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. Migration will still be on, but breeding birds will be on territory, making plenty of noise. After meeting 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. We will lunch at 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. Then we’ll head to a new campsite in the high pines of Mt. Lemmon, where we’ll be surrounded by Mountain Chickadees, a Rocky Mountain Species, and Yellow-eyed Junco, a Sierra Madre species, among many others. After dark, perhaps Flammulated Owls will hoot ventriloquially from overhead. If so, we’ll be glad we are camping out.

On day 3 (May 6). after catching the dawn chorus of Buff-breasted Flycatchers and spending a leisurely morning looking for Common Black Hawks (our only chance) we will descend through the life zones to the Saguaro forest east of Tucson, then southward through the desert grassland south of I-10 and its Botteri’s Sparrows. We’ll stop for a listen, and then drive on to Patagonia, for quick stops at the Paton Hummingbird Center and the Roadside Rest, time permitting. Soon we’ll be settling into the lap of luxury at Patagonia Lake State Park, with a lake and hot showers at our disposal. We’ll see if the Rufous-winged Sparrow is still defending the bath-house, and comb the far lakeshore for White-faced Ibis, Neotropic Cormorant, and Mexican Duck, along with better known waterbirds. We will also hope for a return of the pair of rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers that nested successfully in 2019.

Day 4 will be our banner day for Group 1, ultra-rare invading species, with Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Tropical Kingbird likely, and Rose-throated Becard and Black-capped Gnatcatcher requiring only a little luck, as single pairs of these two species are known to be in the area. Naturally, such an exciting day will require an early start. We’ll go first to de Anza Trail in Tumacacori for the kingbirds and becard, then back to camp for lunch, then to Patagonia for the hummer and perhaps an early Varied Bunting. If there’s any time left after we return to camp we may visit the lakeshore again, but most will probably want to sit around the circle and compare notes with a nice beverage in hand.


Day 5 will begin with a concerted effort to find the local Black-capped Gnatcatchers, who live in the desert scrub maybe a quarter mile from our campsites (which are at the edge of the campground where the birding trail begins). Then we’ll break camp as quickly as possible to get to the Roadside Rest before midday heat sets in. After a leisurely morning there and in Patagonia, we’ll head over to Sierra Vista for groceries and then spend the remainder of the afternoon at Ash Canyon, hoping for Lucifer Hummingbird, but sure to see many Group 2 species for the first time. Then we’ll ascend to the cool pines and Buff-breasted Flycatchers at Reef Townsite, hoping a Tufted Flycatcher will be in residence. Owls and nightjars frequent this campground, and the view of the lights 3,000 feet below is spectacular. A quick turn-around the following morning (we may skip Reef, depending upon the flycatcher situation) will take us back down to the base of the Huachucas and a half-mile hike to the Rufous-capped Warbler nesting site. Then we drive and drive and drive, through Bisbee and Douglas to Portal, AZ, gateway to the “Yosemite of the Southwest,” Cave Creek Canyon.


We’ll spend two leisurely nights in the canyon, with forays into the desert for thrashers and sparrows, up the canyon for trogons and hummingbirds, and behind Silver Peak for titmice and more sparrows. On the penultimate morning of our trip, we’ll climb to 8,000 feet at Rustler Park, where we’ll focus on Mexican Chickadees, but see many other Madrean Forest birds as well. After lunch we’ll descend the west side of the Chiricahuas and head for another luxurious state park, Kartchner Caverns. The birding is good there, too, if we have time. For sure we will clean up and have a final feast and get a good night’s sleep (like all the others) before heading west for the airport early Sunday morning.

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: 
  • Dates: Please check back for future dates

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