The Canyons of the Santa Rita mountains regularly feature in the top birding destinations in the state, specifically Florida Canyon and then the more extensive and much busier Madera Canyon. I started the day at the former, which took around an hour to get to from Tucson, and the final stretch of which is along unpaved roads which are in some places quite corrugated. I was the first on site and it was cold! Luckily having started my journey in Oslo (don't ask!) I just happened to have a warm fleecy jacket, gloves, and my trusty camo hat – I had not been expecting to use these but was able to dig them out and thus not die of exposure.
|Cactus Wren struggling with plant identification
The feeders themselves were heaving with birds, though the set-up was poor for photography. Loads of Dark-eyed Juncos fed around a brush pile, and I was pleased to find at least one Yellow-eyed Junco in with them. Mexican Jays came in and out, and every now and again an Arizona Wood appeared – I eventually saw both sexes. The commonest birds were the Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches, almost constantly on the feeders at the back. Broad-billed and Anna's Hummingbirds made regular visits, and Bridled Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch scampered around the trees. Other than the Owl, probably the best birds were a pair of over-wintering Hepatic Tanagers that made a brief appearance – stunning. Although I looked at other spots in the Canyon and in Florida Canyon, these feeders were the only place I saw Arizona Woodpecker. Be warned though, it is a constantly busy place, and the chit chat is inane.
At this point I had a decision to make – continue birding the mountains, or try something different. Off to Pena Blanca lake I went, there to dip Rufous-capped Warbler. I did pick up my first Marsh Wrens, several Cinnamon Teal, and also a Neotropic Cormorant. Lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers around the lake edges too. My final stop of the day was Paton's yard in Patagonia. This was for a long time simply the garden of a pair of bird-lovers who were happy to share, but now that they have passed away it has been bought and preserved by a foundation who maintain the many feeders (not just sugar water feeders) just as the old couple did. There are seats and awnings, and it's a pleasant place to while away a couple of hours. No good for photography, though it might be better in the morning. Gradually as people drifted away more and more birds came out. These included a covey of Gambel's Quail, a pair of Inca Dove, a Lincoln's Sparrow, and two Towhee species. Practically no Hummingbirds though, again perhaps better in the morning. With dusk approaching I made tracks back north, passing a silhouetted Great-horned Owl looking like a massive cat on a post somewhere near Sonoita.
|White-crowned Sparrow, memories of my first UK twitch