Each day, we took off in search of winged treasures such as the Red-faced Warbler, Gray Hawk, and White-eared Hummingbird. These birds live in Mexico, Central, or South America, but can be found during breeding season in the high mountains or along riparian areas in southeast Arizona.
Meeting Up With Fellow Birders
Adding tremendously to our enjoyment of Sierra Vista was meeting up with Fred and Jo Wishnie of the The Wandering Wishnies. I’ve been reading their travel journal for years. When I realized that they were in Sierra Vista, I emailed and asked them if they would like to get together. Fortunately, they readily agreed. That was a good thing. Not only were we staying in the same RV park, our site was right around the corner from their rig.
We established an immediate camaraderie at our very first happy hour, and spent part of every day of the following nine days together. We birded together, convened for happy hour daily, and enjoyed several delicious meals together. It was wonderful to meet this interesting and delightful couple who had never camped in their lives, but decided on a whim to take to the road full-time in 2006.
Here, the highlights of our Sierra Vista birding extravaganza:
San Pedro Riparian Area
Just a few miles from Sierra Vista, this is a rare remnant of what was once an extensive network of similar riparian systems throughout the Southwest. It’s a lush green corridor of cottonwoods and willows in the midst of the dry desert. Stretching 40-miles along the upper San Pedro River, San Pedro provides habitat for more than 250 species of migrant and wintering birds.
More than 4 million birds migrate through here each year. On several hikes along the river, we were accompanied by a symphony of bird song. We enjoyed numerous sightings of Summer Tanagers, Vermillion Flycatchers, Yellow and Lucy’s Warblers, and Western Tanagers.
Beatty’s Guest Ranch in Miller Canyon is renowned for hummingbirds, and holds the North American record of 14 species found in a single day. The Beatty family has created a lovely hummingbird garden and feeding area. This is luxurious birding, with stadium seating and a shade canopy so that visitors can observe the hummingbirds in comfort.
For a $5 donation, you can watch the feeding, courtship, territorial, and acrobatic antics of hummingbirds to your heart’s content. We saw at least a half-dozen species, including the rare White-eared Hummingbird. We were told that August is actually the best time for finding the most species of hummingbirds. Late summer in Arizona is not a pleasant thought, but we were assured that “it’s not that bad.” We might brave it someday.
Another treasure in Miller Canyon is a pair of Mexican Spotted Owls, which return each year to breed in the canyon. We hiked up canyon twice in search of the owls. On our first foray, we found only the barest glimpse of the female in her nest cavity. A couple of days later, we returned and after a long search and scramble through the dry creek bed, we found the male perched and sleeping. We continued further up the canyon on a rough, rocky, and steep path and finally found Red-faced Warblers, a beautiful bird mostly found in the mountains of Mexico.
About 15 miles from Sierra Vista is another well-known birding destination. The primary attraction here is Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast. The proprietor is an avid birder and welcomes day visitors to her gardens for a $5 donation. She’s in the garden every day, watching the birds and offering observations with her African gray parrot perched on her shoulder. Apparently, the bird is temperamental. As we walked into the garden, I said, “What a beautiful bird!” He glared at me, and Mary Jo said, “He’s very protective. He wants you to sit down.” So we did, and spent a pleasant couple of hours watching a variety of birds coming to the feeders, including hummingbirds, nuthatches, orioles, quail, and woodpeckers.
About 10 miles from Sierra Vista, this very pretty shaded canyon is located in Fort Huachuca, an active army base. Entrance is via a military checkpoint, and then a winding, confusing network of roads that meander past military installations, an enormous water tower that proclaims “Fort Huachuca, A Great Place To Re-enlist Since 1877!” and shooting ranges. The Upper Picnic Area offers excellent birding along a creek. We had numerous views of the beautiful Painted Redstart and a terrific up-close sighting of a juvenile Gray Hawk there.
One of the most well-known birding destinations in southeast Arizona, Ramsey Canyon (owned by the Nature Conservancy) is a cool oasis in the hot desert. Sycamores and maples grow along the banks of a spring-fed creek. A steep two-mile hike climbs to the top of the canyon for a view of the San Pedro Valley, and comfortable bird viewing areas are set up along the creek for those who choose to sit and bird. We enjoyed hiking up the canyon, seeing Hepatic Tanagers, Bridled Titmice, and Arizona Woodpeckers. We got absolutely no usable photos of any bird that day.
About The RV Park
We stayed at Sierra Vista Mobile Home Village & RV Park. Pickings are slim in Sierra Vista, and this is primarily a mobile home park, but it’s beautifully maintained and a great place to stay. There are 33 RV sites; the weekly rate is $175.
We enjoyed fabulous birding at our campsite after putting out treats for the birds.