About Birding in Southern Arizona
Southern Arizona in Spring and Summer
Madera Canyon is one of the best birding destinations in the United States. We start birding in the grasslands and work up about 2000 feet to the oak woodlands. There are over 250 bird species documented in the canyon, highlights include, fifteen species of hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Painted Redstart and Arizona Woodpecker. Such rarities as Brown-backed Solitaire, Aztec Thrush, Crescent-chested Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager and Eared Quetzal have been seen in this mountain range just south of Tucson. An evening excursion into the canyon, can yield a few owl species and the newly split species, the Mexican Whip-poor-will.
Santa Catalina Mountains
Located on Tucson's north side, the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains in Coronado National Forest are Tucson's most prominent range with the highest average elevation about 9,000 feet. Our visit starts in the desert looking for Curve-billed Thrashers, the Cactus Wren and many other desert specialties. Leaving the Saguaro cactus we start up the mountain to the boreal forest, traveling the equivalent from Mexico to Canada. Warblers are the main targets today. This range offers the most accessible views of our specialty Warblers, the Grace’s, Olive, Virginia and Red-faced Warblers. This is also the place for Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches.
Our first stop on this day is at Paton’s Hummingbird Haven, the premier place to find the rare Violet-crowned Hummingbird. From there we will take Blue Heaven Road along the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. Gray and Zone-tailed Hawks are common along this road. This is the place to find Flycatchers, the rarest being the Thick-billed Kingbird. It is possible to see up to 20 species of flycatchers in this area. Hawshaw Creek road is a premier destination in this area.
The Huachuca Mountains offer some of the best hummingbird viewing in Southern Arizona. Up to 14 species are possible in just one day. This is also the best place to view the Buff-breasted Flycatcher. Our visit will take us to Huachuca Canyon for Elegant Trogon and Spotted Owl. Then we take the wonderful(scenic) drive up to Carr Canyon, the most reliable place to view the Buff-breasted Flycatcher. We finish our day at the Hummingbird viewing areas in the lowers canyons.
Mexican Chickadees are the targets today. This is the only place in the United States accessible to these little chickadees. The birding areas around the small community of Portal are excellent. We will stop at the historic and very birdy George Walker House. Along the way we may have a chance to see the “mythical” Montezuma Quail.
This is an evening of entertainment in the truly wild outdoors. Five-striped Sparrows are found in this canyon, again a true Arizona Specialty. This is also a great area for Varied Buntings and Northern-beardless Tyrranulet, nesting Gray Hawks and just maybe a Black-capped Gnatcatcher. This is one of the best places in Arizona for the mythical Montezuma Quail. After the sparrow, we have a leisurely supper as we watch the sun set and the moon rise waiting for the Buff-collared Nightjar (maybe). Then, Elf Owl, Western Screech Owl and Common Poorwill will serenade us.
White Mountains: 3 days, 2 nights
From Tucson, the White Mountains are about 250 miles north. This range of mountains is the second highest within the boundaries of Arizona. It has many streams and lakes. The elevation ranges from about 6500 feet to over 11,000 feet. Much of the area is in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest or on the Apache Indian Reservation. Specialty birds of the area include the western Three-toed Woodpecker, Dusky Grouse, Pine Grosbeak, Pinon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker and Lewis’ Woodpecker and the gorgeous Williamson’s Sapsucker.
Leaving from Tucson, this can be used as an extension to widen your Birding opportunities in Arizona. We can do the Dudleyville day as we head up 77 toward Show-low and through the Salt River Canyon (a mini-Grand Canyon). On our final day our return route take us just over the state border into New Mexico making several birding stops along the way.
Southern Arizona in the Winter
San Rafael Grasslands
Bordered by the Canelo Hills on the north, the Huachuca Mountains to the east and the Patagonia Mountains on the west, this is one of the most pristine high grasslands in Arizona. The main targets in this scenic wonderland are the Baird’s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspur and White-tailed Kite. This is also a great place to look for Sprague’s Pipit and Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow. Over 20 species of sparrows are possible today.
Sulphur Springs Valley
Cochise Lake is the Willcox effluent pond which hosts a huge variety of wintering shorebirds and ducks. It is known for its rarities and is checked often in the winter. We will stop and check the area on our way to Whitewater Draw for the Sandhill Crane spectacular. Whitewater hosts thousands of Sandhills. These birds come in from the field for an afternoon siesta. It is truly a sight to behold . . . thousands of loud, trumpeting birds coming in waves and landing in front of you.
Buckeye for Thrashers
Located in the middle of some of our driest desert, this is the home of the LeConte’s Thrasher. Some of his fellow denizens are the Crissal Thrasher, the Bendire’s Thrasher and the Sage Sparrow. Often times, we can add the Curve-billed and Sage Thrasher for a true thrasher bonanza. We travel north towards Phoenix and spend the morning in this desert oasis for the thrashers. The rest of the day will be spent birding in Santa Cruz Flats for Mountain Plover, lots of raptors and sparrows.
Santa Cruz Flats
Located along the basin of the Santa Cruz River, which flows northwest across the country toward the Gila River, the area covers approximately 350 square miles and with an average elevation of 1,700 feet. It is primarily agricultural with fields of cotton, alfalfa, corn, and sorghum, and lots of irrigation ditches,
The place in Arizona to be in the winter if you want to see lots of raptors. Add Mountain Plover, Barn Owl, Bendire's Thrasher, Bluebirds and a plethora of sparrows. . . this can be a wonderful day of birding in the field.