The secret is out. Rim country has become a popular location for bird watching.
This transitional zone between desert and high mountains provides varied habitat that ranges from cliff faces to broad meadows, scrub brush and streams to mature stands of pine trees. Our environment is home to more than one hundred species of birds and offers a welcoming stopover point for a wide variety of seasonal migrating birds.
But you don't have to be an avid birder to join in the fun. Sooner or later, fishing folks, campers and hikers in Rim country will start to wonder about sights they encounter on their treks and ask, "What kind of bird just flew by?"
Birds can range from the smallest, birds such a hummingbird or Bridled Titmouse, to large raptors including the Bald Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon.
Upon sighting a bird, people usually scramble for binoculars and a bird book. While helpful, bird books alone sometimes don't cut it. What really helps you get started is an experienced birder.
Just as fishermen ask locals where fish are biting, visitors can get some bird-watching tips from local members of the Payson Birding Club. This spring, in cooperation with the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, the group began offering free guided bird walks at Green Valley Park on Saturday mornings. he guided two-hour stroll is about a mile long around the lake, and down Lake Drive to the pond behind the Payson Golf Course. he educational program will continue periodically during summer months as long as there is public interest.
"The great thing about the Payson area is that you really don't have to go far to see many species of birds. Green Valley Park is a good place to see water birds, including a variety of ucks and gulls, as well as blue herons, osprey and bald eagles who seem to love the fishing here," says Carol Lease, president of the local bird club. According to Lease, the Payson Golf Course, as well as local meadows, ttracts birds that prefer insects, seeds and grass. The pond ehind the golf course uses reclaimed wastewater and is a favorite place to look for birds in a natural habitat. Recent sightings there included red-winged blackbirds, a belted kingfisher, hummingbirds, doves, western kingbirds, Cassin's kingbird, Bullock's oriole, western scrub jay, Say's phoebe and a ed-tailed hawk.
Another avid birder, Tom Conlin, suggests strolling along the American Gulch area (runs from Sawmill Crossing to Green Valley Park) walking ast the golf course clubhouse toward the sewage treatment plant on the Doll Baby Road. There you can usually find summer and western tanagers, warbling vireo, and a variety of song birds.
"The best time to see birds is early in the morning, because that's when they are hungry and the most active," Conlin said. "As soon as it gets warm, around 10 a.m., bird activity slows. The next best time is later afternoon or early evening when some birds come out to eat insects."
Conlin has some tips for greater success in spotting birds.
"Walk quietly, stop frequently and listen for bird songs," he said. "Then you can follow the sound to a specific tree or bush and look for color or motion. Look at the ground too. If you see whitewash (bird droppings), look up to find a tree branch and a possible bird nest. If you learn about the habits, favorite foods and abitats of different species, you will have a better chance of seeing more birds."
Other favorite spots for birding include the riparian areas around Tonto Creek, the East Verde River and the Deer Creek Trail.
Take a walk down oll Baby Ranch Road, have a picnic lunch at any of the campgrounds along the East Verde River, or visit the Tonto Fish Hatchery to find a wide variety of birds. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, located 10 miles north of Payson off Highway 87, offers wide elevation variations and a spectacular riparian habitat that attracts many birds.
See Canyon and the Rim lakes also provide good bird-watching opportunities.
Wherever you go, plan ahead and wear sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots, a hat and sunscreen. Always take water and perhaps a protein bar or trail mix. It is helpful to have a small notepad and pencil to record bird sightings, binoculars and a good bird reference book. Local birders recommend the National Geographic's "Field Guide to the Birds of North America," 4th edition, or "A Field Guide to Western Birds" by Roger Tory Peterson.
Whether in a group or alone, birders should use caution during observation or photography to avoid stressing birds, damaging nesting areas or natural habitat. Respect regulations regarding use of public areas and roads; do not enter private property without the owner's permission. This responsible behavior will help protect birds in Rim country and generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.
For information about bird walks at Green Valley Park, or the Payson Birders, call (928) 474-8719.