Bird Treks - A Quality Birdwatching Tour Company


Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.


SOUTHEAST ARIZONA Quest for Rarities, Strays & Vagrants
4-8 August 2012

  1. MONTEZUMA QUAIL--A gorgeous male was attempting to hide in the grass along the road above the Southwest Research Station in Cave Creek Canyon. Our group and another tour group watched it for as long as 15 minutes.
  2. Plain-capped Starthroat--We found this hummingbird rarity within two minutes after arriving in Montosa Canyon.
  3. Whiskered Screech-Owl--It took some effort, but we finally had spectacular looks in a trailer park below Ramsey Canyon Preserve. It was still calling as we departed.
  4. Red-faced Warbler--Our best looks at this showy warbler were in Huachuca Canyon, on Fort Huachuca in the Chiricahua Mountains.
  5. Elegant Trogon--Heard and saw five different trogons on Huachuca Canyon.
  6. Painted Redstart--Common and friendly in several wooded canyons.
  7. Hooded Oriole--Best looks were of a male and female feeding young in a nest close to Madera Kubo Lodge in Madera Canyon.
  8. White-tailed Kite--A great look at a soaring bird below Portal at Quail Way Inn.
  9. Thick-billed Kingbird--We found two adults feeding four newly fledged young at Sonoita Creek Sanctuary in Patagonia.
  10. Summer Tanager--Excellent views of an adult male and a young bird at the George Walker House feeders in Paradise, near Portal.

Our most exciting mammal was a cinnamon-phase Black Bear in Madera Canyon. It appeared totally content as it dug for grubs at the base of a stump. Three Collared Peccaries crossed in front of us as we searched for Black-capped Gnatcatchers in Montosa Canyon. A Spotted Ground Squirrel and a Yuma Antelope Squirrel made a nice comparison at the Quail Way Inn feeding station near Portal. We observed 30 species of birds in 90 minutes during the heat of the late afternoon at this glorious feeding station.

Another nice surprise along Montosa Canyon Road was a Gila Monster at close range. Portal yielded a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, while Ramsey Canyon produced a Black-tailed Rattlesnake. Dozens of songbirds were scolding and flitting about in a large Arizona Sycamore in Huachuca Canyon. The object of their concern was a beautifully marked Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake that was exploring a large cavity in the tree.

The double rainbow in Sierra Vista was a pleasure to see.


Southeast Arizona Tour:
18-29 July 2009

  1. RED-FACED WARBLER--Excellent looks at this brightly colored warbler on Mount Lemmon, the final day of the tour.
  2. (Mexican) Spotted Owl--a very cooperative individual in a maple tree in Miller Canyon, right beside the trail.
  3. Five-striped Sparrow--scope views and fine vocalizations in California Gulch.
  4. Violet-crowned Hummingbird--repeated good views in Marion Paton's backyard, and another at Tom Beatty's.
  5. Western Screech-Owl--fantastic views in the spotlight at Patagonia and Portal.
  6. Greater Roadrunner--numerous good looks, as many as six in one morning.
  7. Gambel's Quail--perched adults, broods of young, every view imaginable.
  8. Painted Redstart--small numbers of this colorful warbler in almost all of the wooded canyons.
  9. Flame-colored Tanager--heard and saw the adult male in Madera Canyon.
  10. Montezuma Quail--brief look at a pair as the made their way into the understory below Sawmill Canyon.

Non-avian sightings included a Coati at Portal, a beautiful Coyote, and several of the tassel-eared Abert's Squirrels on Mount Lemmon. Coue's White-tailed Deer were abundant, as were both Antelope and Black-tailed Jackrabbits. There was a Black-necked Garter Snake in Tom Beatty's pond, eating minnows. On the return trip from California Gulch we had great looks at three Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes and a relatively unusual Twin-spotted Rattlesnake.

21 July through 1 August 2006

  1. AZTEC THRUSH--incredible views of this rare Mexican endemic in Madera Canyon. This was a life bird for everyone.
  2. (Mexican) Spotted Owl--we heard an adult on South Fork trail during the day, then found a downy juvenile after dark.
  3. Flame-colored Tanager--prolonged scope views of an adult male in Madera Canyon.
  4. Five-striped Sparrow--many scope views of singing birds in California Gulch.
  5. Vermilion Flycatcher--who can resist this colorful, diminutive flycatcher?
  6. Elegant Trogon--our best show was of a nesting pair in Garden Canyon, present at the nest cavity throughout our picnic lunch.
  7. Black-capped Gnatcatcher--after several unsuccessful tries, we found a family of four at Patagonia Lake State Park.
  8. White-eared Hummingbird--a stunning male at Beatty’s Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon.
  9. Yellow-breasted Chat--many great looks at singing birds, completely in the open.
  10. Acorn Woodpecker--a common species with great appeal.

Mammalian highlights included a Badger in our spotlight, great looks at a Coati, a family of Coyote pups, very close and prolonged views of a young Bobcat, numerous Collared Peccaries, a herd of Pronghorn, and both Antelope and Black-tailed Jackrabbits.

20-31 July 2005

  1. NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL--WOW! What a view at Rustler Park.
  2. (Mexican) Spotted Owl--two birds side by side in Sheelite Canyon.
  3. Rose-throated Becard--great show of the male working on the nest at the Patagonia Reststop, with a few glimpses of the female.
  4. Elegant Trogon--good views in Garden Canyon, followed by great views along Cave Creek.
  5. Barn Owl--another excellent show at the Cotton Shed in Rodeo, New Mexico.
  6. Montezuma Quail--two pairs of this secretive bird, one on Ruby Road, the other near Paradise.
  7. Black Tern--an adult still in nearly complete breeding plumage at Willcox.
  8. Elf Owl--very nice views at Santa Rita Lodge on our final evening.
  9. Calliope Hummingbird--striking looks at a male coming to the feeders in Ashe Canyon.
  10. Five-striped Sparrow--one in the road before we even parked the van, followed by several more down in California Gulch.

Mammals of interest included a Black Bear in Ramsay Canyon, a fast-moving Coyote near Portal, and numerous Antelope and Black-tailed Jackrabbits. We found a gigantic Sonoran Desert Toad, a young Western Box Turtle, and the endangered Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frog. The monsoon rains brought rainbows, beautiful sunsets, and comfortable temperatures.

20-31 July 2005
Bob Schutsky, Tour Leader

Southeast Arizona has been my favorite North American birding destination for many years and late July is an excellent time to explore this area. The summer monsoon rains began at the onset of the tour, which served us well in three different ways. It cooled the air temperature to a level that was not only bearable but often quite comfortable; the rains extinguished several wildfires that had started during the hot dry period; and bird song and nesting activity reached an incredible crescendo, making birds like Botteri’s Sparrow and Varied Bunting easy to find.

Our birding adventure began is Tucson and worked south toward the Mexican border. Madera Canyon was closed because of a large wildfire, but we were able to spend a day there at the end of the tour. We birded our way through Arivaca and California Gulch, then on to Patagonia and Sierra Vista. We left the Huachuca Mountains after three days, then went on to the Chiricahua Mountains. On our return trip to Tucson, we made a stop at Cochise Lake in Willcox for aquatic species. The final morning was spent at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Saguaro National Park, an incredibly beautiful location to visit.

At the end of each tour we each select our ten favorite birds and compile them into a favorite species list. By discussing the Top 10 species, I believe that you will have an excellent picture of the beauty and variety that we experienced.

The species that was selected as the very favorite of the entire tour was an absolute surprise to all of us. We were entering Rustler Park that lies at nearly 9000 feet in the Chiricahuas. A good friend waved down our van and asked if we knew about the Northern Saw-whet Owl, a very rare breeding bird in this part of the world. He gave us directions to a nearby 40-foot snag. After watching the roost hole, then softly imitating the bird’s call, nothing happened. I followed Bill’s advice and gently touched a few of the lowest dead branches with a tiny twig. The owl appeared at the hole almost instantly, glaring down toward the ground. We had incredible views through binoculars and the spotting scope for nearly ten minutes before it slid back into the hole. What an experience! It was a life bird for all of the tour participants and certainly one that we never expected to see.

Three additional species of owls also made the Top 10 list. Number 2 was the Mexican race of the Spotted Owl. They were being found in several locations this year, but the most reliable is Sheelite Canyon, high above Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista. We had hiked the first half-mile of the canyon trail and were seriously searching each tree and branch. We knew that there was a group up the trail ahead of us that may have already found the owls and could send us in the right direction. We had reached a spot with a lot of potential perches, a place where I had seen the owls several times in the past. My daughter Kim stepped around a tree, looked up, and said “Here they are.” On a horizontal branch sat two Spotted Owls, shoulder to shoulder. They would preen, scratch, stretch, and mostly sleep. We had to back up to get the best looks at them because they were so close. We left them 30 minutes later, totally undisturbed.

Our number 3 bird was a pair of Rose-throated Becards, part of a tropical family that is closely related to the flycatchers. It is an exceedingly rare species in South Texas and Southeast Arizona. We knew that there was a nesting pair along Sonoita Creek, across from the Patagonia Rest Stop. Once we found the large, football-shaped nest made from a variety of vegetation, all that we had to do was watch and wait. The wait was brief. The female appeared to be incubating and we had two fleeting glimpses of her. But the male was busy at work, adding more vegetation to the roof of the nest that was in an Arizona sycamore tree. He would arrive on his favorite dead twig every few minutes, fly to the nest to weave in the plant material, return to the twig, then fly off. Nearby was a family of Thick-billed Kingbirds, singing Canyon Wrens, and aerobatic White-throated Swifts. A young Gray Hawk called from along the creek. All of this happened in the early morning before we returned to Patagonia for a good breakfast.

We had two separate encounters with Elegant Trogons, bird number 4 on the Top 10 list. Our first time was in Garden Canyon, just prior to finding the Spotted Owls. We could hear the trogons calling, and had a few quick looks at an apparent male, female, and juvenile. We tracked them as they moved uphill and most of our group had satisfying looks at them. Later in the tour we were driving along Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas and came upon another family group. This time everyone had stunning looks as we used the van for a blind. This is another tropical family with roughly 20-30 nesting pairs in Southeast Arizona and an occasional winter bird in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Here comes another owl, this time a family of Barn Owls, our number 5 bird of the tour. This bird is quite reliable in an old cotton shed just outside of Rodeo, New Mexico, 200 yards from the Arizona border. We do not go into the shed, but merely peek through the gaps in the corrugated siding and even through the nail holes. We were lucky enough to see at least four different birds, a definite female, a male, and two probable young. The young were hissing and calling, and the male flew out of the shed and circled a few times before re-entering its day roost. They put on a great show in the desert below the rugged Chiricahua Mountains.

According to local Arizona experts, Montezuma Quail is the most difficult, regularly breeding Arizona species to show to visiting birders. They are widespread but relatively uncommon and secretive. But for some reason I have good luck finding them. In the 15 to 20 tours that I’ve lead to this beautiful area, our groups have only missed seeing Montezuma Quail only once. This year we found two pairs and had impeccable looks at them. One pair was on Ruby Road near the turn off to Sycamore Canyon, and the other pair was near Paradise on the road to Portal. It was voted number six of the 182 species that we found.

Cochise Lake in Willcox yielded an interesting assortment of aquatic species after many days of almost strict terrestrial birding. Our number 7 species was a Black Tern in almost complete breeding plumage. We saw it repeatedly during the two hours that we birded the lake, often hawking insects above the water’s surface. This is a truly elegant bird and one of the easiest North American terns to identify. Perhaps this is what makes it so popular among birders.

We found our number 8 species on the final evening of the tour. We could not enter Madera Canyon early in the tour due to the wildfire, but were able to spend an entire day there after the evacuation was lifted. We looked for the Flame-colored Tanagers but could not find them, instead coming up with a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The grasslands near Continental yielded our only Rufous-winged Sparrow. After birding all day we had an early dinner, then returned to Santa Rita Lodge for the night shift. We had a glimpse of an Elf Owl, then heard one calling. After checking a few trees we found it perched in an oak and I was able to spotlight it, much to everyone’s delight. It is the smallest owl in the world, but it always brings big smiles to birders’ faces.

Late July is an excellent time for hummingbirds--we invariably find 12 to 14 species, mostly at the feeding stations that folks have developed. We saw several Calliope Hummingbirds this year. The males are especially attractive with their purple gorgets. This was voted number 9.

And number 10 was the Five-striped Sparrow, found only in two canyons on the Mexican border west of Nogales. We found ours in California Gulch, a rough 4-mile drive from the primitive Ruby Road. But we saw our first one before even reaching the parking spot to begin our hike into the Gulch. It was in the track of the dirt road, picking around in the sand. Later fantastic scope views of two more in their more traditional location were simply icing on the cake.

Close runners up included such interesting and diverse species as Reddish Egret, Violet- crowned Hummingbird, Prairie Falcon, Brown Pelican, and Rufous Hummingbird. We found a Black Bear, heard Coyotes howling and saw one dash across the road, watched Kangaroo Rats at night, and Coue’s Whitetail Deer fawns by day. The weather was comfortable, the food delicious, and the people that we met were very interesting. It was another great tour to Southeast Arizona.

20-31 July 2004

  1. MONTEZUMA QUAIL--the view of the male along Ruby Road was astounding.
  2. White-eared Hummingbird--close looks of the male at Beatty's.
  3. Common Poorwill--many seen and heard, but the one that I picked up along Paradise Road afforded us a memorable event.
  4. Northern Pymy-Owl--success after a long, careful stalk into Comfort Spring.
  5. Flame-colored Tanager--quick but good look at the male in Madera Canyon.
  6. Western Screech-Owl--very close looks on an open perch near Portal.
  7. Canyon Wren--always a spectacular bird, especially the song.
  8. Harris's Hawk--nice looks at an adult on our trip to Dudleyville.
  9. Ruddy Duck--what a combination of colors and patterns.
  10. Whiskered Screech-Owl--it was a cold and stormy night in Carr Canyon...

Mammals of note included a Ringtail drinking from a hummingbird feeder, a single Coyote and Gray Fox, Blacktail and Antelope Jackrabbits, two herds of Collared Peccaries, a Pronghorn, and a very industrious Pocket Gopher. Reptiles were active due to regular rains; many tours produce no snakes at all. We saw a Sonoran Gopher Snake, Western Yellow-bellied Racer, and three Black-tailed Rattlesnakes. Rainbows and specatcular cloud formations were a daily occurrence.

22-31 July 2003

  2. Elegant Trogon
  3. Lucifer Hummingbird
  4. Five-striped Sparrow
  5. Canyon Wren
  6. Plain-capped Starthroat
  7. Short-tailed Hawk
  8. White-eared Hummingbird
  9. Elf Owl
  10. Gambel's Quail

27 July-3 August 2002

  1. BARN OWL-great views in the cotton shed near Portal
  2. Montezuma Quail-a pair picked its way across the road and up a slope, also near Portal
  3. Elegant Trogon-nice views in Garden Canyon, including a female feeding a newly fledged young
  4. Calliope Hummingbird-many indivduals at several of the feeding stations
  5. Rufous Hummingbird-widespread and numerous, with a few discernible Allen's
  6. Varied Bunting-excellent scope views at Proctor Road and California Gulch
  7. Red-faced Warbler-especially numerous in Miller Canyon
  8. Five-striped Sparrow-scope views of a singing bird in California Gulch
  9. Violet-crowned Hummingbird-knock out looks in Marion Paton's backyard in Patagonia
  10. Western Tanager-at least 50-75 males at Sonoita Creek Sanctuary in a short time! Whiskered Screech-Owl in the spotlight along Carr Canyon Road was a very close runner-up...

Non-avian highlights included a Ringtail in the spotlight--feeding on Agave flowers, a close encounter with a family of Striped Skunks, several Ord's Kangaroo Rats and Antelope Jackrabbits, and a spotlighted Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake.

During the pre-tour scouting I located an immature Purple Gallinule at the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, Arizona's 1st record in 10 years and only their 15-20th ever. The bird was seen by many for at least the next two weeks.

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