Yes, I was the kid who always hoped for a pony under the Christmas tree. But if one wasn’t going to be forthcoming (and it wasn’t), another good choice for Santa would be a new field guide or better binoculars for my other outdoor hobby: birdwatching. I’ve continued to pursue both hobbies pretty well life long and love finding vacation spots where both are readily available.

Enter the Circle Z.

Southern Arizona is widely known by birders across North America as being an exceptional place to find birds that are difficult, and even impossible, to discover elsewhere on the continent, as many here are at the extreme northern limits of their ranges. This is true even in the depths of winter, which is when I visit the ranch.

The ranch’s location is ideal for birding in southeastern Arizona, as they are bordered on the east by Patagonia Lake State Park and on the west by the Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Preserve. Just across Highway 82 is the famed Roadside Rest, known for turning up rare birds year after year.
From the other side, any reader of guest ranch guide books knows that the Circle Z has been famous for its great horseback riding program for 90 years.

There are numerous ways of combining the two hobbies at the ranch. One of my favorites is merely watching for the frequently-amazing bird life while you are out on horseback, exploring the canyons, desert washes and mountain foothills nearby. I have found that many birds are less shy of humans when those humans are mounted on horseback than when on foot. As well, birds that prefer the more remote settings are much more easily found on a ride than when it would involve a trek of several miles over frequently-rocky and uneven trails on foot. During my week here in January 2016, I have seen flights of 20 or more Mexican (Gray-breasted) Jays fluttering iridescent blue in Flux Canyon, have been surrounded by flocks of Black-Throated Sparrows in the mesquite scrub, and have seen Montezuma Quail, that secretive skulker, scurry away up the hillsides.

Several wranglers who lead the rides (ranch manager Jenny, and wranglers Alice and Johnny) are all good birders in their own right, and are always keen to help identify a bird or to take a ride to the spot where a specific species has recently been seen. On many days it is also possible to ride for half of the day and then go birding for the other half. Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary is only a 10 minute drive from the ranch, and other well-known hotspots such as Kino Springs (one of my favorites) and San Pedro Nature Preserve can be easily covered in a half day. If you can spare a whole day from riding (a difficult decision to be sure!), Madera Canyon and Whitewater Draw would easily welcome you.

Some special birds are also big draws to the ranch area. It is one of the few spots where the Elegant Trogon can be seen reasonably regularly, and the nearby nature preserve was the site of the first sighting ever of Sinaloa Wren in the US. And this is all just during the mid-winter season. Come spring, hosts of hummingbirds, flycatchers and other species that prefer warmer weather, or are on their migratory route, begin to appear within easy viewing, often at the feeders on the ranch grounds.
Come to think of it, I might just have to try a Spring trip ….
Written by Barb Mclintock, long time Circle Z Ranch guest