The Sonoran and Chihuahuan desert habitats of Southeast Arizona are difficult areas to survive in for all plants and animals, including humans! Get the most out of your visit here and avoid the desert's pitfalls by taking a few easy precautions.
Clothing: Long pants are suggested; most desert plants have thorns and the brush can be thick. Wear a hat with a brim; the sun is intense. Wear shoes in all areas; hiking boots are best for mountain trails or rocky canyons. Nights may be cool and really cold in the mountains, so have appropriate clothing.
Water: Bring plenty of water. A gallon or two in your car is a minimum as potable water can be hard to find. Carry at least a quart with you when you hike, more for all day. Remember to drink the water you carry before you are thirsty to avoid dehydration. Assume all surface water is contaminated.
Rain and roads: The winter rains are usually gentle and prolonged. The summer rains are usually short deluges turning unpaved roads into slippery mud. In summer thundershowers, usually mid July through early September, water rises rapidly in washes blocking roads, paved or unpaved, at “dips.” If there is water running across the road, simply wait it out. Approach dips cautiously if there is any hint of a thunderstorm; a wall of water from miles away may be advancing rapidly. Do not park in washes!
Critters: Arizona is rattlesnake country; you may see them in the mountains as well as the desert; their activity is temperature dependent so they may be foraging at dawn and dusk in hot weather and resting in a shady crevice during the day. Always watch where you place your hands and feet. You will be lucky to see a Gila monster but if you do, admire it from a distance; the bite is poisonous. Scorpions are active at night in warm weather and hide under bark or rocks when the weather is cool; again, watch your hands and feet. Africanized bees are established in south and central Arizona; stay away from hives and swarms of bees. Run away as fast and as far as possible if attacked. In summer, chiggers are present in tall grass in some areas including Patagonia; use insect repellent on your ankles and tuck your pants into your socks. Bears may be encountered in the mountains.
Sun: Southern Arizona is the skin cancer capital of the northern hemisphere. Sunburn can strike year around, even on cloudy days. Be smart: wear a broad brimmed hat and long sleeves and use sunblock (SPF 15 or higher) all year. Apply sunblock to all exposed skin BEFORE going out and repeat according to package instructions. UV-protective eyewear helps reduce eye damage from the sun.
Crime: Many of the best birding areas are both near the Mexican border and/or remote. Illegal trafficking both of people and drugs is common. Travel with a companion. Always lock your vehicle and keep any possessions of value, especially guns, out of sight. Be very cautious about camping outside established campgrounds. The Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service both patrol the border regularly and stop any suspicious looking vehicles or people; this can include birdwatchers. Carry adequate identification and do not carry illegal substances.
Private property: With the exception of areas described in this book, stay off private properties unless you have permission from the owner. Always follow all rules for use of private land such as leaving gates the way you found them (closed if you found them closed, open if found open.)
State Trust Land: Several areas in this book are State Trust Land, posted against entry except for licensed hunting or fishing or with special State Land Recreational Use Permit. Permits are available for $15 from the Arizona State Land Department. (233 N. Main Ave. Tucson, AZ 85701, phone: (520) 628-5480.) You must carry the permit and display a window placard when on State Trust Land. Most birders will not need to enter these areas. It is permissible to cross the State Trust Land to get to Chino Canyon without a permit.
Golf courses: There is sometimes good birding around golf courses but birder presence on the courses when golfers are playing is not appreciated. Use good sense. Bird early in the day. Stay away from tees. Obey all posted rules and birdwatch only where permitted.
Pets: Pets are prohibited in many of the best birdwatching spots including all Nature Conservancy preserves. Rattlesnakes are a hazard for pets on trails or in campgrounds. Due to the intensity of the sun, leaving your pet in your vehicle is unwise. We suggest leaving your pet at home.
Using recordings: Use of recordings to attract birds is prohibited in the South Fork of Cave Creek as well as Nature Conservancy preserves. Using recordings is strongly discouraged, especially at any Buff-collared Nightjar site and is illegal for any federally listed endangered species.
Hunting and fishing: Arizona Game and Fish Department controls hunting and fishing on federal and state lands in Arizona. There are several seasons covering much of the year. Contact them at (520) 628-5376 for needed information.
Northern Jacana photo by Brendon Grice