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 east through Box Canyon we’ll emerge on to rolling grasslands where perhaps we’ll see Eastern Meadowlarks and Scaled Quail along the roadside.
We’ll swing through Sonoita in the heart of Arizona’s wine country where various sparrows and raptors utilize the vast open lands. Then east towards the San Pedro River which flows north entering the United States from Mexico just south of our lodging for the next five nights. Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista is a world-class establishment that we will be excited to come back to everyday. 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. In general we will work from the furthest spot west in and around Patagonia on Day 2, and continue east each day until finally winding up in the iconic Chiricahua Mountains, a must-see for anyone visiting southeast Arizona.
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 along with the electric blue, Lazuli Bunting.
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 Huachuca’s can hold sleepy Spotted Owls or Montezuma Quail. In recent years Sinaloa Wren, a new addition to the ABA list, has been seen with some regularity. The San Pedro River sometimes has a resident Green Kingfisher, often detected by its softly penetrating call like two stones tapped together.
We will 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: After our gourmet breakfast our sights will be set on Tucson. This desert city is like a magnet for wintering birds, usually including some rarities. We’ll take time to visit parks and lakes scattered throughout the Tucson Valley searching for stake-outs and resident species associated with the Sonoran Desert that we may have missed. 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. As the afternoon dwindles and dusk sets in the arrival of thousands of blackbirds coming into the reed beds to roost is unforgettable. Night in Tucson.
Day 8: The tour concludes this morning in Tucson.
Updated: 15 April 2014
- 2015 Tour Price Not Yet Available
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size seven with one leader.