Birding & Hiking
One of the most famous birding areas in the United States, is a north-facing valley in the Santa Rita Mountains with riparian woodland along an intermittent stream, bordered by mesquite, juniper-oak woodlands, and pine forests. Madera Canyon is home to over 250 species of birds, including 15 hummingbird species. Visitors from all over the world arrive in search of such avian specialties as the Elegant Trogon, Elf Owl, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Red-faced Warbler and Painted Redstart. A comprehensive bird list published by FoMC is available at the Proctor Visitor Info Station and at trail heads.
→ Birding.aba.org — news of unusual species in the canyon & Arizona.
The road to Madera Canyon enters through desert grasslands and ends in juniper-oak woodland, where hiking trails lead up in the "sky island" through pine-oak woodland to montane conifer forest and the top of Mt. Wrightson (elevation 9,453 feet). The spectrum of birds found in these varied habitats includes four species of tanagers: Summer at Proctor Road, Hepatic starting at Madera Picnic Area, Western up the trails in the conifers, and Flame-colored as an occasional breeder. Hummingbirds, owls and flycatchers are also very well represented in this area. Montezuma Quail are inconspicuous but present near grassy oak-dotted slopes.
Below Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Experimental Range, can be found birds of the desert grasslands and brush, including Costa's Hummingbird, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Scaled Quail, Phainopepla, Botteri’s, Cassin’s, Black-throated, Brewer’s, and Rufous-winged Sparrows.
At Proctor Road, most birders walk the productive first section of the trail to Whitehouse Picnic Area to find Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Varied Bunting, Summer Tanager, and sometimes Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The dirt road shortly above the parking lot may have Western Scrub-Jays and a Crissal Thrasher.
Farther up the road, the Madera Picnic Area has Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Dark-eyed Junco. Three Myiarchus flycatchers , Western Wood-Pewee and Hepatic Tanager can be found here in season. Watch overhead for Zone-tailed Hawk among the Turkey Vultures.
At the end of the road at the parking lot, the trailhead leads to Old Baldy. Elegant Trogons are most often found along the first mile of either the Super Trail of the Carrie Nation trail. Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Plumbeous Vireo, Painted Redstart, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher are common along the trails. Yellow-eyed Juncos breed higher up towards Josephine Saddle.
Night birding is a Madera Canyon highlight, especially in May. Listen for Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Elf Owls and the much rarer Flammulated and Spotted Owls. Whip-poor-wills are in the forest and Common Poorwills can be heard near Proctor and below. Lesser Nighthawks, Barn and Great Horned Owls often fly across the road through the beam of your headlights as you approach the canyon.
The far-reaching, rapid “Ku-WARK, Ku-WARK, Ku-WARK” echoes through Madera Canyon, sounding like a distant dog barking. Easier to hear one than to see one? Yes, because the Elegant Trogon sits quietly on a branch with his green back toward you, blending perfectly into the foliage. After five or ten minutes, he might swoop down for an insect — then sit on the next perch for a while. Females are duller, browner and harder to see, even though they too have a red belly. Spring is the best time to find them. Stroll up Old Baldy trail from the upper parking lots, or along the Proctor Trail, and you have a good chance of finding our rare and elegant visitor. But please keep your distance. Trogons are easily disturbed and their nests are vulnerable. Approach quietly and not too close, standing still and quiet. From Canyon Notes by Karen McBride.
Note to eBirders: If you are entering eBird data for Madera Canyon there are a number of eBird hotspots in Madera Canyon. There are hotspots for each of the parking & picnic areas, feeding stations, and a number of the trails. Please use these hotspots when ever possible and do not merge a hike or drive through the canyon into one checklist. Also beware that the Pima – Santa Cruz County line cuts east-west through Madera Canyon. County boundaries are important for eBird data collection, analysis, & reporting. The county line crosses Madera Canyon Road at the Madera Picnic Area, about at the midpoint of the big parking area on your left as you head up canyon. If you can see the Santa Rita Lodge, you are in Santa Cruz County so please use the “Madera Canyon—Santa Rita Lodge” hotspot. Otherwise use the “Madera Canyon—Madera Picnic Area” hotspot. If birding at the Bog Springs Campground, which is bisected by the county line, use the “Madera Canyon—Bog Springs campground” unless the birds you are noting are on the north side of the campground, then create a personal spot that is in Pima County. Visit eBird.org to sign up for lists & alerts.