Birding Tour USA: Arizona - Desert and the Grand Canyon 2017

Duration: 12 days

Welcome to our next ‘Birding Tour USA’ adventure. Southeast Arizona is a land of stark contrast and spectacular scenery. In the lowlands, granite outcroppings, towering saguaro cactus, and sandy washes typify the Sonoran Desert, a landscape featured in so many ‘western’ movies. This fabled desert is the home of such iconic desert species as Greater Roadrunner and Gambel’s Quail. Rising from this desert, isolated mountain ranges clad in Madrean pine-oak woodland provide a habitat found nowhere else in the United States. These forested mountain islands, with provocative names such as the Huachucas and Chiricahuas, are the northernmost outposts for a long list of primarily Mexican species such as Elegant Trogon and Red-faced Warbler. The canyons ringing these mountains carry ephemeral streams to the parched lowlands below, creating ribbon-like groves of cottonwood that act as a conduit for even more tropical birds to enter southeastern Arizona, such as Thick-billed Kingbird and Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Together, these contrasting habitats make southeast Arizona one of the most exciting regions to bird in North America with more bird species than any other landbound area of comparable size in the United States. Only California, Texas, and Florida have state lists longer than this relatively small region! Of these birds, thirty-six species are not regular anywhere else within the United States, making it a must for North American birders.

The area north of the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment that defines the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, presents a completely different impression of Arizona with its extensive ponderosa pine forests, permanently snow-capped peaks, and steep canyons. The most famous of these canyons, the Grand Canyon, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. The birds in this region are more typical of the Rocky Mountains, such as Lewis’s Woodpecker and Pinyon Jay.

We begin this Birding Tour USA adventure near the city of Phoenix, exploring the chaparral-juniper scrub of Mount Ord for two specialized and range-restricted species: Grey Vireo and Black-chinned Sparrow. In the southeast of the state, the Chiricahuas will provide us with our first true taste of birding the Madrean sky islands, with specialties such as Elegant Trogon, Olive Warbler, and Mexican Chickadee featuring prominently in these mountains. Further west, we will punctuate our time spent in the upper elevation sky islands with vigils at lowland hummingbird feeders for Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Lucifer Sheartail. Also on this Birding Tour USA excursion a visit to California Gulch, famous for its small population of Five-striped Sparrow, will also give us our best chance to see the exquisitely patterned Montezuma Quail. Near Tucson, we explore the Sonoran Desert via Saguaro National Park for classic desert species such as Cactus Wren and Pyrrhuloxia. We then head north out of the desert to the city of Flagstaff. Rising north of the city, the majestic San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountains in Arizona, are home to a long list of iconic Nearctic species such as the amazingly-hued Mountain Bluebird and bizarre Clark’s Nutcracker. We spend our final sunset in Arizona at the Grand Canyon with magnificent California Condor – a fitting end to what should be a memorable Birding Tour USA adventure.

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