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Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
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Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

Overview

The Santa Ritas are an islands-in-the-sky mountain range in south-central Arizona that rise steeply from the desert to high peaks covered with dense forests. The change in elevation provides a variety of habitats, each with a different assemblage of birds. The high-elevation forests of Madera Canyon harbor species such as Elegant Trogons, Mexican Jays, Hepatic Tanagers, and other species typical of the mountains in Mexico. More than 240 species of birds have been seen here.

Link to Area Map or Madera Canyon Map.

Bog Springs Campground
Bog Springs Campground.

Description

The Santa Rita Mountains rise steeply from the sparsely vegetated surrounding desert to high peaks covered in dense forests of pine. Madera Canyon, located on the northwest side of the Santa Ritas, is a deep canyon heavily wooded with oak and alligator-juniper woodlands and a grassy understory, yucca, and cactus. The bottom of the canyon has sycamore and other trees.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

The best birding for Mexican species starts at elevations of about 5,000 feet, but the desert floor and the foothills provide interesting birding that should not be overlooked. We once saw a flock of about 25 Tropical Kingbirds on the power lines in downtown Continental. As the winding road is narrow, be sure to stop in safe places along Madera Canyon Road when birding the foothills.

Convenient places to bird in lower Madera Canyon include Bog Springs Campground, the three picnic areas (Whitehouse, Madera, and Madera Trailhead), and the Madera Canyon Nature Trail that runs along the stream in the bottom of the canyon. In addition, the grounds of the Santa Rita Lodge (located in the same area) are open to the public. The lodge puts out seed and hummingbird feeders that attract many birds and squirrels.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Santa Rita Lodge

For higher-elevation birds, drive (or hike) to the Roundup Picnic area at the end of the road. Bird the picnic area and hike the trails to bird even higher elevations.

Madera Canyon is crowded on weekends from March through November, and it is said to be extremely crowded on the Easter and Mothers' Day weekends.

For most species, spring the best time to visit (April and May), but June and September are best for hummingbirds.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

Location

Madera Canyon is located in the Santa Rita Mountains between Tucson and Nogales, east of Interstate 19. From Interstate 19 near Green Valley, turn off the interstate at the Continental Road/Madera Canyon exit (Exit 63). Turn east to Continental and follow Madera Canyon Road for about 12 miles to the Madera Canyon Recreation Area. There is a fee station at the entrance to the recreation area, and the road ends a couple of miles higher in the canyon.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

Hours

Always open (but it appears that they now have crowding restrictions).

Fees

Day use is $5 per vehicle per day, $10 for a week, or $20 for an annual pass. Camping is $10 extra.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

Specialties

Elegant Trogons, Mexican Jays, Hepatic Tanagers, Yellow-eyed Junco, Varied Bunting, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Arizona Woodpecker, and other species typical of Mexico. More than 240 species of birds (including more than 10 species of hummingbirds) have been seen here.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona

For More Information

Madera Canyon is on National Forest land, and the Coronado National Forest (520.281.2296) has information on the recreation area.

The Santa Rita Lodge (520.625.8746) has a nice website with photos of the birds and the area.

The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) has a nice Guide to Birding Hotspots on the Internet.

Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Paved trail through oak woods below Santa Rita lodge
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Paved trail through woods below Santa Rita lodge
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Mixed oak woods below Santa Rita lodge
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Mixed oak woods below Santa Rita lodge
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Rocky canyon bottom in mixed woods
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Ponderosa Pine and Arizona Sycamore beyond the end of the road
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Trail (old dirt road) beyond the end of the pavement
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Grassy oak-woods habitat
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Oak trees with open understory
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Dutch John Spring: a bit of water on the side of the mountain
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Mixed pine-oak woods on Dutch John Trail
Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Grassland habitat with agave on hillsides below Madera Canyon
Madera Canyon
Santa Rita Lodge; male Wild Turkey
Madera Canyon
Santa Rita Lodge; Bridled Titmouse
Madera Canyon
Santa Rita Lodge; Arizona Gray Squirrel
Madera Canyon
Santa Rita Lodge; Mexican Jay
Madera Canyon
Madera Canyon; Coues White-tailed Deer
Madera Canyon
Bog Spring Campground; Oak-grassland woodlands
Madera Canyon
Bog Spring Campground; campsite
Madera Canyon
Bog Spring Campground; campsite

Trip Notes

Visit in February 2009. Despite the season, we saw tons of cool birds.

Life birds recorded in October 1984: Whiskered Screech-Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker, Tropical Kingbird, Mexican (Gray-breasted) Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Painted Redstart, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hepatic Tanager

Trip List for October 16, 1998

Species Age Gender comments Count (est)
Dove, Mourning unknown unknown    
Flicker, Northern adult & juvenile both right in camp 2
Flycatcher, Cordilleran unknown unknown   2 or 3
Flycatcher, Dusky-capped unknown unknown LIFE BIRD 2
Flycatcher, Hammond's unknown unknown   1
Hawk, Cooper's unknown unknown   1
Jay, Mexican unknown unknown right in camp 25+
Junco, Dark-eyed unknown unknown   3 or 4
Junco, Yellow-eyed unknown unknown   5
Kinglet, Ruby-crowned adult & juvenile both right in camp 20
Nuthatch, White-breasted adult & juvenile both right in camp 25
Phoebe, Say's unknown unknown   3
Raven, Common unknown unknown   2 or 3
Redstart, Painted adult & juvenile both right in camp 1
Redstart, Painted unknown unknown   3
Sapsucker, Red-naped unknown unknown   3 or 4
Sparrow, Black-throated unknown unknown   5
Sparrow, Chipping adult & juvenile both right in camp 1
Sparrow, Chipping unknown unknown   20
Sparrow, White-crowned unknown unknown   10
Tanager, Hepatic unknown unknown   1
Tanager, Summer unknown female   2
Thrush, Hermit unknown unknown   1
Titmouse, Bridled adult & juvenile both right in camp 15
Titmouse, Bridled unknown unknown   25
Towhee, Spotted unknown unknown   1
Trogon, Elegant adult male   1
Vireo, Cassin's unknown unknown   3
Warbler, Black-throated Gray unknown unknown   2
Warbler, Townsend's unknown unknown   1
Warbler, Yellow-rumped unknown unknown   2
Woodpecker, Acorn adult & juvenile both   40
Woodpecker, Strickland's (now Arizona) adult & juvenile both right in camp 1
Wren, Bewick's unknown unknown   2
Wren, Canyon unknown unknown   2
         
Reptiles        
Spiny Lizard, Clark's unknown unknown   10
Lizard, Tree unknown unknown   4
Whiptail, Sp. unknown unknown western whiptail?  
         
Mammals        
squirrel, Arizona gray unknown unknown   5
squirrel, rock adult & juvenile unknown   5
deer, white-tailed adult & juvenile unknown 2 fawns 5
skunk, striped adult unknown Camp area 1

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140108

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