Aug 08 2015
To a Pennsylvanian it’s counter intuitive that birding is excellent in southeastern Arizona in early August. It’s hot — especially at the lower elevations (104oF in Tuscon last Monday) — but the birds are active because it’s the breeding season. Breeding? Here’s why.
From late June through September, it’s so hot that rising desert air creates a low pressure zone that sucks in moisture from the south, primarily from the Gulf of California in western Mexico. When the moist air hits Arizona’s sky island mountains it condenses into clouds, isolated thunderstorms, and rain. This annual weather pattern is called the monsoon.
The moisture doesn’t have to travel far. This mountain in Mexico, called Sierra San Jose, is easily visible from Sierra Vista, Arizona, headquarters of the Southwest Wings Festival.
While I was at the Festival it thundered every afternoon at 3:00pm and rained somewhere by 4:00pm. “Somewhere” means you can see it raining in the distance but you often don’t get wet. The downpours are intense but you can drive in and out of them, sometimes within a mile. However, watch out for flash floods!
The rain brings cooler temperatures, green leaves and, I quickly learned, bugs. (Don’t ask me about chiggers.)
Bugs are food for baby birds so the monsoon is a second Spring when the birds court, sing and nest. That’s why the Southwest Wings summer festival is held in early August.
I had a great time! The festival offers free seminars and one-day or two-day paid outings with guides. I chose the day-long outings where we hiked in morning, ate lunch in the shade, and watched hummingbirds at feeders in afternoon. In this way I visited Madera, Box, Ash, Miller and Huachuca Canyons, the Sonoita grasslands, and Patagonia.
The guides were excellent! I saw 139 species and 33 Life Birds during my time in Arizona, and that wasn’t my first trip to the area. Did I tell you I saw four elegant trogons? Yes!
I highly recommend the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival. Southeastern Arizona is a lovely place in early August.
(photos by Kate St. John)