Bird Trek Arizona

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Here’s what we’re planning for Bird Trek Arizona 2020!

This trek explores the mountain islands and desert seas of southeastern Arizona at a time of maximal bird activity, just before the summer heat sets in. After meeting up at the Tucson airport we will set up camp in the saguaros of Tucson Mountain Park, where we will meet the common birds of the Sonoran Desert while enjoying afternoon libations and hors d’oeuvres. The next morning we will comb the desert for Rufous-winged Sparrows and Elf Owl nests while checking off the rest of the desert specialties. We’ll also hop into the vehicles, if necessary, for a quick trip to a known Harris’s Hawk territory. After lunch we will visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, whose outstanding exhibits will explain desert ecology to us. They also have a number of live animal exhibits, including a hummingbird enclosure in which Costa’s Hummingbirds will be nesting. For supper we will pack a picnic and ascend into the pines of Mt. Lemmon to see the only Mountain Chickadees of our trip. We’ll wait around for the Flammulated Owls to start hooting before returning to camp and the Elf Owl chorus.

On day 3 we will drive 180 miles to Portal, gateway to the enchanted Chiricahua Mountains. We’ll stop for lunch in Texas Canyon, whose enormous granite boulders will remind us of the 1950s westerns they played a role in. East of there we will begin to see Chihuahuan Ravens and their nests on power poles. We’ll roll into Cave Creek Canyon in mid-afternoon and set up camp for a two-night stand. While supper is being prepared, we’ll meet Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Acorn Woodpecker, and a host of other species that are characteristic of the wooded canyons of southeastern Arizona and Mexico. Screech-owls may serenade us at this site. The next day will be a full one, with an optional pre-breakfast trip into the desert for the dawn chorus, a morning hike (2 miles round-trip) up South Fork for Elegant Trogon and Arizona Woodpecker (and Apache Fox Squirrel), and an afternoon visit to the feeders at the Portal Store and elsewhere in Portal.

On day 5 we will break camp and then visit the feeders at the Southwestern Research Station during the short ascent to Rustler Park Campground. The new specialty birds there are Mexican Chickadee, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, Greater Pewee, and, after dark, Mexican Whip-poor-will. The abundant House Wrens are of the “brown-throated” variety, which some authorities regard as a separate species someday. Taking a cue from these wrens, we’ll discuss the biogeography of speciation. We’ll also add such common Rocky Mountain species as Pygmy Nuthatch, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and Cordilleran Flycatcher to our lists. On day 6 we move to the Huachuca Mountains (100 miles), but we will stop by Chiricahua National Monument on the way for a look at the strange rock formations, and the many Canyon Wrens that inhabit them. If 2019’s Five-striped Sparrow has returned to Guindani Canyon near Kartchner Caverns State Park, we will stop there and try for him as well. We camp that night at Reef Townsite Campground, sure to have lots of Buff-breasted Flycatchers, with the extralimital Tufted Flycatcher a possibility. We’ll have an incredible view of the desert lowlands from this 7200-foot precipice, and may hear Mountain Pygmy-Owl at dusk and dawn.

Early on day 7 we descend from the Reef for a morning at the famous Ramsey Canyon Preserve. Individuals can sit and watch feeders, or take a short hike up the canyon under the towering sycamores. In the afternoon we move on to Patagonia (50 miles). After a quick stop at the Roadside Rest for our first chance of Varied Bunting (we may be too early for them) and Thick-billed Kingbird, we’ll stop by the Paton Hummer Preserve and have up-close looks at Gambel’s Quails and White-winged Doves under the feeders, as well as Violet-crowned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds. We move on to Patagonia Lake State Park, where we camp in luxury, with a lake and hot showers at our disposal. We’ll see if last year’s Verdin nest is being re-used and comb the lakeshore for White-faced Ibis, Neotropic Cormorant, and Mexican Duck, along with better known waterbirds. We’ll also hope for a return of the pair of rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers that nested successfully in 2019. 

For life-listers, our last day may be the most productive. We will make an early-morning trip to de Anza Trail, which runs through the luxuriant cottonwood bosque of the Santa Cruz River. We should encounter Gray Hawk, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbirds, and possibly Rose-throated Becard, Sinaloa Wren, and Rufous-backed Robin. The afternoon will be mop-up time. We will go wherever we need to in the Nogales-Patagonia area to pick up species we have missed, include a sewage plant (for whistling-ducks), the Roadside Rest, Paton’s, and Blue Heaven Road. The next morning we pack up, take the short drive to the Tucson airport, and say good-bye. If interest is high, though, an extension to look for ultra-rarities may be arrangeable.

Is this trek right for me?

  • Perfect for experienced birders who have never birded in southeastern Arizona
  • Great for birders who want to improve their ear-birding skills
  • Fascinating for naturalists interested in life zones and biogeography
  • Invigorating for conservationists interested in the evolution of biodiversity
  • At an ideal time of year for people who love camping

What is included in the cost?

Tuition includes everything once you arrive in Tucson:

  • All meals
  • All transportation
  • Staff, educators, field specialists
  • All gear necessary for group expedition
  • Special activities (museum and park entry fees, etc.) and backcountry permits

Trekkers are responsible for covering travel costs to and from Tucson the first day and last day of the trek. Gulch staff will be at the Tucson Airport to greet incoming Trekkers.

For more logistical questions, visit our FAQ page, or give us a call: 505-248-0563.

*Our cancellation policy

Trek Details

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  • Ages 21+
  • 6-12 members
  • Cost: $1425
  • Dates: May 16-24, 2020

Packing List


  • A habitat gradient from Sonoran Desert saguaros (Gilded Flicker, Elf Owl) to mountain pines
    (two chickadees, three nuthatches, Flammulated Owl)
  • Cold nights, cool mornings, and warm afternoons with no chance of rain
  • Two days in the Sonoran Desert with Costa’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Cactus Wren, Verdin, and Phainopepla
  • Three days in the enchanted Chiricahuas with Elegant Trogon, Arizona Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, and Blue-throated Hummingbird
  • A day in the Huachucas with Buff-breasted and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Greater Pewees and Olive Warblers
  • Two days in the Patagonia-Nogales district with kingbirds, becards, tyrannulets, and Gray Hawks
  • Great food, great fellowship, and comfortable cots


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