Globally Important Bird Area: San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, AZ

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go.

Lesser goldfinch are a common sight at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David.

The word riparian refers to an area where plants and animals thrive because of an availability of water, either at or near the soil surface. This riparian corridor supports one of the Southwest’s last remaining desert riparian ecosystems.

The San Pedro River enters Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, flows north between the Huachuca and Mule mountain ranges, and joins the Gila River 100 miles downstream near the town of Wickelman. The San Pedro River flows year-round through the conservation area, though sometimes a trickle, a rare occurrence in the Southwest.

The Bureau of Land management (BLM) manages this area, which may be one of birdings best kept secrets. Designated a Globally Important Bird Area in 1996, this 56,000-acre preserve is home to over 100 species of breeding birds and invaluable habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds.

Gambel's Quail is also a frequent visitor throughout the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The BLM is a key member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership, a consortium of local, federal, and state agencies and groups working together to meet the water needs of the southern Arizona area and protect the resources of the San Pedro River.

Because of its location between the Huachuca and Mule mountains, the conservation area attracts such varied species as loons and grebes, cormorants and pelicans, larks and swallows, lesser goldfinches and house finches, and, of course, hummingbirds.

A good way to visit is to go to San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista off Route 90. Located on the site of an old cattle ranch, the visitor center is in the old ranch house beneath the umbrella of two gigantic cottonwood trees. One of these great patriarchs has lived over 130 years. This tree alone is worth a visit. Here you will find informative exhibits, plenty of birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside, you can nab a walking stick and explore several miles of trails that lead through sparrow-laden sacaton grasslands, along the cottonwood- and willow-strung riverbank, and beside cattail-lined ponds.

Other San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area access points include St. David Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David Cienega, Fairbank, Charleston, and Hereford.

Worth Pondering…
Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
—Langston Hughes

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