Southeast Arizona Birding and Nature Tour / Grand Canyon Extension
Nature and Birding Tours with Naturalist Journeys
4-11, 2013, with optional Grand Canyon extension May 11-15
East of Tucson, a hidden side of Arizona stretches across a vast area containing some of the most interesting landscapes of the American Southwest. Here the Chiricahua, Huachuca, Peloncillo mountains rise from colorful deserts and grasslands. Dramatically, they portray a classic Southwestern landscape full of rock spires, distant views and rugged canyons. Each mountain range has its own geologic story, and hosts a rich variety of plants and animals.
Southeast Arizona presents an amazing biological mixing ground, where the plants and animals from Mexico meet species of Rocky Mountain origin, and species of the western deserts mingle with those that inhabit the Great Plains. Over three hundred species of birds have been recorded in the region including Harris’ Hawks, Montezuma Quails, Elegant Trogons, Red-faced Warblers, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers and others. The emphasis of our trip will be on finding the bird and mammal specialties of the region with a compliment of natural history, geology, and hiking in this beautiful country.
This is home territory for Naturalist Journeys and we look forward to sharing our expertise – from nature and landscapes to finding those fun and memorable places to dine!
Sat., May 4 Arrival in Tucson / Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Arrive in Tucson today, a delightful city surrounded by mountain ranges that rise from the Sonoran Desert floor. Please plan to arrive by 1:30 p.m. so we may visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Be prepared with cameras and binoculars as we should see wild species as well as those in exhibits. Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrashers, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Black-throated Sparrows, White-winged Doves, Hooded Orioles and other species frequent the grounds between exhibit buildings. With luck we may find a specialty of the Sonoran Desert, the Gilded Flicker and one of our smaller hummingbirds, the Costa’s.
The Desert Museum’s exhibits meticulously recreate native habitats, providing wonderful, close-up views of many desert animals that are normally hard to spot. The museum grounds display the habitats we encounter as we change elevation in Arizona’s “Sky Islands” mountain ranges, so it’s a great introduction for our journey! A walk through the bird aviary gives you a look at the species we may see in the wild. A visit to the hummingbird gallery, with birds flying all around, is memorable. Tonight we stay about an hour’s drive south of Tucson in Amado at a delightful hotel where we settle in, enjoy a welcome dinner and an overview of the week ahead.
Accommodations at the Amado Territory Inn, Amado, AZ (D)
Sun., May 5 Madera Canyon / Patagonia
After an early breakfast at our hotel, we enjoy a morning walk through several dry desert washes that fan out at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains. Early morning is a magical time for spotting wildlife in these extensive grasslands. We listen and look for Botteri’s, Rufous-winged, and Rufous-collared Sparrows, as well as other specialties of the area.
After scouting the open terrain, we then walk through the bird-rich areas of Middle and Upper Madera Canyon. We follow trails along the creek beneath white-barked sycamore trees, where a pair of Cooper’s Hawks is likely nesting. Flame-colored Tanagers have been seen for a number of years here – a colorful highlight! Acorn Woodpeckers call from their food-storage trees and even visit local feeders to join the array of hummingbirds. In the lush Madrean-oak woodlands, Painted Redstarts appear almost tame; we may also see Common Bushtits and Hutton’s Vireos. At local feeders, we are likely to find Black-headed Grosbeaks, Scott’s and Hooded Orioles, and Mexican Jays.
From Madera, we take a back road through an historic mining area of the Santa Rita Mountains, emerging into extensive grasslands dotted with wide-spreading oaks, a landscape reminiscent of California wine country. Here we may find Cassin’s Kingbirds, Chihuahuan Ravens and late-wintering larks or sparrows. Just a short ways down the road we find riparian vegetation of Sonoita Creek, and this corridor leads us into the hamlet of Patagonia, where we settle into accommodations and enjoy a special dinner.
Accommodations at Patagonia, AZ (B,L,D)
Mon., May 6 Patagonia Lake / Roadside Rest / Local Highlights
Patagonia is the site of one of the Nature Conservancy’s very first preserves. Mature cottonwood trees tower above Sonoita Creek here, providing shade and nest sites for Gray Hawks and myriad other species. We drive a back road along the preserve boundary, and then continue southwest towards Patagonia Lake where Northern Beardless Tyrannulets can often be found in the desert scrub vegetation around the lake. In recent years a pair of nesting Black-capped Gnatcatchers has been very faithful at this location and we can hope they set up shop again.
Several other areas in and around Patagonia warrant a visit, most notably the Roadside Rest, known for Thick-billed Kingbirds, Black Vultures, Canyon Wrens and possible Rose-throated Becards. At the ponds of the Kino Springs Golf Course, we hope to see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Cinnamon Teal and possibly Tropical Kingbirds.
We return to Patagonia for lunch, afterwards is the perfect time to grab a chair as we visit some local feeders known to attract Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, migrant Lazuli Buntings, Black-headed Grosbeaks and Inca Doves. Here, we may find Yellow-breasted Chats, Verdins, and have another chance to find Zone-tailed Hawks.
Enjoy some free time to check out the galleries of this arty town, or enjoy a rest. In the city park Bronzed Cowbirds frequent the lawns and locals have planted a wonderful butterfly garden. Late afternoon we enjoy birding around our lodge, and a chance to drive out the Harshaw Road for more sightings.
Accommodations in Patagonia, AZ (B,L,D)
Tues., May 7 Willcox / Chiricahua National Monument / Portal
We offer optional early morning birding before we head on to Portal and the Chiricahua Mountains after breakfast. Our first stop is at Willcox, where we have lunch and check out the local Twin Lakes Golf Course ponds which may be teaming with migrant shorebirds and other species. American Avocets, White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Western and Eared grebes and various small sandpipers are often present.
We then head across extensive grasslands, under the shadow of the Dos Cabezas Mountains, watching for raptors and Lark Buntings en route to the rock wonderland of the Chiricahua National Monument. In this area of spectacular rock pillars, formed by volcanic activity and erosion, famous Apache leaders Cochise and Geronimo and their followers once hid from American troops. Today, Zone-tailed Hawks and Peregrine Falcons patrol the rugged rock landscape. Enjoy a picnic lunch while we discuss the geological processes that formed the park. We walk the trails between the rock formations, looking for Rock and Canyon Wrens, Painted Redstarts, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Red-faced Warblers, and Mexican Jays. With luck, we may spot an inquisitive Coatimundi, a relative of the raccoon. Claret-cup Cacti and Yucca should be in bloom.
Then it’s up and over the mountain, witnessing the epic drama of the fires that roared through the Chiricahuas in May and June of 2011. We find remaining pockets of conifer forest to hunt for Mexican Chickadee, a specialty of the Chiricahuas. We also look for Red-faced and Olive warblers as well as Greater Pewee. There is a lot to learn from this large-scaled fire, and we still retain spectacular views. We expand the geologic story we began in the Monument as we descend to Cave Creek Canyon, one of the most biologically diverse places in the U.S. Here the ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madre, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Sonoran Desert intricately combine. Dinner is at the Portal Peaks Lodge tonight.
Accommodations in Portal, AZ (B,L)
Wed., May 8 Cave Creek Canyon / Local Feeders / Grassland Specialties
Enjoy dawn in a magical realm. Bird calls echo through the canyons. Dusky-capped and Brown-crested Flycatchers nest in the area, as do a host of interesting warblers such as Grace’s, Virginia’s and Red-faced. Scrub Jays quickly make their presence known in the lower grassland reaches, while Mexican Jays hold forth amid the oaks.
Cave Creek Canyon is a maze of volcanic rock pinnacles with crenellated walls of orange tuff on which yuccas stand above bracken ferns and Douglas Firs entwine with Arizona Sycamores. Several pairs of Elegant Trogons have nested here for many years, and their ecological story is closely tied to neighboring Mexico and the Sierra Madres. While walking the cool and shaded paths of the canyons, we’re also likely to see Painted Redstarts, Cordilleran Flycatchers, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, just to name a few highlight species!
Portal is a birder’s Mecca, and this afternoon we walk the streets of this picturesque village, searching out tanagers, orioles and other species that use the verdant oasis. We also stop at two local feeders that can be very productive.
Tonight we are invited as guests to for wine and cheese reception and catered dinner at a local residence, indulging in fabulous views of the Chiricahua as well as local cuisine. Those that wish can enjoy an evening of looking for local owls and night birds, notablyElf and Whiskered Screech Owls.
Accommodations in Portal, AZ (B,L,D)
Thurs. May 9 Willow Tank / Whitewater Draw / Bisbee / San Pedro
Fueled with breakfast, we pack up and head out for a full day. Our first stop is Willow Tank, a small pond near Rodeo, New Mexico that can draw in some fascinating species, along with its resident pair of Vermilion Flycatchers. We then head to a larger wetland area at Whitewater Draw, a winter haven for Sandhill Cranes and in May a good place to check for shorebirds, waders and migrants.
Enjoy lunch and a bit of shopping time in the historic mining town of Bisbee. Once the largest city in Arizona, Bisbee retains many of its brick buildings built at the turn of the century. Take some time to enjoy its charm, visit the excellent, Smithsonian-affiliated mining museum, or shop its boutique stores.
We then visit San Pedro House, an interpretive center with trails along the San Pedro River. Green Kingfishers are present in some years, and we often find Abert’s Towhees, Summer Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks and Gray Hawks.
Then it’s on to our delightful lodgings at the Casa de San Pedro. This beautiful hacienda-style bed and breakfast Inn is one of our favorites and the Vermilion Flycatcher is their mascot. We know you’ll savor your time there and certainly enjoy the hospitality of Karl Schmitt and Patrick Dome, owners extraordinaire. Dinner is catered at the Inn tonight.
Accommodations at Casa de San Pedro (B,D)
Fri., May 10 Huachuca Mountains: Carr & Ramsey Canyons
After a delicious (some say outrageous!) breakfast at Casa de San Pedro, we head out to Carr Canyon, driving switchbacks up a mountain road to head the rich chorus of birdsong in the high pine forest. Here we may find Greater Pewees, Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Olive & Grace’s Warblers, and – with luck – a Northern Goshawk.
Beautiful Ponderosa Pines dominate our trail, which is punctuated by exhibits about the silver mines run here over 100 years ago on a geologically dramatic cliff known as “The Reef.”
Descending Carr Canyon, we continue on to feeders at one of the neighboring canyons, a delightful spot where (from comfortable chairs) we hope to observe many of Arizona’s hummingbirds: Blue-throated, Magnificent, Anna’s, Black-chinned, and possibly migrant Rufous. In some years White-eared Hummingbirds can be present as well. Acorn and Strickland’s Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, and White-winged Doves are also seen in this vicinity, and in some years a very tolerant pair of Mexican Spotted Owls may be encountered roosting in shaded areas up the canyon.
After lunch, we visit the Nature Conservancy Preserve at Ramsey Canyon. In the foothills of the mountains a beautiful clear stream descends through oak woodlands, its banks lined with massive Arizona Sycamores. These sycamores are favored nesting trees of Elegant Trogons. We also hope to see Coatimundis, Wild Turkeys, Strickland’s Woodpeckers, Golden Eagles, Black-throated Gray and other warblers, and a variety of colorful hummingbirds at close range. Walk the trails, or park yourself under a tall, bending sycamore to wait for the birds to come to you! Butterflies occur here in abundance, as do a number of rare plants, reptiles, and amphibians. Tonight dinner is catered at the Casa.
Accommodations at Casa de San Pedro, Hereford (B,L,D)
Sat., May 11 Fort Huachuca: Garden Canyon / Tucson and Departures
This morning we enjoy another wonderful breakfast, pack up our gear, and en route to the airport in Tucson, stop at Fort Huachuca’s Garden Canyon, home to Elegant Trogons, Black-throated Gray Warblers, Hepatic Tanagers, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and Dusky-capped Flycatchers. This is easy birding in a picnic area and lightly traveled road along a sycamore-lined creek. Here we look for Strickland’s Woodpeckers, Plumbeous Vireos, and other species – focusing on any that we may have missed. Often we find arriving Buff-breasted Flycatchers, a bird found in very few locations in Arizona. We bird as time allows, leaving the area at 10:30AM.
We plan to arrive in Tucson by NOON for flights out after 1:00 PM. If you wish to stay on at your leisure, Tucson has a lot to offer and we can make suggestions. (B)
Grand Canyon & Sedona Extension
May 11-15, 2013
Sat., May 11 Tucson / Flagstaff
We have a drive today, but few seem to mind and we pass through a fascinating progression of life zones, a term coined by the early naturalist C. Hart Merriam to describe bands of vegetation that form in response to climate and elevation in the southwestern mountains. After dropping those departing at the airport in Tucson, we drive through Phoenix with its saguaro-clad landscape, and soon start to climb. Making a few stops en route for scenery and birding, we reach Flagstaff in the afternoon, a small city situated at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. We should get there in time to stop at the Museum of Northern Arizona, where we visit their excellent shop of Native American jewelry, arts and crafts as well as exhibits, and in the lush pines adjacent pick up some of our first Ponderosa Pine habitat birds.
Settle into your accommodations, and enjoy dinner at a favorite local restaurant.
Accommodations in Flagstaff (D)
Sun., May 12 Flagstaff / Grand Canyon National Park
Leaving Flagstaff, we stop at the local ski area just outside the city, where we have a chance to pick up species of the mixed conifer forests, such as Clark’s Nutcrackers and Golden-crowned Kinglets. We spend the morning birding, have a picnic lunch, and reach Grand Canyon by early afternoon. The Canyon is approximately 10 miles wide, and over a mile deep. It records a fantastic geologic history in its vivid panorama. Weathering and erosion have created fantastic buttes and mesas within the canyon, and water and wind have sculptured the canyon walls.
We have the rest of the day to explore Grand Canyon and as we’ve been in the car, we stretch our legs and enjoy it from trails adjacent to our lodge. Spectacular scenery lies close at hand, but for those watching out for birds, along the rim we should find Black-throated Gray Warblers, Common Ravens, Juniper Titmice, Western Scrub Jays and other species. Mule Deer are quite common here and they like to feed on shrubs at the canyon’s rim. You will have plenty of time for photography, wandering and taking in this famous World Heritage site.
We spend the late-afternoon watching light dance on the marvelous layers, monoliths and vastness that can only be seen at Grand Canyon. If we are lucky California Condors will fly overhead en route to their roosts. The trail we walk in search of condors is also a great introduction to the region’s geologic history. Watch sunset, a time-honored tradition here, before dinner.
Accommodations at Grand Canyon National Park (B,L,D)
Mon., May 13 Grand Canyon National Park
This morning enjoy the beauty of sunrise if you wish, and a short walk ahead of breakfast at the park’s lovely El Tovar lodge. Jaunty Juniper Titmice may be calling, and Common Ravens seem always ready to put on a flight show.
After breakfast, we board the park’s excellent tram system, and visit the numerous excellent vistas available by tram and walking. The rock layers are stunning and distinct, and tell a vibrant story of Earth’s history. Those that wish to hike down into the canyon can do soon their own, on well-maintained trails from one of several viewpoints. There is much to see and it is easy to pace yourself with transport on the trams system. Some may wish to book a helicopter ride over the canyon; an option (additional cost) that leaves from the nearby town. Your guide can help you coordinate this, and provide transportation.
Dinner tonight is at your leisure; there are several dining options, from casual and quick to fine dining.
Accommodations at Grand Canyon National Park (B,L)
Tues. May 14 Sedona / Red Rock State Park / Page Springs Fish Hatchery
We leave Grand Canyon this morning, headed for Sedona, another red-rock area, one often featured in movies, television ads and more recently, catalogs advertising spiritual quests among Sedona’s vortices. Sedona is a magical place for nature and birding, as is Oak Creek Canyon by which we approach. We descend from the pines through lush oaks and a very diverse forest that lines the canyon floor. Western Bluebirds, Pinyon Jays, Red-naped Sapsuckers and Common Flickers like to feed here and Cedar Waxwings may be checking for ripe berries on native shrubs that line the stream. We stop at several viewpoints as the fantastic rock features of Sedona appear at the mouth of the canyon.
After lunch in town, we explore Red Rock State Park, which holds some of best vistas of the area as well as excellent birding. We also visit Page Springs Fish Hatchery, one of the best birding spots in the region. Tonight we have a final dinner at one of Sedona’s many fine restaurants.
Accommodations in Sedona (B,L,D)
Wed., May 15 Sedona / Departure
We leave red rock country this morning, winding our way back through saguaros and desert vegetation. We plan on arriving back at the Phoenix airport by 10AM for flights out after 11AM. If anyone prefers to return to Tucson, they may certainly accompany the guide who will be returning our van to that location, and we should reach that airport by 12:30PM. (B)
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COST OF THE JOURNEY
The cost of the main tour is $1995.00 from Tucson, Arizona. This cost is based on double occupancy and includes all accommodations; most meals as specified in the itinerary, group airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, Coronado National Forest and National Park and Wildlife Refuge permit fees and miscellaneous program expenses. The cost is based on a minimum number of 6 participants, with fewer a small group surcharge (typically $100-$300) may apply. The cost does not include transportation to or from your home to Tucson, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, porterage, maid gratuities or beverages from the bar. Single supplement (as available) is $495.00.
The cost of the extension is $1295.00 per person, based on double occupancy. This cost includes accommodations for 4 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, and D=dinner), airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. The cost does not include transportation to or from your home city to Tucson or Phoenix, or items of a personal nature such as porterage, laundry, telephone calls, or beverages from the bar. Single supplement (as available) is $375.00. With fewer than 6 participants, a small-group surcharge (typically $100-200 per participant) may apply, or we may request that you pick up the cost of a few additional dinners in lieu of this surcharge.
A good number of airlines service Tucson. Please plan to arrive in Tucson no later than 1:30 PM on Saturday, May 4th and plan to depart after 1:00 PM on Saturday, May 11. If you wish to arrive early or stay on later in Tucson, we are happy to suggest arrangements.
For extension: this is an extension from Naturalist Journey’s Southeast Arizona tour, and that airport is Tucson, Arizona. If booked separately, please arrive at the Tucson airport no later than NOON on May 11, 2012. We return to the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport at 10AM on May 15 for flights out after 11:00AM, and continue on to the Tucson airport, arriving there by 12:30PM.
Cactus Wren and Acorn Woodpecker, Tony Beck - www3.sympatico.ca/beck.tony/;
Gambel's Quail, Lynn Feryus; Elegant Trogon, Tom Dove; Casa de San Pedro; Broad-billed Hummingbird, Evelyn Earlougher; Spotted Owl and White-eared Hummingbird, Greg Smith; Yucca in bloom with birds, Pat Owens; Lucifer Hummingbird, Bob Behrstock - www.naturewideimages.com; all other photos by Peg Abbott.
Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.