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Birding Southeastern Arizona (With a Grand Canyon Extension)
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Birding Southeastern Arizona (With a Grand Canyon Extension)

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 10 - 15 day(s)
Group Size: 2 - 8 people
Destination(s): Arizona  
Specialty Categories: Birdwatching   Ecotourism  
Season: August
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: No
Minimum Per Person Price: 1875 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 2150 US Dollar (USD)

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Our representatives will meet your flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and you will transfer to a comfortable hotel. Night: Tucson Area

Day 2: We will arise early and travel south across the valley to the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. While in the Tucson area, we will be looking for Harris’s Hawk. As we travel south across the great valley between Tucson and the Santa Rita Mountains, we will scan for White-tailed Kite. Our first destination will be Florida Canyon wash. This brushy habitat can often produce a fine assortment of desert and foothill species, including Northern Cardinal, Gambel’s Quail, Bell’s Vireo, Canyon Towhee and Ash-throated Flycatcher. The red-flowering ocotillo on the slopes can produce Black-chinned Hummingbird as well as Costa’s Hummingbird. At the top of a mesquite tree, we should see the stunning Phainopepla. We may see a Golden Eagle high over these slopes or a Zone-tailed Hawk mingling with a kettle of Turkey Vultures. Lower Madera Canyon itself is filled with live oaks home to variety of birds, many with Méxican affinities. Along the stream these include Painted Redstart. Farther up the stream we should see Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Farther into the canyon we will stop at some busy hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds seen include Anna’s, Broad-tailed, Magnificent and possibly, a Blue-throated Hummingbird. After a boxed lunch, we will move higher in the canyon where we may find Black-headed Grosbeak and Mexican Jay, Western Tanager, Hepatic Tanager. Higher still, we will be looking for one of the signature species Red-faced Warbler. Night: Sierra Vista

Day 3: This morning we will venture into a storied canyon in search of one of Arizona’s birding treasures, the Elegant Trogon. After checking in at the main gate of Fort Huachuca, we will ascend through the grasslands and enter Garden Canyon. We will scan the expanse of grasslands and listen for singing Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows. As we enter the canyon proper, we will be looking for the shy and elusive Montezuma Quail, which is sometimes seen along the roadside. Here we will hope to find some of the typical birds of Arizona’s "Méxican" mountains, including Bridled Titmouse, Grace’s Warbler, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Elegant Trogon. On the ground there may be a Yellow-eyed Junco. Farther up Garden Canyon the trail branches and a spur will take us into Scheelite Canyon. This canyon is famous for its small population of Spotted Owl. A little farther up we will come to the trail into Sawmill Canyon, where we can find Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee and Olive Warbler.

Later in the day we can emerge to visit some lower elevation sites such as the Holy Trinity Monastery at St. David. The trees and brush in this location have produced species such as Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Summer Tanager and Yellow-breasted Chat. Night: Sierra Vista.

Day 4: We will need another early start this morning for our visit to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. We will stroll beneath some immense Fremont cottonwood trees that shade shallow pools. If we are early enough, we may see a Lucy’s Warbler or a Lazuli Bunting come down to drink. This is a good location to see the diminutive Green Kingfisher. After lunch we head back to the Huachuca Mountains and Miller Canyon where we can visit the productive hummingbird feeding stations at Beatty’s Guest Ranch. At this season there may be several hundred hummingbirds of a half-dozen species visiting the feeders there. This could be our best chance to see a rare species such as a Lucifer, White-eared or Berylline Hummingbird and our opportunity for close encounters with more common species such as Broad-tailed, Black-chinned and Anna’s Hummingbird is almost guaranteed. Occasionally, other birds raid the sugar water feeders, and Black-headed Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch and Lesser Goldfinch visit the seed feeders.

Miller Canyon itself has had its share of rarities over years, including Short-tailed Hawk, Eared Quetzal, Aztec Thrush, and Flame-colored Tanager. If time permits we may also visit Ramsey Canyon on the way back to Sierra Vista. Night: Sierra Vista

Day 5: Today we will explore rugged Carr Canyon and it’s many birdy habitats. Late summer wildflowers, especially Penstemon and Gila, can draw scores of migrating Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds. In the pines we may find Pygmy Nuthatch and enjoy its charming behaviors. Northern Goshawk has nested in this canyon. Hermit Thrush, Red-faced Warbler, Mountain Chickadee and Buff-breasted Flycatcher are also found here and it would be a surprise if a Common Raven or a Steller’s Jay didn’t announce our presence. After dinner, we will make a special trip back to Carr Canyon for an evening of owling including Whiskered Screech-Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Spotted Owl, Flammulated Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Northern Pygmy-Owl. Night: Sierra Vista

Day 6: This morning will require an early start, for we must pull up stakes and hit the trail to go eastward! We will first visit the ponds and marshes of the Willcox Playa to look for early shorebirds. American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt breed in this area, but as we will be here at the beginning of shorebird migration, we can expect Least and Western Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Long-billed Dowitcher, and with a little luck, a Black Tern. As we leave Willcox we will be looking for the White-necked Ravens that relish these plains and for the superb Scaled Quail, which might be calling from a fencepost. We will be gaining elevation as we travel southeast toward the fabled Chiricahua Mountains, through grasslands that may produce Swainson’s Hawk. No other range has as much history or has attracted as many Méxican vagrants as have the Chiricahuas. Our first stop will be in Pinery Canyon. Here a mixed feeding flock may contain Painted Redstart, Hutton’s Vireo, and Black-throated Grey Warbler.

Higher on the mountain we will come to Onion Saddle and Rustler Park where we should find a very special Parid, the Méxican Chickadee. Only one other range in the United States, the Animas Mountains of New Mexico, hosts this species, although it is common on the highest peaks of northern México. In the high elevation "parks" or meadows surrounded by ponderosa pines, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir, we might find a flock of Wild Turkey, and there should also be Violet Green Swallow, House Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Red-faced Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Olive Warbler. These high forests can also yield Red Crossbill when conditions are favorable.

We will descend into Cave Creek Canyon, passing starkly beautiful rhyolite cliffs that betray the volcanic origins of the Chiricahuas. Prairie Falcons often nest high on the cliffs and we will be listening for their piercing calls. It is even more likely that we will see several of the striking and very large White-throated Swifts in the air over the cliffs. And, this is a good place to see a small flock of Band-tailed Pigeon as it barrels downslope at astonishing speed. A quick detour along the Paradise road may turn up Grey Vireo, Juniper Titmouse or a Western Scrub-Jay or two. We will stop briefly at the Southwestern Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History. Here the feeding station usually attracts such birds as Scott’s Oriole and Yellow-eyed Junco. Often there are many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds as well.

After settling into our accommodations we will check the hummingbird feeders and have an early dinner. There should be Blue-throated, Magnificent, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and perhaps an early migrating Calliope Hummingbird as well. As sunset approaches we will drive out beyond the mouth of the canyon to look—and listen—for nightjars such as Poorwill and Lesser Nighthawk. We will also be listening for the very rare Buff-collared Nightjar. Then, we will venture into Cave Creek Canyon. Owling can be especially productive here, and the chances of seeing an interesting mammal such as a ringtail or even a bobcat are very good after darkness envelops the canyon. Western Screech-Owls and Whiskered Screech Owls nest on the canyon slopes and tiny Elf Owls nest among the sycamore trees in the canyon bottom. Night: Portal

Day 7: Our destination this morning will be the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon which we saw briefly as we arrived the day before. This canyon is one of the finest birding locations in the United States, and has attracted scores of rare birds over the years, including Eared Quetzal and Fan-tailed Warbler from México, Kentucky Warbler, and most of the other Eastern wood-warblers. The permanent stream, white-barked Arizona sycamores, and huge boulders set the scene for viewing the aptly named Elegant Trogon which is found nesting throughout the canyon. Among the other birds common in this canyon are Bewick’s Wren and, fittingly, Canyon Wren whose lovely song echoes splendidly through the scene. Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, and Hepatic Tanager also nest here. We may also see an Apache squirrel (known only from the Chiricahuas).

Late in the afternoon we will make our way back to Sierra Vista. There is more than one route, all of them scenic, so we will let the weather, the birds, and the time help to make the determination. Every summer there are reports of extralimital birds, and we may have time to go in search of one or more of these. Night: Sierra Vista

Day 8: This morning we will get on the road early to visit Patagonia and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary. On the way we will drive through miles of impressive grasslands near the town of Sonoita. We should see Western Kingbird on the wire. A little farther and we will come to the town of Patagonia where we will ford Sonoita Creek and enter the sanctuary. Several stops along the trail can have a glowing Vermilion Flycatcher and Black Phoebe is common near the stream. There is always something special at this preserve: the vagrant Yellow-throated Warbler or the young Great Horned Owls clinging to a low branch over the trail come to mind. Green Kingfisher has nested here and Méxican rarities make fairly frequent appearances. Grey Hawks breed in the cottonwoods, as have Common Black Hawks.

This is an area where we might find Common Ground-Dove and there is always the chance for a Ruddy Ground-Dove from Latin America. We may also see a mammal from Latin America, the javelina, or collared peccary. After a walk in this exceptional preserve, it will be time to visit the Paton residence. The backyard of this private home near the sanctuary is open to birders and often provides our only chance to see a true gem among gems: the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. You will be dazzled when sunlight strikes the clean white and rich purple of the male. This species even has a bright red-orange bill for a color accent! We will eat our box lunch at the famous roadside rest area on the main highway. The immense trees between the parking lot and the highway always have interesting birds. Here, or in some years across the roadway, has nested another truly Neotropical species, the Rose-throated Becard. Other birds commonly found in this area include Varied Bunting, Cassin’s Kingbird, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, all of which we will make an effort to see. Not surprisingly, the habitat here is typical of northern México.

If there is time, we will travel south toward Nogales and stop at Kino Springs, a resort that features some attractive and birdy ponds. Here we can expect to find Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Varied Bunting, and Black Vulture. Kino Springs has turned up many surprises over the years, so we just might get lucky! Night: Sierra Vista

Day 9: Today we will leave this enchanting land, slowly making our way back toward the big cities of Arizona, stopping to revisit favorite sites or search for nemesis birds. We may explore a different way back to see unusual scenery or we may return to Tucson quickly so that everyone can relax by the pool. The leader will listen to the troops. Night: Tucson area

Day 10: For our last morning of birding we will explore the mountains and canyons near town, eventually travelling to the ski area at the top of 9,150-foot Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains where we will have lunch. We will then work our way down the mountain before returning to Phoenix for our farewell dinner. Night: Phoenix Area

Day 11: Departure Flight, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, Arizona. Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona—a Four-Day Extension Day 1a: For those departing we will take you to the airport and bid you bon voyage. For the rest, we will take the road north toward Arizona’s most famous natural feature, the Grand Canyon. This journey will take us through a stunning diversity of landforms and habitats, with a corresponding change in avifauna, and will require most of the day (oh, but what a day!). Soon after leaving the Phoenix area we will be nearing the northern fringe of the Sonoran Desert. As we rise in elevation we will transition to a broken grassland and pinion/juniper habitat until we descend into the Verde Valley. Beyond the Verde Valley we will ascend the long grade toward the ponderosa pines of Flagstaff, where we will see Arizona’s highest point, the 12,600-foot San Francisco Peaks. In Flagstaff we will have lunch in the cool air and then leave the pines and cool air to descend into the high elevation Great Basin Desert. We may see a herd of pronghorn antelope where the mountains meet the desert. This is the land of the Hopi and the Navajo, Native Americans whose people have inhabited this starkly beautiful region for thousands of years.

Our journey will take us through landscapes of otherworldly breadth and color. We will see the Painted Desert and the Echo Cliffs. At the turnoff for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon we will go straight. (The great majority of tourists visit the South Rim.) We will drive the spur road into Marble Canyon to its end at historic Lee’s Ferry. We will travel beneath the 3,000-foot Vermilion Cliffs, backdrop for many a Hollywood movie. Then we will stop in House Rock Valley, and, with luck, we will see an Endangered California Condor soaring overhead. Now we will make the steep climb to the north side of the Kaibab Plateau. Where we find good stands of pinyon pines we will stop in hopes of seeing (and hearing) a Pinyon Jay. Near the top, we will reach the pines again and turn south at Jacob Lake toward the North Rim.

As we drive south we will be in Kaibab National Forest, home to large herds of deer and Rocky Mountain elk. A Common Raven might fly in front of us, pursued by a Steller’s Jay or two. If we stop for a look we may also see a Northern Flicker fly up from the ground to a pine holding a singing Chipping Sparrow. Another clump of pines should have a Western Tanager singing from its boughs, and there could be a Virginia’s Warbler lurking in the scrubby undergrowth. When we are nearing the entrance to the national park we will see large, open parks rimmed with dark Engelmann spruce, Douglas fir, and subalpine fir—much as we saw as tiny groves in the Chiricahuas! Here, however, there are great expanses of these trees, broken only by wide grasslands of short-grass prairie. We will also see stands of quaking aspen with their clean white trunks. It will be only fitting when we see the first Mountain Bluebird matching the brilliant blue sky above.

We will park and walk to the balcony of the lodge for our first view of the Grand Canyon. White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows may dart within inches of us as we stare into the vast and colorful abyss. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to see one of the Peregrine Falcons that breed in the canyon, as they are known to prey primarily on these swifts! Our arrival late in the afternoon should allow time for us to explore some of the easily accessible viewpoints after checking into our nearby cabins. This is also the next best time for photography (after sunrise). Night: Grand Canyon, North Rim

Day 12: It may be fruitful and even spiritually rewarding to see the sunrise on the Grand Canyon. After an early breakfast we will assemble for an introduction to the birds of the Kaibab Plateau. Our hike this morning on the Uncle Jim Trail will take us to several habitats that should yield some special birds. Here, or in the vicinity, we should see a marvelous Corvid, Clark’s Nutcracker. This striking and noisy bird feeds on pine nuts and has an amazing memory. One carefully studied bird was found to accurately remember the locations of over 1,000 nuts it had buried! Where we find spruces and aspens we are likely to find a whole suite of interesting species, such as Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Warbling Vireo, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. We will pack our lunches and eat them where we can enjoy a view of the canyon. Clusters of scarlet penstemons can attract a breeding Broad-tailed Hummingbird or even a migrating Rufous Hummingbird. Perhaps there will be some at our lunch spot!

After we return to the cabins for a siesta, a trip back into Kaibab National Forest is in order. We will scout some of the logging roads for Lewis’ Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, both of which nest here in small numbers. This will also be a good opportunity to see a herd of elk if we haven’t seen them already. The enormity of the bulls is impressive. Also impressive at this season are the thunderstorms that pummel the canyon. We will hope to experience one with a good lightning show! Night: Grand Canyon, North Rim

Day 13: Today we will review our options and desires in this unrivaled environment. Some will want to relax in their cabins or read a book on a bench overlooking the spectacular canyon. Others may wish to explore more trails, such as the Cliff Springs Trail, where we can visit a granary of the Anazazi, or Ancient Ones. We might also walk the Transept Trail along the North Rim. Or, we may go in search of Blue Grouse or the Wild Turkey that abound in the park. Over dinner in the lodge, we can recount our experiences with a view of the magnificent Grand Canyon. Afterwards, we may chance to see a Common Nighthawk working the night sky as the light fades. Night: Grand Canyon, North Rim

Day 14: This morning we will leave this special place and make the long drive back to Phoenix. Along the way, we will take the opportunity to stop at Navajo Bridge over Marble Canyon and gaze into the Colorado River 500 feet below. There may be other stops, to find a Sage Sparrow in the desert scrub. After checking into our hotel we will have a last dinner as a group. Night: Phoenix Area

Day 15: We will pick you up at your hotel and transfer you to your terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport.

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

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