Trip report: Arizona Custom Photo Tour (June 2021)

Guided by Ben Knoot. This was a custom tour.

Custom tours are always fun. A group of people get together and decide exactly how their trip is run. Everything from when they sleep, to skipping an afternoon of birding to go get milkshakes (not that that happens very often…or ever…) but it is totally up to them, and that makes them extremely appealing to family units like this one.

With a goal of seeing “literally anything and everything” I had a rough plan that would take us searching through Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert, a host of forests like pine, oak and pinyon and the most popular and well known of southeast Arizona’s sky islands; the Catalinas, Santa Ritas, Huachucas, and finally, the Chiricahuas.
Our first set of sky-islands were the Catalinas. Sitting just east of Tucson, the Catalinas are a stunning and unique range boasting tremendous scenery and spectacular bird species. Perhaps the most famous mountain is oddly named, Mount Lemmon. Unique for many reasons but none more so in my opinion than the breadth of habitat that is covered on your nearly 6000ft elevation gain. Over eight (8) large family habitats are covered with many more microhabitats; it’s a wonder this is one of the best birding spots in Tucson.

When we had our fill of Tucson, we moved just an hour south into the Santa Ritas where two famous canyons sit among the fields of Mesquite and Ocotillo. For the next three days Madera and Box Canyon would host us as we looked for oak, pine, ocotillo and mesquite specialties among the famous Santa Rita Lodge feeders.

Looking for a bit of a cooler climate later on in the trip, we ventured east and gained roughly 2500ft of elevation and entered into the sweet little city of Sierra Vista. Sitting just at the foothills of the Huachuca mountain range, this is a great place to base ourselves for three days as we hunt for high elevation pine, manzanita and oak birds.

We finished our trip by heading further east into likely the most famous of the sky islands, the Chiricahuas. Here sits a tiny little town named Portal. Portal is famous for several species of birds but again, also for having such a rich array of habitats that attract a massive breadth of wildlife. Everything from Mountain Lion to the tiny rare and endangered lizards are found in this area and attract thousands of people a year.
We finished off our incredible tour back in Tucson. Overall we covered at least a dozen habitats, saw fantastic birds and managed to capture some terrific images. A great trip!

Top Five Birds:
1. Elegant Trogon
2. Blue Grosbeak
3. Western Tanager
4. Pyrrhuloxia
5. Scott’s Oriole

Full Arizona Photo Tour trip report (custom tour June 2021)
(5.2 MB, PDF format)