For most wildlife watchers, Arizona means just birding in Southeast Arizona and much of what follows does indeed pertain to the southeast corner of the state. However, central Arizona is also an excellent birding area and visitors (especially those from the east) should definitely consider spending a few days in the White Mountains. Northern Arizona is also worth a look for some of its montane species and the spectacular scenery of the Grand Canyon.
Portal, AZ © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Given its size of some 18,000 square miles and lack of coastline, it is a surprise that Southeast Arizona has recorded more species of birds than any other area of its size in the country. Because of its proximity to Mexico and the diversity of habitats in such a small area, Southeast Arizona has earned a reputation as one of the best birding spots in North America. Moreover, there are many species here that are hard to find or simply cannot be seen elsewhere in the United States. Birds like Elegant Trogon, Buff-breasted and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, Thick-billed Kingbird, Rose-throated Becard and Mexican Chickadee to name just a few.
Elegant Trogon Trogon elegans © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
The abundance and variety of birds is hardly surprising when you consider that the short trip from Tucson to the top of Mt. Lemmon, a scant 50 miles away, is the equivalent of traveling from Mexico to Canada in terms of habitat and associated birdlife. Each of the spectacular mountain ranges (Sky Islands) and the deserts, valleys, grasslands and riparian areas have their own special character and birds to offer. If you are only able to visit one area of the state, from a birding standpoint Southeast Arizona is without a doubt the best place to be.
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
East Central Arizona
Located on a high plateau known as the Mogollon (MOG-o-yon) Rim, the White Mountains of east central Arizona are one of birding’s best kept secrets. Although only a few hours from the distinctly Mexican birdlife of Southeast Arizona, the lakes, forests, and alpine meadows of this scenic area are home to many northern species. From the juniper-clad foothills near Springerville at 7,000 feet, the terrain on the rim quickly changes to an average elevation of 9,000 feet with pine and fir forests.
Montezuma Quail Cyrtonyx montezumae © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Among the many species found here are Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Gray and Pinyon Jays, and in fast flowing streams, American Dipper. Even at this altitude there are peaks like Mt. Baldy near Greer, and Escudilla near Nutrioso. In this 11,000 foot spruce-fir and aspen environment, live birds like Blue Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker. Yes folks, this is Arizona too! If you have the time, plan to spend a few days here after your trip to Southeast Arizona and experience the tremendous contrast in both birds and landscape. If you like solitude, spectacular scenery, and some great birds to boot, then this is the place.
Le Conte’s Thrasher Toxostoma lecontei ©Dodie Logue Naturalist Journeys
Most visitors flock to the south rim of the Grand Canyon where the accessibility is good and the views are, admittedly, spectacular. However, for birds you would do well to take the road less traveled (and much further) to the north rim. Here, and particularly further north in the boreal-like forests of the Kaibab Plateau, there are more birds and far fewer people. The 8-9000 feet ponderosa pine, spruce-fir, and aspen forests support many montane species including Northern Goshawk, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Three-toed Woodpecker, Blue Grouse, Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch and occasionally, Pine Grosbeak. Further south near Flagstaff are the San Francisco Mountains and the almost 13,000 feet high Humphrey’s Peak, which is about as close to timberline as you can get in Arizona. The surrounding Coconino National Forest, several nearby lakes, and picturesque Oak Creek Canyon combine to offer an impressive variety of birds and beautiful scenery.
Cactus © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
There are other areas of the state that you can visit, of course, but with the exception of a few water birds, the three mentioned above will produce almost every bird that can be seen in Arizona. If you’re into state birds, the Colorado River corridor from Yuma in the south to Bullhead City in the north is a productive area. There are some great birds to be found here all year, but summer is dangerously hot and winter and fall are the best times to visit the various National Wildlife Refuges and Lake Havasu for some good Arizona water birds.
Major Source: Fatbirder
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Photo Source: © Naturalist Journeys