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Days 1 - 3: Wednesday 2 – Friday 4 April 2025 - Fly to Arizona and birding around Tucson
We fly from London to Arizona (flight details to be confirmed closer to departure date) and our tour begins at Tucson. There, we meet our local guide in the afternoon and once acclimatised, enjoy some introductory, birding within the Sonoran Desert over the first two days. Well placed, we have a good variety of birding sites and habitats right on our doorstep, taking time to explore city parks, man-made wetlands, farmland and of course the desert itself. Costa’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Glided Flicker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Hooded Oriole, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Canyon Towhee and Rufous-winged Sparrow are all early targets, and we may even get lucky with our first Greater Roadrunner. Overnight Tucson for two nights.
Day 4: Saturday 5 April - Santa Catalina Mountains
Leaving early we head straight for Mount Lemmon, just 15 miles from the city and the tallest within the Santa Catalina range. At an elevation of 2790m, the Ponderosa Pine forest-covered summit is significantly cooler than the deserts below. Olive Warbler is a big target here, and also likely around the summit are Cordilleran Flycatcher, Band-tailed Pigeon with Rivoli’s Hummingbird possible at a feeding station too. Descending to lower altitudes the forests become more varied, supporting a greater diversity of birds but with specialists at each level. At around 2000m we look for Red-faced, Grace’s and Virginia Warbler, Greater Pewee, Pygmy Nuthatch, while lower still where Alder and Sycamore trees dominate we may see Arizona Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Painted Redstart, Black-chinned Sparrow and Bridled Titmouse. Reaching the base in the afternoon, we travel south towards the Santa Rita range taking time to look for any unseen desert species on the way. We stay overnight in Green Valley for three nights.
Days 5 & 6: Sunday 6 & Monday 7 April - Santa Rita Mountains including the Madera Canyon
Widely regarded as one of the best birding areas in North America, the Santa Rita Mountains support a number of specialist breeders, at the same time boasting an impressive list of migrants and vagrant birds! Over 250 species have been recorded, and in the riparian woodlands of the Madera Canyon we have our first chance to encounter Elegant Trogon – aka the ‘Star of Arizona’! The hummingbird feeders here are often well attended and likely are Back-chinned, Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbird, with rarer species including Blue-throated, Berylline and White-eared Hummingbird previously recorded. Stunning Montezuma Quail is another top target within the region as is rare Five-striped Sparrow, a Mexican species which occurs in the Santa Rita’s more regularly than anywhere else. A number of warblers migrate through the region at this time of year, and we could encounter Orange-crowned, Yellow, Townsend’s, Black-throated Grey, Wilson’s, Lucy’s, MacGillivray’s, Hermit Warbler - all in stunning summer plumage! Turkey Vulture and Zone-tailed Hawk patrol the skies, and in the lower canyons and deserts we look for Scaled Quail, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Black-throated and Brewer’s Sparrow, Varied Bunting and many more. On one evening, we take an (optional) evening excursion to look for Elf Owl and Whiskered Screech-Owl, both of which occur in the Green Valley area.
Day 7: Tuesday 8 April - Sonoita Creek Valley and the San Rafael Grasslands
Travelling to the tiny town of Patagonia, we are well placed within the Sonita Creek Valley to look for a number of desirable species. A visit to the famous Paton’s feeders will hopefully give us Anna’s and Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and we may see Vermillion Flycatcher or the unique Phainopepla here too. Exploring different habitats near the town, also possible are Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Western Wood-Pewee and Albert’s Towhee. Travelling south, scarce inhabitants of the San Rafael Grasslands include Chihuahuan Meadowlark and the local race of Grasshopper Sparrow. Hopefully we will see both before we continue towards the Huachuca Mountains. We stay overnight at Sierra Vista for two nights.
Day 8: Wednesday 9 April - Huachuca Canyons
A number of canyons bisect the Huachuca Mountains, and we have some great options for today. The birding varies year on year, and depending on up-to-date news and the birds we have seen so far, we choose from Carr, Ramsey, Ash or Miller Canyon. Likely targets include Red-faced Warbler, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee and Hepatic Tanager, while the hummingbird feeders may give us rare Lucifer’s Hummingbird among others. If lucky we may also see Spotted Owl too, plus a range of migrating wood-warblers, orioles, finches, sparrows and buntings.
Day 9: Thursday 10 April - Huachuca’s to the Chiricahuas
We spend the morning in one or more of the Huachuca’s for any unseen birds, before travelling east towards Portal in the Chiricahua Mountains. The flat desert-lands between the two ranges are prime Greater Roadrunner country, and we keep an eye out for Prairie Falcon too. A stop at a wetland hotspot in Wilcox for wildfowl, waders and terns is always productive with chances to add lots of new species. With limited water in the desert, an oasis such as this often attracts a variety of migrants and possibilities include American Wigeon, Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird's, Spotted, Least, Stilt and Semi-palmated Sandpiper and White-faced Ibis. In the surrounding grasslands, endemic Chiricahua Raven are likely and difficult species such as Shore Lark, Chestnut-collard Longspur, Lincoln’s, Brewer’s and Savannah Sparrow may be found. We reach Portal in the afternoon, where we stay overnight for three nights.
Days 10 & 11: Friday 11 & Saturday 12 April – Chiricahua Mountains
With two full days to explore, new targets in the higher reaches of the eastern Chiricahua's include Mexican Chickadee and Yellow-eyed Junco. We also have another chance for some earlier higher-elevation birds, perhaps dedicating time to look for Red-faced and Olive Warbler. A trip across the state line into New Mexico will hopefully see as add three more new species - Bendire’s Thrasher, Juniper Titmouse and Calliope Hummingbird. Crissal Thrasher, Inca Dove, Cassin’s Kingbird and Gambel’s Quail are also often easier to see here. Back in Arizona state, Elegant Trogon may be seen at Cave Creek canyon, alongside Arizona Woodpecker, Painted Redstart, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Plumbeous and Hutton’s Vireo. Also likely in the Chiricahua's are Steller’s Jay, Hermit Thrush, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-headed Grosbeak, Hooded and Scott’s Orioles, Pacific-slope, Cordilleran and Hammond’s Flycatcher plus a selection of American Wood-warblers.
Day 12: Sunday 13 April - Portal to Tuscon
A flexible day, but within it we need to make our longest drive (3 hours) back to Tuscon. Your guides will choose the best locations to add new species, or perhaps obtain better views of sought after desert specialities. Options include birding at the Wilcox wetlands again where a high turn-over of migrant birds ensures plenty of variety, or we could return to the deserts early for another encounter with Greater Roadrunner and desirable birds there. We stay overnight at Tuscon for one night.
Day 13: Monday 14 April - Departure
Our tour ends this morning, and after transferring to the airport we travel back to the UK arriving on (day 14) Tuesday 15 April.