This tour starts and ends in Tucson, which lies at the heart of southeast Arizona’s birding paradise. Southeast Arizona harbors a high diversity of habitats packed into a relatively small corner of the state. Here mountain ranges, like the famous Chiricahuas and Huachucas, rise above the Sonoran Desert, earning them the appropriate name of “sky islands”. These mountains are islands indeed, supporting lush woodlands of sycamores and oaks in red-hued canyons, stately spruce and fir forest at the highest elevations, and productive grasslands at middle elevations. The views of the rhyolite tuff and the hoodoos formed by millions of years of erosion in the Chiricahua National Monument are unforgettable. To the east, the high desert offers drier habitats and a different set of birds.
Further west we will make stops in the Sonoita Creek area to bird in the lush riparian zone and also venture into the bird rich canyons of the nearby Huachucas. A day will be spent traveling to the Atascosa and Pajarito mountains in search of the localized Five-striped Sparrow and other specialties. A half day in the Santa Rita Mountain’s Madera Canyon will add diversity and photographic opportunities.
It is not surprising that these varied habitats support the largest diversity of breeding birds in the United States and many species typical of Mexico’s mountains barely cross the border here, many having extremely small ranges in the United States. Covering all the hotspots, we will have an excellent chance of seeing all the specialties of southeast Arizona. The species we seek include Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks, the elusive Montezuma Quail, ten or more hummingbird species are possible, Arizona Woodpecker, Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbirds, Sulphur-bellied, Dusky-capped, and Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Greater Pewee, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Mexican Chickadee, Bendireʼs and Crissal Thrashers, Olive and Red-faced Warblers, Painted Redstart, Abertʼs Towhee, Rufous-winged, Five-striped, and Botteriʼs Sparrows, Yellow-eyed Junco, and the beautiful Elegant Trogon.
Throughout the tour we will make special efforts to seek the many species of nocturnal birds resident in southeast Arizona during this time of year and we should have excellent chances to catch up with Whiskered and Western Screech-owls, the difficult Flammulated Owl, diurnal Mountain Pygmy-Owl, the world’s smallest Elf Owl, Burrowing Owl, and the impressive Spotted Owl. While we may see some of these species during the day we will devote considerable effort to “owling” and may see other night birds, including Common Poorwill and the recently split Mexican Whip-poor-will. Outings at night could also produce interesting sightings of mammals.