Birding

SOUTHEAST ARIZONA’S  SKY ISLANDS  

WORLD BIRDING HOTSPOT!

Are you an avid birdwatcher or would you like to learn more about birds? If so, consider visiting us for a day or more to explore the sublime natural wonders of southeast Arizona and their accompanying avian diversity. Birdwatching is now hugely popular throughout the world, including the U.S.  So, whether you’re a seasoned “birder” wanting to add new species to your life list or a neophyte looking to get started, your sure to delight in the winged wonders of one of the most popular birdwatching destinations on Earth – Arizona’s Sky Islands.  It’s no wonder that the first destination in The Big Year (a recent movie about birding) was Patagonia Lake State Park – a mere 5 minutes from our Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary! To view and download a recent Audobon article, please click: PDF

   

RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS is strategically located within a region known as the “Sky Islands” – rightly famed as a biological crossroads and biodiversity hotspot.  The term “Sky Islands” derives from our numerous lofty and isolated mountain ranges, punctuating an overall flatter landscape. Thus, moist forested mountain “islands” are separated not by water but by “seas” of drier and intervening deserts and grasslands. The isolating effect of these more foreboding habitats is palpable and evident to a keen observer. Within a relatively small distance you can encounter wildlife, including birds, that varies more than in any comparable area in the U.S.

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The Sky Islands are situated at a biological convergence zone where a variety of disparate biomes meet – each lending their respective diversity to the region. Here the temperate Rocky Mountains meet the subtropical Sierra Madres and Tropical Thornscrub of Mexico. Also, the higher, cooler Chihuahuan Desert converges with the warmer, lower Sonoran Desert. Even the Great Plains exert an influence upon the Sky Islands.

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The meeting of these diverse biomes combined with a relatively low latitude (around 32 degrees – similar to North Africa) and a great range of elevations results in a phenomenal mix of flora and fauna! Bird diversity in particular is extraordinary, as you will see, and includes many unique and regional species. Reptile, Mammal, Invertebrate, and Plant diversities are correspondingly high as well, making for great overall wildlife and Nature viewing.

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Over half of the bird species found in North America have been recorded the U.S. portion of the Sky Islands!  Indeed, some of the most sought-after birds in North America are found in southeast Arizona. Many of these are dubbed “Mexican Specialties, as they barely make it into Arizona’s Sky Islands from Mexico and are normally found no further north.

  Our avian diversity includes:

  • 18 species of Hummingbird
  • 12 species of Owl
  • ~23 species of Hawks and Vultures
  • 13 species of Woodpecker
  • ~30 Flycatcher species
  • 7 Vireos
  • 8 Corvids
  • 8 species of Wren (all of Europe has only 1!)
  • 3 species of Gnatcatcher
  • 9 species of Mimic Thrushes
  • ~10 Thrushes
  • ~52 species of Warblers
  •  ~36 species of Sparrows & Towhees – the most in the world!

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While traveling from one Sky Island range or valley to another on a Sky Islands Birding Hotspots Tour with us you may expect an overlapping, yet different bird list for each place. For example, Cactus Wrens Crissal Thrashers, and Roadrunners make a living in the drier zones while Elegant Trogons, Painted Redstarts, and Flammulated Owls lurk in the forested canyons and woodlands of the mountains.  Further, some bird species “lean” east or west, north or south within southeast Arizona, adding local diversity to an already wonderfully bird-laden place!

   

Significantly, from the east the Great Plains sweep into the area, providing a number of bird species, such as wintering Longspurs, post-breeding Lark Buntings, and breeding Grasshopper Sparrows – all characteristic of grasslands. A trip to our scenic grasslands may seem like a journey to the distant prairies of the Central U.S.! In fact the musical Oklahoma! with its lush, sweeping vistas was filmed only a short drive from Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary!  Nearby northern Chihuahua even boasts a reintroduced herd of American Bison as well as large colonies of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs!

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The Chihuahuan Desert similarly skirts the eastern edge of the Sky Islands, providing a characteristic flora and fauna – especially in the easternmost ranges, such as the Peloncillos and Chiricahuas. Scaled Quail, for example, can be found in our area owing to this connectivity with the Chihuahuan Desert.

   

Rivaling the beauty and surpassing the overall biodiversity of this higher, cooler desert is the lower, hotter, and subtropical Sonoran Desert to the west. Here, LeConte’s Thrashers, Gila Woodpeckers, Ferruginous Pygmy Owls, and Elf Owls take good advantage of the rich plant species assemblages in this incredibly diverse desert. A variety of birds nest in the spectacular Giant Saguaro, so characteristic of many Sonoran Desert scenes.

   

Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountains trickle their decidedly temperate influence down from the North. Thus, one can find Mountain Chickadees in the Pinaleno Mountains or, occasionally, Clark’s Nutcrackers in the Chiricahuas. Towering Spruce-Fir Forests in particular harbor many north temperate bird species, including Red Crossbills and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Standing in these majestic coniferous forests, the scenery seems more reminiscent of Canada than of Arizona! These seemingly enigmatic forests are the perfect place for a cool Summer birding trip or a wintry wonderland during the cooler months.

   

Finally, and perhaps most significantly for the bird enthusiast, are the 2 southern biome influences that permeate the Sky Islands from Mexico. The Tropical Deciduous Forests of Sonora are but a day’s trip south of the border, where such flamboyant bird species as Russet-colored Motmot and Blue-Winged Parrotlet make their home. The colonial town of Alamos is a wonderful place to visit this northernmost extension of the Neotropics. To the east loom the Sierra Madre Mountains, where many exotic bird species inhabit the multi-varied habitats stacked upon this extensive cordillera. A journey from the rim of famous Copper Canyon to the bottom – deeper than the Grand Canyon – transports you from Fir and Pine Forest down to Palm-lined canyons replete with Military Macaws and huge Morpho Butterflies!

   

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YOUR GUIDE: VINCENT PINTO’S BIRDING EXPERIENCE

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Vincent began his Sky Islands birding career during a Master’s level study of the state-endangered Gould’s Wild Turkey (the largest subspecies) in the rugged Peloncillo Mountains, straddling New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. It was 1987 and he soon fell in love with the Sky Islands. Despite several sojourns as a Naturalist and Wildlife Biologist elsewhere in the states, he quickly returned to southeast Arizona, purchasing Raven’s Mountain Nature Sanctuary in 1993. In addition to teaching for a variety of education institutions in the Southwest, Vincent also felt privileged to study both Mexican Spotted Owls and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, adding to his already extensive birding knowledge.

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Prior to founding RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS, Vincent’s first birding experience was at the age of 12 on a family trip to Florida. He soon began watching birds intently nearer to home in Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park. In addition to his work as a professional Wildlife Biologist Vincent has also birded in 25 states, as well as in: Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Botswana, France, and Italy. Thus, he brings an extensive knowledge of birds to all of his programs. Despite the wide array of topics that he teaches, Vincent always remembers his first love – birds! To view and download an Audubon article, please click:PDF

BIRDWATCHING AT RAVEN’S NEST NATURE SANCTUARY

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Raven’s Nest, our 42-acre Nature and Wildlife Sanctuary, is well situated for birdwatching within the Sky Islands region. We’re located only 75 minutes from Tucson with spectacular scenic views of the Sky Islands and Mexican Mountains from at and near the preserve.

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When you take a Birding Program with us you are – from a birdwatching and ecological perspective – in Mexico! Here we boast an extensive bird list with many species found locally and in few or no other parts of the U.S.! To view and download the list of the Birds thus far recorded at Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary, please click: PDF

dsc_8368_2Some of the bird highlights at or near Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary include (** = Mexican Specialty species, found only near the borderlands):

    1. Black-bellied Whistling Duck
    2. Neotropic Cormorant 
    3. Blue-footed Booby** 
    4. Black Vulture 
    5. Gray Hawk** 
    6. Zone-tailed Hawk** 
    7. Common Black Hawk** 
    8. Harris’s Hawk**
    9. Swainson’s Hawk
    10. Peregrine Falcon
    11. Montezuma Quail** 
    12. Inca Dove 
    13. Common Ground Dove 
    14. Greater Roadrunner 
    15. Whiskered Screech Owl** 
    16. Elf Owl** 
    17. Lesser Nighthawk 
    18. Mexican Whip-poor-will**
    19. Green Kingfisher**
    20. Violet-crowned Hummingbird** 
    21. Broad-billed Hummingbird** 
    22. Berylline Hummingbird** 
    23. Plain-capped Starthroat** 
    24. Elegant Trogon **
    25. Arizona Woodpecker** 
    26. Gila Woodpecker**
    27. Greater Peewee** 
    28. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet** 
    29. Vermillion Flycatcher 
    30. Brown-crested Flycatcher** 
    31. Dusky-capped Flycatcher** 
    32. Cassin’s Kingbird
    33. Tropical Kingbird** 
    34. Thick-billed Kingbird 
    35. Rose-throated Becard** 
    36. Mexican Jay** 
    37. Chihuahuan Raven 
    38. Bridled Titmouse** 
    39. Cactus Wren
    40. Sinaloa Wren**
    41. Black-capped Gnatcatcher** 
    42. Black-tailed Gnatcatcher 
    43. Rufous-backed Robin** 
    44. Aztec Thrush**
    45. Crissal Thrasher 
    46. Curve-billed Thrasher 
    47. Bendire’s Thrasher 
    48. Phainopepla 
    49. Lucy’s Warbler 
    50. Grace’s Warbler
    51. Virginia’s Warbler
    52. Red-faced Warbler** 
    53. Painted Redstart** 
    54. Hepatic Tanager 
    55. Abert’s Towhee 
    56. Canyon Towhee
    57. Rufous-winged Sparrow**
    58. Botteri’s Sparrow**
    59. Cassin’s Sparrow
    60. Black-throated Sparrow
    61. Yellow-eyed Junco** 
    62. Pyrrhuloxia 
    63. Varied Bunting** 
    64. Bronzed Cowbird 
    65. Lawrence’s Goldfinch 

At Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary we have been thrilled to welcome over the years all the local Birding Festivals to our Eco-Lodge for a very satisfying  birding experience.  Vincent leads groups from the Southwest Wings Spring Fling and Summer Festivals as well as the Tucson Audubon Birding & Nature Festival to Raven’s Nest in a very rewarding yearly partnership. Sharing our Nature Sanctuary with organizations with which we share common goals continues to be a RWWJ priority. We are committed to exposing as many birders as possible to our unique Sky Islands Biodiversity. Always passionate about our Education & Conservation Mission, we share a message of protection and preservation to all our visitors and guests.

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When comparing us to other bird guides consider Vincent’s extensive knowledge in other areas of Natural History, the sciences, and in Wilderness Survival. While savoring the visage of a spectacular borderlands bird, you may well enjoy identifying the species of tree where you saw it. The tree itself might well be a Mexican Specialty and often has some human uses. Thus, dipping into the realm of Ethnobotany you may, for instance, discover that it has medicinal qualities or an edible fruit. During your birding adventure Vincent will readily point out other wildlife species so characteristic of the Sky Islands Region. We abound in Lizards, Snakes – don’t worry, very few are venomous and they do not wish to bite you – Mammals, and Invertebrates. To view and download the Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary Butterfly List, please click:PDF

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Why miss out on such stunning  biodiversity? A birding trip with a knowledgeable and well-rounded Naturalist, such a Vincent, is far more than just identifying birds! Bird sightings are accompanied by Vincent’s observations on the behavior, habitat preferences, and other natural history facts about each species encountered.  Vincent will help you to identify birds by both sight and sound during your Birding Adventure.

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OWL PROWL

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NATADVEN-BirdingIn addition to daytime birding adventures we also custom-make otherworldly “Owl Prowls”, searching for some of our area’s nocturnal denizens. No prior bird-watching experience is needed, so join us as we roam the deserts, grasslands, and forests in search of these winged wonders!
Some of our local Owls and other nocturnal birds include:
• Barn Owl
• Flammulated Owl
• Western Screech Owl
• Whiskered Screech Owl
• Great Horned Owl
• Northern Pygmy Owl
• Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
• Elf Owl
• Burrowing Owl
• Mexican Spotted Owl
• Long-eared Owl
• Northern Saw-whet Owl
• Common Nighthawk
• Lesser Nighthwawk
• Common Poorwill
• Mexican Whip-poor-will

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Over the past 30 years Vincent has been a dedicated Wildlife Researcher throughout the U.S., acquiring  tremendous knowledge of the natural history of Owls and the nocturnal wildlife.  He’ll not only guide you to various wildlife hotspots, but also teach you how best to employ your various senses at night.  During an Owl Prowl we often see other nocturnal wildlife including a variety of mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates that add to the experience.  You can also add Astronomy to your Owl Prowl, as Vincent takes you on a tour of Arizona’s spectacular night sky! Consider adding our “Owls: Winged Assassins slide show” as part of your Owl Prowl as well! To view and download the Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary Bird List, please click:PDF

PLANNING YOUR SKY ISLANDS BIRDING TRIP

   

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Our Bird Guiding Rates are designed to fit your budget and to provide you with the most value and enjoyment during your Birding Adventure. If you are a return client or have been to our area before and have a Target Species List, then of course that can be the main focus of your Birding Adventure. In lieu of or in addition to this, Vincent can also custom-make an itinerary best suited to your birding level, physical capabilities, and your every whim. After all, this is your chance to have a fun and memorable birding experience that is perfect for you!

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At RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS we would love to help you plan a rewarding and productive Birding Adventure with us! If you are an experienced birder, then we can be your guide to some of most spectacular species you’ll ever find. We can choose the best locations given the season, and custom-make an itinerary that will best suit your wants, desires, and goals.  Give us your target birds and we’ll help you to find them.  Many people significantly add to their life list when they visit us!

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Keep in mind that we can accommodate any and all of the following situations:

  • Beginning birders
  • Intermediate birders
  • Expert birders
  • Local birders
  • Out-of-state birders
  • Overseas birders
  • Wilderness Birding
  • Individuals
  • Couples
  • Small groups
  • Large groups

Our Birding Rates are  exclusive of any transportation, which can be arranged at an extra cost. We will rent a comfortable and clean vehicle in order to keep your birding adventure fun. There are no mileage fees associated with any of our trips, as long as they are within a reasonable distance from our Nature Sanctuary. If you possess your own vehicle or a rental car, then Vincent generally sits up front, exercising his role as your tour guide. Longer trips, such as to Arizona’s White Mountains or to the Grand Canyon, can also be arranged. Binocular rentals can be arranged as you may need or desire. While tipping is never expected, it is of course always appreciated as you may see fit.  Discount rates for multiple-day Birding Adventures can be arranged.

 

5 HOURS/HALF -DAY 10 HOURS/FULL – DAY OWL PROWL  – 2. 5 H
1 – 2 Birders $ 250 $400 $ 150
3 – 5 Birders $ 350 $ 500 $ 250
6 – 8 Birders                   $ 450                   $ 600                  $ 450

Included in your Birding Tuition are the following:

  • A pre-Tour checklist with our suggested equipment and gear suited to exact time of the year and environments you’ll encounter during your Birding Adventure
  • Healthy snacks and an assortment of season-appropriate beverages
  • Pre-scouting of local birding destinations in your itinerary – typically Vincent spends the same amount of time scouting your birding destinations as you do birding them! This helps to ensure that you’ll find more birds, including the species you desire to see, as well as rare birds.
  • Checklist of Birds for various places we’ll visit
  • Post-tour Species List, including all of the birds and other wildlife that you encountered
  • Healthy & hearty bag lunch is included in full-day rates!

Vincent will carry several bird and other field guides for your use during your Birding Adventure. As he frequently takes photos of the locations and wildlife that you’ll enjoy during your trip, Vincent will happily send some along to you at your request and upon the conclusion of your trip.

   

If you are a beginning to intermediate birder, then we can help you to build your skills while enjoying some of the most sought after species on the North American continent. Regardless of your skill level, you can also choose to do some backcountry birding where we set up a base camp for several days and do day trips, seeing a wide range of species. Just e-mail or call us and we’ll help you plan your birding trip.

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During your birding adventure you may enjoy staying at Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary, where you’ll be able to see a wide variety of birds and other wildlife on our private, 42-acre Wildlife Preserve. If you have comfort and luxury in mind, then come to our African-style Safari Tented Camp CLICK HERE. Modeled after our own experiences in the remote wilds of Botswana, here you’ll have all the comforts of home, while entirely surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of Nature. Miles of secluded Nature Trails meander through dense Mesquite Woodlands and lush native Grasslands, presenting wonderful opportunities to encounter a diversity of unique birds and other wildlife.

   

For those who don’t mind going a bit more austere, you also have the option of staying in our Main Camp either in a beautiful canvas Expedition Tent or in a spacious Conventional Tent. Here the basic amenities are provided in the same beautiful setting as our Safari Camp. You may provide your own conventional tent or rent one from us.

   

Nearby to Raven’s Nest Nature Sanctuary are a host of incredible birding destinations sure to wet your appetite to explore. Five minutes from us Patagonia Lake State Park often harbors rare and unexpected aquatic species, as well as a wide range of Mexican Specialties. Adjoining Sonoita Creek State Natural Area – a short walk from Raven’s Nest – presents a more remote wilderness of 9000 acres for those who enjoy trekking in solitude. A wide range of other birding options – both near and far – help to make your experience a diverse and memorable one!

We would like to thank Alan Schmierer, our neighbor and bird photographer extraordinaire for sharing his beautiful Bird photos and Bryan Holliday for sharing his spectacular Raven photo.

   

BIRDING  NEAR RAVEN’S NEST NATURE SANCTUARY

  • Patagonia Lake State Park
  • Sonoita Creek State Natural Area
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Sonoita Creek preserve
  • The Patagonia Mountains
  • The San Rafael Grasslands
  • Sycamore Canyon
  • Pena Blanca Lake
  • Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge
  • Madera Canyon
  • Las Cienagas National Conservation Area
  • Tumacacori National Historic Park
  • Ramsey Canyon
  • San Pedro River National Riparian Conservation Area
  • Coronado National Memorial
  • Parker Canyon Lake
  • Kartchner Caverns State Park
  • Saguaro National Park
  • Catalina State Park
  • ….and many other fascinating locations!

We can help you to choose your birding destinations according to your desires and budget, acting as your expert guide along the way.  These natural areas host a wide range of incredible birds and other wildlife and visiting each of them is truly a unique experience.  Few other places in North America have such a diverse menu of local options to choose from when it comes to seeing and enjoying birds!