark-eyed Junco, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lucy’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. Both Northern Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia put in appearances, and we noted the differences between the clean-lored “Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrows and dark-lored “Mountain” White-crowned Sparrows. A pair of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers were busily working through the brush, and our first Verdin of the trip were nest-building. Violet-green, Cliff, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were abundant.
We made a quick visit to Christopher Columbus Park nearby and added Snow Goose, Lesser Scaup, Belted Kingfisher, Great-tailed Grackle, and Brewer’s Blackbird to our trip list. Neotropic Cormorants are especially abundant at this small park, and the photo ops are excellent. Just before lunch we made a quick stop to a little stake-out location behind the airport’s La Quinta hotel to see a small flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinches! This is by far the toughest goldfinch to find in the US, but this species was still numerous in the Tucson area following a better-than-average winter for them in the Southwest. Black-throated Sparrow, Anna’s Hummingbird, Cooper’s Hawk, and Abert’s Towhees were also seen at this stop.
Lunch was a quick burrito run and then we traveled down to Green Valley to get checked into our hotel and prepare to go birding for the afternoon. We spent the rest of the day exploring nearby Madera Canyon. Along White House Canyon Road we spotted 2 Vesper Sparrows. At the Madera Canyon Picnic Area we staked out the continuing, vagrant Rufous-backed Robin which we ultimately had excellent scope views of in addition to Hermit Thrush, Acorn Woodpeckers, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jays, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
Further up canyon at Santa Rita Lodge we stumbled into a remarkable opportunity when a Northern Pygmy-Owl had just made a run at the bird-feeders and then perched up in a snag across the street from the lodge which allowed for amazing views and great photo ops! Many small birds were mobbing the tiny owl including Lesser Goldfinch, Hutton’s Vireo, Bridled Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Chipping Sparrow! Even a huge Rivoli’s Hummingbird buzzed in to see what the commotion was all about! Back at the lodge’s feeders we added Yellow-eyed Junco, Phainopepla, Painted Redstart, and a pair of Hepatic Tanagers! Another Arizona Woodpecker put in a better appearance too. Further up at the Madera Kubo we enjoyed a better view of a Painted Redstart and more Yellow-eyed Juncos. Making our way back to town, we passed by a Curve-billed Thrasher and two Common Ravens.
March 12, 2022 – De Anza Trail, Tubac Hawkwatch, Desert Meadows Park, Madera Canyon owling
For day 2 we set off for Tubac and spent the early morning birding the De Anza Trail right along the Santa Cruz River. This riparian stretch is beautiful, with towering cottonwoods lining the narrow creek bed. The bird activity was excellent, and highlights included Red-naped Sapsucker, Gila Woodpeckers, “Red-shafted” Northern Flickers, Hammond’s Flycatchers, Black Phoebes, Cassin’s Kingbirds, Cassin’s Vireo, yet another Rufous-backed Robin, Bewick’s Wrens, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Green-tailed Towhee, Bullock’s Oriole, 7 Black-throated Gray Warblers, “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Lazuli Buntings. From there we raced to Ron Morriss Park just nearby to try and hit the Common Black Hawk morning lift-off. Our timing was excellent and within a few minutes of arriving at 9:15am we spotted our first of 12 Common Black Hawks! One bird soared directly overhead providing crushing views! Other migrant raptors included 2 Golden Eagles, 22 Turkey Vultures, 12 Black Vultures, Gray Hawk, 3 Zone-tailed Hawks, and 10 “Western” Red-tailed Hawks! The excitement from the crowd of birders gathered in this unassuming park at the edge of town was incredible! Tubac Nature Center has really created quite the event here!
We made another venture down the De Anza Trail in search of a reported Rose-throated Becard, but struck out. We did find two rare vagrants though: Yellow-belled Sapsucker and Black-and-white Warbler! A cooperative Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was a big hit, and we found a nesting Lesser Goldfinch. At a nearby hummingbird feeder we turned up a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird among the common Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Our first Chihuahuan Ravens were encountered there too, plus a Pine Siskin. At another riverside hotspot we found a pair of Mexican Ducks and Greater Roadrunner. Another Common Black Hawk put in an appearance overhead, and we also had nice views of more Chipping Sparrows, various warblers, and Lazuli Buntings.
Desert Meadows Park was our last day-time birding stop, and the beautifully-maintained city park produced 12 Gambels’ Quail, point-blank views of a Greater Roadrunner, 5 Costa’s Hummingbirds, Great Egret, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Lark Sparrows. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and a Merlin made a quick flyover in the parking lot! After dinner we set out for some nocturnal birding in Madera Canyon. On the way up Whitehouse Canyon Road Alex spotted a Great Horned Owl perched on a telephone pole which offered nice views and was a good omen for the targets ahead. At Proctor Road we heard a Western Screech-Owl and up at the Madera Picnic Area we heard an Elf Owl! The best moment of the evening came at the amphitheater though, when we had stunning views of a Whiskered Screech-Owl and heard another one nearby!
March 13, 2022 – Montosa Canyon, Tubac Hawkwatch, Amado WTP, Montosa Canyon, Rio Rico hotspots, De Anza Trail
Our early-morning birding location for day 3 was Montosa Canyon. We spent 1.5 hours exploring a short stretch of this canyon which is notably drier than Madera Canyon. Migrant sparrows were still moving through after their nocturnal migration from the night before, and we counted 80 Chipping Sparrows, 20 Lark Sparrows. A total of 4 towhee species were seen too: Canyon, Abert’s, Green-tailed, and Spotted! We saw a few more Hepatic Tanagers and heard both Rock and Canyon Wrens singing from the cliffs nearby. A pair of Hutton’s Vireos gave us nice views, and we had another encounter with a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. From there it was back toward the Tubac Hawkwatch.
On the way we passed Cactus Wren, Cliff Swallows, and saw a few Ruddy Ducks and Ring-necked Ducks on the water at the Amado WTP. We spend 2 hours at the hawkwatch and hit is just right to see 34 Common Black Hawks plus 4 Golden Eagles, 1 Osprey, and multiple Red-tailed Hawks and both vultures. Excitement sprung up at 10am when someone called out a Zone-tailed Hawk to the west but closer examination by our group determined it was actually a very rare dark form Short-tailed Hawk!
We ate a quick lunch in Tubac then returned to Montosa Canyon, but in the heat of the day didn’t manage to turn up anything new for the trip. Down in Rio Rico we found a “Prairie” Merlin, Northern Shovelers, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and Cassin’s Kingbird at a small wetland complex. For the afternoon we returned yet again to the De Anza Trail in Tubac in search of that becard, but sadly struck out for the 3rd and final time. On the flip side, we did have nice views of a Zone-tailed Hawk, Inca Dove, and Gray Flycatcher! We returned to Desert Meadows Park again to get Costa’s Hummingbird for some folks who missed them the evening before. Sparrows were numerous again, including the sharp Lark Sparrows.
March 14, 2022 – Canoa Ranch, Tubac Hawkwatch, San Rafael Grasslands, Paton Center for Hummingbirds, Las Cienegas Grasslands
For our final full day, we kicked things off at Canoa Ranch Conservation Park. Cinnamon Teal, American Wigeon, and 3 nice Redhead were on the small lake in addition to a rare Virginia Rail that we found skulking in the shallow water. Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer were also found. The numbers and diversity of migrant sparrows was incredible with 55 Brewer’s Sparrows, 8 Lark Sparrows, 455 White-crowned Sparrows, 15 Savannah Sparrows, 10 Lincoln’s Sparrows, 2 Green-tailed Towhees plus the local Abert’s Towhees and Song Sparrows!
Heading over toward the hawkwatch we had a great view of a Common Black Hawk just lifting off out of the trees which offered the best photo ops of this beastly raptor so far. Another 12 black hawks would be seen throughout the late morning, and the dark Short-tailed Hawk made another appearance to the enjoyment of many local chasers. We also saw 15 White-faced Ibis migrating north.
The rest of the day was dedicated to venturing over to the Patagonia area. We made a quick stop at the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest Area. Ever hear of the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect? We saw the picnic table! A female Blue Grosbeak was a notable bird we found there.
Up at the stunning San Rafael Grasslands we found 2 Pronghorn, an immature Golden Eagle, 2 Northern Harriers, Say’s Phoebe, 20 Horned Larks, 65 Chestnut-collared Longspurs, 4 “Lilian’s” Eastern Meadowlarks, and 12 Savannah Sparrows.
Paton’s Center for Hummingbirds was next up on our itinerary, and we had a great time there with excellent views of Gray Hawks circling overhead plus a Violet-crowned Hummingbird at the feeders! At least 10 Broad-billed Hummingbirds, 2 Anna’s Hummingbirds, and 1 Costa’s Hummingbirds were also coming in. A rare Ruddy Ground-Dove also made a brief appearance with the local Inca Doves!
We spent the remainder of the day exploring the Las Cienegas grasslands where we found an out-of-place Snow Goose, many Northern Harriers, Loggerhead Shrikes, plenty of sparrows, more Mexican Ducks, 25 Chestnut-collared Longspurs, more Pronghorns, and other open country birds.
March 15, 2022 – Kennedy Park, Departures
For the final morning we only had enough time to visit Kennedy Park in urban Tucson. Our target here was a rare, wintering female Williamson’s Sapsucker and after a bit of searching we did turn her up! Other highlights included a nice assortment of wintering waterfowl, our only Double-crested Cormorant of the trip, nest-building Say’s Phoebes, Ash-throated Flycatcher, better views of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Bronzed Cowbirds. The tour officially ended at 9:45am, and in total we had managed to find 149 bird species including our targeted Common Black Hawks. It was a great trip all around, with many lifers for all participants!