Take Your Binoculars to Arizona

Sunset, October 1991 | Go to article overview

Take Your Binoculars to Arizona


IF YOU VISIT TUCSON this fall or winter, be ready for impossibly beautiful sunrises, toasty days, and birds. Birds? More than that, birds that seem to draw double takes from everyone, serious birder or not. You'll find everything from bright red cardinals to painted redstarts, Chihuahuan ravens to clown-faced acorn woodpeckers.

Southeastern Arizona's serendipitous mix of mountains and desert attracts birds from Mexico, the East, and all parts of the West. Tucson is the gateway to all this. Within an hour's drive from town, two stream-watered canyons and a vast saguaro forest offer perfect birding in several habitats. Weather is usually excellent this time of year--cool at dawn, shirtsleeve-temperature later on.

Best birding (particularly in open desert) is early in the day. If you're out a sunrise, you'll be astonished at the number of variety of birds you can see. At midday, you probably won't find much.

Take binoculars and a field guide. And before you set out, call Tucson Audubon's rare-bird hotline--(602) 798-1005--to learn about recent sightings of unusual birds.

MADERA CANYON:

MECCA FOR BIRDERS

Rolling northwest out of the Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon empties into the Sonoran Desert below. In just a few miles, the canyon takes you from desert plain to mixed tracts of pine, alligator juniper, Arizona madrone, and Douglas fir. Oaks and sycamores line the stream, and chaparral cloaks the canyon's flanks.

This rare combination of abundant water and multiple habitats serves as a magnet for a remarkable array fo insects, birds, and mammals.

A new, easy trail travels the 3-mile length of the canyon; parts are graded for the disabled. Starting at dawn, slowly walk the trail between Proctor Road (at the canyon's mouth) and Santa Rita Lodge (1 1/2 miles upstream). Painted redstarts, gnat-catchers, bridled titmice, yellow-eyed juncos, and gray-breasted jays frequent the trees above, while Gambel's quail and three kinds of to-whee work the underbrush. As the day warms up, look for vultures, ravens, and hawks floating on air currents over the canyon. The oaks here are full of woodpeckers; acorn woodpeckers are most common, with Strickland's here as well.

When birding slows down, walk up the nature trail 1 1/2 miles from the lodge to the Roundup parking lot. Trailside birding isn't great, but views down the canyon and out over the desert are.

If you aren't up for the hike, stake out the feeders at the lodge (almost every bird in the canyon visits them at one time or other), or hunt for insects in the canyon bottom. The area is rich in butterflies, spider-killing Anoplius wasps, and mesquite-girdling beetles (these litter the ground with perfect, pencil-thick mesquite prunings).

At night, check the lodge's hummingbird feeders again: nectar bats work them almost constantly. Then head back up to Roundup at the top of the canyon. Sit quietly, watch for shooting stars, and listen; you have a fair chance of hearing coyotes or javelinas (wild peccaries), or maybe spotting a fox or coatimundi slipping across the road.

To reach Madera Canyon, take I-19 south 23 miles from Tucson to exit 63, at Green Valley. Go east I mile on Continental Road to White House Canyon Road; turn right. Go 7 miles, then veer right onto Madera Canyon Road. Follow it 3 1/2 miles to the canyon.

To join a naturalist-led guided walk through the canyon (about $10), or to make reservations at Santa Rita Lodge (which caters to birders), call 625-8746.

If you like to camp, you can stay in the canyon at Coronado National Forest's Bog Springs Campground. Cost is $5 per night; picnicking is $5 per day.

SAGUARO MONUMENT:

BIRDS IN THE CACTUS

Dawn in the time to be in Saguaro National Monument. The monument's western unit, draped over the mountains just northwest of Tucson, averages 200 saguaros per acre. …

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