Birding Hot Spots
At the Willcox Chamber of Commerce, 1500 N. Circle I Rd. (tel. 800/200-2272 or 520/384-2272; www.willcoxchamber.com), you can pick up several birding maps and checklists for the region.
To the east of Chiricahua National Monument, on the far side of the Chiricahuas, lies Cave Creek Canyon, one of the most important bird-watching spots in the United States. It's here that the colorful elegant trogon reaches the northern limit of its range. Other rare birds that have been spotted here include sulfur-bellied flycatchers, and Lucy's, Virginia's, and black-throated gray warblers. Stop by the visitor center for information on the best birding spots in the area. Cave Creek Canyon is just outside the community of Portal. In summer, the canyon can be reached from the national monument by driving over the Chiricahuas on graded gravel roads. In winter, you'll likely have to drive around the mountains, which entails going south to Douglas and then 60 miles north to Portal or north to I-10, and then south 35 miles to Portal.
The Cochise Lakes (actually, the Willcox sewage ponds) are another great bird-watching spot. Birders can see a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds, including avocets and ibises. To find the ponds, head south out of Willcox on Ariz. 186, turn right onto Rex Allen, Jr. Drive at the sign for the Twin Lakes golf course, and go past the golf course.
Between October and March, as many as 40,000 sandhill cranes gather in the Sulphur Springs Valley south of Willcox, and in January, the town holds the Wings Over Willcox festival (www.wingsoverwillcox.com), a celebration of these majestic birds. There are a couple of good places in the area to see sandhill cranes during the winter. Southwest of Willcox on U.S. 191 near the community of Cochise and the Apache Generating Station electricity-generating plant, you'll find the Apache Station Wildlife Viewing Area. About 60 miles south of Willcox, off U.S. 191 near the town of Elfrida, is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. To reach this latter area, go south from Elfrida on Central Highway, turn right on Davis Road, and in another 2 1/2 miles, turn left on Coffman Road and continue 2 miles. The last 2 miles are on a dirt road that should be avoided after rainfall. The Sulphur Springs Valley is also well known for its large wintering population of raptors, including ferruginous hawks and prairie falcons.
Near Douglas, the Slaughter Ranch, which has a large pond, and the adjacent San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge are good birding spots in both summer and winter.
North of Willcox, at the end of a 30-mile gravel road, lies the Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (tel. 520/212-4295; www.nature.org), a 49,000-acre Nature Conservancy preserve that contains seven perennial streams. These streams support endangered aquatic life as well as riparian zones that attract a large number of bird species. To get here, take exit 340 off I-10 and go south; turn right on Bisbee Avenue and then right again onto Airport Road. After 15 miles, watch for a fork in the road and take the right fork. If the road is dry, it is usually passable in a passenger car. In May and from September to February, the headquarters, which includes the visitor center, is open Thursday through Monday from 8am to 5pm (Mar-Apr daily and June-Aug Sat-Sun only). From late September through May, overnight accommodations in casitas ($180-$195 double) are available by reservation (2-night minimum, 3-night minimum on holidays). Casita guests have access to hot springs on the grounds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.