BIRDING DESTINATION: PIMA CANYON
Lon. -110.92582, Lat. 32.36165, Alt. 3,396 ft
Description: Pima Canyon trail is a steep hike up to Mt. Kimbel - but it starts easy. Be sure to go at least as far as the riparian grove and dam, aproximately 2 miles from the parking lot. At three miles in look for an old rock dam (not very evident) and grinding holes in the rock. Above this point the trail reaches oak trees and a different substrate of bunch grasses, as well as a different community of bird species.
Habitat: Riparian Area with desert scrub lining the canyon walls.
Target Birds: Canyon Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Cooper's Hawk, Golden Eagle, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black-chinned Sparrow.
When To Go: Anytime. Although it is a rugged hike. If done in the summer months, get an early start and bring plenty of water.
Amenities: Paved trailhead parking lot can accomodate about 30 vehicles.
Getting There: Drive north on Oracle road until you reach Magee Road. Turn right on Magee and this road will dead end at the trailhead parking lot within a mile.
REVISED VERSION MARCH 2012
Birding Destination - Pima Canyon
One of the lesser known hot spots for birding in the Tucson area is Pima Canyon, in the Santa Catalina Mountains. This canyon offers something for all birders regardless of experience. It is, however, a long canyon that gains elevation the further in you go. From the trailhead (elevation 2,924’) to its upper reaches (elevation 7,255’) it’s approximately 7 miles long. The first three miles are easy hiking, with an elevation gain of only 800 feet. After that, the going gets tougher as the last four miles see an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet. Spectacular views and a wide variety of species will delight birders who can make the entire trip, otherwise the first three miles of the trail will prove worthwhile to most birders, especially beginning and intermediate birders.
The trail begins in beautiful Sonoran desert scrub with dense stands of saguaros on the hillsides off the trail and lush vegetation along the streambed. It ends at the top of Mt. Kimball in conifer forest. This is perhaps one of the best times of the year to take this trail as snow won’t be present, the weather is pleasant, and biting insects will not be a problem. March/April will allow birders to see the last of the wintering birds and the earliest of the breeding species.
Watch for resident birds such as Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Red-shafted Flickers, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Curve-billed Thrashers, Phainopepla, Canyon Towhees, and Black-throated Sparrows. Scan the hillsides for Rock Wrens, Rufous-crowned and Black-chinned Sparrows. Listen for its distinctive downward trill to locate the Canyon Wrens on the steeper slopes. Don’t forget to scan the skies above you for White-throated Swifts and Golden Eagles. About 1.7 miles from the trailhead, you will encounter a grove of cottonwood trees (elevation 3,400’) where unexpected migrants and winter holdouts are likely to appear. This is a popular area for many birds to breed. Watch for various flycatchers (especially Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers), Cassin’s (and possibly other) Kingbirds, Warbling and Bell’s Vireos, Lucy’s Warblers and Scott’s Orioles. Less than a mile from this spot the oak habitat begins (elevation 3,750’). This is where to find Prairie Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, Western wood-Pewees, Western Scrub Jays, Mexican Jays, Bridled Titmouse, Hutton’s Vireo and Black-headed Grosbeaks.
Each 500 foot rise in elevation will bring differences in habitat and, correspondingly, different birds. For hikers in good shape, getting to end of the trail may be a little taxing but the rewards will make it an enjoyable and memorable experience. For those with less hiking experience, the very young or the very old, the first legs of the trail will be easy and pleasant and yield quite a few birds. Try to make it at least as far as the cottonwood grove (1.7 miles from the parking lot/trailhead). No matter how many birds you can list from this trip, it will be enjoyable in every way. Water is available at the trailhead. Bring snacks, appropriate boots and clothes, and a friend or two.
From northwest Tucson, drive north on Oracle Road to Magee Road (about 1 mile north of Ina Road). Turn right and go east on Magee 1.5 miles to the parking area at the end of the road.