A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Arizona: Birding the Border III 2021

May 14-23, 2021 with Chris Benesh guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
Migration was evident with this flock of Black-necked Stilts and a sprinkling of Avocets at the Amado Pond. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

May 2021 marked the return to running tours to Southeast Arizona as Covid-19 had temporarily eased up allowing for relatively safe travel. It was wonderful to be back out seeing birds and sharing in new discoveries. Climate wise, it was a challenging time for plants and animals in the region. A long, drawn out drought spanning two winters and a summer had left Arizona parched, with many species foregoing breeding and other winter birds lingering into the Spring. Places with surface water were attractive to birds and concentrated them to some extent. In addition, feeding stations were popular among seed-eating species. Elsewhere, certain species were conspicuously absent. Trogons failed to appear at many of their traditional breeding sites. In the grasslands, parched and overgrazed, sparrows were completely lacking. But there were some highlights despite that. We were fortunate to connect with a lingering Northern Jacana in Tucson. We also saw two rather rare hummingbirds with a Plain-capped Starthroat in the Chiricahuas and a Berylline Hummingbird camped out at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon. There were nice encounters with a few other prized species like Rose-throated Becard, Red-faced Warbler, Mexican Chickadee, and Montezuma Quail. We caught up with the first Spring arrivals of Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Varied Bunting. What may have been the avian highlight of the trip, we watched a Northern Pygmy-Owl devour a whiptail lizard before our eyes in Madera Canyon. What a show! So despite the drought, it was wonderful to be out birding again with friends and enjoying the amazing varied habitats of Southeast Arizona. You all will be pleased to learn that southern Arizona enjoyed a record monsoon this summer reviving much of the habitat in the region.


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

A pair of birds together in Tubac that looked to be courting a bit.

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A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks put on a show for us in Tubac. They appeared to be prospecting for nest sites. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

At least four of these were at Willcox.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)

A couple of these were at Sweetwater Wetlands.

MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)

A recent split from Mallard. We encountered birds along the Santa Cruz River in Tubac and at Pena Blanca Lake.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Two birds were hanging out at Pena Blanca Lake where they have been present for some time.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Three of these were at the Amado Pond.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata)

Quick looks at a pair of birds in with other quail at the Willcox golf course and better views later along the Portal Road.

GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)

MONTEZUMA QUAIL (Cyrtonyx montezumae)

Great views of a pair of birds crossing the road on the way up into Miller Canyon.

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Here is the male Montezuma Quail that we encountered on the drive up into Miller Canyon. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Several encounters with this increasingly common species.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

Our only one was at Pena Blanca Lake.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

A couple sighted high in the Chiricahuas.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

Well seen in Portal where this species is regular.

COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

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A fine example of the most widespread quail species in southern Arizona, Gambel's Quail. Photo by Elizabeth Harding.
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)

One of the iconic species of the southwest deserts; we had a few sightings, including the first bird of the trip that Donna spotted from inside the hotel!

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

LESSER NIGHTHAWK (Chordeiles acutipennis)

At least four seen feeding over a field near Nogales on the last evening of the tour.

COMMON POORWILL (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii)

We did have a calling bird along the Paradise Road early on in the tour.

MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus arizonae) [*]

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)

PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT (Heliomaster constantii)

Thanks to Barbara Bickel's generosity, we had great looks at one in Whitetail Canyon upon our arrival in the Chiricahuas.

BLUE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (Lampornis clemenciae)

This species showed well in the Chiricahuas.

LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD (Calothorax lucifer)

Quick looks at a female in Box Canyon.

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We were fortunate to connect with this rare Plain-capped Starthroat at Barbara Bickel's place in Whitetail Canyon. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)


COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae)

A couple of sightings of this species in Box Canyon at the end of the tour.

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)

CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus calliope)

Three different birds seen at spots in the Huachucas.

BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)

BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia beryllina)

Along with the Starthroat, this was the rarest hummingbird of the tour. We saw one that was hanging out at the Santa Rita Lodge.


Nice views of this species at the Paton Center in Patagonia.

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We spotted this secretive Northern Jacana at its hangout along the Santa Cruz River in Tucson. This individual stayed here for several months before disappearing soon after our tour. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)

One was at Sweetwater Wetlands.

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Jacanidae (Jacanas)

NORTHERN JACANA (Jacana spinosa)

A long-staying rarity seen along the Santa Cruz River in northwest Tucson. This species is a rare visitor to the US.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WILSON'S PHALAROPE (Phalaropus tricolor)

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

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Elizabeth Harding captured this image of Gray Hawk perched near the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary.
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

MISSISSIPPI KITE (Ictinia mississippiensis)

After some searching we eventually spotted two birds perched in a large tree in St. David. This species is a scarce breeder in this area.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

GRAY HAWK (Buteo plagiatus)

A few seen with the first being the handsome adult bird at the Ash Canyon Bird Sanctuary.

SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)

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One of the adult Mississippi Kites we tracked down in St. David, where this species breeds in small numbers. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus)

We saw one in St. David and another near Hereford as we were heading in to lunch.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

WHISKERED SCREECH-OWL (Megascops trichopsis)

One was seen in South Fork of Cave Creek.

WESTERN SCREECH-OWL (Megascops kennicottii)

We had great scope views of one snoozing at the San Pedro House east of Sierra Vista.

NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium gnoma)

This was one of the most exciting moments of the tour, watching a pygmy-owl dispatch a whiptail lizard outside of its nest hole in Madera Canyon.

ELF OWL (Micrathene whitneyi)

We got lucky with one in Cave Creek on an otherwise quiet night of owling.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)

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What an amazing sight, watching this Northern Pygmy-Owl eat a whiptail lizard in front of us before flying to its nest hole. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.


HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

ARIZONA WOODPECKER (Dryobates arizonae)

A few nice views of this regional specialty.

NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)

GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)

One of the first birds of the trip. We saw this Sonoran desert species west of Tucson.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

Tityridae (Tityras and Allies)

ROSE-THROATED BECARD (Pachyramphus aglaiae)

Thanks to Laurens Halsey for helping us get on birds along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac. This species has been staging a comeback in the state in recent years.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


Good views of one perched high up in a sycamore tree over Silver Creek.

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One of the Arizona Woodpeckers we encountered along the tour route. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax)

We connected with this species at Barfoot Park in the Chiricahuas and again in Miller Canyon.

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)

Quite a few lingering birds were still present in the higher elevation locations on the tour.

DUSKY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax oberholseri)

At least three lingering birds seen on the tour.

CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax occidentalis)

BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax fulvifrons)

After a bit of searching, we managed to track one down at Reef Campground in upper Carr Canyon.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

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Buff-breasted Flycatchers were scarce this Spring, but we did manage to track this one down in Carr Canyon. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)

BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tyrannulus)

Interesting to watch a pair of these feeding on honeybees in Portal.

SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Myiodynastes luteiventris)

A striking looking flycatcher. We saw some of the first arrivals of the year in Madera Canyon at the end of the tour.

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

We had a cooperative pair of birds in Tubac.

CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)

THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)

Good views of this species near Portal where they have recently nested.

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Swainson's Hawks are an attractive species and one of the common sights in the grasslands of southern Arizona in Spring. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

BELL'S VIREO (Vireo bellii)

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (WOODHOUSE'S) (Aphelocoma woodhouseii woodhouseii)

Well seen in Paradise, this species is a scarce resident along much of the tour route.

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This Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay put in a brief appearance in Paradise. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

MEXICAN JAY (Aphelocoma wollweberi)

CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)

The biggest gathering of birds we encountered in the high country of the Chiricahuas included a pair of this species.

BRIDLED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus wollweberi)

JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)

Great looks at one that was coming to a feeder in Portal.

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

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Juniper Titmouse can be tricky to see at the edge of their range in the Chiricahuas, but this one in Portal put on a great show for us. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis)

A few of the desert breeders seen including three at the Amado Pond.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (Psaltriparus minimus)

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

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This Mexican Chickadee was one of the pair that we saw high up in the Chiricahuas. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.
Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

BLACK-TAILED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila melanura)

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) [*]

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)

The only one seen was one in Cave Creek Canyon.

HOUSE WREN (Troglodytes aedon)

BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)

CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)

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This pair of Curve-billed Thrashers was hanging out at feeders in Portal. Photo by Joe Gardner.
Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)

BENDIRE'S THRASHER (Toxostoma bendirei)

Great views of a pair of birds nesting along the Portal Road bringing food to their young.

CRISSAL THRASHER (Toxostoma crissale)

We found one teed up singing on the Portal Road in a big thicket of mesquite.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

One showed well near the Ash Canyon feeders, and then we observed the drama of a pair of bluebirds trying to keep an Arizona Gray Squirrel from raiding their nest.

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

A pair of these were seen in the high country of the Chiricahuas where they nest.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

At least 10 encountered on the tour was an exceptional number. Turns out that it was a bumper year for them in the state.

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Thanks to a tip, we were able to observe a pair of nesting Bendire's Thrashers east of Portal just inside the New Mexico border. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)

There was a big flock flying around Tubac and another smaller flock was in Box Canyon.

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)

Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler)

OLIVE WARBLER (Peucedramus taeniatus)

A couple of sightings, one at Barfoot Park and another in Carr Canyon.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)

One was hanging out at the Lee-Clark feeders in Paradise. Another put in an appearance in the patio dining area in Portal.

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During our time in Madera Canyon we lucked into some of the first Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers of the season. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

In was a big invasion year for this species and many were still lingering around at the time of this tour.

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW (Peucaea carpalis)

Our first was at the San Pedro House and another was at the Paton Center.

BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)

BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)

FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW (Amphispiza quinquestriata)

We had bookend encounters with this species in Box Canyon with views at the start and conclusion of the tour.

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)

DARK-EYED JUNCO (PINK-SIDED) (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)

A late, lingering one was in Cave Creek Canyon.

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Box Canyon was home to this Five-striped Sparrow which was vigorously defending its territory there. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (GRAY-HEADED) (Junco hyemalis caniceps)

Several late lingering birds were seen.

YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (Junco phaeonotus)

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (ORIANTHA) (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha)

There were quite a few lingering birds seen.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

Yet another species that was lingering far later than normal was a single Lincoln's seen in Madera Canyon.

CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)

ABERT'S TOWHEE (Melozone aberti)

RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)

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It was an amazing Spring for Western Tanagers in southeast Arizona. They seemed to be everywhere! Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Icteriidae (Yellow-breasted Chat)


Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (LILIAN'S) (Sturnella magna lilianae)

HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)

BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (Icterus bullockii)

SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

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This male Summer Tanager showed off well for us. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)


GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

LUCY'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis luciae)

VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis virginiae)

One seen in the drier habitat in the Chiricahuas.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

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There were also lots of Black-headed Grosbeaks to be seen this Spring. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)

At least five individuals seen was a good showing for this species.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

RED-FACED WARBLER (Cardellina rubrifrons)

A good showing of this attractive species both in the Chiricahuas and Huachucas.

PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

HEPATIC TANAGER (Piranga flava)

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Collared Peccary, also known as Javalina, seen in its alert state in a Portal yard. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)

PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

A brief appearance by a male as we were heading out of Box Canyon.

BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)

LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena)

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Southern Arizona is home to two species of tree squirrels in the genus Sciurus. At left is the Mexican Fox Squirrel, whose United States range is virtually entirely restricted to the Chiricahuas. At right is the closely related Arizona Gray Squirrel, found in other sky islands and riparian areas of the border lands. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)

It took until the last day of the tour to track one down, as this species is a late arriver in the state in the Spring.


VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (Didelphis virginianus)

One seen walking down the road in Cave Creek was of interest as this species in not very common in the state, and especially uncommon in Portal.

EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)

DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)


CLIFF CHIPMUNK (Tamias dorsalis)

ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)

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As we were leaving Barbara's place in Whitetail Canyon, someone alerted us to this handsome Black-tailed Rattlesnake foraging in the yard. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

MEXICAN FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus nayaritensis)

Nice looks at a few of these. The Chiricahuas are the only accessible home for this species in the US.

ARIZONA GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus arizonensis)

It was hard to watch the individual working at raiding the bluebird nest.

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)

One seen on a night drive in the Chiricahuas.

WHITE-NOSED COATI (Nasua narica)

Bob Chapman allowed us to have a look at the male that had taken shelter in his cabin in Paradise.

STRIPED SKUNK (Mephitis mephitis)

HOODED SKUNK (Mephitis macroura)

COLLARED PECCARY (Tayassu tajacu)

Also known as javalina, we saw this species at feeders in Portal.

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We did a bit of black-lighting for scorpions while night birding on the tour. One of the three species we encountered was this Pseudouroctonus apacheanus, a characteristic species of the Chiricahuas. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)



Good looks at a couple in Whitetail Canyon.

AMERICAN BULLFROG (Lithobates catesbeianus) [I]

POND SLIDER (Trachemys scripta) [I]

ORNATE TREE LIZARD (Urosaurus ornatus)

DESERT SPINY LIZARD (Sceloporus magister)

CLARK'S SPINY LIZARD (Sceloporus clarkii)

YARROW'S SPINY LIZARD (Sceloporus jarrovii)

SONORAN SPOTTED WHIPTAIL (Aspidoscelis sonorae)

Totals for the tour: 180 bird taxa and 17 mammal taxa