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Birding in the Sonoran Desert: Cactus Wrens to Vermilion Flycatchers

Program Number: 7447RJ
Start and End Dates:
3/23/2014 - 3/28/2014; 3/20/2016 - 3/25/2016; 3/27/2016 - 4/1/2016; 3/19/2017 - 3/24/2017; 3/26/2017 - 3/31/2017;
Duration: 5 nights
Location: Wickenburg, Arizona
Price starting at: $898.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Birding; Natural History
Meals: 14; 5 Breakfasts, 4 Lunches, 5 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

The pristine Sonoran Desert landscape of western Arizona, "forested" with an unusual mix of iconic saguaro cactus and otherworldly Joshua trees, is home to a wide variety of bird life. Enjoy leisurely morning walks through spectacular desert, Weaver Mountain landscapes and hidden wetland oases (desert wildflowers likely in bloom) while learning about and spotting the region’s bird life and diversity of habitats.


• Experience the dynamic riparian landscape of the Nature Conservancy's Hassayampa River Preserve where nearly 280 species of birds migrate through or nest each year.
• Get tips from birding experts on species identification and learn about bird migration and nesting habits. One hundred avian species were identified during our 2014 program.
• Brush up on your knowledge of western history and art with an afternoon spent with a docent at the famed Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

Activity Particulars

Walking up to one mile at a time over uneven or slightly hilly terrain.

So you can get the most out of your experience, all of our birding programs have a maximum participant-to-instructor ratio of 14:1. Desert avian species likely to be observed include Verdin, Harris' Hawk, Phainopepla, Gilded Flicker, Abert's Towhee, Lucy's Warbler, Pyrrhuloxia, Inca Dove, Gila Woodpecker and Curve-billed Thrasher.

Coordinated by Northern Arizona University.


Named after an Austrian miner who struck it rich during the 1862 gold rush, the town of Wickenburg is surrounded by rocky foothills where abandoned gold mines are still a common sight. Located in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert, it is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who come to hike, bird-watch or just enjoy the stunning natural beauty.

Comfortable lodging in Wickenburg with heated outdoor pool and spa.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Richard Stephens

Rich has been director of Northern Arizona University’s highly popular Road Scholar programs since 2001. He previously spent many years in the field as a program coordinator and group leader, where he honed his skills and learned the importance of detailed, pre-trip planning. Before making his home in Arizona’s spectacular red-rock country, Rich spent 10 years in Yosemite National Park and the Santa Cruz mountains as an environmental educator.
Eric Moore

Eric Moore’s love of wild birds had its beginnings in the deserts of southern Arizona. At the age of 13, he joined the Tucson Audubon Society, and since then has birded extensively across the U.S. and in locales as distant as South Africa and Brazil. He teaches courses on birds at Yavapai College, and leads bird walks for the Highlands Center for Natural History in Prescott. Eric also writes a weekly column about wild birds for the local newspaper, and owns two retail wild bird stores.
Bonnie Pranter

Bonnie Pranter has taught basic bird study courses part-time for Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., since 1985. In addition to co-leading occasional Road Scholar birding and hiking programs, she has led groups afield for bird studies in a variety of Southwest locations. Through the years, she has participated in numerous avian surveys and census work.
Meals and Lodgings
   Los Viajeros Inn
  Wickenburg, AZ 5 nights
 Los Viajeros Inn
Type: Hotel
  Description: Located in Old West town of Wickenburg, hotel follows the Old West design and tradition.
  Contact info: 1000 North Tegner
Wickenburg, AZ 85390 USA
phone: 928-684-0634
  Room amenities: Patio or balcony from each room, individually controlled heat/air conditioning, min-refrigerator, coffee maker, spacious layout in old west decor. Hair dryers, irons and ironing boards available at the desk. A few smoking rooms are available.
  Facility amenities: Heated pool, hot tub.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Check with hotel directly. Check with hotel directly.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Check with hotel directly. Check with hotel directly.
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Check into lodge after 3:00 PM, no early arrivals please. On site program registration between 4:30 - 5:15 PM You will be staying at Los Viajeros Inn that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends by 11:00 AM checkout. You will be staying at Los Viajeros Inn the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required.
  Parking availability:
Parking is free for the duration of the program.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Wickenburg, AZ
  Nearest city or town:  Wickenburg
  Nearest highway: US 60, I-10, I-17, US 93, AZ 74 (Carefree Hwy)
  Nearest airport:  Phoenix (60 miles)
  From End of Program
  Location:  Departures
Travel Details

Wickenburg, AZ to/from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Van Go Shuttle
phone: 866-448-2646
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


1 hour 15 min 




60 miles


Van Go works exclusively with Road Scholar and times shuttles to arrive in conjunction with program start/end times. Best to arrive into Phoenix airport by 2:00 PM and book departures after 2:000 PM. If you have questions, call shuttle company PRIOR to booking flights to aid in travel transfers. Pick up from all terminals at Phoenix airport, as well as nearby airport hotels (hotel link: use promo code Van Go), and drops off at program hotel.

Driving Directions
  Los Viajeros Inn, from Los Angeles Get on I-10 eastbound toward Phoenix. Continue to the junction with US 60 E exit, Exit 31, toward Wickenburg / Prescott. Continue on US 60 to downtown Wickenburg. Pass through one roundabout. In one mile, turn left onto N Tegner St. Los Viajeros is immediately on your left.
  Los Viajeros from Las Vegas I-15 S towards Los Angeles to 1-215 E towards Henderson, NV to I-515 S/US 93/US 95 towards Boulder City, NV. Continue on US 93 S towards Kingman, AZ. In Kingman, merge onto I-40 E/US-93 S toward US-93 S/Flagstaff/Phoenix. Exit 71 for US-93 S toward Wickenburg/Phoenix. Travel approximately 105 miles to Wickenburg. At the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto N Tegner St. Los Viajeros will be on the right.
  Los Viajeros from Phoenix Take US 60 W from Phoenix approximately 50 miles to Wickenburg. Or take I-17 N approximately 24 miles to Carefree Highway/AZ 74 W approx. 30 miles to US 60. Take US 60 W to US 93 N. At traffic circle on N end of Wickenburg, come back into town on Tegner. Or you may take the first traffic circle in town and turn right on Tegner. You will see Los Viajeros Inn on the W side of Tegner, north of the town center.
Elevation Note: Lodging and most activity 2000 to 3000 feet. Highest travel elevation and one field trip 4500 feet.

Equipment Requirements: Binoculars or a spotting scope.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Registration/Program Orientation and Introductions
(Sunday, March 23)
 Afternoon: Program check in is after 3:00 PM and program registration will take place between 4:30-5:15 PM adjacent to the hotel lobby.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Evening: Introductions and orientation in the meeting room following dinner. Meet your fellow participants and get ready for a wonderful week birding in the Arizona desert!
Accommodations: Los Viajeros Inn
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Birding at Date Creek/Birds of the Sonoran Desert
(Monday, March 24)

Note: Each day you could be walking over uneven and unpaved surfaces. Some periods of standing in place while birding. Remember to wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.

 Breakfast: Enjoy a full breakfast at a local Wickenburg restaurant. Daily entrees will rotate, but you can look forward to a variety including scrambled eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, fresh fruit, whole grain toast, hot coffee and orange juice.
 Morning: Birding field trip. Date Creek Ranch, over 120 years old, is a working cattle ranch managed holistically. Birding at the headquarters area situated in a riparian setting of cottonwoods and willows, and a half-mile walk along the sandy edge of the creek should produce Vermilion Flycatcher, Phainopepla, Gila Woodpecker, Inca Dove, Gilded Flicker, Harris’ Hawk, and other desert species.
 Lunch: Sack lunches in the field.
 Afternoon: Return in late afternoon.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Evening: Presentation on “Birds of the Sonoran Desert”.
Accommodations: Los Viajeros Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Birding at Burro Creek/Evening Presentation on Desert Wildlife
(Tuesday, March 25)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a full breakfast at a local Wickenburg restaurant adjacent to the hotel.
 Morning: Birding field trip. On our drive to today’s site we will pass through the Joshua Tree Scenic Parkway, a “forest” of these unusual yucca plants. At our destination of Burro Creek we will search out birds among mesquites adjacent to the creek, as well as in surrounding desert vegetation (walking about a mile in all), expecting to see Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, and Black-throated Sparrow, among other species. Along the high cliffs bordering the waterway, swallows, raptors, and White-throated Swifts are possible.
 Lunch: Sack lunches in the field.
 Afternoon: Return from field trip mid-afternoon.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Evening: A video presentation “Spring Comes to the Harcuvars”, filmed in the region's nearby mountains.
Accommodations: Los Viajeros Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Birding at Hassayampa River Preserve/Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg
(Wednesday, March 26)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a full breakfast at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Morning: Birding field trip. This morning will be spent at the Nature Conservancy’s Hassayampa River Preserve. For most of its 100-mile course through the desert, this river flows only underground. But within the preserve its crystal clear waters emerge, flowing above ground throughout the year. This lush streamside habitat is home to some of the desert’s most spectacular wildlife, and it hosts 280 species of nesting and migrating birds. Our visit may produce some migrating warblers, vireos, and orioles, as well as the resident Abert’s Towhee, Canyon Wren, Northern Cardinal, Gambel’s Quail, and Anna’s Hummingbird.
 Lunch: Sack lunches in the field.
 Afternoon: Afternoon docent-led tour of the Desert Caballeros Western Museum (western art and history). Fun Fact: did you know Wickenburg is the birthplace of Arizona's state neckwear, the bola tie?!
 Dinner: A popular local restaurant, Tumbleweeds, offers a variety of classic American fare in an upbeat, friendly setting. The beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches are favorites, the braised ribs are tender and tasty, and their signature oven fried chicken with apples and onions is a standout. Every meal ends with one of their dessert “shots”, just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Vegetarian and gluten-free selections are also available.
 Evening: Enjoy a free evening.
Accommodations: Los Viajeros Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Birding Trip to Yarnell and Walnut Grove
(Thursday, March 27)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a full breakfast at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Morning: Birding field trip. On this day we will leave the lower desert and take a scenic drive to a higher elevation (4800’) where granite boulders and chaparral vegetation abound. While walking narrow paved lanes and a creekside trail in the town of Yarnell, Bridled Titmouse, Bushtit, Western Scrub-Jay, Acorn Woodpecker, and Spotted Towhee are possible. Our journey will include travel through semi-desert grassland, where Western Meadowlark and Brewer’s Blackbird may be spotted, and a visit to a higher site on the Hassayampa River. We will also stop to view waterbirds at some ranch ponds.
 Lunch: Sack lunches in the field.
 Afternoon: Return from field trip in late afternoon.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Evening: Final night of Q. and A. with your naturalists and reflections on the week of birding in the Arizona desert.
Accommodations: Los Viajeros Inn
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Birding in the town of Congress
(Friday, March 28)
 Breakfast: Enjoy a full breakfast at a local Wickenburg restaurant.
 Morning: Birding field trip. Birding in the small community of Congress (a former gold mining town) should yield the sought-after resident Pyrrhuloxia. Easy walking along a neighborhood road and in the local Tenderfoot Hill Park may also produce such species as Verdin, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, and other desert birds. Back in time for farewells and checkout by 11:00 AM. Program ends at checkout.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Birds of Arizona Field Guide

Author: Stan Tekiela

Description: Learn about and identify birds using Stan Tekiela's state-by-state field guides. The full-page, color photos are incomparable and include insets of winter plumage, color morphs and more. Plus, with the easy-to-use format, you don't need to know a bird's name or classification in order to easily find it in the book. Using this field guide is a real pleasure. It's a great way for anyone to learn about the birds in your state.

Southwestern Desert Birds: An Introduction to Familiar Species

Author: James Kavanagh

Description: Southwestern Desert Birds, An Introduction to Familiar Species, is a must-have, reference guide for beginners and experts alike. Whether you're on a nature hike or in your own backyard, you'll want to take along a copy of this indispensable guide. The Pocket Naturalist(tm) series is an introduction to common plants and animals and natural phenomena. Each pocket-sized, folding guide highlights up to 150 species and most feature a map highlighting prominent sanctuaries and outstanding natural attractions. Each is laminated for durability. (31/2 X 81/4 folded, opens to 22 X 81/4, color illustrations, map)

Birds of the American Southwest

Author: Lynn Hassler

Description: Birds thrive in a wide variety of Western habitats, including deserts, grasslands, riparian areas, and mountain ranges. With detailed accounts of over 100 species by Lynn Hassler and new illustrations in full color, Birds of the American Southwest showcases many of the feathered creatures found in these diverse terrains. Both beginners and advanced birders will find this updated edition an invaluable guide for identification and appreciation, whether it's in your own back yard, by the side of the road, or in a remote wilderness. 115 full-color photographs

Cactus Tracks and Cowboy Philosophy

Author: Black, Baxter

Description: A complete compilation of all the stories and poetry you've heard Baxter do on NPR, with the unforgettable flavor of Baxter's own brand of cowboy philosophy. Over 250 pages of that bizarre humor that had you laughing out loud while driving to work. Some of you even complained to us about having to pull off the road to avoid a "laughter disaster". You'll also find poignant, more dramatic pieces that brought a smile to your face, or that far away look in your eyes.

The Southwest

Author: Lavender, David

Description: A historical and cultural overview, including discussions of present-day racial, conservation, and economic problems. Easy reading, fascinating history. 364pp

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