antbird tours_tm_edited.png

Spotlight: Arizona

When Antbird Tours announced a new trip offering to Southeastern Arizona, the excursion sold out in 2-hours. For good reason! The region south of Tucson, AZ is considered by many to be the best spot for birding in the United States. Each season brings with it the potential to see many exciting species, from southern rarities to passage migrants. So, if the trip is sold out, why are we highlighting it?

We are pleased to announce that we will be offering a second trip to Arizona from December 5 - 10, 2021.

Considered by many to be the most exciting time of year to go birding in the southwestern U.S., the trip will offer the chance to encounter year-round avian species of the desert biome as well as a multitude of rarities. Each year, the southern Arizona Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) detect unusual and exciting species and now is your chance to get in on the action. In the era of Covid, a trip to southern Arizona offers a chance to travel without stress, bird in wide open and breathtaking places, and see species normally detected only on an international trip. For many, a visit to this region of the country ignites a passion that results in multiple trips back. Read on for the day-by-day itinerary for this exciting trip:

Day 1: Arrival and the Lower Madera Canyon

Our flight into Tucson arrives in the early afternoon. From here, a quick 30 minute drive south will put us right at the entrance to Madera Canyon, arguably the best place to bird in all of Arizona. Madera Canyon is known for its high-altitude species during the breeding season (the summit of the Santa Rita Mountains sits above 9,000 feet). Species like the Elegant Trogon are a real treat to find. During the month of December, the trogon and other species associated with the mountaintop habitats of forested glades and Ponderosa Pine, are found at lower elevations. Early afternoon will be spent exploring the Florida Wash and Proctor Trail, two locations known to "collect" rarities as well as serve as nonbreeding season haunts for the trogon.


Following an afternoon of birding the lower elevations of the canyon, we will head to our home base for the duration of the trip: The Santa Rita Lodge. The lodge sits smack dab in the middle of the canyon and in the heart of the Coronado National Forest. Once you check in to your room, you may not want to leave the property, as multiple bird feeders are maintained on-site throughout the year and attract dozens of species of hummingbird and desert species. A wildlife observation area offers shaded seating and birders and photographers gather to watch the action throughout the day.

From the lodge, we have the option to head into the higher elevations easily, but after a long day of travel, we will head south to the town of Tubac, where we will replenish our reserves at one of the best Mexican restaurants in the area. After our meal, the birding is not yet complete! Adjacent to the town of Tubac is one of the best birding trails in southern Arizona: the Juan
Bautista de Anza Trail. This 4-mile trail meanders along a riparian zone and hosts one of the highest densities of wintering Vermillion Flycatchers in the United States. Additional species include Phainopepla, Greater Roadrunner, Gila Woodpecker, and Montezuma's and Gambel's Quail.


Day 2: Middle Madera Canyon and Tumacacori

Unlike the summer,  there is no need to rush out early to bird in December. Daytime high temperatures often do not reach above 70 degrees and mornings can feel brisk. Additionally, with the first light, ALL birds immediately set to work finding food. And, what better place to find food-seeking birds than the multitude of bird feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge. Our leisurely morning will be spent sipping coffee and watching birds at the feeders. Possible species include Montezuma Quail, Inca Dove, Western Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Rivoli's, Anna's, Calliope, and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Fox Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Painted Redstart, Mexican Jay, and Williamson's Sapsucker. Why bother getting in the car and driving anywhere??


Following our morning, we will depart and travel just a few hundred meters to the White House Picnic Area, where we will hike the riverbed in search of Rock and Canyon Wrens, Hutton's Vireo, and if we are lucky, Elegant Trogon. A quick jaunt to Bog Springs will increase our chances for Bridled Titmouse, Greater Pewee, Acorn Woodpecker, and the Red-shafted subspecies of the Northern Flicker. Walking will be leisurely and we will take time to marvel at the canyon's natural beauty and abundant wildlife. After a mid-day rest, we will head back to the town of Tubac for lunch and an opportunity to shop among the old town vendors for Mexican and native American wares. From here we will head to the SMALL town of Tumacacori and birdwatch within the boundaries of the historic mission, built in 1691 by Jesuits and now a national historic park with excellent birding opportunities. Loggerhead Shrikes, Verdin, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Abert's Towhee, and Black-throated Gray Warblers are all possibilities.


Day 3: Upper Madera Canyon and Proctor Trail

Today we will spend time investigating the higher elevations of Madera Canyon. Although the top of Mt. Wrightson is not known to be a particularly "birdy" spot in December, the list of potential species warrants a trip. After a morning of birding the Mt. Wrightson picnic area, we will set off on the Hopkin's Trail...a relatively easy trail leading partially up to the summit of the mountain. From here, we will retrace our steps to the "Super Trail" and bird the first 2km, keeping an eye out for quail, Golden Eagles, Arizona Woodpecker, Stellar's Jay, Bushtit, Pygmy Nuthatch, Bewick's Wren, Cassin's Finch, Red Crossbill, and Spotted Towhee.


After a morning on the mountaintop, we will descend to Proctor Trail. Although we visited the trail on the first day, it is always worth a second (or even third) visit. This trail is known to be one of the best rarity "traps" in Arizona. In most years, Olive Warblers and Greater Pewees can be found.

Day 4: Arivaca and Buenos Aires National Park

This morning we will set out early and drive to the famed Buenos Aires National Park...the site of the US Masked Bobwhite re-introduction program. This park is expansive (over 100,000 acres) and provides grassland habitats for bobwhite, multiple raptor species, and even Pronghorn Antelope! En route to the park, we will stop and bird along the riparian areas outside of the town of Arivaca. Here, we may find Long-eared Owl, Green Kingfisher, Say's Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Cinnamon Teal, Cactus Wren, and Clay-colored Sparrow (to name JUST A FEW).


At the Buenos Aires National Park, we will tour the Masked Bobwhite re-introduction program area and then bird the surrounding trails. There are too many potential species to list, but a few highlights include Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Brewer's Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Long-billed Curlew, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, and Pyrrhuloxia. It will be a GREAT day of birding!


Day 5: Sonoita and Patagonia

Our last day of birding will be a memorable one. We will begin the day with a road trip to the Sonoita Creek, right on the US-Mexico border. From here, we will bird within a preserve and potentially find some of the biggest rarities of the trip. Highlights include Elegant Trogon, Hammond's Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Black-chinned Sparrow, Rose-throated Becard (rare), Flammulated Owl, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Costa's Hummingbird.

After our stop in Sonoita, we will walk the trails at Patagonia State Park. This lake is known to host an amazing diversity of wintering waterfowl, including Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redhead, as well as shorebirds such as Virginia Rail and Sora. Crissal and Sage Thrashers can be found along the lake edge and Rufous-backed Robins are regularly detected.


After a morning of mind-boggling birding, we will stop in the town of Patagonia for lunch before heading to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds where stocked hummingbird feeders attract Rivoli's, Anna's, Broad-tailed, Violet-crowned, and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Both Gambel's and Montezuma's Quails are often in attendance as well as Lawrence's Goldfinch, Lark Sparrow, Chihuahuan Raven, and Brewer's Blackbird. The center offers ample shaded seating and we will rest here and let the birds come to us!

To round out the trip, we will drive back to Madera Canyon along one of my favorite roads on earth. The long, gravel drive winds through Box Canyon and offers the chance to see an amazing diversity of birds, including Greater Roadrunner, Phainopepla, Golden Eagle, Brewer's Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Bewick's Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, and White-throated Swift. Although the drive is only about an hour, we will stop frequently to bird.


Trip Details:

Dates: December 5 - 10, 2021

Cost: $3,000 per person (Cost includes airfare, transportation, lodging, and guiding services. Food, drink and gratuities are not included.)

Group size: The trip is limited to 8 participants (excluding guide)