Arizona Field Ornithologist


Arizona eBird Gaps


Be Prepared Before You Go

Since you will be visiting more remote areas, it is important to be prepared before you leave home.  For each of the Featured Gaps, we will provide information on access and any permits needed, but here is a list of things to keep in mind when going into the field:


photo by Eric Hough

Let someone know where you are going

and when you are expected to return.  Going with a birding buddy is also recommended if you are going somewhere remote.

Make sure your cell phone is charged or have a vehicle charger with you. Putting your cell phone on airplane mode when you don’t have a signal saves battery power too.

Bring maps or gazetteers showing major and minor roads.  This includes paved highways or streets, graded dirt or gravel roads (e.g. National Forest, BLM, or tribal roads), and 4WD/jeep tracks.  Our Featured Gaps maps can be downloaded onto a mobile device using the Avenza app (see details under “Featured Gaps” section).  Looking at the planned routes ahead of time on Google Maps or Google Earth is also useful, as you can see general topography, habitat boundaries (desert vs. wooded areas), drainages, possible gates, etc.  If you have a smart phone, you can use apps like Google Maps for navigating to locations while you have cell service, or apps with downloadable topographic maps like Gaia GPS that you can use for navigation when you do not have a cell signal.  

Bring water.  If you will be spending the day hiking or if you are planning a camping trip, it is recommended that you bring at least 1 gallon of water per person, per day.  If you drink water from springs or streams, use water purification measures before drinking it.  It’s a good idea to always bring more water than you think you’ll need! 

Bring food for snacks, or in case you end up being out in the field longer than expected due to vehicle issues or waiting out inclement weather.  Foods and drinks with electrolytes are important to have on hand in the hot summer months to prevent and treat heat stress symptoms. 

Dress accordingly and wear sturdy footwear.  Arizona’s ample sunlight and prickly vegetation can be brutal, so it is recommended that you wear protective clothing to cover bare areas of skin, including a hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants.  Sturdy hiking boots or shoes with good tread are recommended for traveling on the often rocky, uneven ground found in the state.  Arizona experiences weather and temperature extremes, so be sure to check weather forecasts before you go.  If you are visiting higher elevations, know that Arizona does get subfreezing temperatures in winter and snow in the mountains.  From late fall through spring, and even after summer monsoon storms in the mountains, the temperatures can plummet quickly and you will be happy to have extra jackets, sweatshirts, thermal underwear, gloves, hats, or scarves just in case.  Carrying a poncho or umbrella in your car or hiking backpack is also a good idea if there is a chance for storms. 

Check weather forecasts before you go.  Flash floods can happen in any low-lying areas or drainages, even if it is raining miles away in the mountains that feed the watershed, but not at your spot.  If it looks like it might be storming in the mountains nearby, be careful when hiking in a drainage and make sure you have an escape route to higher ground.  Do not attempt to cross any flooding water by foot or by vehicle!  Be patient and wait for the flood waters to recede if your route back is temporarily blocked.


Late summer monsoon storms (late June to early September) typically have violent thunderstorms with lightning, so be careful while hiking when lightning is possible.

Donít park over dry vegetation and be careful with ignition sources. Arizona’s peak fire risk time is during the dry season from late April to July, although this can extend through August for areas that don’t receive any monsoon precipitation.  Annual grasses and flowers produced during winter and spring rains dry out in this period and are fuel for any sparks.  Be careful when parking your vehicle to make sure no dry vegetation is touching the underside of your vehicle.  If you smoke, use your vehicle’s ash tray and do not discard it outside.  Make sure your vehicle or trailer does not have any loose chains dragging that could spark against pavement.  Do not leave campfires unattended when camping and be sure to fully extinguish them before leaving.  Pay attention to ‘Red Flag Warnings’ when dry weather and high winds may be present that could carry a fire.  If you see or smell smoke that may be nearby, quickly evacuate the area.  Lastly, be sure to check news reports of wildfires burning in the area you’re planning to visit, or any temporary closures due to fire danger.  

Practice Leave No Trace ethics. Help minimize your impacts on the environment and bird habitats while helping us with this project! Please visit the Leave No Trace program’s website for more details on preparing for your trips into the outdoors.


Check road conditions and give your vehicle regular service checkups.  Know the limits of your vehicle and what roads it can and can’t handle.  We will try to provide areas that can be accessed from main paved roads, but if you have a low clearance vehicle, you may need to safely park off to the side and hike in from there.  You can search online or call for information on road conditions on the state’s public lands.  If it has rained recently or if there may be snow, expect muddy conditions or possible washouts on dirt roads that can make them impassable.  Don’t chance driving down roads that you could get stuck or ruin by driving in inclement conditions, especially if the road goes through a public easement on private property.  It is good to have a full-size spare tire in addition to the ‘doughnut’ tire your vehicle comes with.  Jumper cables or portable jump starter are also invaluable.  Make sure your vehicle is not low on oil or other fluids before you go to remote areas away from service centers.  It is smart to have at least a small camp shovel in case you need to get a tire unstuck in snow, sand, or mud.  Drive all roads with caution!

Obey all posted signs and donít trespass! If it is unclear whether an area is inaccessible or you know it to be private land, either go somewhere else, or try to ask permission from the landowner.  If fences have gates that allow access, please leave gates how you find them (open vs. closed) and do not block roads or driveways when parking.  Be respectful of any nearby residences when pointing your binoculars or cameras, as some people may not want their privacy disturbed.  You may also attract curious private landowners or law enforcement that may be on the lookout for suspicious activity, such as poaching or theft. 


We are all ambassadors for the birding community and the actions of unethical birders can lead to previously-accessible areas being closed.  Respect all posted signs regarding land ownership, rules and regulations!  If you happen to encounter non-birders out there, be the reason why someone may think and act favorably towards birders, birds, and their habitats in the future!  Don’t ignore an opportunity to introduce someone to the love of birds and nature!

Beware of cactus spines and thorns! Bring a comb, multitool with pliers, or tweezers for cactus spine removal if you will be visiting an area with cacti or thorny vegetation.  Be sure to check the bottom of your footwear for cactus spines before you leave. 

Watch your step! Most of us birders are so busy watching the trees and the sky, that we fail to see where our legs are carrying us.  Arizona has the most rattlesnake species in the U.S., and they are found across most of the state from spring through fall during warm weather.  Snakes are not a reason to avoid the outdoors…simply watch your step and if you see one, either give it a safe distance while going around, or allow it time to slither off on its own.  Snakes do not chase and hunt people down like in the movies! They are an important part of the ecosystem and have beauty in their own right.  Watch where you’re walking and avoid moving through tall grass or dense vegetation.


Besides rattlesnakes, there is also cacti, prickly vegetation, loose rocks and soil, and steep drop-offs to watch for while hiking.

Be aware of your surroundings and other people. This includes areas where crime and illegal activities could happen, which includes around urban and rural areas, and along the U.S.-Mexico border.  If you observe suspicious activity, get out of the area safely and quickly, and report it to law enforcement if necessary.  If you observe possible poaching or illegal collection of wildlife, you can call the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s Operation Game Thief toll-free, 24/7 hotline: 1-800-352-0700.

Use common sense and be safe!† If you happen to encounter a potentially dangerous situation, it’s best to avoid it.  Whether the possible threat is other people, feral dogs, rattlesnakes, black bears, mountain lions, livestock, wildfires, rough roads, or inclement weather, go with your gut instinct and avoid situations that you don’t need to be in.  The birds will always be there for a visit at another time or at a safer location!  Most importantly, being prepared before your birding adventure in the field will almost always help you avoid and cope with any problems that arise.



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Updated Friday, 08 June 2012