This tour will take participants to three great American states and provide a great introduction to many of the birds of North America. We will visit Colorado, Arizona and southern California on a three- week trip that will highlight the delights of the spring migration. In addition to birds we will experience magnificent landscapes from the Rocky Mountains to the Grand Canyon. For much of the trip we will have the benefit of a professional Colorado bird guide, Sue Riffe of She Flew Tours. Sue will guide us through a variety of habitats across Colorado and Arizona. For the remainder of the tour I will do my best to guide you to the birds and sites of our itinerary. This will be my fourth visit to North America; however, I have spent 18 months in North America in total.
Day 1a (April 5, 2020) – Meet at the hotel Lobby in Los Angeles. Super 8 by Wyndham LAX Airport
Day 1. (April 6, 2020). We will leave our hotel after breakfast and head out for a little LA birding; we will visit both Madrona Marsh and the Ballone Wetlands and adjacent beaches. This will provide a good start to our USA list. Super 8 by Wyndham LAX Airport
Jump on the free shuttle to the hotel near the airport. Enjoy a swim in the indoor heated pool or an exhilarating whirlpool until dinner.
We will meet Sue Riffe, our local Colorado/Arizona guide over dinner and an orientation meeting.
Rest up this evening for an early departure in the morning.
Day 3 (April 8) – Heading out east across the prairie, our three main stops are prairie wetlands, Pawnee National Grasslands and Stalker Lake State Wildlife Area.
The prairie wetlands hold birds such as the beautiful Cinnamon Teal, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilts. On to Pawnee where we eat lunch in the middle of a migrant trap. After exploring the trap area our search will begin for prairie targets including Mountain Plover, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. We will begin our drive out east in earnest as we head for Wray, Colorado. Stalker Lake SWA has some riparian edges, a small lake and surrounding prairie.
Before dinner we get a chance to meet the fantastic ranch owner of the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek. He has some interesting stories. After chatting with him, off to the hotel in Wray.
Other target includes Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Lincoln’s, Vesper and White-crowned Sparrows, shorebirds and early migrants.
Day 4 (April 9) – An early morning visit to a Greater Prairie Chicken at Mr. Bledsoe’s private ranch first on our agenda! The chickens should be close enough to hear and photograph. We will stay in our van with the windows and sliding door opened as a blind. Everyone will have amble time to get great looks and photos. Please dress warmly as we must remain still and quiet to not scare the birds.
A late checkout from the hotel and off to breakfast to celebrate our success.
As we head back through the prairie towards Denver, it gives us a second chance to pick up any species we may have missed. Being on the eastern side of Colorado puts us on the western range edge of some different species. Stops could include Bonny State Wildlife Area and migrant trap Last Change among others. Overnight in western Denver. Targets will include Eastern Bluebird, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, Ring-necked Pheasant and Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Day 5 (April 10) – After seeing the mountains off in the distance for two days, today we head up slope.
Our first stop is the Red Rocks area. These sandstone rocks were pushed up into flatirons, as the locals call them. Falcons nest here. We can add some foothills species including 3 falcon species, White-throated Swift, Say’s Phoebe, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, House Finch, American Robin and Spotted Towhee.
Genesee Mountain Park and the montane habitat therein is our second stop as we travel into the Rocky Mountains.
|Genesee Mountain Park|
This habitat is dominated by the butterscotch smelling Ponderosa Pines. We should be able to add Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch and Red Crossbills to our list.
Next stop is the continental divide at Loveland Pass. This will be the coldest spot on our trip so after lunch we can put on all our clothes. Here our target is the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan. They are dressed in mostly white this time of year and hide well in the snow drifts. It will take some careful searching to find them. Driving through a few neighborhoods in this area we’ll listen for flocks of mountain birds. Our main target here is Brown-capped Rosy Finch however there could be others…. Overnight in the small town of Walden.
Day 6 (April 11) – Early start for the Greater Sage-Grouse lek where some 60 birds are commonly seen. The sights and sounds from this lek area are amazing. You will need your camera and a spare battery! After this show, time for a warm relaxing breakfast.
Some of this day will be spent in North Park with its elevated flat valley that has ribbons of riparian areas. Pronghorn, Mule Deer and Moose might also be seen today with some luck.
Arapahoe National Wildlife Area, Walden Reservoir, Moose Visitors Center and Rabbit Ears Pass will help fill out our water bird list for the trip. We could see up to 17 species of ducks, 5 species of grebes, early shorebirds and gulls. A few targets include Sandhill Crane, Willet, breeding California Gulls and American White Pelicans, Marsh Wren, Rough-legged Hawk and Yellow-headed Blackbird.. Overnight in the ski town of Steamboat Springs.
Day 7 (April 12) – Today will be another early start for Dusky and Sharp-tailed Grouse. A single male Dusky Grouse has his territory where he displays for nearby females. If we’re lucky, we will hear their low booming sounds.
The Sharp-tailed Grouse stomp their feet during their display and one is reminded of Native Americans dancing. Heading west and then south, we’ll stop in the town of Meeker for feeders, Coal Canyon near Cameo and Grand Valley Nature Center. Targets include Chukar, Golden Eagle, Loggerhead Shrike, Common Raven, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Black-throated Sparrow, Black-billed Magpie, Cassin’s Finch, American Goldfinch and Western Screech-Owl. Possible owling in PM. Overnight in Clifton.
Day 8 (April 13) - Leave Clifton for the stunning Colorado National Monument. More pictures! Hike the three kilometre Devil’s Kitchen Trail. Ash-throated Flycatcher, Gambel’s Quail, Black-chinned Hummingbird and Plumbeous Vireo are all possible along this trail. Also stops at the Visitors Center and campground looking for Pinyon Jays, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtits, Black-throated Gray Warbler and Western Bluebird.
Then east to Brewster’s Ridge for Long-billed Curlew, Bewick’s Wren, Brewer’s, Lark and Sagebrush Sparrow.
Fruit Growers Reservoir provides water for the fruit farmers in the area and is a local hotspot. Not only will we see waterfowl, but will look for Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, 5 species of Grebes, Marsh Wren, Yellow-headed Blackbird and a possible American Bittern.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is beautiful and worth a stop for the scenery alone. We might even see another Dusky Grouse. Overnight in Gunnison.
Day 9 (April 14) – Our earliest start of the trip is for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek. These endangered grouse are seen from a far ridge and are backlit by the sun. Dress warmly! We should also see our third species of prairie-dogs before leaving Gunnison County. After the lek, we will head east over Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide for high elevation species. Targets here include Clark’s Nutcracker, Gray Jay, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsucker.
After our brunch, we need to cover some ground to get back to Denver for our evening flight to Tucson, Arizona. We’ll make stops to break up the drive including Royal Gorge Bridge area and Canon City. These two spots are in the heart of Pinyon Juniper habitat and over new species. We should add Canyon Towhee, Scaled Quail, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Curve-billed Thrasher and Juniper Titmouse. Our two-hour flight to Tucson Arizona is in the evening. Overnight in Tucson.
Day 10 (April 15) – One of the ‘Sky Islands’ is Madera Canyon. Today will be spent exploring from bottom to the top.
We will add a ton of new birds here!
Our first stop is Proctor Road in the middle of dessert grasslands with mesquite. Hiking shoes are needed for today.
Santa Rita Lodge feeders in Juniper Oak Woodlands is a treat for any birder. Hummingbirds plus many others will show off for us.
The upper canyon trails will call our name for more exploration. With any luck, the small Elf Owl will pop out for a quick sighting as we head back out for supper. Naming just a few of the species we should add are Black-chinned, Rivoli’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Acorn, Arizona and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Bell’s Vireo, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Verdin, Lesser Goldfinch, Northern Cardinal, Lucy’s Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak and Hepatic Tanager. The special species in this canyon is the Elegant Trogon. We will make every effort to find this one.
Day 11 (April 16) - Tucson, AZ – Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia roadside rest and the Paton Center are some can’t miss hotspots in this region. We’ll hit them all!
PSCP has a flat two-mile trail and is owned by The Nature Conservancy. The property has Sonoita Creek running through which never runs dry and has plenty of rich riparian areas. This makes for great birding and butterflies. The state park has a half-mile trail and several overlooks.
Picture 15 - Patagonia- Sonoita Creek Preserve
Patagonia Lake is in the middle of a desert and draws every water loving bird for miles.
Patagonia roadside rest stop has hosted some rare birds over the years. The story behind this site is that some rare birds were found here which made other birders stop here and then they found [different] rare birds. It is a birding example of lightening striking several times…
The Paton Center is now owned and operated by the Tucson Audubon Society. The Paton family had feeders up for years and opened their yard to visitors. Today the feeders are still stocked. Lawn chairs in the back yard is the norm. Targets today include Inca and White-winged Doves, Violet-crowned and Anna’s Hummingbirds, Gray, Common Black and Zone-tailed Hawks, Gila Woodpecker, Vermilion and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird, Gambel’s Quail, White-breasted Nuthatch, Curve-billed Thrasher, Lazuli Bunting, Chipping, Lark, Song and Rufous-winged Sparrows, Abert’s Towhee, Neotropic Cormorant and Great-tailed Grackle.
Day 12 (April 17) – The Huachuca Mountains is another ‘Sky Island’ right on the U.S. border with Mexico. If we are lucky, some rare birds have started breeding in small numbers and might still around for our trip. (Flame-colored Tanager and Tufted Flycatcher).
Our day will primarily be in the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon and will include some hiking. This preserve feeds the San Pedro River basin below.
Here are a few we might see including Blue-throated Hummingbird, Elegant Trogon, Greater Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Scott’s Oriole, Grace’s, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Hermit and Red-faced Warblers. Lots of color today for sure!
Day 13 (April 18) – Our final day in the ‘Sky Islands’ and the furthest east are the famous Chiricahua Mountains.
This is home to the only known population of Mexican Chickadees in the country. Pinery Canyon, Barfoot Park, Paradise Road, Portal and Cave Creek are our destinations on this loop around the mountains. We hope to add Yellow-eyed Junco, Olive and Grace’s Warbler, Pyrrhuloxia, Buff-breasted Flycatcher and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. With some luck we might add Montezuma Quail, Cactus Wren, Black-chinned Sparrow, Band-tailed Pigeon, Greater Roadrunner, Crissal Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Hooded, Bullock’s and Scott’s Oriole.
Day 14 (April 19) – Saguaro National Park and Museum are can’t misses, so we are going there! Saguaro cactus are unlike any other cactus found in the country. Many bird species make their homes on or in these cactuses including Elf Owls, Cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, sparrows, raptors and finches. o/n SureStay Hotel Best Western Phoenix Airport
Day 15 [April 20] Phoenix to Flagstaff
Today we have a long day drive north through Arizona to the town of Flagstaff, which we shall use as a base for our Grand Canyon visit.
We will start early so we can have a chance for a few stops throughout the afternoon. We will enjoy driving the famous Red Rock Scenic Byway which takes one through the town of Sedona. We should make time for a few stops in the Coconino National Forest. o/n Days Inn by Wyndham Flagstaff - West Route 66
Day 16 [April 21] Grand Canyon Day Trip
The Grand Canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list and is a place which you cannot oversell. Enjoying the many vistas obviously will be the focus of our day, however; we will have some time for birding.
One of our main targets at the Canyon is the California Condor, the largest land bird in North America. Northern Arizona is one of four release sites in the California condor recovery program, which for the past 25 years has sought to bring these large birds back from the brink of extinction. Every year since 2003, condors at the Grand Canyon have successfully bred in the wild and now more than 60 condors fly in the skies over Arizona. o/n Days Inn by Wyndham Flagstaff - West Route 66
Day 18 [April 22] Flagstaff to Joshua Tree
Another travel day – our longest on the tour. Sit back and let me do the driving! We have a six-hour journey east today through often spectacular desert country. We will stop when necessary and do some birding on spec. o/n High Desert Motel Joshua Tree National Park
Day 19 [April 23] Joshua Tree National Park
After breakfast today, our first stop will be Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. This oasis of cottonwoods and willows attracts many birds - both residents and migrants - and is a popular birding spot. Brightly coloured Summer Tanagers, rare in southern California, should be found here. Equally eye-catching, Vermilion Flycatchers also frequent the reserve. Migrant warblers, vireos and flycatchers are likely to enliven our walk along the boardwalk through lush palm woodlands and we might encounter a charm of Lawrence’s Goldfinches feeding in the weedy fields at Big Morongo - although their chance appearances anywhere are notoriously unpredictable!
Later in the day, we enter the spectacular Joshua Tree National Park. Although birding can be relatively quiet here, that fact is soon forgotten as one’s imagination is lost amidst the stunning setting of rocks and surreal, twisted Joshua Trees - not a true tree, but in fact a giant yucca! Encompassing more than 570,000 acres of rugged desert terrain, this remarkable park ranges from sea level up to around 2500m (8000ft), and is home to a number of special birds, including the shy Le Conte’s and Bendire’s Thrashers. Chipper Rock Wrens sing from the tall rock outcrops and ‘giant-sized’ Cactus Wrens chatter from the strange Joshua Trees. o/n High Desert Motel Joshua Tree National Park
Day 20 [April 24] – Mountains
An early morning departure is necessary today as we head for the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains. Amongst the most scenic of mountain ranges in Southern California, the San Jacintos tower almost 3500 metres above Palm Springs.
Climbing up through the woodlands, we will pass by Hemet Lake, before descending into the Sonoran Desert at Highway 74. The sleek but curious-looking Phainopepla can often be seen feeding on berries on hillside bushes near Hemet Lake. Hurkey Creek State Park is a great location in which to enjoy typical birds of the upland pine forests and we will be watching here for Pinyon, Steller’s and Western Scrub Jays, White-headed and Acorn Woodpeckers, Mountain Chickadees and three out of four North American nuthatches - Pygmy, White-breasted and Red-breasted. Hummingbird feeders in the park attract good numbers of Black-chinned and Anna’s Hummingbirds. With any luck, we will bump into the sought-after Lawrence’s Goldfinch, these delightful small birds gathering into small flocks at this time of year prior to leaving California and heading south to spend the winter in neighbouring Arizona and Mexico.
After we’re satisfied with our mountain birding experience, we will continue driving west towards the Californian coast. o/n Wyndham Irvine Orange County Airport
Day 21 [April 25] Orange County Coastal sites; Tour finishes at 6pm, LAX or Airport hotel
On our last day in North America we will explore a variety of coastal sites. Heisler Park, with nice views of the Pacific, will show us some seabirds and waders on the rocks below the viewpoints. A few other species are possible too; California Towhee, Black Phoebe, Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds and Bushtits. At Crystal Cove State Park we will search the scrub for the tiny California Gnatcatcher and California Thrasher. Back Bay (Also known as Upper Newport Bay) is also a great place for birding, especially on a falling tide. Access points are along Back Bay Drive. It's a great place for shorebirds, terns, gulls and some waterfowl. Lastly La Bolsa Chica where we can find Elegant Terns, which breed there.