9/11 of 2006 was an exciting and fascinating day for us. A full day of birding in the Hummingbird capital of America -- Sierra Vista in SE Arizona close to the Mexico border!
Sierra Vista is a military town located about 190 miles (3-hours) southeast of Phoenix in the state of Arizona. The mild climate, proximity to Mexico and diverse habitats, including 9000 ft mountains and the magnificent San Pedro River Valley, make SE Arizona a major hot spot for rare and unusual birds. The best times to see tropical species such as hummingbirds, trogons, warblers and flycatchers is from mid-April through September. So our visit to this land of the magnificent Huachuca canyons on 9/11 2006 was promising from the word go.
Thanks to Vivek Tiwari, we were introduced albeit virtually, to Stuart Healy, a well-known bird guide of Arizona. Meeting Stuart at the crack of dawn on 9/11 was the start of the exciting day. Our first stop was the San Pedro House, the information centre of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, a stretch of 40 miles along the San Pedro River with dense cottonwood trees on its banks, attracting myriad migrating birds and wildlife.
The sunny start gave us many photo opportunities and we were very happy to see the species count grow rapidly. Fours hours around the house yielded us about 46 species and wonderful views of Vermillion Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, Green-tailed Towhee, Lazuli's Bunting and many sparrows. We witnessed a huge flock of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, apparently a “scarce species” according to Stuart, flying just above the grass and settle down. He then led us to the river to increase our count. Unfortunately, rain and the resulting floods had filled the banks with slush. However our adventure to get to the river yielded us with a rare sighting of the Zone-tailed Hawk. Stuart in all his birding trips to San Pedro had spotted this bird only once before here! We could not believe that we got so lucky.
As the temperature rose, Stuart recommended that we visit the Lower Carr Canyon and took us there. Sadly, thanks to the heat we struggled to spot birds here. But, Stuart ensured that we got clear views of the Arizona, Ladder-back and the Acorn Woodpeckers. In fact, we could see the Ladder-back only due to Stuart’s keen sense of hearing and his skill at identifying birds by their vocalizations. We were also treated to the sight of a pack of the vociferous Mexican Jays.
After our stint at the Carr Canyon, Stuart bid us good-bye with a suggestion that we visit Mary Jo’s property in the Ash Canyon and a species count of 65 in eight hours! We stopped for a quick bite and headed to Mary Jo’s, a six and half acres property within an Important Bird Area replete with many humming bird feeders. However, our spirits were dampened by the sudden cloud burst and the consequent rain. But, we were in no mood to get back to Phoenix that early in the day. So, we reached Ash Canyon hoping to get lucky with the sun. And we did! The clouds cleared and the evening sun shone brilliantly on every humming bird visiting the feeder. We must have spotted at least 7 different humming birds just sitting beside the feeder.