North Central Arizona Wildlife Viewing
Pronghorns and Rocky Mountain elk graze in the grasslands in central Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Grasslands Wildlife Area can often hold numerous pronghorn and raptors. The Department's Wenima Wildlife Area located outside of Springerville and Eagar has a resident herd of mule deer that can often be seen at sunrise and sunset by walking the area’s maintained trails.
Visit the Highlands Center for Natural History Lynx Creek site – a beautiful 80-acre parcel on Walker Road near Lynx Lake with a range of habitat including ponderosa-pine valleys, chaparral and woodland covered hillsides, and shaded creeks and the associated wildlife.
Visit lakes from Prescott to Payson and on to the White Mountains to see various water birds. Wetlands, such as Jacques Marsh in Pinetop-Lakeside and Tavasci Marsh near Cottonwood also hold a variety of birds. Pronghorn can usually be spotted throughout the day at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area. A casual drive on roads in the grasslands north of Prescott Valley is a good bet for pronghorn too.
Migratory breeding birds have returned to pine and aspen forests in the White Mountains above Springerville and the Rim Country around Payson. Migrants make an appearance in the forest habitats along the Little Colorado River in Greer. Good places to look for migratory and breeding songbirds include South Fork and the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Wenima Wildlife Area located outside of Springerville and Eagar, and Walnut Creek in Pinetop-Lakeside.
Walk the Springs Trail or the forest roads along Brown Creek outside of Pinetop, forest roads surrounding Greens Peak, and any other trail or road that takes you through ponderosa pine habitat.
In the pinyon-juniper forests of central Arizona look for birds as they begin nesting. Birds flock in the high-elevation grasslands around Big Lake, Sheep Crossing and the West Fork of the Black River. Canada geese graze the wet meadows near the town of Alpine. Grassland birds sing at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s White Mountain Grasslands Wildlife Area.
Ospreys are found at Woodland Lake Park in Pinetop. Across U.S. Highway 180 from Luna Lake, a great blue heron rookery exists among the snags. Watch birds traveling up and down rivers such as the Blue, Black, and the East Fork of the Black near Diamond Point Campground. A visit to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Sipe Wildlife Area may bring observations of quality birds along the bottomlands of Rudd Creek.
Lakeside Campground and the orchards and oak trees around the Post Office are good places to check for Lewis’ woodpeckers (which can also be found at Woodland Lake Park). Walk the Benny Creek and Little Colorado River trails in Greer for resident birds while also checking the river or the trails around Hannagan Meadow.
Any open meadows throughout the forests in the central Arizona high country may offer glimpses of the majestic elk. Find eagles at the myriad lakes in the Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low areas, and at any of the Mogollon Rim lakes and lakes in the Prescott area as well.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are one of the White Mountain’s signature species. Travel the scenic Coronado Trail (State Highway 191) from Clifton to what remains of the old town of Stargo (located a few miles north of Morenci) and you can spot sheep close to the roadway along the slopes of the vast open-pit copper mine that wraps around Morenci.
White Mountain and high country lakes can sport rafts of waterfowl. Best bets include Fool Hollow, Show Low, Becker, Concho and Woodland lakes, and River and Scott reservoirs. High-elevation birds migrate down into the ponderosa pine forests or pinyon-juniper woodlands for more optimal food supplies.
Bald eagles descend on Arizona’s high country to spend the winter, making for some spectacular easy winter wildlife photography. Hardy permanent resident birds populate the pine forests and are active throughout the day. In lower pinyon-juniper woodlands birds flock to feed on leftover seeds and berries.
Telephone, Fool Hollow and Show Low lakes in the Show Low area, as well as Woodland Lake, Lake of the Woods, Rainbow Lake and Scott Reservoir in Pinetop-Lakeside harbor several eagles throughout the winter, especially when extreme cold temperatures render higher-elevation lakes completely frozen.