The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind! During the last week of July we attended the Sedona Hummingbird Festival. The event is held every year and draws attendees from all over the continent. It’s not a birding festival in the traditional sense as much as it is a celebration of the 365 species that make up the family Trochilidoe.
We were able to get in some great bird-watching in some of the Verde Valley’s premiere locations, such as the Page Springs Fish Hatchery and Sedona Wetlands. While working in our exhibit during that festival it dawned on me that hummingbirds draw a different crowd than a typical festival. At a more customary event the general focus is observing and identifying endemic species to the region. One may travel to Texas to see green jays or Alaska to find a northern wheatear. Similar to those locations, Arizona draws folks from all over the globe to find many species endemic to the higher-elevation Madrean woodlands of southeastern Arizona. This unique habitat extends up from our tropical neighbor, Mexico.
At the Hummingbird Festival though, many of the attendees were people who simply like hummingbirds. They love them for their uniqueness, their accessibility as backyard species, and as a subject in endless artworks. The attendees may not be able to identify them all, or even the most common urban birds, and that’s perfectly fine. They simply want to enjoy this amazing little creature while being given the opportunity to learn from some of the experts in the field.
The Hummingbird Festival ended on a Saturday and we were back in the truck early Tuesday morning and on our way to Sierra Vista, about 15 miles from our southern border. Because it’s so far south it catches the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert grasslands and aforementioned Madrean forests. It’s ruggedly beautiful and serves as home to an incredibly broad range of animals, among them the highest diversity of hummingbirds that can be found within our nation’s borders.
In Sedona we easily saw Anna’s, black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds; all expected and readily observable.
In the Sky Islands of southeast AZ, though, the flood of hummingbirds can be a bit overwhelming to a newer birder. Fortunately I’ve birded the area annually for almost a decade and had already seen most of the hummingbird species that are possible in the area. The difference this year was that I had never seen them all in less than a week’s time. In some years particular species may have a spike in population regionally, while others are absent. After we arrived this year, quick conversations with local friends revealed that most species were being reliably reported at any number of locations.
Our first stop was Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary, nestled in the lower foothills of the Huachuca Mountains. About twenty hummingbird feeders are kept full there and it’s one of the few reliable spots to see the vibrant Lucifer hummingbird. During that visit we were able to see Anna’s, rufous, black-chinned, broad-billed, Rivoli’s, violet-crowned and Lucifer hummingbirds! There were even three individuals present that we were able to observe at length from less than 20 feet. But we were unable to discover a previously reported plain-capped star-throat. Rats!
The next evening we traveled to Beatty’s Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon, one of the few reliable spots to see the striking white-eared hummingbird. Again, instead of seeing our usual lone example of the species, we had at least three birds milling around in the flurry of activity, which also padded our list with the broad-tailed hummingbird and my first ever calliope hummingbird!
The next evening we split our time at two locations. A second visit to Ash Canyon gave us great looks at the Lucifer again, while adding a lone plain-capped star-throat to our list. With light waning, we headed to world-famous Ramsey Canyon to try our hand at the Beryline hummingbird. After 10 minutes of looking, we were told it had just been seen at some feeders about 50 yards away. We hurried over and within several minutes a male Beryline came to the feeders once more before settling into its evening slumber.
The next morning we found ourselves in Ramsey again, with no real goal except to get in some final minutes of birding. To our surprise we found two previously unreported blue-throated mountain gems to elevate our list of hummingbirds to 13 species! The only species we missed out on was the Costa’s hummingbird, which is more at home in the Sonoran Desert.
Sierra Vista was recently proclaimed the Hummingbird Capital of the US, and with many opportunities to reliably see so many species, I can’t think of a spot more worthy. You have to see it to believe it!
In July I added several species to my 2023 The Lookout Birding Challenge list.
These included the lesser nighthawk, rufous hummingbird, yellow-billed cuckoo, great horned owl, red-breasted nuthatch and blue grosbeak. My year count now stands at 186 species!
As you read this we are barreling headlong into fall migration. In the coming weeks head to the higher elevations, such as the Bradshaw Mountains or Black Hills, for opportunities to see several different migrating warblers along with a few hummingbird species and so many more. Check back next month when we blow past 200 species for the year, following my early August trip to Sierra Vista!
The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon.org.