The diverse ecosystems of the Rim Country provide the opportunity to view a surprising number of birds. In fact, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the Tonto National Forest has more than 300 species of birds.
You only have to go as far as Payson's Green Valley Park and the Payson Golf Course for bird watching in town. Venture out to various vantage points along the East Verde River, the Tonto Natural Bridge or down around Roosevelt Lake and see how many different birds you can spot.
A few years back the Payson Birders provided a list of birding areas in the Rim Country.
- Green Valley Park and along Lake Drive to the ponds behind the golf course; American Gulch, behind West Main Street is still a good spot in places, though it is becoming developed.
- Doll Baby Ranch Road, which is the west stretch of Country Club, that runs along the south side of Green Valley Park and the Payson Golf Course, it is paved just a short way, then becomes dirt and on the rough side, but provides a place to glimpse more of the Rim Country's feathered residents and visitors.
- Flowing Springs, about four miles north of Payson. Take the dirt road toward Flowing Springs and drive to the fenced Forest Service parking and camping area. This area is along the East Verde River.
- Shoofly Ruins, located off of the Houston Mesa Road. There is a trail and many Jeep roads in the area. Nice mix of grassland, juniper and some chaparral. Generally fairly level hiking.
- Washington Park, located north of the Control Road. Various species of woodpeckers in the parking area at the end of the road, Winter Wren along the creek.
- Oak Springs, west of Pine off Hardscrabble Road. Habitat is mostly ponderosa pine with a good shrub under story.
- Pine Trailhead. Go north on Highway 87 to the trailhead, located just before entering Pine. Good birding in the parking area and along the trail to Dripping Springs. Habitat is mostly ponderosa pine, mixed with chaparral.
- Fossil Creek, take Fossil Springs Road out of Strawberry for about five miles to the trailhead for Fossil Creek. The road down to Fossil Creek is not for the faint of heart and is very steep. The trail is very difficult all the way down to the creek, however for the first mile or so, it is a nice hike and some great chaparral habitat.
- Horton Creek and Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery. Take Highway 260 east about 12 miles, then turn left to go to the fish hatchery. Good birding is all along the creek and particularly good around the ponds at the hatchery.
• Hells Gate Trailhead, located east of Payson, off Highway 260. Take Forest Road 405A just past Little Green Valley. This trail is best taken during the week as it is multiple use and motorized vehicles are allowed.
- See Canyon Trailhead, located off Highway 260 at Christopher Creek. Take Forest Road 284 to the end. Several trails along the creek, and good riparian habitat with mixed conifer forest.
- Woods Canyon Lake Trail located off Highway 260, 32 miles. Turn left on Rim Road 300 and go to the 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 the alpine lake is an easy walk on dirt and rock path through shady forest.
- Willow Springs Lake Trail is another pleasant forest walk on a dirt and rock fisherman's trail. Go east on Highway 260, approximately 34 miles, turn left and go one mile north on Willow Springs Lake Road 149 to the parking area.
- Deer Creek Trailhead, 17 miles south on Highway 87. There are three trails out of this area and all are beautiful, however the third trail, No. 48, consistently has some of the best birding in the area, good riparian bordered by semi-desert grassland and chaparral. Black-throated sparrow, lazuli bunting, cactus wren, all three species of oriole and many others.
- A little beyond the Rim Country, another relatively nearby spot is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum located southwest of Globe on Highway 60. It is consistently good birding with lush gardens, ponds and flowing creek to attract many area and migrating bird species.
The Tonto National Forest's Payson Ranger Station has handy resources for birders. One is "Birds of the Tonto National Forest: A Checklist," a brochure listing information on the species of birds that occur within the national forest. The Rim Country and the Roosevelt Lake area are only part of the Tonto, so not all the birds in the listings can be found at these higher elevations. The publication includes a map indicating the prevalent habitats where the birds will most likely be seen. It also indicates which birds are permanent residents, seasonal visitors, migratory and accidental and whether it is common, uncommon or rare to see the different birds.
Another publication available at the ranger station is "Wings Across the Americas, Neotropical Migrants: Can We Save Them?" These two publications are free; the ranger station also has a number of other birding books available for sale.