Day 1 – Arrival in Phoenix where we have dinner and spend the night at hotel near Sky Harbor Airport.
Day 2 – We’ll begin at dawn west of Phoenix where the desert is fantastic for thrashers. We’ll search the scrub vegetation for LeConte’s, Crissal, Sage and Bendire’s thrashers here, as well as other more common desert species such as Loggerhead Shrike, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and Verdin. Sparrows are often numerous in the area and include Black-throated Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Sagebrush Sparrow. With luck we’ll spot a Bell’s Sparrow as well.
We will then make our way to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a park east of Phoenix that often attracts some interesting vagrant birds including Rufous-backed Robin with some regularity. The comical Greater Roadrunner can be found here, along with other desert specialties such as Phainopeplas and Pyrrhuloxias. Lingering hummingbirds can include Anna’s, Costa’s and Broad-billed. While exploring the canyon habitat at the arboretum we will have a chance to learn a bit about the desert ecosystem. Night in Phoenix.
Day 3 – This morning we’ll visit the Gilbert Water Ranch near Phoenix, where a number of ponds attract a nice selection of wintering waterfowl such as Cinnamon and Blue-winged teal, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck and Lesser scaup, to name just a few. This is one of the best areas in Arizona to find Neotropic Cormorants, a smaller, more slender cousin to the Double-crested Cormorant, also found here. The water ranch also attracts a nice selection of wading birds, with Great and Snowy egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Green heron all likely. Wintering shorebirds can be found here with the likes of Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher all ‘on the menu’. This part of Phoenix is quite good for Rosy-faced Lovebirds, a rather new addition to the ABA list.
We’ll leave the bustle of Phoenix and head south towards Tucson this afternoon, stopping along the way to search for wintering groups of Mountain Plovers at turf farms. This area is also fairly good for Crested Caracara, a fairly scarce species in this part of Arizona. After dinner we may make a visit to the Santa Rita Mountains in search of nocturnal birds which could include Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Whiskered and Western screech-Owls. Night in Green Valley.
Day 4 – This morning we will venture back to Madera Canyon where the madrean pine/oak habitat is home to a number of sought-after bird species such as the delightful Painted Redstart, cute as a button Bridled Titmouse, noisy Mexican Jays and more. Groups of Wild Turkeys patrol the canyon, and if we’re really lucky we could spot one of Arizona’s most sought-after species, Montezuma Quail. The shady confines of Madera Canyon are home to several woodpecker species, including Ladder-backed, Acorn and Arizona woodpecker. Mixed flocks of birds, if we are lucky enough to encounter such a flock, can contain a number of species including White-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo, and Brown Creeper to name a few species. Perhaps we’ll find some mammals in Madera Canyon, where Arizona Gray Squirrel and White-tailed Deer are common. If we’re really lucky we could spot a coati here. The afternoon will be left open so we can seek any unusual species that could be about in the area. Night in Green Valley.
Day 5 – After breakfast we’ll head for the town of Tubac and we’ll explore the De Anza Trail, which winds through a towering ribbon of cottonwood trees along the Santa Cruz River. Amongst the Fremont Cottonwoods we’ll look for species like Red-naped Sapsucker, Gila Woodpecker, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Phainopepla, Lark Sparrow and Abert’s Towhee. We’ll continue south to Pena Blanca Lake, west of the border town of Nogales. The area is good for wintering flycatchers and we could find the water loving Black Phoebe, as well as Say’s Phoebe and the stunning Vermilion Flycatcher. Gray Flycatchers also find this area suitable for wintering. Tubac Trails along river. Pena Blanca Lake. Patagonia Lake State Park. Roadside rest stop. Night in Patagonia.
Day 6 – First thing this morning we’ll take a stroll at the Sonoita Creek Preserve where towering cottonwood trees, alongside the flowing creek attract a nice selection of birds such as Belted Kingfisher, Hutton’s Vireo, Hermit Thrush, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee and the always popular Northern Cardinal. Next on the agenda will be a quick stop at the Paton’s feeders in Patagonia where a nice array of birds come in to feed such as Gambel’s Quail, Inca Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Abert’s Towhee, Pyrrhuloxia, Lazuli Bunting and Lesser Goldfinch to name just a few. Hummingbird feeders will be quieter than during the spring, but could bring in Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds and if we’re very lucky, Violet-crowned Hummingbird.
During the afternoon we’ll explore the San Rafeal Valley, one of the most productive areas of grassland in Arizona. The grasslands here are home to a nice group of wintering species such as Chestnut-collared and McCown’s longspurs, Sprague’s Pipit and Baird’s Sparrows. All of these are rather elusive and can hide quite well in the long grass, but we’ll have a good look for them. Also in the San Rafael Valley are good numbers of wintering raptors including Prairie Falcon and the largest of the buteos, Ferruginous Hawk. Night in Sierra Vista.
Day 7 – We explore the Sulphur Springs Valley today, birding our way from Sierra Vista to Willcox. The region is home to great numbers of wintering waterfowl including flocks of Snow Geese. Sometimes smaller numbers of Ross’s Geese can be found with the Snow Geese. The Sulphur Springs Valley is home to an impressive number of wintering Sandhill Cranes, with recent estimates putting the population at between 20,000 and 25,000 birds. Waterfowl, including Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal and Gadwall are also numerous. Gatherings of livestock can attract good numbers of wintering icterids, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Long-billed Curlews can be numerous on tilled fields and Ferruginous Hawks can be a common sight as well. Other raptors possible today include Northern Harrier, Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon. Flocks of Horned Larks that spend the winter here, can also harbor McCown’s and Chestnut-collared longspurs. Both Eastern and Western meadowlarks are possible in grasslands and around ranches in the Sulphur Springs Valley, which is also very good for Chihuahuan Ravens. Night in Willcox.
Day 8 – We’ll travel from Willcox back to Phoenix today, a drive that takes approximately 4-5 hours. In the morning we may have one last look around Willcox, perhaps at the sewage ponds which are home to good numbers of wintering ducks and shorebirds. The drive back to Phoenix gives us one more opportunity to search for Mountain Plovers if we haven’t already seen them. Tour concludes upon arrival in Phoenix.