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DIY Arizona (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
After successful DIY trips to Ohio and Florida, myself, Dave Rose and Simon Hitchen decided that Arizona was our next destination for “do it in half the time and a third of the price of the tour companies”.

South-east Arizona was never going to be an area we could do justice to in a six night trip so we decided to concentrate on a small part. This did mean that some species such as Mexican Chickadee and Lucifer Hummingbird would be out of reach. We stayed in Tucson for 2 nights at La Quinta Inn (well placed for Mount Lemmon and Sabino Canyon) and 3 nights in Green Valley at a Best Western (to be close to Madera Canyon and more southerly sites). Both hotels were adequate and decent value for money.

We flew direct to Pheonix with BA. Quite an expensive flight (if you had time it would be probably be cheaper to fly to another US city with more UK flights and take a connecting flight). Car hire was with Alamo from Phoenix airport. The service was pretty quick and I would use them again.

I purchased the Tucson Audubon Society “Birding in South-east Arizona”. I recommend this to anyone planning a trip without a guide (it is worth paying the heavy postage cost from the States, the book itself is reasonably priced and cost less than the delivery!). We also had the birding in SE Arizona App. We used the book more and would recommend the book over the app.

Day 1/2
We knew that with a 17.30 arrival time and a 2 hour drive from Phoenix to Tucson birding opportunities would be limited on the first day. Unfortunately on arrival we were faced with the worst queue at immigration I have yet encountered in the USA. It took over an hour to get through which was disappointing as recent experiences at Miami and New York had been much much quicker. By the time we picked up our hire car it was already getting dark. We headed straight to the hotel and bed before an early start the next day.

Day 2 started like all good birding trips with a few species in the hotel car park. The most interesting was Gila Woodpecker, a lifer for all. This proved common throughout especially around Saguaro cacti. By 5.30 we were on our way up Mount Lemmon, this was a full day trip with many stops as we ascended the mountain heading for the summit. First stop was the snappily named Babad Do’ag View point a low elevation out look over the desert. It was not teeming with birds but we did have our first encounters with some of the commoner Arizona birds which we soon became familiar with, including the smart Black-throated Sparrow and the very active Verdin. The latter were particularly common and we soon got used to the call.

A little further up the mountain Molino Basin warranted a longer stop. Almost as soon as we were out of the car we saw a smart male Hooded Oriole. A small watercourse had attracted a smart male Wilson’s Warbler and we encountered our first Hummingbird, the Broad-billed Hummingbird which we generally found to be the most numerous Hummer. House Finches were everywhere around the campground.

A Summer Tanager posed nicely and one bush held both a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Myiarchus flycatcher. With three broadly similar species to consider we spent some time studying this bird and identified it as Ash-throated Flycatcher. Here we saw our first Phainopeplas another bird which was to prove common at lower elevations and Black-headed Grosbeaks which we encountered everywhere.

A little further up and another snappily named stop “The Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area”. This was a short stop as it was similar habitat to Molino with similar birds. We did see our first Greater Roadrunner, a key target species for us all.

As we ascended the mountain the desert and scrub gave way to pine forest and we stopped at Bear Canyon in the hope of picking up more targets. Almost immediately on leaving the car we picked up a Yellow-eyed Junco, a bird which went from exciting lifer to trash in about an hour! Several Grace’s Warblers were singing and we soon had “warbler neck” as they stayed very high in the trees. We soon found our first Painted Redstart, a stunning bird and one of our “most wanted”. They were reasonably common in the right habitat. Overhead a small flock of Violet-green Swallows were our first hirundines of the trip. A singing Spotted Towhee was the next to be seen. Several Acorn Woodpeckers were seen and in the right habitat they were numerous throughout.

Moving on to Windy Point for a very short stop we enjoyed spectacular views and saw our first Rufous-crowned Sparrow singing below the viewpoint. A pair of Violet-green Swallows were nesting in a hole in the cliff above the parking pull out.

At Rose Canyon campground there were many more Grace’s Warblers, a pair of Hepatic Tanagers, a White-breasted Nuthatch and our first Red-faced Warbler, a bird which became more common as went higher. Moving down to the lake we were unable to locate any Buff-bellied Flycatchers but had great views of another Arizona speciality, a Greater Pewee by way of compensation and saw our first Western Bluebird.

As the temperature rose things were getting noticeably quieter and we decided to drive up to the village of Summerhaven near the summit in the hope of finding more activity (and some lunch) rather than continue to stop at every pull in marked in the guide.

This proved a good move. A walk alongside the creek in Summerhaven brought great views of many more Red-faced Warblers along with Warbling Vireos, many Yellow-eyed Juncos, a couple of Steller’s Jays and House Wrens, an American Robin and many Acorn Woodpeckers.

Following a healthy lunch of crisps and ice creams we headed higher to the Iron Door Restaurant at Ski Valley to check out the Hummingbird feeders. These were quite quiet with only one species present, however that species was our key target here, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. This was the only place we saw this species.

We began our descent stopping at Control Road and Inspiration Rock but neither produced any new species. The next stop at Palisades was more productive. The pines below the visitor centre produced 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers (or Audubon’s Warblers depending on your take on taxonomy), a Plumbeous Vireo, a Pygmy Nuthatch and a strangely elusive pair of Mountain Chickadees and many more Yellow-eyed Juncos.

Our next stop was Incinerator Ridge, where we failed to find our target species of Olive and Virginia Warblers. Some compensation was provided by a White-throated Swift and a Zone-tailed Hawk. We also saw our only Peregrine of the trip.

With light beginning to fade we made one last stop at Molino Canyon Vista. Here we saw a group of Cactus Wrens which proved common in desert habitat and a pair of Canyon Towhees. As the Turkey Vultures came into roost we headed back to Tucson and a fine Mexican meal.


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Well-known member
We started our next day at Sabino Canyon at the floor of Mount Lemmon for desert specialities. The car park was already quite busy as people were up early to beat the heat. The car park held a very tame Roadrunner living up to it’s name.

We took a walk through the Saguaros heading for the Sabino dam. New birds were plentiful - a party of seven Gambel’s Quails were the first of many of this species we saw. A male Anna’s Hummingbird sat warming on a bush showing off his irridescent fetahers in the early sun. Our second myiarchus flycatcher was a Brown-crested Flycatcher and we saw several. Our first Curve-billed Thrasher was seen feeding from Saguaro flowers. Gila Woodpeckers, Cactus Wrens, Verdins and Phainopeplas were everywhere. A Pyrrhuloxia (one of only two we saw on our trip) perched on a wire and a large group of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers proved quite confiding with patience. An overflying hawk raised hopes of a Swainson’s but proved to be a Red-tailed Hawk. We then found and enjoyed great views of a singing Rufous-winged Sparrow.

As we approched the Sabino dam there was more scrub and small trees. These held many singing Lucy’s Warblers and Bell’s Vireos (the latter’s Whitethroat-like song became very familiar to us) and a skulky Yellow-breasted Chat showed briefly. Beyond the dam we followed the creek to a cliff area where Canyon Wren had been reported. We soon heard and the located the bird. We were keen to see all 3 large Wrens of the area. This just left Rock Wren to go.

Chatting to a local birder resulted in us being lead through the trees to a point where we could see a Cooper’s Hawk on a nest. We watched from a respectable distance unlike an Anna’s Hummingbird which buzzed around the nest tree ignoring the alert Hawk.

Although it was by now only 10am the heat was increasing and things were getting quiet so we headed back to the hotel to check out and enjoyed a large breakfast at the neighbouring Dennys, before heading north to Sweetwater Wetlands.

En route driving through an office park a flycatcher caught the eye and we pulled over. Almost as soon as we were out the car we picked up a brilliant and confiding male Vermilion Flycatcher (it turned out the bird that originally lead us to stop was the female). We spent some time with the pair and also picked up the first of many Lesser Goldfinches for the trip.

Sweetwater Wetlands was a place I had read a lot about on ebird and in the guide book but our time there was somewhat disappointing as we failed to see either of our two targets Harris’s Hawk and Cinnamon Teal. Several pools were drained and others were hard to view so waterfowl were not seen in abundance with just Mallard, Gadwall and a single American Wigeon. Careful scrutiny of the duck produced a good candidate for a Mexican Duck (along with several Mallard hybrids).

We did pick up a few birds for the only time on the trip which were familiar from our previous trips to the Eastern US, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. A large mixed flock of hirundines contained Barn and Cliff Swallows, Sand Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. We also came across the two common Kingbird species. A Western Kingbird sat somewhat unobtrusively overlooking the pool at the first viewing point. A Cassin’s Kingbird was more in the open, sitting on a pipe in one of the drained pools. Several Abert’s Towhees were added to the list but otherwise it was the usual suspects, Roadrunner, Gambel’s Quail, Cooper’s Hawk etc

It was now mid-afternoon so we headed down to Green Valley and checked into our hotel before heading straight out again towards Tubac where a pair of Rose-throated Becards were breeding. A stop for more potato based snacks produced a flyover Swainson’s Hawk (this one a nailed down Swainson’s not a Red-tail). Parking by the bridge in Tubac we found a Common Ground Dove, a Western Kingbird being much more showy than the earlier bird and another Vermilion Flycatcher. As we headed down to the De Anza trail we paused for some Summer Tanagers and had a large flock of starling sized passerines flyover. They looked like they might have been Waxwings and we scrambled back up to the bridge in the direction the birds had flown. Our luck was in. The flock had landed in the trees opposite the bridge and were indeed Cedar Waxwings. An unexpected lifer and we enjoyed distant but great scope views of the birds as they fed in the treetops. A great bonus.

As is often the case, directions which looked fine on paper did not look so obvious in the field and it wasn’t clear which path to take. We chose and headed up the path alongside a small stream, seeing a couple of commoner birds we had so far missed in Song Sparrow and Northern Cardinal. Then Dave spotted a raptor sat quietly in a tree on the opposite bank. A Grey Hawk! Fabulous views of this raptor were had. A very odd leggy looking Buteo which brought to mind African Harrier Hawk.

After a while though we still had not found the supposedly marked area to see the Becards and had walked further than the instructions indicated. We concluded we were on the wrong path and headed back picking up a Western Wood-pewee on route but with light fading there was no time to try the other path. We headed back to the hotel and did have a little run in with Border patrol when I misinterpreted a hand gesture (it turns out the officer was NOT waving me through!). A grovelling apology and playing the stupid limey card saw us on our way with nothing more than a telling off!


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Well-known member
Cheers Simon, am visiting Central West Oregon (have been a few times over the years) later in the year, and have always fancied Arizona as your trip report is indeed ''recommending''. Some great species logged already, keep up the good work...envying the V.Fly. Grey Hawk, Painted Redstart and Red-faced Warbler to name but a few.

Don't know if they are within range for you and if you haven't seen, I can recommend Mountain Bluebird....they are just stunning! I've only seen the one (briefly) and that was in the ''Sisters'' range, Cascades, Western Oregon during October a few years back. :t:

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Enjoying this, as not many reports on BF from this area. I lived in SE Arizona for 6 months in the early 90's, and you're bringing back some nice memories :t:


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
I’ve long wanted to visit this area and very interested to hear more.
Very nice Painted Redstart shot.



Well-known member
We started day 3 with a trip to Box Canyon, a known stake out for Five-striped Sparrow. It was a much cooler, cloudier day and although we welcomed this at first it was to have negative repercussions later. This was taking a bit of a chance as the road was pretty rough and we were going purely on an ebird marker. We arrived in what appeared to be the right area per the sat nav but there was no sign of the marker (supposedly a roadside post with an Agave stalk stuck in it). The habitat looked good though so we tried our luck. We quickly picked up Ash-throated Flycatchers and Cactus Wrens. Wandering up the road I had a Scott’s Oriole but unfortunately not everyone got on it. Simon located another of our targets here a Rock Wren which gave good views. A passing birder informed us that we were in the right spot for the Sparrow and to try the prickly pears back by where we had the parked car. This was a very good tip, as returning to the spot indicated we picked up a singing Five-striped Sparrow which then obligingly flew towards and gave crippling views. A really smart Sparrow this.

With a good start to the day we headed to Florida Canyon for Rufous-capped Warblers. En route we came across some other birders at a grassland area. Enquiring what was about, they were able to show us both Botteri’s and Cassin’s Sparrows singing close to the road. This was a great result as. Cassin’s Sparrow in particular was off the radar as we had been told they are usually invisible this time of year. Apparently the really wet spring in Arizona had triggered early breeding. We were also given better directions to Becards. At this grassland area we also saw our only Northern Mockingbird of the trip.

On to Florida Canyon where we went on a short trek for Rufous-crowned Warbler. We knew this would need a slice of luck to get these skulkers and it turned out we had used it all up our Sparrow hattrick! We did see another Western Wood-pewee, Canyon Towhees, Wilson’s Warbler and many Bell’s Vireos along with the usual suspects. Returning to the car park we checked out the iron gate by the research where Black-capped Gnatcatchers had been recorded. There we found what I must admit I mistakenly identified at the time a pair of (pretty similar) Black-tailed Gnatcatcher as well as a Grey Hawk. It was only later when studying the field guide I realised I had done a sort of reverse-string and passed off a rarity as a common bird.

With the day getting on and a guide booked to take us owling that evening we decided to try again for the Rose-throated Becards now we had better directions and headed back to Tubac. This time we crossed the stream via a plank (not mentioned in our original instructions!) and followed a different path, noting the helpful markers left by previous birders. We soon found the viewing area and were delighted to see the male sitting quietly in a tree behind the nest. He remained in place for a good time allowing great scope views.

Once we had our fill we headed back down the path picking up a couple of new species in Bridled Titmouse and Bewick’s Wren. At the bridge a new call attracted our attention to a Dusky-capped Flycatcher and a pair of Lark Sparrows were spotted the other side of the bridge. A flyover Swainson’s Hawk may well have been the same individual as the previous day.

Following a quick early and inevitably burger based dinner at the hotel we met our guide Laurens Halsey and headed for Madera Canyon. We started with a walk through the amphitheatre area to find Elegant Trogon. We came across a large party of Wild Turkey, many Acorn Woodpeckers and finally heard and had fleeting flight and somewhat unsatisfactory views of Elegant Trogon.

By the time we arrived at Santa Rita Lodge the light was already fading but the feeders were still busy and gave us two new species of Hummer, the Black-chinned Hummingbird and Rivoli’s Hummingbird (recently split from Magnificent Hummingbird). There was also a small party of Mexican Jays, several Bridled Titmouse and 2 White-breasted Nuthatches and a Rufous-crowned Sparrow.

Wandering back to our car we cam across a small party of migrant warblers along the main road. In the space of a few minutes we had 2 Townsend’s Warblers, a Black-throated Grey Warbler and a Hermit Warbler.

Now we headed higher up the canyon to look for owls and nightjars and it was now the relatively cool day came back to bite us. As darkness fell it got colder than usual and there were virtually no insects on the wing. Although we could hear Whiskered Screech Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will neither showed. The Flammulated Owls weren’t even calling. All very disappointing. We stopped at Proctor Road hoping for Elf Owl and Common Poorwill but again no sign of either, It was a disappointing end to what had otherwise been a very productive day.


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Well-known member
Thanks for all the positive comments!

Ken, I have seen Mountain Bluebird but only a female! I really hope to see a smart male one day.

Cheers all


Well-known member
The following day we met with Laurens for a full day in Florida and Madera Canyons. We started at Florida and began the day with a lifer in the shape of a Northern Beardless-Tyrannult. Flycatcher’s were in abundance with Western Wood-pewee, Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatchers and Cassin’s Kingbird all seen in the lower canyon. Vireos were also notable with Bell’s, Warbling and a new species in Hutton’s Vireo - a superficially Kinglet like bird.

A Bullock’s Oriole showed distantly and we also saw both Hooded and Scott’s Oriole. It was pleasing that we saw the latter as only I had seen the Box Canyon bird. There was a good number of warblers too, most notably 4 Wilson’s Warblers.

Back at the gate we had better views of the Black-capped Gnatcatchers and I was able to make-up for my misidentification of the previous day. A Grey Hawk was also present.

Heading to Madera our first target was to get better views of Elegant Trogon. We scouted the ampitheatre area again seeing various vireos (Plumbeous Vireo in addition to those seen at Florida) some very obliging Hepatic Tanagers, Painted Redstart and lots of Bridled Titmouse. Eventually we found a Trogon. This time it treated us to much more than flight views, showing really well around the bridge behind Santa Rita Lodge.

At the lodge itself we saw a similar selection of birds as the previous evening and enjoyed the usual ice cream based lunch.

We spent the afternoon on a hike up Mount Wrightson. This was not easy birding. A fairly steep long path that took a good 5 hours to ascend and return. The prize was Olive Warbler, a high elevation bird which we had missed on Mount Lemmon. After about 3 hours of walking we found one singing in the top of a pine tree. This bird, like the Yellow-breasted Chat is of uncertain relationships and in a family of its own, which added to the interest. Other highlights of the trek were Brown Creeper, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Hermit Thrush, Hermit Warbler and Black-throated Grey Warbler.

In the evening we returned to the parking area to try again for owls. We had a great start as a Northern Pygmy Owl was sat outside its nest hole with a sizable lizard in its talons. After checking out the feeders once again we headed to known Elf Owl site near the lodge. Unfortunately the owl was an hour later than usual in arriving and although we could hear it calling it was virtually pitch black and it couldn’t be seen.

So a quieter day although the Pygmy Owl, Olive Warbler and Trogon were highlights we were hoping for a good finish on our last day!


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Well-known member
Some great shots there Simon, the Trogon is awesome! Your comment on the Hutton’s Vireo regarding it’s similarity to a kinglet...is so true, I remember seeing my first and being momentarily confused by it’s likeness to the latter. :t:


Well-known member
I for one am highly unlikely to visit this area, or indeed anywhere outside the Western Palearctic, so it is very nice to read reports like this. All my trips are DIY and without cars just foot and folding bike. To read this sort of trip with its attendant highs and lows is, to me, what birding is about. Being able to peruse online maps to flesh out your photos with the habitat brings the report ‘alive’ and makes it feel like i am actually there...

Thanks again and good birding:t:

Laurie -


Well-known member
We started our final day in Green Valley in an area where Gilded Flickers had been reported. An extensive search brought up nothing but Gila’s on the woodpecker front but we did see our second Pyrrhuloxia, a confiding American Kestrel and a Say’s Phoebe.

We then drove down to a ranch near Amado to follow up on a report of Great Horned Owl. Here we saw our first White-throated Sparrows of the trip and had a brief encounter with a Blue Grosbeak. After a lot of searching Dave finally spotted the Great Horned Owl, well hidden in a pine tree. Although a fairly widespread bird in the US this was a lifer for us all.

Our next stop, about an hour further south was a somewhat undistinguished lay-by. This was the famous “Patagonia Roadside Rest”. The lay-by has become known for breeding Thick-billed Kingbirds and as a result of birder traffic several other good birds have been found at this place.

When we arrived several White-throated Swifts were flying overhead and an American Black Vulture drifted past. We then enjoyed good views of a Rock Wren collecting food and visiting a nest. A Yellow-breasted Chat was singing but proved elusive. Eventually we found a Thick-billed Kingbird perched atop one of the taller trees right by the main road. Another key target bagged.

We headed on to the small town of Patagonia and the Paton Center for Hummingbirds to check out their feeders. These served up a pair of Inca Doves, a Pine Siskin mixed in with many Lesser Goldfinches and best of all gave stunning views of a Yellow-breasted Chat coming to feed on oranges, completely belying its skulky reputation. A pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers often chased the Chat away.

The Hummingbird feeders were quite quiet but in amongst the Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummers was Paton’s star species the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. This gave great views and had made the trip down from Green Valley very worthwhile. Back underneath the feeders a flock of White-crowned Sparrows were feeding and amongst them was a Green-tailed Towhee, another new bird. A Zone-tailed Hawk drifted over and we saw another American Black Vulture.

There was time for one last stop before we had to head for Phoenix and the airport. We called in briefly at Patagonia Lake. After enjoying good views of Say’s Phoebe in the car park, we went for a short walk by the lake. Star attraction here was Neotropic Cormorant and we saw at least 14 as well as several Double-crested Cormorants. A few Ruddy Ducks were on the lake and we also saw both Green and Great Blue Herons to finish up the trip.
We had managed 130 species in 5 days (not bad considering no gulls or terns, very few waterfowl and virtually no waders). I managed 78 lifers on the trip.

Thanks for reading and all the positive comments. I hope this will be useful for anyone tempted to go birding in this great region.


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Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Agree with the other comments - great report with some nice birds in an area I had not really considered before but which must be added to the ever growing list now.


Well-known member
As you say several families virtually unrepresented but a few days in this sort of habitat yields some very localised and interesting birds. I have a couple of older guides, Petersen etc bought for the Scillies during the 80’s, and a number of species you saw i haven’t even heard of. I know the border region with the Rio Grande and Mexico can yield some crackers so a couple of weeks covering both areas could be mouth-watering:eek!:

Thanks again and good birding:t:

Laurie -


Well-known member
Simon, I’ve only seen Yellow-breasted Chat once (badly) in Central Park, your shot is superb! Particularly as they can be skulking little buggers, well done with the report and some great shots to look back on. :t:

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