Bird Treks - A Quality Birdwatching Tour Company


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


May 2012
Jeanne Kearn, tour participant

Rich and I so totally enjoyed this tour.
We'll be talking about it - and you - for years!
Our heartfelt thanks for making it a 'lifetime' experience.

Rich & Jeanne


5-14 May 2012

  1) ELEGANT TROGON--we did very well with trogons: a pair in Madera Canyon, 4 males and a female in Huachuca Canyon, and a female perched on the ground along Cave Creek near Portal.
  2) Greater Roadrunner--the prolonged courtship display by the pair at Continental was most impressive. The male carried a dead Chuckwalla (large lizard) in his beak and followed the female around a cactus patch, which also contained their nest.
  3) Red-faced Warbler--Huachuca Canyon produced an adult at close range for a long period of time. Very impressive!
  4) Lazuli Bunting--males and females were common at many of the spots that we birded, especially feeding stations.
  5) Western Screech-Owl--it took a long time, but we had great looks at a male and female that were calling near Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.
  6) Western Tanager--a colorful migrant.
  7) Vermilion Flycatcher--a showy bird of the lowlands and grasslands, many of which had young.
  8) Western Grebe--a nice surprise at Patagonia Lake.
  9) Gambel's Quail--pairs, coveys, family groups. Always a crowd pleaser.
10) Black-chinned Hummer--we found a female on a nest, a nice surprise.
11) Hepatic Tanager--never common, but we managed to find our share.
12) Scott's Oriole--seen at several locations, but our best views were at the Ash Canyon B&B feeders, pecking at orange halves.

Several people were lucky enough to see a Ringtail on a night walk at Ramsey Canyon. It is a highly nocturnal, tropical member of the Raccoon family. We observed two Coyotes, a Gray Fox, several Apache Fox Squirrels, and an Antelope Jackrabbit. Quite impressive was a herd of 11 Collared Peccaries at a bird feeding station near Portal. A Gila Monster was an exceptional find on the road up to Madera Canyon. A dead Chuckwalla played an unwilling part in a courtship display between two Greater Roadrunners.


6-15 May 2011

  1) RED-FACED WARBLER--we had several outstanding looks at this colorful warbler..
  2) Spotted Owl--we missed it on the way up Miller Canyon, but Kim came eye to eye with it on the way back down..
  3) Painted Redstart--this one is always a favorite, as it is so easily approachable..
  4) Vermilion Flycatcher--who can resist an all red flycatcher!.
  5) Acorn Woodpecker--seen often and well, with their clown-like face..
  6) Steller's Jay--a stunning dark blue jay of the high mountain regions..
  7) Five-striped Sparrow--everyone had scope views of this rare sparrow..
  8) Western Tanager--many good looks at a beautiful bird..
  9) Scott's Oriole--a lot of the participants were happy to see this one..
10) Burrowing Owl--after a long drive and many turns, there they were, right beside the road!.


7-16 May 2010

  1) ELEGANT TROGON--Excellent lengthy looks in Huachuca Canyon. This included a very cooperative male that eventually mated with a female.
  2) Flame-colored Tanager--We saw an incredibly plumaged male coming to a jelly feeder at Madera Kubo in Madera Canyon. A male has been visiting this location for eight consecutive years.
  3) Western Tanager--numerous and gorgeous, what a nice combination.
  4) Vermilion Flycatcher--The males are always attractive, plus we saw numerous females and juveniles.
  5) Magnificent Hummingbird--One of the largest and most colorful of all US hummingbirds.
  6) Marbled Godwit--An unusual migrant and nice surprise at the Green Valley Sewage Ponds, consorting with Black-necked Stilts.
  7) White-eared Hummingbird--A stunning male at Beatty's feeders in Miller Canyon. This is a true rarity north of the Rio Grande.
  8) Verdin--A very common and colorful desert scrub species. We had close looks in an empty lot next to our Sierra Vista motel.
  9) Burrowing Owl--One of the first birds of the tour. We saw four near the San Xavier Mission south of Tucson.
10) Hepatic Tanager--We had numerous sightings of males and females throughout the tour.
11) Botteri&8217;s Sparrow--This bird was so close and curious that it was inspecting the underside of our vehicle. Needless to say, we had spectacular looks at this sometimes difficult species. It was at Fort Huachuca.

Additional highlights included numerous Black-tailed Jackrabbits and a herd of six Collared Peccaries (Javelinas), a Glossy Snake and a Coachwhip, and a nice assortment of butterflies on a daily basis.


12-21 May 2007

  2) (Mexican) Spotted Owl
  3) Flame-colored Tanager
  4) Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  5) Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  6) Buff-collared Nightjar
  7) Elf Owl
  8) Gambel's Quail
  9) Vermilion Flycatcher
10) Hermit Warbler

And, without a doubt, the favorite non-avian creature that was seen on the tour was the GILA MONSTER! As tour leader Mark Pretti explains it: "A Gila Monster is rarely seen at any time or place, but to find one in the South Fork of Cave Creek in the Chiricahuas at 5800 feet was remarkable."


by Mark Pretti, Tour Leader
12-21 May 2007

When my wife and I moved to southeast Arizona in early 1996 as beginning birdwatchers, we were excited to learn that the area was good for birding. Little did we know, however, that we'd be in for many years of not only outstanding birding, but some of the most incredible natural history in the United States. After spending a lot of time in our first few years getting to know the local flora and fauna, we were eventually lured south of the border by southeast Arizona's many Neotropical connections. As the years passed, we found ourselves spending less and less time birding in Arizona, so it was with a renewed sense of adventure that I had the pleasure of leading Bird Treks' May 2007 tour of this wonderful area. Looking forward to visiting sites I hadn't been to in almost ten years as well as seeing birds, other animals, and plants I don't see often, I met the group in Tucson. We headed south to one of the richest sky islands in the area, the Santa Rita Mountains. In my fortunate experience, what makes a trip great is the group dynamic that develops among trip participants, and I was happy to discover in our first afternoon that we had an excellent group of folks, almost all of whom had never been to this part of the country.

Rising above the cacti, palo verde, and ironwood of the Sonoran Desert, the Santa Rita Mountains are draped in the oaks, pines, and alligator junipers of Madrean evergreen woodland. Coursing though this woodland is a rich riparian forest of sycamores, ash, and Fremont cottonwood. In our first afternoon, we spent time at the lodge feeders and enjoyed some relaxed but exciting birding. Bridled Titmice, Acorn Woodpeckers, both Rose-breasted (there are always a few in southeast Arizona in mid-May) and Black- headed Grosbeaks, Mexican Jays, and Brown-crested Flycatchers put on an almost non-stop show, while the hummingbird feeders were frequented by Black-chinned, Broad-billed, and Magnificent Hummingbirds. For who knows how many decades, diminutive Elf Owls have nested in an old Acorn Woodpecker cavity in a lodge power pole, and our group was among the crowd gathered for the 7:30 PM show. The female performed perfectly, emerging to sit at the entrance, conversing with the nearby but unseen male for a while before flying into the woods to take a break from incubating. While waiting for the owl, we were treated to close-up flybys of Lesser Nighthawks. With both Lesser and Commons possible in the area, we were lucky enough to have the lighting and the birds' position just right to be able to see a usually hard-to-see field mark, that being the shorter outer primary compared to the next-to-outer primary, giving the bird a slightly rounded wing-tip look.

While in the Santa Ritas, we spent time walking the creek from the lowlands up to the lodge. Down below in the more open desert habitat, we found species that would all but disappear once we entered the woodlands. These included Say's Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and Verdin. Upon entering the forest a new suite of species was found. Arizona Woodpeckers were nesting in a cavity right above the trail, Lucy's Warblers were singing stridently, Hutton's, Warbling, and Plumbeous Vireos were foliage gleaning, Dusky-capped Flycatchers were furthering our study of the genus Myiarchus, and Painted Redstarts were doing what Painted Redstarts do, creating many oohs and aahs in the group. Back near the lodge we went in search of the Flame-colored Tanager, a Madrean species that barely and rarely crosses the border from Mexico. Fortunately for us and many other birders, what is presumed to be the same male has been faithful to a site in Madera Canyon for about 5 years. Not to disappoint, he was at his usual spot this year, though we did have to spend some time looking and listening. His bold song took us right to him, and everyone enjoyed great views of this gorgeous bird.

Another gorgeous bird, the Elegant Trogon, also posed perfectly for us higher up the trail. Mid-May is just about the best time to see this species as the males perch and call conspicuously. Just like in the many photos of this species, our trogon was perched in an open Arizona sycamore, and the contrast of white bark and pale green leaves with the bird's plumage was unforgettable. Hepatic Tanagers, resident Hermit Thrushes, migratory Swainson's Thrushes, and a late duo of Townsend's and Hermit Warblers were also in this area.

No tour of southeast Arizona is complete without a trip to the infamous California Gulch, the well known but difficult to get to site for the Five-striped Sparrow and Buff-collared Nightjar. On the way to the Gulch we had great views of the first of several Zone-tailed Hawks, Tropical Kingbird, and the southwestern race of the Song Sparrow at a lush cienega (Spanish for wetland, or 'one-hundred waters'), and in the drier scrub the tiny but beautiful Black-throated Sparrow. Arriving late in the afternoon at California Gulch, we made our best effort to find the sparrows, but after much searching and with darkening skies, the little guys ended up skunking us. As a consolation, we enjoyed a spectacular sunset, perfect solitude, and decent looks at the Buff-collared Nightjar.

From the Santa Rita Mountains, we headed east to the Patagonia area, stopping along the way to look for Rufous-winged Sparrow, a bird endemic to northwest Sonora and a small part of southeast Arizona. Though we had a calling bird in an area that looked promising for good views, we could not coax it out of the dense thicket where it was hiding. But while looking for the sparrow, we enjoyed our first Vermilion Flycatchers, several Gambel's Quail (a common local bird and a lifer for several folks), and a Pyrrhuloxia. The Patagonia area is a lush oasis amidst dry hills. Sonoita Creek, lined with cottonwoods and willows, leads to one of the few bodies of open water in southeast Arizona, Patagonia Lake. The area has long been famous for a suite of specialty birds that are fairly common in west Mexico but, in the states, are found only here. By the time we left Patagonia, we had seen just about every specialty that we had hoped to see. These included Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Thick-billed Kingbird, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Gray Hawk, and in double overtime with only seconds remaining, a pair of nesting Black- capped Gnatcatchers. In addition to the specialties, we also enjoyed Blue Grosbeak, Abert's Towhee, Phainopepla, and the black-lored race of White-crowned Sparrow (this is the one that nests in the southern Rockies). We visited one of every birder's favorite sites, Marion Paton's yard, several times and saw most of the specialties there while also being able to study hummers and many other species. One memorable afternoon while leaving her yard, we had a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks fly in to a nearby cottonwood. Fortunately they perched in the open in perfect late afternoon light, making for some awesome photos. At the roadside rest, a Peregrine Falcon, possibly nesting, was found on a cliff face.

From Patagonia, we headed further east to the Sierra Vista area and the Huachuca Mountains. Along the way we stopped in the best remaining grasslands in the region, the Empire Cienega Riparian National Conservation Area. This area provided a glimpse into the past, when native grasslands were more extensive in southeast Arizona, and allowed us to search for grassland specialists. Amazingly, I think we saw just about every bird I'd hope to find - the Lillian's race of the Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper and Lark Sparrows, Horned Lark, Western Kingbird, Swainson's Hawk, and Loggerhead Shrike. A small group of Pronghorn completed the grassland picture.

The Sierra Vista area provides tremendous habitat variety and many possibilities for great birds. In addition to the desert scrub in the valley, we also enjoyed the San Pedro River and most of the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains. Hummingbird feeding is a popular hobby in the area, and fortunately there are several hummingbird hotspots open to the public. We made full use of these, starting with Ramsey Canyon where we saw six species in our first 15 minutes (Blue-throated, Magnificent, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Black-chinned, and Anna's). We were lured from the feeders by the calls of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, an amazing migratory bird from the tropics that winters in Amazonia. We had to search for these active birds for a while, but eventually they sat still for some good looks. In Ash and Miller Canyons, we spent more time at feeders and had great views of two local specialties, Lucifer and White- eared Hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are always a challenge, especially when you have about ten species and both male and female plumages to contend with. I'm proud to say that our group did an excellent job in not only learning the basic field marks, but also in learning to use vocalizations, wing hums, and behaviors to facilitate identification. By the end of the trip, they had it down.

In Garden Canyon we had more good luck with Botteri's Sparrows (a grassland bird that breeds with the summer rains) singing in the valley, Elegant Trogons in the low canyon, a very unexpected immature Common Black-Hawk amidst the sycamores and, up in the pines, Yellow-eyed Junco, Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and Grace's Warbler. The pilgrimage up the steep trail of Sheelite Canyon was made by most, and we were well rewarded with a nice family of active Canyon Wrens as well as the stars of the canyon, a pair of side-by-side Mexican Spotted Owls. We had to make a trip to the even higher elevations of Carr Canyon, as well as brave the narrow winding road with steep drop-offs, to find some of the southeast Arizona specialty warblers - Virginia's, Olive (ok, not really a warbler), and the always stunning Red-faced. Spotted Towhee, a somewhat local bird in the region, and Band-tailed Pigeon were also seen here.

From Sierra Vista, we made our last trip eastward to the Chiricahua Mountains, the largest of the borderland sky islands and home to several species found almost nowhere else in the U.S. On the way we stopped at Whitewater Draw, a seasonal wetland with open water, some cattails and bulrushes, and several willow thickets. This was one of several wetland sites that we visited during the trip. Such locations are always interesting in the desert because you never know what you're going to find. Many of the water-associated birds that breed in the interior west - e.g. American White Pelicans, several gulls, and some shorebirds and ducks - have been recorded from the area. Among the birds found in these areas on this tour were Ring-billed and Bonaparte's Gulls, Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Spotted Sandpiper (with spots!), and Wilson's Phalarope. We also had several Scaled Quail in the grasslands and scrub surrounding the ponds.

Having not been to the Chiricahuas in several years, I had almost forgotten how beautiful and lush they are. From the Black-throated Sparrows (and a very unexpected singing Cassin's Sparrow) in the lowland desert scrub to the Yellow-eyed Juncos and Mexican Chickadees (in the U.S. found only in the Chiricahuas and the Animas Mountains of New Mexico) in the mixed conifer forest, we had a great time. As in so many locations in southeast Arizona, there are private feeding stations in this area, too. At Dave Jasper's yard we had all kinds of birds - Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated Sparrow, Scott's Oriole, Canyon Towhee, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and others - but the big find was the cameo but well-viewed appearance of the always elusive Crissal Thrasher. An evening visit to Dave's neighborhood resulted in a Western Screech-Owl that seemed a little out of place in the low-stature desert scrub. It must have been the scattered Arizona sycamores along the dry streambed that provided just enough habitat. At the George Walker house, Juniper Titmice made for nice companions during our lunch. A walk up the south fork of Cave Creek was delightful with cool shade, a clear-running stream, yet another Elegant Trogon (found by our "novice" birder Cindy), more Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Apache Fox Squirrel (found nowhere else in the U.S.), and what for me was the biggest surprise of the trip. In dense woodland, surrounded by Arizona cypress, pines, sycamore, velvet ash, and Douglas fir, we found a GILA MONSTER! Now I can understand a Gila Monster in the ecotone between desert scrub and woodland, or maybe even a little way into a woodland, but to see one in this habitat and at this elevation, where I'm thinking about species like Northern Goshawk and Steller's Jay, was bizarre.

After bidding farewell to the Chiricahuas, we returned to Tucson where we made one last stop at the Sweetwater Wetlands to look for Harris's Hawk. We spotted a possible nest in an adjacent eucalyptus, but no bird was to be seen. We strolled around the wetlands, listening to many Common Yellowthroats and Bell's Vireos and seeing American Coots and Mexican Mallards. With the van in sight, the birding gods bestowed one final blessing on us as a Harris's Hawk suddenly flew by with prey in its talons and indeed flew right to the eucalyptus nest. It had been an amazing ten days with a superb group, and we could only see the hawk as the perfect exclamation point to a great trip.


9-18 May 2002

  2) Rufous-capped Warbler
  3) Flame-colored Tanager
  4) (Mexican) Spotted Owl
  5) Common Poorwill
  6) Vermillion Flycatcher
  7) Five-striped Sparrow
  8) Northern (Mountain) Pygmy-Owl
  9) Painted Redstart
10) Western Tanager


by Mike Haldeman, Tour Leader
9-18 May 2002

Spectacular birds and a group willing to go the extra distance to find them made this year's spring Southeast Arizona tour especially exciting. We started our birding at Aravaipa Canyon. Within ten minutes we had a pair of Common Black-Hawks soaring around us and soon after we were watching our first Zone-tailed Hawks and Gray Hawks. Riparian habitat along the San Pedro River at Dudleyville produced three Mississippi Kites to give our raptor list a great start. From Dudleyville we birded the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson and found the Least Grebe, a very rare bird in Arizona. After enjoying the grebe and then a Burrowing Owl at San Xavier Mission, we made our way to Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. The full day in Madera not only gave us our first looks at the common birds of the oak habitat, but we were lucky enough to see both Elf and Northern (Mountain) Pygmy-Owls peering out of nest holes. The grasslands at the foot of the canyon yielded singing Botteri's and Rufous-winged Sparrows. We set out early the next morning and after a stop at Arivaca Cienega and our first Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, we made the infamous drive into California Gulch. A diligent search of the rugged canyon rewarded us with great views of a pair of Five-striped Sparrows, one of the rarest breeding birds in North America.

Our next base was the Stagestop Hotel in the old west town of Patagonia. A Zone-tailed Hawk made several close passes over the town while we were there. The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve was good for Thick-billed Kingbird and many Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets, while Marion Paton's yard had its usual fantastic birds that included Violet-crowned Hummingbirds and a roosting Western Screech-Owl. From Patagonia we made our way to Sierra Vista via an early morning stop at French Joe Canyon. Not only did we find one of the Rufous-capped Warblers that resides there, but this beautiful canyon also gave us excellent looks at Band-tailed Pigeon, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Hepatic Tanager. Our next morning also included a one-mile mile hike for a very good bird. This time it was Miller Canyon and its Flame-colored Tanager. We saw this beautiful male bird in addition to Red-faced Warblers and a roosting (Mexican) Spotted Owl. Miller Canyon also produced White-eared and Calliope Hummingbirds among many others at Beatty's B&B and a close Whiskered Screech-Owl in the spotlight that night. Another bird we found in Miller Canyon was one that did not quite excite the group as much as it did Tom Beatty and me: a Gray Catbird, very rare in Southeast Arizona. We also spent time at such renowned locations as Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro House where we watched a male Varied Bunting foraging on the riverbank at close range. Our morning excursion into Fort Huachuca gave us our first Elegant Trogon and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and several Buff-breasted Flycatchers, including one building a nest.

From Sierra Vista we made our way to the amazing Chiricahua Mountains. Along the way we were lucky enough to see a Golden Eagle as it lumbered by trying to avoid swoops from the Red-tailed Hawk and Common Raven that were harassing it. After quick stops in Rodeo, New Mexico for a Bendire's Thrasher and a roosting Barn Owl, we made our way to Portal. We explored the spectacular South Fork of Cave Creek where we found another male Elegant Trogon and watched two Mexican Chickadees visiting their nest cavity. The high country around Rustler Park yielded more Mexican Chickadees and great looks at Olive and Grace's Warblers, Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and a Greater Pewee. On the way back down the mountain we went through the tiny town of Paradise where we found a Juniper Titmouse and had excellent looks at a Black-chinned Sparrow along Paradise Road. We also saw a Crissal Thrasher on the outskirts of Portal. After dark we returned to Paradise Road and called in a Common Poorwill that landed on the road thirty feet from us. By approaching as a group with five step intervals we were able to watch this bird from ten feet away as it sat quietly. Later that night we called in a Whip-poor-will that flew right through our group and actually brushed against my leg as it cruised by. Our last morning, on the way back to Tucson, we made a final birding stop at Wilcox Lake to see Wilson's Phalaropes and boost the trip list with the plentiful waterbirds there. This was an excellent tour with several very tough birds, including eight owl species, seen well by all.

Our 2003 schedule includes a spring Southeast Arizona Tour, May 15-24, and a summer tour July 22-31 with a 5-day extension to the White Mountains.


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