Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Photo by DJ Craig
The Tonto National Forest encompasses approximately 2.8 million acres ranging in elevation from 1300 feet near the lower Salt River to over 7,700 feet at Aztec Peak. The forest contains a variety of habitats that include coniferous forests and woodlands, chaparral, grassland, desert scrub, riparian and aquatic. This diversity supports complex assemblages of wildlife and plants.
The Tonto National Forest is a mecca for bird watchers. There are hundreds of different species that call this forest home. From its towering wooded pine forest and its sprawling deserts, Gila County offers the Birder an opportunity like none other. Below are several areas that have been documented as excellent bird viewing habitats. For a complete list click here.
Check out this list of places to go birding:
#1 - Woods Canyon Lake
Photo by DJ Craig
Woods Canyon Lake is one of Arizona’s prettiest mountain lakes and is located about 45 minutes from Payson, Arizona. It offers some amazing birding opportunities. The Red-shafted Northern Flicker Grace’s Warbler(s), Red and White-Brested Nuthatch, American Robin, Steller’s Jays, Osprey, Purple Martins, Dark Eyed Juncos, Red Faced Warbler, Cordilleran Flycatcher are all species you will find in this area. To get there go east on Highway 260, 32 miles east of Payson. Turn left on Rim Road 300 and go northwest 3.4 miles to Woods Canyon Lake Road, 105. Turn right and go east to Rocky Point Picnic Area. The 4.5-mile loop trail around Alpine Lake is an easy walk on dirt and rock path through shady forest.
#2 – Globe’s Pinal Mountains
Photo by David Burba
Globe’s scenic Pinal Mountains form the most northern ‘sky island’ range in Arizona – and also the closest, for bird-loving visitors arriving from Mesa and East Valley cities. Watch for Chihuahuan Ravens during winter in the foothills and circling above Russell Gulch; then Fox Sparrow and Crissal Thrasher on the slopes above the paved road - and Yellow-eyed Juncos once you ascend from chaparral to Ponderosa Pine forests. Spring and wintertime notables can include Olive Warbler and Red Crossbill.
Drivers from Mesa and East Valley cities can reach the mountaintop in less than 2.5 hours; enjoying a scenic 12 miles of well-graded dirt roads maintained by the US Forest Service, once you turn from pavement onto Forest Road 651 -- passing several different campsites (yes, with Forest Service primitive toilets) enroute; hiking trails -- and ending at prominent radio towers at Pinal Peak. Located within the Tonto National Forest, the Pinal Recreation Area includes 45,760 acres.
#3 – Roosevelt Lake
Photo by Cameron Davis
Birding at Roosevelt Lake and the Tonto National Monument can only be described as "Birding Bliss”. When you first arrive the best place to start your adventure is at a place called Windy Point. Blackbirds, finches and sparrows seemingly flutter around the parking lot like a moth to a flame. great blue herons flap slowly over the water, while vultures and hawks soar overhead looking for their next meal. In the surrounding brush birders will see and hear Gambel’s Quail. And to make it all perfect, there are very few people around.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Polipotila melanura
Black-throated Sparrow Amphizspiza bilineata Cactus Wren Campylohynchus brunneicapillus
Canyon Towhee Pipilo fuscus
Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Common Raven Corvus corax
Costa's Hummingbird Calypte costae Curve-bill Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
Gamble's Quail Callipepla gambelii
Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes urophyialis
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis pstaltia Phainopepla Paihopepla nitens Rock Wren
Salpinctes obsoleuts Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura Verdin Auriparus flaviceps
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
#4 - Payson’s Green Valley Park:
Photo by DJ Craig
Payson’s Green Valley Park is a great place to soak up the sun, have a picnic and watch the fouls of the air. The Eared Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese, Hooded Merganser and a couple of America’s most noble birds the Bald Eagle roost nearby. These are just some of the amazing birds you will find at this lush hidden gem at the end of Historic Main Street. Other viewing areas are good along Lake Drive to the ponds behind the golf course; American Gulch, behind West Main Street is still a good spot in places. Best viewing time is in the early morning or early evening when they come out to feed.
#5 – WILLOW SPRINGS LAKE
Like its nearby sister-lake, Wood Canyon, Willow Creek is one of the most accessible of the Rim lakes and has a very scenic setting in a heavily forested area on the edge of the Mogollon Rim. The landscape which includes Ponderosa Pine, Oak and Douglas Fir trees is simply gorgeous and at an elevation of about 7,500 feet, it is a great place to bird watch.
The lake is located about 23 miles east of Payson, Arizona and 22 miles southwest of Heber off US 260 on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Typically it is much quieter than Woods Canyon but still cool and breezy. You can expect to see Black Hawks, Swainson’s Thrush, Steller’s Jay, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Spotted Sandpiper, Nashville Warbler just to name a few.
For more information about places to go birding in Gila County visit https://www.discovergilacounty.com/birding