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Birding in Southeastern Arizona


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Sierra Vista- Arizona

High Desert Scenery

The town of Sierra Vista is a fast-growing growing community, located close to the Mexcan border, and high enough in the high desert and the Huachucha Mountains to make for pleasant temperatures. It has become a popular retirement community. On top of that, It is in the midst of national forests and lots of wildlife.

The Nature Conservancy's Ramsey Canyon Preserve has to be the finest place for viewing hummingbirds on the continent. More than 160 bird species including 14 hummingbirds have been identified here, to say nothing of the other bird varieties available here and in the nearby lowland San Pedro riparian areas. Sierra Vista has a full range of motel andbed and breakfast accommodations, plus 30 restaurants and other services to travelers.

What to See & Do

Ramsey Canyon Preserve

While the preserve is best known as a birding spot -- with an emphasis on hummingbirds -- it is also home to an amazing variety of plants including wildflowers, mountain mosses and fir trees: more than 400 plant species in all. There is also a full slate of animal life from spiny and alligator lizards, to bats, butterflies, leopard frogs, coatimundi, javalina, rock squirrels and opossums.

The main birding attraction, hummingbirds, arrive starting in late March. By mid-August, the peak hummingbird population is in place, including broad-tailed, broad-billed, white-eared, beryline, violet-crowned, blue-throated, rufous, magnificent, Lucifer, Anna's, Allen's black-chinned, and Costa's hummingbirds. Most leave before October, with a few stragglers hanging on for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, this is also a year-round birding destination, with raptors including golden eagles and hawks, warblers, flycatchers, sapsuckers and juncos arriving in season.

The Hamburg Trail leads from the visitor center to a scenic overlook (one mile) and beyond, into the Coronado National Forest. Guided tours are given on a seasonal basis.

With the guest cabins now removed, the nearest accommodations are at the Ramsey Canyon B&B, which is immediately adjacent to the preserve. The inn has six rooms, plus two separate housekeeping apartments with kitchens. There are well appointed accommodations in Sierra Vista.

A wise thing to do when beginning a visit to Ramsey Canyon is to stop at the visitor center and the well-stocked bookstore. Here you will find nature field guides and interpretive materials from around the world, as well as information on the flora and fauna of Ramsey Canyon. The capacity of the preserve is limited. Thus, it is necessary to secure a parking permit for weekend and holiday visits. Weekday parking is available on a first come, first served basis. RVs over 18 feet are not permitted in the parking area. Visitors are asked to contribute $5 ($3 for Conservancy members) upon entering the preserve -- a small sum for such a superb experience. For information, call the preserve at (520) 378-2785.

Madera Canyon

Located in the Santa Rita Mountains west of Sierra Vista, this area, famed for broad-billed hummingbirds, is reached from Interstate 19 (the freeway from Tucson to Nogales), from Green Valley by taking a sideroad, or by taking the unpaved Greaterville Road from State Highway 83, south of I-10.

The same hummingbird species seen in Ramsey Canyon are seen here, along with other birds including elf owls. Other species including the elegant trogon are found in the canyon. At a higher altitude, a trail leads from the upper picnic area offers more good birding, including possible sighting of the flammulated owl.

Carr Canyon

East of Sierra Vista, in the Coronado National Forest, Carr Canyon offers camping with picnicking amongst many birds. This is among the very few places in the southeast where one may camp at a prime birding site. The two campgrounds here, Reef Townsite and Ramsey Vista, offer good birding. Trails lead into the Miller Wilderness Area in the national forest. This is where the bird watching gets really interesting. The buffbreasted flycatcher is often spotted here, in addition to other high altitude species, among them the red crossbill, red-faced warbler, yellow-eyed junco, pygmy nuthatch and Stellar's jay. There are several trails leading from the two campgrounds, including the Comfort Springs Trail. A good thing to remember is that only the lower campground has water.

To get there, drive south from Sierra Vista on State Highway 92. Turn west onto Carr Canyon Road and drive along this road for 8.5 miles. It's a narrow, curving road, a thrill to drive, heartstopping to some, but it will get you there.


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