It’s all about the birds – Patagonia, AZ

Well, hello there, Steve and MonaLiza, welcome

My interest in birds started in January 2013, when we first camped at Patagonia Lake State Park.  During that visit, I joined a guided bird walk and soon became a bird enthusiast.  Now I search for new birds on my own, an activity I find very relaxing.  It’s often a challenge to identify them, but I enjoy trying after photographing them in their environment.

The small town of Patagonia is home to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and just a few miles from Patagonia Lake State Park.  The area is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, so I was full of anticipation when we decided to revisit the area.

Birding is a major draw for visitors at Patagonia Lake, which also attracts lovers of water sports, fishing, hiking and more.  We had reserved a site for a week and a half, but we cut it short due to noise and dust coming from a construction project directly across the street from our site.  Also, the place is just too crowded and noisy these days, nothing like we remember it being on our first visit.

Our dining area window gave us a front-row seat for the construction project

But before we bailed out we explored the area, hiked at the Sonoita Creek National Preserve and of course I enjoyed some birding time.  I was hoping to see the elusive Elegant Trogon, but was disappointed to learn that the last sighting of it was over a year ago.  Seeing the bird would have been the highlight of our stay.  I was initially bummed, but happy that I was fortunate enough to see it during our first visit (here is a photo).

Patagonia Lake
Steel and wood pedestrian bridge over Patagonia Lake

During a stop at the visitor center I heard a twittering outside and hurried out to see two Rufous Hummingbirds chasing each other around.  This tiny brilliant orange bird is extremely territorial, attacking any other hummingbirds approaching “his” feeder.  He makes one of the longest migratory journeys known for a bird his size, from Alaska to Mexico!

Rufous Hummingbird
Isn’t he handsome!

After that excitement and getting our permit to hike at Sonoita Creek Preserve, we drove to the trailhead.  The highlight of our hike was a 360º view of the surrounding mountains during a 2-mile trek along the permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream.  It was a quiet and scenic hike interspersed with many chirping birds – our kind of outing!

 Patagonia Lake
Overlooking Patagonia Lake
Looking southwest toward Nogales
Mesquite Bosque prevailed along this part of the hike
Sonoita Creek
Permanently flowing Sonoita Creek

Betsy’s site was near the park’s birding trail, and every day we saw dozens of birders with their binoculars and photographers with their long and huge cameras walking by.  I had easy access to the trail and went during quiet times.

These guys were used to all of the birders and mostly ignored them
The birding trail at Patagonia Lake SP
A good spot to wait and see which birds will appear

One of the things I love about birding is the surprise factor – I never know what’s around the next bend or hiding in nearby bushes.  I always get excited and grab my camera when I hear a tweet, a chirp, a whistle or a song.  And correctly identifying my “target” is an added bonus.  Although I don’t keep a “bird list”, I do have a collection of photos from all of the states we’ve visited.  This post contains just a few of the small birds I sighted in this area; my complete bird photo collection is here.

Black-throated Warbler
Black-throated Warbler
Mexican Jay
Mexican Jay
I heard a tap-tap-tap and almost overlooked this Brown-backed Arizona Woodpecker

Another place in this area to enjoy a wonderland of birds is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.  A camera, binoculars and patience are all you need to experience many birds unique to southern Arizona, both locals and migrants.  It was here that I sighted several new and beautiful hummers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird
This tiny handsome guy, a Broad-billed Hummingbird, was eyeing me intently
Distinguished by its violet-colored cap, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the center of attraction at the Paton Center

After a week of enjoying all of these beautiful little birds, we moved on to De Anza RV Park in Amado.  That made it easy to revisit Madera Canyon and the artsy town of Tubac (here is my post on our previous visit).

Madera Canyon is another well-known birding spot, and the Elegant Trogon had been sighted here recently.  Once again my hopes were high as we headed out early one morning for a good 6+ mile hike and the chance to see this beautiful birdie.

Revisiting another trail on a chilly morning

Steve and I kept our ears and eyes open as we hiked, but although we saw several birds we did not spot the Elegant Trogon.  After the hike we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, another birding hotspot in the canyon.  There were many birds entertaining the crowd there, but not the one we were hoping to see.  Instead, another hummer zoomed up to me and stopped for a quick pose before zipping away.

Magnificent Hummingbird
A not-so-good photo of a big hummer – a Magnificent Hummingbird – also known as the Rivoli Hummingbird
Yellow-eyed Junco
The fierce look of a Yellow-eyed Junco

Overall I was a happy photographer, with lots of treasured shots of native and migrating species of birds in Patagonia and Madera Canyon!

As we prepared to head back to Tucson, a brief winter storm dumped snow in the nearby mountains, and also some sleet and snow flurries at our campground.  It was beautiful to see, but not no safe to drive in so we requested and got permission to stay a couple of extra hours until it moved on.

We woke up to sleet and snow flurries

Driving along Hwy 19 we could see surrounding mountains covered in snow, what a beautiful morning it was!

The Santa Cruz mountains where we had hiked the day before




  1. To bad about the construction near your site. We loved our stay at Patagonia SP a few years ago when I lucked out spotting the Elegant Trogon. Did you get a new lens/camera? Wonderful collection of bird photos and interesting tidbit about how you developed your birding interest. Mine started in TX, but then again, maybe it started in Cave Creek Reg Park when you and I first met 🤔

      • Congrats on the new lens! The state park was full the one and only time we were there, but it didn’t seem too bad. Seems like RVing has become so popular that every place is crowded these days. 😔 I look forward to seeing you guys soon. We should roll into Page on the 26th.

  2. To bad you had to cut your stay short and that it’s changed so much. One day we’ll spend the winter traveling around the AZ parks. Nice photos of the birds, I’ve yet to become a birder but Dave sure has.

  3. We share your feelings about that State Park. We really want to like it there, but it is just too crowded with little or no privacy. sigh. Thanks for the beautiful, new to us hummingbird photos and the Black Throated Warbler. We do keep a “life list” and those birds are not on it – yet! We’ll return to the Paton center, without Lewis next time. See you soon….

  4. Wow, MonaLiza—your bird photos are fantastic!! They’re all beautiful, but I’m especially enthralled by the hummingbirds. They’re so cute and have so much personality. It’s been a few years since we’ve birded in southeast Arizona and we’ve been wanting to return. I would love to see the Violet-crowned Hummingbird!
    I wonder why the Elegant Trogon hasn’t been seen recently at Patagonia Lake? We saw it both times we were there (after a lot of searching!). Maybe he got tired of the crowds looking for him. 🙂

    • Thank you Laurel, I think the Elegant Trogon has moved to Madera Canyon, for there were lots of reports of sightings there. I guess the one at Patagonia lake must be dead 😦

  5. Your bird photos are always outstanding. I can imagine how much patience it must take to find them and photograph them so well. Maybe I will work on that some day (photography, not patience… that’s a lost cause 😃)… Sorry about the park aggravation. We’ve been having a lot of that lately. We finally got to a pretty county park today with very little noise and actual space between sites. Amazing what a difference a decent campground makes….

  6. So sorry that you had to cut your visit short. Definitely not a pleasant site watching the construction. I love that photo of you on the bench. Shows you in your element;) Beautiful bird photos:)

  7. Beautiful photos MonaLiza. I love the Brown-backed AZ Woodpecker and always enjoy your photos of the hummers. Their colors are so brilliant and unique…what a treat for us when you capture them in your photos!

  8. Gloria sent me your blog since I am a birder. Very enjoyable. We spent a lot of time in that area; but I never saw a Black Throated Warbler. Stan

  9. It seems many areas have been discovered for RVers. Perhaps we bloggers haven’t helped to keep some areas a mystery. Glad you got to see the elegant trogon during your first visit, as did we. Hey, we are in Patagonia too but didn’t see the two of you. 😀

  10. Sorry you had to cut your stay short, but you obviously made good use of what time you did have. I took a peek at your bird page … you have quite the collection. I need to get back to tagging photos so that my smart collections pull the birds I have in various albums into one place. I’m not a birder, but I do enjoy watching and photographing them.

  11. Just stumbled on your blog this morning and am impressed! I have been searching for a blog such as yours for years. I am retired and have been on the road for 5 years now spending my time doing wildlife photography and specializing in birds.

    I see you spent time along the Rio Grande in Texas and hit most of the birding hotspots, but did you miss the Salineno birding location? If you go to my blog and enter ” Falcon Lake State Park” or ” Salineno Birding” in the Search section, it should give you an idea of whats there so if you ever return, you should make a point to visit. Also may want to check out the ” Hood Canal” entries for a great spot for bald eagles.

    I have subscribed to your blog so I can keep track of what you discover and where. Keep up the great work!

  12. Not sure how I missed this post but glad you mentioned it in your most recent. Somehow I must have forgotten what a great camera you have. Even so, a camera can only do so much. It’s the photographer’s eye that makes the difference. You have become a really wonderful bird photographer Mona Liza. All the bird pictures in this post are just outstanding. Even the one you call “not so good”, what color. I’m so sorry to hear about your disappointment with Padagonia this time as compared to five years ago. I’m so longing to come west but fear I may be too late as you are not the only person saying how much more crowded it is now than in the recent past. What a fantastic site you would have had if not for the construction. What in the world are they doing? Beautiful snowy mountain pictures to close. Smart of you guys to have been there the day before.

    • Thank You, Sherry. Im drawn to birds and thought that if i take a good enough photo, I should also identify them. Yes, we believe that camping and rving are now popular recreation and we have to fight for a site reservation. So i guess the state park decided to build cabins to accommodate the influx of visitors.

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