Happy Cinco de Mayo from near the Arizona-Mexico border!

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They told the restaurant it was my birthday and it was hysterical.

We got in to Sierra Vista today, about 25 miles north of the Mexico border.  We stayed an extra day in Tucson, because there is just too much to do and see there!  I always hate to change the plan after I’ve handed it out, but this is a great group of very flexible students, and they are just rolling with the changes.

We’re up to 91 species for the overall class total right now, and after only five days of birding, though they were all pretty full days.  Today, because of the holiday and being so close to Mexico, it’s only right to have a free afternoon for doing whatever.  We can’t all bird all day long, every day, as much as we want to.  (And we do.  Or I do, anyway.)

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A beautiful pano of Windy Point lookout on Mount Lemmon

The last couple days in Tucson were fantastic, once again.  We had two long days in premier birding spots and then a more leisurely, shorter morning of great birding today before checking out of the hotel.

First, we went to Mount Lemmon, which is about 9000 ft at the peak; the 25 mile long road up to the top crosses through lots of habitat types, from lowland desert scrub, juniper woods, ponderosa pine, and then some high desert scrub near the top, so we got to see birds with equally diverse niches.

After lunch at a nice picnic area, we even saw a “lake”!  (Lakes in Arizona don’t feel like lakes to those of us who live on the shores of Lake Superior.)  We hiked up the wash a little bit to this “stream crossing” and headed back down the mountain.

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The weather on the whole trip has been great, but it was perfect all day, since we were leaving the heat behind as we drove up to the top.

Some highlights of the day were: Painted Redstart (pictured below, courtesy of Katrina Kochin), Acorn Woodpecker, Rock Wren, Canyon Wrens calling, and Townsend’s Warbler.

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While we were there, I made them all smell the Ponderosa Pine bark which smells like vanilla.  Don’t ask me why, but it really does!

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All my birder friends said we HAD to go to Madera Canyon, and I am so glad I listened to them!  It was incredible; even the stops that seemed like they might not be very birdy were full of new (and old, but still good) birds.  I don’t have very many photos, because my face was behind my binoculars almost all day long.

I could write about Madera Canyon for pages, but I’ll just sum it all by saying that if you have the chance to go, you absolutely must.  This was my first time there, and I want to go back already.  The trails in the lower canyon were great, but in comparison to the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge, we actually had to work for the birds on the trails.  We were all a bit overwhelmed with birds when we got to the feeders, but quickly adapted to IDing lots of birds in rapid succession.

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We saw too many birds to even list here and throughout the canyon, but the one that I have to talk about is the Elegant Trogon.  Only a few Trogons are found breeding in the US and this canyon is a pretty famous area for them, so we went on our first official “single species hunt”.  After about an hour and half, it was starting to feel like a lost cause, but just as we were talking about throwing in the towel, we met some people on the trail who said they’d heard them recently and we went to exactly where they said.

We heard him after a few minutes and then, FINALLY, we saw him flying and everyone got at least a glimpse of him!  Success!!

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I’d say it was my favorite day so far, but that will probably change tomorrow.  I think I say that almost every day.  The trogon is going to be hard to beat though.

Today we moved further south of Tucson into Sierra Vista, so we had a more relaxing morning at a couple of sites close to the hotel.  Both were riparian/wetlands with ponds and water, so we got to see some ducks and shorebirds, which was a nice change of pace.  Birding on the shoreline is much easier than in the forest!

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I think everyone would agree that the American Avocet was the highlight.  They are just such beautiful and elegant birds.

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We stopped quickly at Sweetwater Wetlands again on the way back to the hotel and spent an hour or so, hoping to see some quail for a couple of students that didn’t see them the first time, but no luck.  Everyone has a nemesis bird, but I am on a mission for them to see a quail on this trip!

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