This trip is a wonderful opportunity to experience one of the best wildlife havens in all of North America. Designated as conservation lands in Sonora, Mexico just across the border from Arizona, Cuenca Los Ojos is comprised of desert grasslands, rugged canyons, and “sky islands” that rise from the surrounding terrain and afford habitat to an amazing diversity of plants and animals from both colder climates to the north, and warmer, sub-tropical environments down south. You will go out each day with expert guides to look for signs of magnificent mammals like black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, coatis, bobcats, Coues deer, javelinas, ocelots (and possibly even jaguars!) as well as learn how to decipher the language of birds.
Sky Islands Tracking & Bird Language Trip
Sky Islands Tracking & Bird Language Trip
September 30 – October 4, 2017
Experience & Activity Level:
Previous tracking experience helpful but not required.
Participants should be in good physical condition.
3 star lodges
$1,195 per person
- Tucson/Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
- Cuenca Los Ojos Preserve, Sonora, Mexico
- Bisbee/Tombstone, AZ
Across the American Southwest and into northern Mexico, small mountain ranges rise up out of the deserts below to form pockets of oases known as “sky islands.” These isolated mountains are diversity hotspots because they contain a number of distinct habitat zones as the elevation changes from the hot and dry lower regions, to the cooler, moister upper zones. Moving up the mountain slopes, desert grasses and scrubland give way to pine and oak forests, which ultimately yield to montane and alpine landscapes.
Since they straddle the latitude boundary between temperate and tropical climates, these sky islands contain diverse plant communities in close proximity to each other, creating an ideal environment where northern mammal and bird species overlap with their tropical cousins from the south. Here you can find jaguars co-existing with black bears, coyotes, javelinas, ocelots, and coatis, in addition to a mixture of northern and tropical bird species. This makes the area the perfect location to learn to track and observe the signs of a wide variety of medium to large sized mammals, while also learning how to recognize an array of bird calls and alarms that signal the whereabouts of predators on the landscape.
Your trip will begin in Tucson, Arizona where you will be taken immediately to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Your wildlife guides will escort you through the outdoor exhibits and introduce you to the amazing animals you will be hoping to spot in the wild. Next, you will head to the picturesque old-mining town of Bisbee where the group will visit a wildlife corridor in the afternoon, looking for mountain lion tracks and examining the photos from camera traps to see what animals have been captured passing by. Afterwards, you will spend time with the John Burrough's award winning nature writer Ken Lamberton, exploring the art of nature writing and journaling. You will then have a couple of hours to wander through the streets of the magnificent old town, grab some dinner, and peruse some of the art galleries housed in the nineteenth century buildings before retiring in your lodge for the evening.
The following morning you will ride across the Mexican border, crossing at Douglas, AZ and continuing on to Cuenca Los Ojos preserve, a collection of restored lands in the sky island region that are teeming with wildlife. Upon arrival you will be shown to your quarters where you will get an introduction to the preserve, along with an overview of the planned activities for the coming days. Your expert guides will describe the various landscapes that encompass several different habitat zones, ranging from desert grasslands and scrub in the lowlands, to rugged canyons in the mountains, and riparian areas filled with picturesque streams and tree-lined banks. They will also detail the variety of animals that inhabit these areas and some of the behaviors and sign that you will be looking to observe.
During all three days at Cuenca Los Ojos, you will go to designated areas throughout the day looking for fresh tracks and animal sign. Your guides will instruct you on how to identify different tracks, as well as how to interpret the animal’s behavior, its gait, and what its intentions might have been when it passed through the area. They will also show you how to recognize other animal sign like scrapes and rubs, bedding or den sites, feeding signs, predation events, and other markers that signify an animal’s presence. Your group will also go on walks and drives at various times of the day, looking for live sightings of animals.
In addition, the group will conduct each day what is known as a “bird language exercise.” During this time you will learn to observe and identify common bird behaviors and alarms patterns that indicate the presence of predators on the prowl, whether they be birds of prey, small mammals in trees, or large ground animals like felines or canines stalking their next meal. After each session, the group will convene to collate the observations of all the participants, weaving together an intriguing story of what transpired on the landscape during the exercise.
On the last day of your journey, you will depart Cuenca Los Ojos and drive back to the U.S., border crossing again at Douglas, Arizona. You will be given a final opportunity to look for tracks and sign along the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, a thriving wildlife corridor that supplies water critical to animals who live in the thirsty Sonoran desert. On the way back to Tucson, the group will make a short stop at the famous town of Tombstone to grab some lunch, where you can visit the OK Corral, or the less well known but just as fascinating Bird Cage Theater. Here, you can soak in the old west history and contemplate the amazing experiences you have just enjoyed over the last five days.