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Birding in Southeastern Arizona - Page 1


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Birding in Southeastern Arizona

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The best birding opportunities in the Southwestern states are found in the southeastern corner of Arizona, along the San Pedro and Santa Cruz rivers and their tributaries. This is an amazing happenstance, considering the arid nature of the desert which surrounds the riparian habitats.

This area attracts more birding enthusiasts than any in the Western states. The Hummingbirds alone are worth a trip to the region.

Whichever location you choose, you'll know that the wildlife viewing will be exceptional.

Prime Birding Areas

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

In 1966, The Nature Conservancy, with help from the Tucson Audubon Society, purchased 312 acres along Sonoita Creek in order to protect a delicate riparian environment. It was the Conservancy's first project in Arizona, leading to many other ventures. The Conservancy -- over the ensuing years -- has parlayed the 312 acres, through obtaining conservation easements and donations, into more than 750 acres. It is an outstanding example of how nonprofit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, along with governments, donors and private landowners, can work together to preserve a priceless heritage.

The preserve is located at the town of Patagonia, on State Highway 82, which runs from Tombstone to Nogales. Patagonia, a pioneer Old West town (with cowboys following the miners), has matured into a charming little town which has retained much of its pioneer flavor, while developing facilities for tourists, including several fine bed and breakfast homes. After arriving in Patagonia, turn west on 4th Avenue. Then turn south on Pennsylvania and cross the creek. The preserve is about 3/4 mile down the road.

Patagonia and the creek lie between the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains, in the Santa Cruz watershed. The perennial creek provides a variety of habitats as it wanders through the valley, joining the Santa Cruz, north of Nogales. The Conservancy's preserve features a wonderful, mature cottonwood and willow woodland ecosystem. Many of the Fremont cottonwood trees are over 100 feet tall, a perfect perching and nesting place for hawks. Some are as old as 130 years. Several varieties of willow are found here, along with the lesser trees including Arizona black walnut, velvet ash, canyon hackberry and mesquite, close to the water. The preserve also includes marsh areas or cienegas. Over 250 species of birds are found in the preserve and other wildlife lives on and under the ground including javalina, bobcat, coyote, the desert tortoise, toads, frogs and white-tailed deer. As with other Arizona places, rattlesnakes are also seen.

This is most of all a birder''s paradise. Three trails (Creek, Railroad and Cienega) lead through the sanctuary, along the creek and to the marsh areas. The Railroad Trail leads along the old rail bed of the Santa Fe line, which ran the length of Sonoita Creek when it was built in 1882. A visitor center provides trail information, bird checklists and information on current sightings. A self-guided nature trail has been planned.

Guided trail tours are given each Saturday at 9 am, and other walks are conducted according to the seasons. For information, call the preserve office at (520) 394-2400. The prime birding period is March through September. Migrants are seen during late April and May and again during late August and September. Winter brings a few migrants including the rufous-backed robin.


Cave Creek Canyon

The canyon is the location of the Southwestern Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History. The station contains an superb collection of flora and fauna. The canyon ityself is a renowned birding area and hiking trails lead from the canyon floor through the Coronado National Forest. Cave Creen Canyon is near the New Mexico border. You can reach the site by taking State Highway 80 northeast from Douglas, or south on Hwy. 80 from Interstate 10, a few miles east of the New Mexico state line. It is also possible to drive along an unpaved road which leads south from Exit 362 of I-10 (east of San Simon). This road leads south into the national forest, joining the road from the town of Portal.


Sulphur Springs Valley & the Willcox Playa

The wide valley which lies between the Dragoon Mountains and the Chiricahua range is the Sulphur Springs Valley. Along the Interstate 10 corridor, the town of Willcox is situated at the north end of the valley, with the small town of Elfrida at the southern edge. Winter is the prime season for bird watchers visiting the area, as winter rains flood portions of the huge Willcox Playa -- which in summer is a dry pan. Each year, 12,000 sandhill cranes descend upon the Playa, joining other migratory birds including long-billed curlews, lark buntings, chestnut-collard larkspurs and the occasional whooping crane. The town of Willcox established the annual Wings Over Willcox Festival to celebrate the arrival of the enormous flock of visiting cranes. It's held in January; call 800-200-2272 for information.

Farther down the valley, raptors are the prime attraction. Along the old Highway 666 route is the largest collection of eagles, hawks and falcons in the state, including ferruginous, rough-legged coopers, sharp-shinned, red-tailed and harris hawks, harriers, merlins, kestrels, prairie and peregrine falcons, bald and golden eagles. A good place to see waterfowl and shorebirds are the ponds in Willcox (called the Cochise Lakes), located beyond the golf course. Shorebird migrants include pharalopes, stilts and avocets. Sandhill cranes are the most populous species here, with peregrine falcons seen from time to time. Motel accommodations are available in Willcox.

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, located in the southern part of the Sulphur Springs Valley, uses what used to be a large ranch as habitat for waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and other wildlife.Operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, this is a multi-purpose wildlife area, with seasonal hunting taking place. The main entrance is on Coffman Road. Public facilities include picnic tables and restrooms. Thousands of sandhill cranes are drawn to the area during winter months, and you'll also see the mahy raptors that occupy the vallley from Douglas to Willcox.


Where to Stay -- Hotel Guide

Reserve a hotel in Arizona

To search hotels, cruises,
and vacation packages around the world,

go to the Hotel Guide

Benson Arizona


In Patagonia:

Stage Stop Inn, 303 West McKeown St. P.O. Box 777, Patagonia AZ 85624 (520) 394-2211

This small hotel was opened in 1969, on the site of the old Hall's Mercantile Store and a soda fountain shop. The rooms are named after the old mines of the area, including Big Jim, New York, and Mowry. With a restaurant and guest laundry, the hotel has rooms and kitchenettes ($ to $$).

Patagonia Camping

Patagonia RV Park This is a private camping operation at 566 Harshaw Road. The operation has spaces with hookups. For information and reservations, call (520) 394-2491.

Patagonia State Park is located on the highway southwest of town, with camping beside the reservoir.

In Sonoita:

Crown C Ranch, Box 984, Sonoita AZ 85637, (520) 455-5739

This unusual place to stay has to be included because it is rare that a small group of people (two or three couples) can stay together, share kitchen facilities but have their own privacy. The Crown C is a working cattle ranch and Sidney Franklin is the owner and host. The ranch house and a guest house are rented to travelers who usually rent the 2-bedroom guest house as a unit. The same is true for the two wings of the main ranch house (one wing has four bedrooms, and the other wing has two). There are kitchens in the two wings and in the guest house. The ranch offers the sense of privacy which a B & B cannot offer. Facilities include a swimming pool and tennis courts. You could bike from the ranch house, or hike through the ranchlands, to the Arizona Trail which passes through the nearby forest. Horse trailrides can be arranged through a local tour operator. The ranch is located 2.75 miles west of Sonoita on Arizona Highway 82. It dates from the mid 1930s. All of the prime birding sites including Patagonia, Coronado National Memorial, etc., are less than a hour's drive from the ranch ($$). lpine wilderness, is north of town, with impressive high meadows and peaks.


More Birding in Southeastern Arizona,
including the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area:
Go to Birding Page 1

or Carr Canyon, Madera Canyon,
and Ramsey Canyon:
Go to our Sierra Vista Page 




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