An early winter’s morning in the San Rafael grasslands Photo: Beth Russell
This short winter tour covers a slice of southeastern Arizona at a time when bird populations are high—in some cases spectacularly high. We’ll visit scenic mountains, desolate canyons, vast grasslands, desert lakes and streams, and a few favored man-made sites. We’ll look for the area’s specialized avifauna, search for rarities along our route, and talk about what we’re seeing.
Other than our bookend nights in Tucson, we’ll stay at the very comfortable Casa de San Pedro, a beautiful place with perfect night skies and birds just outside the door.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Tucson. Night in Tucson.
A Winter Week in Arizona was a stimulating trip! There were all degrees of birders, physical abilities and interests, and a wonderful effort was taken to accommodate us all. I did not anticipate that it would be such an educational experience, but it was in the most joyful way. My birding interests broadened, and I’ve become very fond of Arizona. We slept well, ate well and came home feeling we had truly been on a vacation.
Marian Walsh, February 2012
Day 2: We’ll depart to the south, stopping in Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, where we’ll be met in the lower canyon’s oaks by Arizona Woodpecker, the gregarious Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmice, and perhaps a stunning Painted Redstart. We’ll pause in desert scrub along the way to look for Rufous-winged and tinkling Black-throated Sparrows among other inhabitants. Continuing south along the east side of the Santa Cruz River, we’ll stop at access points near Tubac and Tumacacori where the berry-bearing shrubs along lanes down to the river attract a different array of birds each winter.
We’ll swing through the outskirts of Nogales, where scattered ponds hold Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and eye-popping Vermilion Flycatchers, then turn north and east to the Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista, our base for the next five nights. Night at Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista.
Days 3-6: From our base at Casa de San Pedro, we’ll fan out in all directions, letting weather and circumstances determine each day’s destination.
The agenda will certainly include a morning in the splendid rolling grasslands of the San Rafael Valley, where luck and some effort may lead us to a skulking Sprague’s Pipit or Baird’s Sparrows, or more readily visible Chestnut-collared Longspurs. We’ll visit Patagonia Lake State Park where typical birds include Ash-throated and Gray, Hammond’s, and Dusky Flycatcher, and with luck, we may find Elegant Trogon and Black-capped Gnatcatcher, species that have occurred here in very low numbers in recent years. We’ll also visit feeders in Patagonia proper, where a few striking Violet-crowned Hummingbirds often winter.
We’ll explore the Huachuca Mountains and the San Pedro River drainage. What we do here will depend to some extent on what we’ve seen during the tour’s first days. Several wonderful canyons, notably Garden and Huachuca Canyons, on the eastern slopes of the Huachucas can hold sleepy Spotted Owls or Montezuma Quail, and the San Pedro River sometime has a resident Green Kingfisher, often detected by its softly penetrating call like two stones tapped together.
We’ll also spend a day in the Sulphur Springs Valley, where given reasonable water levels we’ll witness the mass arrival at Whitewater Draw of thousands of Sandhill Cranes from their morning’s foraging. At its best, it’s a spectacular, occasionally deafening, experience as thousands of birds return from feeding on waste corn and other crops in the valley. In addition to the cranes, Whitewater holds a mix of other waterbirds, among them often a shimmering cloud of Snow and Ross’s Geese.
The sheer primitive appeal of such large birds in such large numbers is undeniable, but for some the real attraction of the Sulphur Springs Valley is the mass of sparrows, buntings, and raptors that are attracted to all the food that this well-watered valley provides. It’s never quite the same from one year to the next, but regal Ferruginous Hawks are common, and Red-tailed Hawks in all their bewildering variation are abundant. If it’s a good seed year, waves of White-crowned and Brewer’s Sparrows pour over the landscape, and the soft, whistled “whew” of Lark Buntings is everywhere. Among the less common denizens we may encounter are Mountain Plover, the buffy-faced Bendire’s or Sage Thrasher, and perhaps McCown’s Longspur. Nights at Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista.
Day 7: We’ll leave this day open, perhaps returning to the San Rafael Grasslands, Lake Patagonia or Madera Canyon depending on our mood and the gaps in our birdlist. We’ll finish the day with an afternoon stroll around Tucson’s Sweetwater Wetlands, a wonderfully accessible collection of ponds and scrub that holds thousands of ducks and wintering passerines, along with the most reliable group of Harris’s Hawks in the area. Night in Tucson.
Day 8: The tour concludes this morning in Tucson.
Updated: 21 May 2013
- 2014 Tour Price : $2,250
- SIngle Occupancy Supplement : $570
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader.