Our friends thought we were crazy to head to Southeast Arizona in July! I had a few concerns myself, but off we went. Turns out, the weather in the canyons and higher elevations was lovely — mid 70s most of the days. Perfect to search out birds.
The first day started well with a sighting of a Roadrunner in the driveway of our hotel! We headed out to Marana, AZ. We drove north to a Burrowing Owl rescue/refuge called Wild at Heart. We spent several hours watching these adorable owls sitting by their burrows with the babies peeking out along the edges. Wild at Heart rescues Burrowing Owls and relocates owls who are living in construction areas or other inconvenient (to people) places. These volunteers dig burrows for the owls to use when breeding and generally look after their welfare.
We also had a chance to practice our avian drawing with the help of ABA’s artist Christina Baal. Though initially skeptical of this artistic endeavor, we all sat in the field and drew the owls. It was really a lot of fun!
We drove on to Cienegas National Conservation Area. Saw Cassin’s Kingbirds, Abert’s Towhee, Yellow-breasted Chat, Gila Woodpecker, Say’s Phoebe, and many more.
Day two took us to Box Canyon, Madera Canyon and Patagonia. On the road at 5:30 am with yogurt, fruit and juice for breakfast. Our target bird was a Five-Striped Sparrow, which we found right away. My personal favorite was the Varied Bunting, which looks like a slightly unripe blackberry. We found a gorgeous Elegant Trogon and a female Trogon feeding a caterpillar to a juvenile!
On our way down the trail we came across a Whiskered Screech-Owl being mobbed by Painted Redstarts and Bridled Titmice. It appeared to be thoroughly unmoved by their racket. As if the day could get any better, we saw a male and female Montezuma Quail in the grassy ditch at our rest stop.
On our way to the Tucson Audubon Sanctuary, we stopped by the side of the road to look at a Peregrine Falcon perched on high rocks close to a huge Black Vulture. A gray fox passed close by. At the sanctuary we saw two Violet Crowned hummingbirds, a male and female Gambel’s quail and Broad-billed hummers.
July 27…On to Ash Canyon. We watched many hummingbirds at feeders in Ash Canyon (Black-chinned, Rivoli’s, Broad-billed, Anna’s) and then drove on to Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains, and to Cave Creek Ranch. What a lovely place. Feeders and birds everywhere. Beautiful Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren, Acorn Woodpecker. Christina offered us a chance to paint a bird of our choice. Amazingly, we all tried it. Great fun! And great pictures!
The next day found us at 7,000+ feet altitude in Rustler Park. I wore my raincoat since it was the only jacket I had brought. Nippy! We got good looks at Hepatic Tanager, Yellow-eyed Junco, Steller’s Jay, Pygmy Nuthatches, and more.
Finally, We walked the Cave Creek Trail, stopped at the Chiricahua Desert Museum and found two Harris’ Hawks (cooperative hunters) at a pit stop on our way back to Tucson.
Our group was also quite interested in other wildlife beyond birds. We saw many mule deer, two gray fox, some leopard frogs, a bark scorpion, some black-tailed prairiedogs, a black-tailed rattlesnake, a coral snake, a desert king snake (these snakes were being transported to a better habitat away from people), a coatimundi, javalinas, desert tortoise, red squirrels, Mexican fox squirrel, Arizona sister butterfly, a tarantulahawk (sitting on a wall behind my chair!). I am sure I am missing some.
The birds were marvelous. The views gorgeous. Our group was smart, knowledgeable and fun. Jake Thompson — our 26-year-old guide — was fantastic. He never stopped looking for new birds. Our fearless leader Katinka was great — even tempered, smart, organized, patient, a great birder. Christina Baal managed to get all of us older skeptical adults to draw and paint and understand how this might help each of us to see our birds better. It was a great trip!
—Lorna Hochstein, Bird of the Year tour to Southeast Arizona, 24-30 July 2022