Top 3 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together.

Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands” harboring rare species and communities of plants and animals.

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go. Birding enthusiast are attracted to this unique region with many arriving in recreational vehicles.

The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Generally, they are located along streams and rivers or in forested mountain canyons. Some will have nearby RV parks or forestry campgrounds but will require a drive in your toad/tow vehicle.

3. Whitewater Draw

The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is in the southwestern part of Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north.

The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields.

Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.

This is a playa that fills with shallow water during the wet seasons and attracts many types of waterfowl, including migrating snow geese, sandhill cranes, and many kinds of ducks, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Hunting in the grasslands or soaring overhead are prairie and peregrine falcons and wintering hawks. Spring and fall are good times to spot migratory birds. Surrounding grasslands nurture a wealth of quail, doves, sparrows, and songbirds throughout the year.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While hardly luxurious, this area does have some useful amenities including restrooms, RV access and parking, walking trails and interpretive signs, and viewing platforms with binoculars.

In the wet season, the ground can be soft and muddy. Take precautions. If you will be exploring in a vehicle away from the parking area, a 4-wheel drive is recommended.

Whitewater Draw is a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone.

To read more on Whitewater Draw, click here.

2. Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Managed by the Nature Conservancy, 380-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve, located within the Upper San Pedro River Basin in southeastern Arizona, is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life.

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, it is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

The diverse wildlife and habitats of Ramsey Canyon may be viewed from the Hamburg Trail. This open-ended route parallels Ramsey Creek through the preserve before climbing 500 feet in a half-mile series of steep switchbacks. These lead to a scenic overlook in the Coronado National Forest one mile from the preserve headquarters. From the overlook, the trail continues upstream and enters the Miller Peak Wilderness Area where it joins other trails.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is about six miles south of Sierra Vista.

To read more on Ramsey Canyon Preserve, click here.

1. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) 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 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages this area. 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.

Designated a Globally Important Birding Area, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Designated an Important Birding Area, San Pedro National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, numerous birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

Adjacent to the San Pedro House are ramadas, interpretative exhibits, picnic tables, and bird feeders for close-up encounters with the tiny travelers.

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, Charleston, Hereford, and Fairbank Historic Townsite where you can peer into a restored schoolhouse, view an 1882 Mercantile building, and walk the trails to the river.

To read more about San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), click here.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspots

Part 1: Top 6 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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