Greg Miller Big Year Tour Series

ARIZONA: Sky Island Specialties



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2022 :: August 14 - August 20
2023 :: August 13 - August 19



From: $2,150 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from Tucson, Arizona (TUS)


3 - 7 Participants


2022: FULL [waitlist]
2023: 5 spaces available


This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

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Highlights of ARIZONA: Sky Island Specialties

  • Beautiful weather during Arizona’s “second spring”
  • Elegant Trogon, Montezuma Quail, Five-striped Sparrow
  • 15 species of hummingbird are possible!
  • Spectacular Sky Islands region
  • Scenic Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts

Description of ARIZONA: Sky Island Specialties

Welcome to another world – the Sky Islands of Arizona! This area of southeast Arizona is a legendary location for birding and wildlife-watching. Our August itinerary is scheduled for the peak season to explore the Sky Islands. Violent thunderstorms develop over the region during late summer, breaking the heat and reinvigorating the wildlife. Often called Arizona’s second spring, the resident species begin singing again just as migrants from the north begin to appear in the area. Diversity is at its peak, and the chance for a stray Mexican rarity is high.

Over 360 species of birds have been reported in Arizona during this month and a staggering 40 of those are found more easily in this tiny corner of Arizona than anywhere else in the country! These regional specialties are busy singing and nesting during Arizona’s second spring! We will focus on tracking down iconic birds like Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Montezuma Quail, “Mexican” Spotted Owl, Yellow-eyed Junco, Mexican Chickadee and so much more. Hummingbird diversity is off the charts, with 15 species possible! Rivoli’s Hummingbird and Blue-throated Mountain-Gems are large hummingbirds regularly found in this region in addition to the stunning Broad-billed Hummingbird and rarities like Violet-crowned, Berylline, and Lucifer Hummingbirds! Nocturnal specialties like Whiskered Screech-Owl, Elf Owl, and Mexican Whip-poor-will will be our targets after sunset. The first trickle of fall warblers begin to arrive in the mountain-top forests, with Townsend’s and Hermit Warblers joining the local Virginia’s, Olive, Grace’s, and Red-faced Warblers. Flocks of Lazuli Buntings work weedy areas, while desert sparrows like Rufous-crowned, Rufous-winged, Black-chinned, Cassin’s, Black-throated, and even Botteri’s can be plentiful in the right habitats. Five-striped Sparrow has become increasingly common in the region, seeking out lush ocotillo-lined canyons. Swallows and shorebirds will be abundant at desert oasis, and a few wader species may be found. Raptor diversity is high too, with potential for Zone-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, Mississippi Kite, and Common Black Hawk.

The Sky Islands are alive with many other animals too. August boasts peak numbers of butterflies and dragonflies, plus an enticing list of semi-tropical mammals could be encountered such as White-nosed Coati, Ringtail, Collared Peccary, Antelope Jackrabbit, “Apache” Fox Squirrel, and Arizona Gray Squirrel. Rattlesnakes and Gila Monster inhabit the lowlands deserts, and multiple species of pollinating bats can be observed taking over for hummingbirds after dark!

The thrill and adventure of exploring the canyons, deserts, grasslands, and pine-oak forests of Southeast Arizona is unrivaled in the United States. We will spend a week getting to know this beautiful region intimately. From the birds, to butterflies, to mammals, to plants we will take time to experience it all!

Length of Tour


Brief Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at Tucson Int. Airport (TUS), Tucson area birding, Mt. Lemmon. Night in Tucson.
Day 2 – Lake Cochise, Chiricahua Nat’l Monument, Pinery Canyon, Onion Saddle. Night in Portal.
Day 3 – Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, and Chiricahua Mtn hotspots. Night in Portal.
Day 4 – San Pedro River, Huachuca Mountain Canyons. Night in Sierra Vista.
Day 5 – Las Cienegas NCA, Patagonia, Kino Springs, Tubac. Night in Green Valley.
Day 6 – Madera Canyon and other Santa Rita Mtn hotspots. Night in Tucson.
Day 7 – Tucson area birding depending on flights. Departures from Tucson Int. Airport (TUS)

**exact order of itinerary subject to change based on current year’s conditions and lodging availability 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrivals at Tucson Int. Airport (TUS), Tucson area birding, Mt. Lemmon. Night in Tucson.

Arrival at Tucson International Airport in Tucson, AZ. If clients arrive in the AM we will try to maximize our birding efforts on this first day, and visit local hotspots in Tucson and (depending on time) climb nearby Mount Lemmon for our first introduction to the region’s birdlife. Sweetwater Wetlands and/or Aqua Caliente Park in urban Tucson may hold interesting waterbirds and the chance at seeing Harris’ Hawks.

The beautiful saguaro-palo verde desert scrubland creeps into the urban landscape of Tucson, and as we climb in elevation towards the 9,157ft peak of Mount Lemmon we will watch the habitat shift to oak and then lush conifer forests. The afternoon has the opportunity to see Gambel’s Quail, Costa’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and the possibility of Bridled Titmouse, Red-faced Warbler, and Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers. From the slopes of Mount Lemmon we can also enjoy a beautiful view of the Sky Island region. If time allows we will search for Harris’s Hawk on the outskirts of Tucson. Sunset at Saquaro National Park gives us a shot at Elf Owl, Common Poorwill, and maybe even a Gila Monster! Night in Tucson.

Day 2 – Lake Cochise, Chiricahua Nat’l Monument, Pinery Canyon, Onion Saddle. Night in Portal.

Our tour takes a clockwise loop through Southeast Arizona, and Willcox will be our first destination as we head east towards the famous Chiricahua Mountains. Here at Lake Cochise and the Twin Lakes Golf Course we will enjoy shorebirds, terns, and ducks but this desert oasis is also one of our best chances to find the elusive Scaled Quail. American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, phalaropes, Black Tern, and Mexican Duck are all possible here! Keep an eye out for Eared Grebe and Snowy Plover! This is also our first opportunity to see “Lilian’s” Meadowlark, the locally endemic subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark that may be deserving of full-species status. Before leaving Willcox, we will grab lunch and picnic provisions to go.

A legendary location for birders of North America are the stunning Chiricahua Mountains. Just as the desert floor begins to really heat up for the day, we will retreat into the higher elevations and shaded forests. We are going to spend the better part of two days exploring the Chiricahuas, beginning with a visit to the Chiricahua National Monument. The spectacular scenery  at the national monument is worth a visit in itself, and we will have a picnic lunch here while listening to and learning some new bird sounds filling the air. Our list will grow with a bang here! Special birds we will be searching for include Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Blue-throated Mountain-Gem, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-throated Gray and Grace’s Warblers, Painted Redstart, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jay, Plumbeous Vireo, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

For the afternoon we will head further up and over the Chiricahua Mountains via Pinery Canyon. Multiple stops along the mountain roads could result in finding Yellow-eyed Juncos, Olive Warbler, Western Tanager, and Buff-breasted Flycatcher! At 7,600 feet Onion Saddle will be the next stop, where we will search for Mexican Chickadee in the pine and fir forest. These mountains are the only place to see this chickadee in the United States! Red-faced Warbler may be hopping through the treetops too! Listen for Northern Pygmy-Owls and watch for Band-tailed Pigeons heading to roost!

We will wind our way down Cave Creek Canyon towards Portal and get settled in at our lodging for the next few nights at the Portal Peak Lodge. We will head out for 1 or 2 hours of nocturnal birding and scorpion-searching in Cave Creek Canyon! Whiskered Screech-Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will will be top priorities. Back at the hotel we can also use a radar detector to ID bat species flying around the streetlights. Night in Portal.

Day 3 – Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, and Chiricahua Mtn hotspots. Night in Portal.

When we wake up this morning, dozens of interesting desert birds should be in abundance around the lodge, including Black-throated Sparrow, Cassin’s Kingbird, Greater Roadrunner, and Juniper Titmouse. After a quick breakfast we will head up into Cave Creek Canyon. Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Virginia Warbler may be seen along the road.

The Chiricahua Mountains are probably best known for their population of Elegant Trogons, and these strange and colorful birds will be our target for the morning. We might even find a nesting pair in a cavity of the large Arizona Sycamores growing in the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon! Other birds we are likely to encounter include Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Hutton’s Vireo, and Hepatic Tanager. Being quiet and keenly aware of your surroundings will increase our chances at seeing some specialty mammals such as Collared Peccary, White-nosed Coati, American Black Bear, and the “Apache” Fox Squirrel. Large cats like Bobcat, Mountain Lion, and possibly even Jaguar and Ocelet roam these canyons, so stay alert!

Slowly cruising further up the mountain, we will search for the very elusive Montezuma Quail along the road. The Southwestern Research Station, owned by the American Museum of Natural History, will be our main destination for the mid-day hours. The feeders here are popular with multiple species of hummingbirds, especially Blue-throated Mountain-Gem and White-eared Hummingbird. Scott’s Oriole, Hooded Oriole, and Mexican Jay can be seen up-close here. Nearby Herb Martyr Road and the John Hands Waterfall will also be visited.

Back in Portal for lunch, and then some jumping around to excellent bird feeder set-ups around town! Dave Jasper’s yard and Bob Rodriques’ yard have become must-visit destinations in Portal and the feeders always seem to be hopping with dozens of birds! Curve-billed Tharsher, Crissal Thrasher, and Pyrrhuloxia are possible among other birds of the desert scrub. Nesting Thick-billed Kingbirds may be searched for.

The afternoon will include a visit to the George Walker House in Paradise, where hummingbirds swarm the feeders and Montezuma Quail could be lurking through the leaf-litter. We will continue up into the higher peaks of the Chiricahuas for the remainder of the day. Our primary stops will be to Rustler Park and Barfoot Park. Here we’ll look for Band-tailed Pigeon, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Olive Warbler, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-faced and Hermit Warblers, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Short-tailed Hawk among others. We will have another chance at Mexican Chickadee, and generally immerse ourselves in this wonderful region – unlike anywhere else in the country! After dinner we will have a (optional) night-drive in search of kangaroo rats and other nocturnal creatures. For the serious wildlife-watcher willing to sacrifice sleep, we can even jump over to New Mexico and try for the endangered White-sided Jackrabbit. Night in Portal, AZ.

Day 4 – San Pedro River, Huachuca Mountain Canyons. Night in Sierra Vista.

On our 4th full day we will be up early to heading west towards our next Sky Island mountain range – the Huachucas. Heading out from Portal in the morning we’ll actually make a quick visit to Rodeo, New Mexico and check a few spots around town. Here we will try for Bendire’s Thrasher and have our last good shot at Scaled Quail before making the 2 hour drive to Sierra Vista, at the base of the Huachuca Mountains.

A visit to the San Pedro House and the Sierra Vista Environmental Operations Park along the San Pedro River will be good opportunities for Botteri’s Sparrow, Cassin’s Sparrow, Abert’s Towhee, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Green Kingfisher and Gray Hawk are possible here too! Various western raptors and Chihuahuan Raven will be perched along the desert highways. Huge numbers of Lazuli Buntings can be found staging in weedy fields, and one year we found a whopping 200 together outside of Sierra Vista!

There are multiple excellent canyons to explore in the Huachucas, and recent reports of staked-out rarities will dictate exactly what our afternoon plans are. Ash Canyon, Hunter Canyon, Miller Canyon, and Ramsay Canyon all harbor interesting birds, and feeders at various locations attract Lucifer, Rivoli’s, and other rare hummingbirds. In fact, nowhere else in the United States can boast more species of hummingbird than the Huachuca Mountains! Other targets will be “Mexican” Spotted Owl, Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, Greater Pewee, and Buff-breasted Flycatcher. The “Mexican” subspecies of Eastern Bluebird and Brown Creeper can be found in these mountains. Mexican vagrants ranging from Eared Quetzal to Aztec Thrush to Slate-throated Redstart have been found here, so always expect the extraordinary! General birding is excellent despite what rarities are around, and we can expect to see Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hutton’s Vireo, and other western species.

Night near Sierra Vista, AZ. As usual, optional nocturnal birding and exploring will be offered to eager guests. Various owls are possible along with Mexican Whip-poor-will and Common Poorwill. Multiple rattlesnake species can be found on warm, dusty roads after dark.

Day 5 – Las Cienegas NCA, Patagonia, Kino Springs, Tubac. Night in Green Valley.

Depending on recent sightings and any remaining targets we have, a morning visit to Huachuca and Sawmill Canyons may be taken. Otherwise we will depart the Sierra Vista area and head further west to the Sonoita Creek Valley. This valley contains some of the best birding in Southeast Arizona. The diversity here is rich; in fact Patagonia Lake State Park has the highest species total for any eBird hotspot in Arizona! This will be a really fun day birding as we’ll be visiting some of the most storied locations including the famous Patagonia Roadside Rest Area and the Patton Center’s hummingbird feeders. Today we will be searching for Gray Hawk, Dusky-capped and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Rufous Hummingbird. Two of the real gems in this area are Thick-billed Kingbird and Violet-crowned Hummingbird! Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is home to a healthy population of endangered ‘Sonoran’ Pronghorn. Burrowing Owl, “Lilian’s” Eastern Meadowlark, Botteri’s Sparrow, and Cassin’s Sparrow are often found here in good numbers.

Kino Springs is known to most as a country club but the lush vegetation makes it a pretty good place to see birds. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Inca Dove, and Common Ground-Dove should be in good supply. This is one of our best chances for Tropical Kingbird! A desert oasis like this, with so many microhabitats and a few scatted ponds, can really attract weird birds so maintain an open mind and sharp eyes! Did you know that all 4 buntings have occurred here in August? Lazuli is the most expected but Indigo, Varied, and Painted could be mixed into foraging flocks in the area.

The afternoon will be spent in Tubac exploring the De Anza Trail in search of nesting Rose-throated Becards and other riparian specialties. Common Black Hawk is possible along the Santa Cruz River corridor, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets may be singing from the brush. The Green Valley region is our best bet for Gilded Flicker, and the local “Fuerte’s” Red-tailed Hawk is abundant. Lesser Nighthawk may be seen at dusk. Night near Green Valley, AZ.

Day 6 – Madera Canyon and other Santa Rita Mtn hotspots. Night in Tucson.

Our last full day will focus on our final Sky Island destination – the scenic Santa Rita Mountains. The Santa Ritas are an excellent finale to this whirlwind tour. Early in the morning we will head down White House Canyon Road keeping an eye out for Chihuahuan Ravens and Antelope Jackrabbits. We will make some birding stops where the grassland and oaks meet, looking for Varied Bunting, Rufous-winged Sparrow, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Five-striped Sparrows were traditionally only present in the very remote California Gulch, but now this striking (and quite large) sparrow can be found in Box Canyon, along with another chance at Lucifer and Costa’s Hummingbirds.

Intensively birding the length of Madera Canyon, arguably the premier canyon in the region, will be the focus for most of today. An incredible diversity of habitats from grassland, to oaks, to riparian woodlands, and eventually to high-elevation pine and fir forests makes this canyon very biologically diverse. There’s really too much to try and fit into a short description here, but birding highlights include 4 possible species of tanager (Summer, Western, Hepatic, and Flame-colored), hyperactive hummingbird feeders where rarities like Beryline Hummingbird could visit, Sulphur-bellied and Dusky Flycatchers, Mexican Jays, Bell’s Vireo, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Bridled Titmouse, and Painted Redstart. “Gould’s” Wild Turkey are common in Madera Canyon. Bobcat, Yellow-nosed Cotton Rat, and Arizona Gray Squirrel can be found in the canyon. Special effort will be put into finding both Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and the rare Black-capped Gnatcatchers (which have established territories in the area in recent years). The Carrie Nation Trail will give us another chance at Elegant Trogon. After dark we will search for Elf Owl, Common Poorwill, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Mexican Whip-poor-will, and any nocturnal mammals lurking around the various feeders – maybe we can spot a Ringtail! This will certainly be a day to remember, and the ultimate conclusion to our tour of Southeast Arizona. Night in Green Valley.

Day 7 – Departures from Tucson Int. Airport (TUS)

Departures from Tucson International Airport in Tucson, AZ (TUS). Plan for an afternoon flight out and we can do some birding locally in the AM or visit the famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum depending on client interests and any remaining targets. Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson is a great place to bird for a few hours before heading back home.


Cost is $2,150 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Tucson, Arizona (Airport code TUS).
This trip ends in Tucson, Arizona (Airport code TUS).

Cost Includes

Cost includes airport transfers, all ground transportation, accomodations, entrance fees and services of your professional leader(s).

Cost does not Include

All meals, flights to/from destination city, trip insurance, or anything that is not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of participants registered, the trip can still run with a small-group supplement fee per person determined by the number of participants.

Single Supplement

If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $450 will be assessed.

Deposit Requirements

A $500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.

This trip includes standard hotels, and two nights at the Portal Peak Lodge.

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

This trip focuses on visiting the Sky Island mountainous regions of Arizona, and so there will be a few difficult hikes in warm weather. You must be able to easily walk at least two miles with your birding gear. Desert areas may be quite hot (80F+), but temperatures drop an average of 3 degrees for every 1000 feet gained, so time spent in the shaded mountains will be quite pleasant.

Recommended Field Guide

Sibley Birds West (2nd Edition, 2016, Knopf)
by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds is also available as an App for iPhone and Android.


Non-smoking Tour

This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.

Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

Location Map