Monsoon Birds of Arizona Tour

Monsoon Birds Deposit
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Arizona Monsoon Birds Photo Tour

Trip Dates: July 9 ,10, 11, 12, 13 (5 full days), 2017

Total Fee: $2500

Deposit: $600

From: Green Valley, Arizona

Leaders: Matthew Studebaker

Target Group Size: 4 photographers

I'm offering this trip as a follow up to my popular "Arizona Songbirds" photo tour. This time, we return to Arizona during the second breeding season which starts at the onset of the monsoon rains. Some species nest for the first time in monsoon season, and others breed a second time. Most of our time will be spent in the extreme southeast and southwest corners of the state, where we will specifically focus on prime habitat and range for Blue-throated Hummingbird, Montezuma Quail, Elegant Trogon, Varied Bunting, and Five-striped Sparrow, and while we target these 5 species, we will certainly pick up many more. 

Travel considerations: Fly to Phoenix (2 hours north of our hotel, but usually the cheapest flight) or to Tucson (1 hour north).

Equipment: I recommend bringing a digital SLR with matching lens. On this photo tour, the longer your lens the easier it will be to make outstanding photos. Although sometimes the birds come close enough for something as short as a 400mm, most of the time they feel more comfortable when photographers use something in the 500-800mm range.

Sadly on my research trip this July, my lenses were damaged by the airline. I was able to shoot with a 400mm I borrowed, but the best shots on my research trip were taken by my friend John Crawly, who joined me and photographed with me at each of the locations I plan on taking the tour group in 2017. Here are some of his gorgeous images he made on our research trip at the same locations and at the same time of year that we will be photographing in 2017:

Likely Species on the trip. Species in bold will be the easiest/most common -

  • Montezuma Quail
  • Gray Hawk
  • Elf Owl
  • Whiskered Screech-owl
  • Buff-collared Nightjar
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird
  • Magnificent Hummingbird
  • Elegant Trogon
  • Arizona Woodpecker
  • Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Sulpher-bellied Flycatcher
  • Black-capped Gnatcatcher
  • Cassin's Sparrow
  • Botteri's Sparrow
  • Five-striped Sparrow
  • Hepatic Tanager
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Varied Bunting
  • Scott's Oriole


See below for some landscapes and behind-the-scenes of the locations we will visit (taken by me mostly with shorter lenses or iphone):

What to pack

· Boots: Hiking boots and comfortable socks.
· Clothes: Medium color short sleeve shirts are good. White shirts can scare birds, black shirts are too hot. For pants, I never wear shorts in case I brush up against a cactus or encounter biting insects. We won't be doing much off-road, and I'll be the one bush-wacking to set up perches, so shorts aren't out of the question if you prefer to pack a pair or two. I won't bring any myself. 
· Jacket: if you bring a jacket at all, only a light weight rain jacket is useful. I won't bring one myself. A small compact umbrella may be more useful than a jacket. If rain is steady, we probably won't be photographing. A light drizzle sometimes can be manageable though. 
· Hat: At least a baseball cap will help thwart the sun when we are not photographing in the canyon forests. 
· Sunscreen - always a good idea in Arizona, especially if you are a pale white boy like me.
· Camera Gear. Bring your longest lens, a landscape lens, and only if you have room something in the 200 – 400mm range. Mid range lenses will likely only be used for grab-and-go landscape work, which is not the focus of this trip. Bring a tripod and tripod head for the long lenses of course. Flash can be useful to get some extra color out of the hummingbirds and to fill in some shadows. 

Cell Phones and Internet: The hotels all have slow wifi. We will probably only have weak reception in the field but moderate to good reception while we are driving or near the hotel.

Weather and Schedule:
Most days it will be common to wake up with temperatures in the lower 80's. Some afternoons we could easily see the 90's by the time we wrap up the morning photography. While we are on lunch break temperatures will likely break 100, only to be pushed back down when the afternoon rains come. We will use as much photograph-able light as we can each day, shooting sunrise (5:30) through 9 or 10 am, and 3 or 4 pm to sunset (7:30). The following is a tentative schedule and subject to change, depending on what we accomplish during each session.

Transportation: There will be a lot of driving during this trip in order to gain access to a variety of habitats. If you are interested, ask about riding along with me in a SUV. Even if you do use my vehicle, you will still need to find a way to and from the airport, which I can help you arrange.

More information to be provided about where to stay upon signing up for the trip. Hotel costs are not included in the photo tour fee.

Learning / Slideshows:
The desert sun grows harsh around 9-10am and becomes shootable again around 3pm. This will allow us a liberal afternoon break during which time we will both have a few brief learning opportunities, slideshows,discussions as well as free time.

My job is to know the area, do many hours of research, know and be able to ID the birds instantly both by sight and sound, and understand their habitat and behaviors, drive you to the most productive areas at the right time of day, be prepared to attract the birds or assist the group in stalking them, advise on how to make the most of each photo opp, ensure that everyone has their physical needs met, and ensure that everyone gets the most and highest quality images in the time we have.

Your job is to communicate your needs and have fun. I want to emphasize that each of you please communicate and keep me aware of your needs.

Physical Requirements:
The great majority of our photography will take place right near the car. I don't currently anticipate any long walks.