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Sun, Feb. 23

Extreme birding in southeastern Arizona

Montezuma quail

Montezuma quail

Last week I made a quick dash to my favorite birding destination - the Sky Islands of Southeastern Arizona. The purpose of my trip was to hand-deliver a new style of hummingbird feeder to birding lodges and bed and breakfast facilities catering to birders.

Southeastern Arizona is considered the hummingbird capital of the nation. Tall mountain ranges along the Mexican border host numerous hummingbird species not found anywhere else in the continental United States. As many as 15 different hummingbird species have been documented in this part of Arizona.

My first stop was Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson. What a thrill it was to be in this beautiful environment. To see species such as Mexican jays, Arizona woodpeckers, sulphur-bellied flycatchers, elegant trogon and a male varied bunting was very exciting.

However, the most incredible sighting for me was that of a male Montezuma quail. This is a species that is normally very elusive and extremely difficult to see. Imagine my surprise as I rounded a bend in the road to see a lone quail sitting in the middle of the pavement. It seemed completely unconcerned about my approach. I stopped the car and turned off the engine. With the window down, and using my Swarovski 10 x 42 ELs, I was able to get a fabulous look at this bizarrely patterned quail, which was maybe only 30 feet away from me.

It slowly made its way over to the edge of the road where it started to scratch in the leaf litter and peck around for food. The whole time I had it in my binoculars, I was spellbound. Never before have I had such a good look at a Montezuma quail. Later in the day when I shared the details of my experience with this normally secretive species, the individual I was talking to said that even when they are in the middle of the road, they think that you can't see them because of how well they are camouflaged. That would never have occurred to me!

Leaving Madera Canyon, I traveled west of Nogales on State Highway 82 to the world-famous Patagonia Rest Stop, where I had great looks at a yellow-billed cuckoo, yellow-breasted chat and thick-billed kingbird.

My next stop was the town of Patagonia, where I paid a visit to the Paton home. The Patons' property is adjacent to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, which is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is hard to believe that I have been going to this home for almost 40 years now to watch the birds at their feeders. While there I saw violet-crowned hummingbirds and common ground doves.

My next stop was the town of Sonoita, followed by the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, which is a grassland habitat. It was here that I saw Swainson's hawks, loggerhead shrike, lesser nighthawk and scaled quails. Every stop I made resulted in more species for my trip list. Finally, at day's end, I arrived in Sierra Vista, where I spent the night.

To be continued next week...


You are invited to participate in a free bird walk 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Highlands Center for Natural History property on Walker Road, about two miles south of Costco. This event is being hosted by the Highlands Center and led by a member of the Prescott Audubon Society. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and bring a hat, sunscreen, water, a field guide and a pair of binoculars.

Until next week, happy birding!

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve you - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2370 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have questions related to wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail

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