Exploring the Sky Islands and the land of Geronimo.
This is just one of several Arizona trips we can offer as a custom tour. There are different itineraries that are ideal at different times of the year, so please contact us for more info.
Birding in Southeast Arizona is excellent year-round, but mid-July is especially productive. Dramatic monsoon rains arrive in earnest, causing the desert to burst into life, rejuvenated in a “second spring”, that transforms the region into a lush, green landscape teeming with birdsong and activity. Many birders flock here to see species that occur nowhere else in the US, such as Mexican Chickadee, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Buff-collared Nightjar, and Arizona Woodpecker. In addition, stunners like Elegant Trogon, Red-faced Warbler, along with dozens of gorgeous hummingbirds call these mountains and deserts home.
Day 1: Tucson. The tour begins when the group meets in our Tucson hotel for evening dinner, our base for the next two nights.
Day 2: Catalina State Park. This park, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in northwest Tucson, offers a great introduction to the saguaro-dominated Sonoran desert and its diverse birdlife. Common desert species such as Bell’s Vireo, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Gila Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Ash-throated Flycatcher will soon become familiar as we encounter them throughout the tour. We’ll also look for Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Rufous-winged Sparrow here. In the late afternoon we’ll bird the Sweetwater wetlands in west Tucson and enjoy a few waterfowl and marsh birds. The regular resident Least Grebe is a major highlight in southeast Arizona, and this is also a great location for Harris’s Hawk and Abert’s Towhee. If time permits, we may visit the Red Rock feedlots to look for Ruddy Ground-Dove and Bendire’s Thrasher.
Day 3: Madera Canyon to Portal. We’ll spend the cool early morning hours in the Santa Rita Mountains, birding the mesquite/ocotillo grasslands for Cassin’s and Botteri’s Sparrows, Varied Bunting, and Lucy’s Warbler. Our hike up Madera Canyon should yield Acorn Woodpecker, Painted Redstart, Elegant Trogon, and the charming Bridled Titmouse. Madera is our best site for Flame-colored Tanager, which has been fairly reliable in recent years, and if present it will be our top priority. Next we’ll head east towards the Chiricahua Mountains checking Cochise Lake for migrant shorebirds and waterfowl on the way. Our mid-afternoon arrival in the Chiricahuas will allow time to bird around Portal for Montezuma Quail, Black-chinned Sparrow, and others.
We’ll spend the next two nights in Portal, a great base for night birding and we’ll search for several owls and nightjars. At dusk we’ll venture out for Elf Owl and Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, all reliable right outside our hotel. Higher up the canyons, Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls are possible and Spotted Owl can sometimes be found roosting in the moist canyons during the day. Lesser Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, and Common Poorwill also nest nearby.
Day 4: Cave Creek Canyon. Early morning in legendary Cave Creek Canyon and South Fork gives us a great chance for Elegant Trogon, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Plumbeous Vireo, all reliably found in the canyon’s lush sycamores. Nearby, the yucca-dominated Chihuahuan Desert habitat along the New Mexico state line is home to Bendire’s Thrasher, Scott’s Oriole, and Swainson’s Hawk. Feeders in Portal host the extremely localized Violet-crowned Hummingbird and should produce great views of Crissal Thrasher and other desert birds..
Day 5: Rustler and Barfoot Parks. Rustler and Barfoot Parks: Impressive stands of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine in these highland parks support a diversity of montane species that includes Mexican Chickadee, Grace’s and Olive Warblers, Steller’s Jay, and Pygmy Nuthatch. Short-tailed Hawk has been a rare breeder here in recent years. Winding down to Pinery Canyon we’ll seek “Mountain” Pygmy-Owl and scan the yucca grasslands for Prairie Falcon and Zone-tailed Hawk. An afternoon re-check of Cochise Lake may reveal recent shorebird arrivals before we head south to Sierra Vista. Just outside town, trails lead through the lush riparian forest along San Pedro River, home to Gray Hawk, Bullock’s Oriole, and Brown-crested Flycatcher.
Day 6: Mountain Canyons. Today we’ll visit the bird-rich canyons of the Huachucas for pine-oak birds like Western Tanager, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Band-tailed Pigeon, and other montane species. With luck we may encounter a resident pair of roosting Spotted Owls, at times affording stellar daytime views at close range. In the afternoon we’ll visit Miller and Ash Canyons, the premier North American hummer spots. The frenzied activity of scores of hummers coming to the feeders could yield up to 12 species including the very large Blue-throated, Magnificent, Broad-billed, Rufous, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Calliope, and the spectacular White-eared.
Day 7: Carr Canyon. The scenic drive up lower Carr Canyon to the cool mixed conifer forest may produce Virginia’s Warbler, Western Scrub-Jay, and White-throated Swifts. Around Reef Townsite campground and the Comfort Springs Trail we’ll seek out Greater Pewee, Hepatic Tanager, and the diminutive Buff-breasted Flycatcher. A visit to Ramsey Canyon for Berylline Hummingbird, which has nested here in recent years, should also include Painted Redstart, Spotted Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and possibly Arizona Woodpecker. We’ll head west to Nogales on the Mexican border for the next two nights.
Day 8: Patagonia Lake State Park. This famous hotspot is perhaps best known as one of the best sites for the rare Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Many other species like Bewick’s Wren and Summer Tanager nest in the mesquite bosques while Neotropic Cormorant and summering waterfowl reside on the lake. Nearby, a set of residential feeders is reliable for Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and Lazuli Bunting and Thick-billed Kingbird live in the lush riparian vegetation flanking Sonoita Creek. Kino Springs usually has nesting Gray Hawks and Tropical Kingbird; Ruddy Ground-Dove are sometimes present as well. In the afternoon we’ll bird our way toward California Gulch, watching for Montezuma Quail, Varied Bunting, and Five-striped Sparrow before we set up a dusk vigil for the rare Buff-collared Nightjar known to breed here. The surrounding oak-dotted hills and rocky ocotillo outcrops are also great for Elf Owl, Common Poorwill, and other owls and nightjars.
Day 9: Sonoita Creek and the Santa Cruz River. The lush riparian thickets of the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and the huge cottonwoods of the Tumacacori National Monument along the Santa Cruz River host many nesting riparian species and we’ll concentrate on finding anything that may have eluded us up to this point. We’ll also check ponds for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and other waterfowl before heading north to Tucson.
Day 10: Tucson. The tour ends this morning. After breakfast, the group will be shuttled to the airport.