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Located directly in the migratory path between Mexico and Canada, Graham County and its neighbors are ideally situated for bird watching. Since Graham County has such diverse habitats, watersheds, and limited human population, it is home to some of the best birding on the North American continent.

Snowy egret.

Bonita Creek, located about 20 miles east of Safford, is part of the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area established by Congress in the Arizona Desert wilderness Act of 1990.

More than 140 species of birds have been recorded here and over 70 species nest along the creek, known also as a haven for native fish and frogs.

There is a treetop wildlife viewing deck on a cliff near the confluence of Bonita Creek and the Gila River. Black bear and javelina are commonly spotted. Waterfowl and shore birds are seen along the river while hawks and eagles soar overhead.

The area is fairly remote and visitors must travel semi-maintained roads to reach Bonita Creek. Four-wheel drive is not required, but caution should be exercised on the road’s tight curves. Not all trails in the area are well marked, so a topographical map is recommended. Information and maps are available through the Safford office of the Bureau of Land Management (928-348-4400, www.az.blm.gov/sfo/index.htm).

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.

Cluff Ranch (Arizona Fish and Game, 928-485-9430) is located about 10 miles west of Safford on 788 acres in the foothills of Mount Graham. A superb haven for birders and wildlife watchers, this area features aquatic, riparian woodland, desert scrub, and agricultural fields.

Haekel Road is located about eight miles east of Safford and provides access to San Simon Valley, Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area and several ponds north of Bowie. The San Simon Valley is a good location to spot winter raptors, buntings and sparrows.

Swift Trail, a 35-mile long road belonging to the U.S. Forest Service (928-428-4150), is accessed from US 191 about eight miles south of Safford. The road climbs from 3,300 feet to almost 9,000 feet in elevation, passing through five life zones on the eastern and southern flanks of Mount Graham.

It passes from cactus and ocotillo-clad hillsides to forests of fir, pine, and spruce. The varied habitats bring with it a vast variety of birds. Drive carefully through the numerous switchbacks of this high mountain road. There are many pullout areas in a wide range of habitats. The area is especially good for warblers.

There are several other internationally known birding areas within easy driving of Safford. The Empire-Cienega Resource Conservation Area (BLM, near Sonoita) offers 66 acres of woodland and several marshes (cienegas) that are excellent for birding.

Only a short distance south is the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve (National Conservancy) has groves of cottonwoods and willows along Sonoita Creek. Supporting over 275 species, the preserve is one of the best spots in the country to see the rare gray hawk. Also owned by the National Conservancy, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve near Sierra Vista is widely known for its humming birds.

Also near Sierra Vista, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area stands on both sides of the San Pedro River for 36- miles north of the Mexican border. Willcox hosts a nationally known birding festival annually. Only 40 miles south of Safford, the Willcox Playa Wildlife Area hosts “Wings over Willcox” in January to celebrate thousands of sandhill cranes that migrate there every winter.

Cave Creek Canyon Recreation Area, just south of Willcox, supports many interesting species from south of the border. Researchers and scientists claim that the area between Cave Creek and Globe (north of Safford) has the richest diversity of wildlife in the United States.