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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Arizona: Second Spring

Thursday 1 August to Monday 12 August 2024
with Skye Haas as leader
Wednesday 23 July to Sunday 3 August 2025
with Jake Mohlmann as leader

Price: $3,450* (08/2024)

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Summer rains bring on a profusion of wildflowers, especially in the mountains.Photo: Jon DunnSummer rains bring on a profusion of wildflowers, especially in the mountains. Photo: Jon Dunn
  • Summer rains bring on a profusion of wildflowers, especially in the mountains.

    Summer rains bring on a profusion of wildflowers, especially in the mountains. Photo: Jon Dunn

  • Arizona is wonderfully scenic at any time of year.

    Arizona is wonderfully scenic at any time of year. Photo: Jon Dunn

  • The summer monsoon rains bring the Arizona hills and deserts to life.

    The summer monsoon rains bring the Arizona hills and deserts to life. Photo: Jon Dunn

  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, one of most sought-after "Arizona specialties."

    Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, one of most sought-after "Arizona specialties." Photo: Jon Dunn

  • Varied Buntings begin to sing in earnest with the onset of the summer monsoon rains.

    Varied Buntings begin to sing in earnest with the onset of the summer monsoon rains. Photo: Jon Dunn

  • All manner of creatures including Black-tailed Rattlesnake respond to the summer rains.

    All manner of creatures including Black-tailed Rattlesnake respond to the summer rains. Photo: Jon Dunn

  • Spotted Owls are regular in SE Arizona's high canyons and usually we know where one can be found

    Spotted Owls are regular in SE Arizona's high canyons and usually we know where one can be found Photo: Jon Dunn

  • Five-striped Sparrow invades the U.S. in a tiny bit of Southeastern Arizona.

    Five-striped Sparrow invades the U.S. in a tiny bit of Southeastern Arizona. Photo: Jon Dunn

Southeastern Arizona, especially from late spring through the summer, invariably ranks among the favorite North American birdwatching destinations. In this varied region, where spectacular mountain ranges rise like islands above the surrounding deserts and grasslands, northern birds follow the coniferous zones of the peaks southward and overlap with subtropical species that reach their northernmost outposts in Arizona’s mountain canyons. As a consequence, the diversity of breeding birds is remarkable. By early August the summer monsoon rains have usually arrived, and these typically brief showers bring about notable changes. During this “second spring” the vegetation becomes green again, temperatures drop from early summer highs, and there is a resurgence of birdsong and activity, especially in the grasslands. Birding in Arizona is excellent throughout the summer months, but we favor late July and early August because it offers ideal opportunities to study grassland sparrows, increased chances of seeing rarer hummingbirds (as well as maximum concentrations, in 2023 we saw 15 species of hummingbirds), and the potential for early fall migrants and uncommon to rare species from Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. With the monsoon in full swing, we should also see a wide variety of reptiles, and butterflies should be near their peak abundance.

Apart from our time in Tucson and the Santa Cruz Valley, our tour takes place in the southeast Arizona highlands above 4,000 feet, where the days are cooler, the surroundings greener, and life in general more vibrant.

A delightful feature of this tour is our lodging.  We make a special effort to stay in local lodging, where our group will have easy access to feeder watching and be close to many birding hotspots.  This includes our three nights at an elegant small bed & breakfast that caters to birders near Sierra Vista with a wonderful pool, busy feeders, homemade pies, and easy access to some of the best birding in southeast Arizona, all in a relaxed and very friendly atmosphere.

Day 1: Our trip begins at 6:00 pm in Tucson. Night near the Tucson Airport.

Day 2: The Santa Catalina Mountains form Tucson’s northern border. Along the road that snakes its way to the top, at around 9,000 ft., we’ll experience a wide range of habitats, each with a new set of birds. At lower elevations, among masses of huge Saguaro cacti and in the oaks of the Upper Sonoran zone, we’ll look for Gila Woodpecker, Black-throated Sparrow, and Scott’s Oriole. As we move higher we should have a good chance of encountering Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, and a variety of warblers including Virginia’s, Orange-crowned (Rocky Mountains/Great Basin subspecies orestra), Grace’s and Red-faced. Hummingbird feeding stations attract Broad-tailed and Rivoli’s, and we’ll be looking overhead for Zone-tailed Hawk. Greater Pewee, and Olive Warbler (in it’s own family) are also possibilities, although the latter species has been more difficult in recent years.  On the other hand, a pair of  rare Short-tailed Hawks have been present recently and we may have a chance of seeing them as they soar over the ridges. In the afternoon we’ll drive south to Madera Canyon, stopping near the San Xavier Mission to try to locate the endemic small subspecies of Purple Martin (hesperia) over the Saguaro cactus stands before continuing to the Santa Rita Mountains and the Santa Rita Lodge, where we’ll spend two nights. The first-rate feeders here attract many species, occasionally including even rare Mexican species such as Berylline Hummingbird or a Plain-capped Starthroat. Broad-billed Hummingbird is abundant. Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, and Hepatic Tanager also visit the feeders, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher is usually about the rooms or across the street. Owling farther up the canyon might produce Whiskered Screech-Owl and possibly Mexican Whip-poor-will and Elf Owl, although by this time frame they have become largely silent (particularly the Elf Owl.) There is also a good chance of seeing the distinctive White-nosed Coati, and in recent years even a Ringtail has been hanging around in the evenings at the lodge. Night at the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon.

Day 3: There are many superb birding areas in and near Madera Canyon. At nearby Florida and Box Canyons, Bell’s Vireo and Varied Bunting are usually present, and we have a good chance for Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Sometimes the rare Five-striped Sparrow is present as well. Formerly, the rare and localized Black-capped Gnatcatcher occurred here too, but after a hard winter freeze a few years ago they have essentially vanished from Southeast Arizona. We’ll return to Madera Canyon through grassland usually full of singing Botteri’s Sparrows, and in some summers perhaps Cassin’s Sparrows will be present as well. Resident Rufous-winged Sparrows are found not far away and we will likely look for them on our way to dinner in the evening.

Madera Canyon itself is full of birds. The desert at the lower edge hosts many species like Curve-billed Thrasher and Canyon Towhee.  A few Lucy’s Warblers, a common breeder, may still be present (this species in an early fall migrant) and in the community garden in Green Valley we might find Costa’s Hummingbird and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. While commuting we’ll keep a watchful eye out for the extraordinary Antelope Jackrabbit. Higher up in the oaks we should see Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Hutton’s and Plumbeous Vireos, and sometimes a rarity is present in the canyon or up one of the trails, such as a Flame-colored Tanager or even with great luck an Aztec Thrush (most Arizona records are in August). In most years a pair of Elegant Trogons are present, although finding one is difficult if the male is not vocalizing.  Night at the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon.

Day 4: After a final morning of birding around Madera Canyon we’ll drive south to Tumacacori, birding along the Santa Cruz River, where among the many Summer Tanagers and Cassin’s Kingbirds, Rose-throated Becards have recently been found nesting. At present, this is the main nesting locality in the United States. Other birds we might see here include Brown-crested Flycatcher and Abert’s Towhee. Farther south, at Rio Rico, we have an excellent chance of locating Tropical Kingbird, and here and elsewhere we should encounter Gray Hawk. Thick-billed Kingbird is likely in the Patagonia area, and a few Violet-crowned Hummingbirds are usually at the Paton’s feeders (Tucson Audubon Sanctuary) in town. Interestingly, we often see our only Black Vultures of the tour here. In 2022 Mississippi Kite nested in Patagonia. If there is time, we may stop at Patagonia Lake for Neotropic Cormorant and a variety of other species, including Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Vermilion Flycatcher, and sometimes Black-capped Gnatcatcher, though not in recent years. At the nearby water treatment plant, various ducks are often present, including Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Mexican Duck.  Night in Tubac, AZ.

Day 5:  Today is flexible. If we have seen Five-striped Sparrow we may head west to the Avra Valley where in the saguaro washes a few Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are still found. Purple Martins will be present and there is a good chance of finding Gilded Flicker. If we haven’t seen Five-striped Sparrow we’ll leave early for California Gulch, on the Mexican border west of Nogales. The approaches to this wild and beautiful canyon are good spots for Montezuma Quail and Varied Bunting. Five-striped Sparrow nests here, and with luck the birds will be vocal and visible. At this time of year the Gulch should have water (perhaps quite a lot of water!), attracting species such as Northern Beardless Tyrannulet and Hooded Oriole. Night in Tubac, AZ.

Day 6: This morning is flexible, depending on our ornithological objectives. We may visit Patagonia Lake if we haven’t been there previously, or possibly return to Tumacacori. On our way east to the Huachuca Mountains, we’ll stop in the Sonoita Grasslands for the newly split (from Eastern Meadowlark) Chihuahuan Meadowlark, Cassin’s and perhaps Grasshopper Sparrow. We sometimes see a few Pronghorn. As we approach Sierra Vista, we’ll watch for Swainson’s Hawk. We’ll arrive at our inn, our home for the next three nights, late in the afternoon. Night at the Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista.

Days 7–8: We’ll spend two full days in the Huachuca Mountains, which host a varied avifauna including a selection of hummingbirds unrivaled anywhere in the United States. We are likely to see 10 or more species (we have seen up to 14) in Miller Canyon and at feeders in Ash Canyon and elsewhere, probably including Violet-crowned, Lucifer, Broad-tailed, and possibly White-eared. In some years both Berylline and Plain-capped Starthroat have occurred, and we’ll look for them if they’re around. 

Our birding schedule is highly flexible depending on what birds, including rarities, are about. We’ll likely spend part of one day in Miller Canyon, studying hummingbirds and walking the trails. In some years, though recently absent, a pair of Spotted Owls has been present. We may also visit Ramsey Canyon, world famous for hummingbirds. Tufted Flycatchers have nested up-Canyon, and if they return we’ll offer the option of making the four-mile round trip hike to see these charming little wanderers from northern Mexico…unless of course the road-accessible ones found in 2017 at Reef Campground at the top of Carr Canyon also return. One afternoon we’ll likely visit feeders in Ash Canyon, known for attracting Lucifer Hummingbirds, especially late in the day. In addition, the grounds of our inn offer excellent birding with numerous feeders. Yellow-billed Cuckoos can often be seen on the grounds. The feeders attract many Gambel’s Quail and often Abert’s Towhee and Bronzed Cowbird (subspecies milleri  in which the females are gray). Hummingbirds including migrant species, in som years Calliope Hummingbird is present.  Chihuahuan Meadowlarks are found in the adjacent grasslands and Scaled Quail are nearby in Hereford. In 2023, Montezuma Quail were frequenting the roadside margin in Coronado National Monument and we will carefully serach for them if they are being seen.  In the evenings Lesser Nighthawks are often flying about under the lights and Barn and Great Horned Owls are possible, too. Nights at the Casa de San Pedro near Sierra Vista.

Day 9: This morning’s itinerary is flexible, depending on what we may have missed in the Huachucas. After an early picnic lunch we’ll drive east to the wetlands at Whitewater Draw in the Sulphur Springs Valley. Depending on water levels, waterbirds can be numerous, and we should see migrant Lazuli Buntings and perhaps Lark Buntings. In 2018, a Groove-billed Ani summered here. A few of the recently re-split Mexican Duck can be found here. Later we’ll drive to around the south end of the Chiricahua Mountains stopping to study Chihuahuan Ravens along the way, and into magnificent Cave Creek Canyon. Night at Cave Creek Ranch in Portal, Arizona.

Day 10: The Chiricahuas are famed for their beautiful landforms and numerous habitats, accessible by a road system running from low desert to fir forest at 9,000 feet. Mexican Chickadee is the only species here that we definitely won’t see elsewhere. Sadly, they seem to have declined in recent years, likely as a result of recent large fires. Beyond Mexican Chickadee, the Chiricahuas are an excellent back-up for higher elevation birds such as Greater Pewee and Olive and migrant Hermit Warblers. Cave Creek and South Fork Canyons will also offer locations for Elegant Trogon. Birds are abundant in the Portal area, and while the species mix will be much the same as earlier, the desert below is now the Chihuahuan rather than Sonoran, which means some important changes in subspecific diversity. In particular, the Curve-billed Thrashers (celsum subspecies of the curvirostre group) will look and, especially, sound somewhat different from birds we will have seen earlier to the west (palmeri), and recent studies have determined that they are also genetically quite different. The always secretive and elusive Crissal Thrasher is found in this area along with a very few Bendire’s Thrashers. There is the possibility of seeing Scaled Quail as well, and Chihuahuan Ravens are fairly common. Our friends in Cave Creek Canyon feed hummingbirds, and in some years we see our largest numbers here. These should include Blue-throated Mountain-gem and sometimes Lucifer or Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, and southbound Calliopes are present. We’ll spend at least one evening listening and looking for nightbirds. Common Poorwill is not uncommon near Portal, and depending on our success in the Santa Rita Mountains or near Patagonia, we may explore the canyon in search of owls. Western Screech will be the most likely new owl, but perhaps we will locate an Elf Owl too, if it vocalizes. While driving through the canyons we’ll be carefully looking for encounters with the nearly always elusive Montezuma Quail. Night at Cave Creek Ranch in Portal, Arizona.

Day 11: After a last morning in the Chiricahuas, perhaps including a visit to Pinery Canyon on the west side of the divide, we’ll descend the west slope and continue toward Tucson. We’ll stop at the ponds at Willcox, where we expect a variety of migrant shorebirds including Baird’s Sandpiper and Wilson’s Phalarope, and if there is time perhaps also at St. David, where a few Mississippi Kites  breed. Night near the Tucson Airport.

Day 12: The trip concludes this morning in Tucson with departures and no birding activities planned.  

Updated: 03 June 2024


  • 2024 Tour Price : $3,450
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $1,190
  • (2025 - Not Yet Determimed)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Sara Pike. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader.

Single rooms or rooms with en suite facilities may not be available for the nights in Portal, AZ. See Tour Information for details.

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