When folks go birding in Alpine, one usually thinks of Luna Lake. As it usually first comes to mind, it is an equally pleasant birding location to create that mindset. Bald Eagle and Osprey are regularly seen hunting over the water, and Eared Grebe families are fun to watch. Luna Lake brings in an array of breeding, migratory, and wintering waterfowl and other waterbirds to make it an exiting place to bird. Near Luna Lake is another birding area, the Blue River. While it takes awhile for one to get to the Blue River itself from Alpine, the road to the Blue River near Highway 180 provides birders visiting Alpine with a second location nearby and another breathtaking birding experience...
Getting to the Alpine Area: The town of Alpine will be used as a starting point for directions of the birding locations in this area. To get to the town of Alpine, one will have to travel north or south on Highway 191 until the turnoff for Highway 180 towards Luna and New Mexico come into contact with 191. Just east of Highway 191 on Highway 180, is the town of Alpine. Using different towns as distance marks on Highway 180/191, Alpine is 94 miles north of Clifton and is 26.7 miles south of Eager.
North Blue River Road: Blue River Road (also Forest Road 281) is accessed on the south side of Highway 180 as one of it's few access points, four miles east of Alpine. It is a few hundred yards west of the turnoff to Luna Lake (see next location). Once on Blue River Road, the road is paved for the beginning stretches before turning to a graded dirt road which is in good condition after a few miles of heading south. This north side of Blue River Road runs for about 9 miles before entering New Mexico and then Blue River road has the Blue River itself parallel the road once getting back into Arizona after driving a short distance on New Mexico land. Once the Blue River parallels this road after about ten miles of driving on it, the Blue River then goes along this road for 25 more miles before coming to an end at private property. A separate area will hopefully be made for the Blue River itself on this guide, but this hotspot of the northern stretch of Blue River Road has a lot to explore. While the Blue River isn't covered in this exact hotspot, the northern stretch of Blue River Road has amazing habitats that harbor a variety of different bird species. Once driving on Blue River Road after getting off of State Highway 180, the route begins in Apache County. After 4.3 miles of driving, one enters Greenlee County. At the point where the road goes into Greenlee County, the road takes one on a scenic and twisty path down into the canyons and valleys where the Blue River runs further south. This is a gorgeous area, and it has plenty of potential just like the Blue River does. Shortly after continuing south after crossing into Greenlee County, Turkey Creek parallels the west side of Blue River Road. Further down, Blue River Road comes into contact Luce Ranch Road to the west. At this point, Turkey Creek runs into Campbell Blue Creek, and Campbell Blue Creek follows Blue River Road further to the southeast before New Mexico and the Blue River are reached. From the start of Blue River Road from Highway 180, it is about 9.5 miles of driving until the New Mexico state line is reached and where this hotspot ends. The road is in good condition for these 9.5 miles in most seasons. However, during the monsoon seasons, the creek levels when crossing the road may be impassable once getting into New Mexico after ten miles of driving this road. This is just north of the Blue River, and, and further access to the Blue River from this route may be very difficult during this time frame. As mentioned above, this area in itself holds great birding habitat and potential to see many similar species one may find in the Blue River area. Thus, it is a good alternative. Habitat wise, Blue River Road is mainly ponderosa pine forest with some oak along it's first few miles when in Apache County. Once into Greenlee County and dropping down into the canyons and valleys below, the surrounding hills are filled with scrub oak and juniper while canyons and drainages in the area contain ponderosa pine, oak, and Douglas fir. Sections along the creek have excellent riparian habitat that have large groves of cottonwood trees. This is a very lush area, and birdlife is abundant. For the White Mountain region, it brings a different cast of birds than usual that may include Greater Pewee, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, and Summer Tanager in elevations that are still relatively high at 6,500' to 7,000'. Other birds that may be seen include Wild Turkey, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Acorn Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos, Steller's Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Purple Martin, Bushtit, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Hermit Thrush, Virginia's and Red-faced Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Hepatic and Western Tanagers, Bullock's Oriole, and Red Crossbill. From the road, walk up many side drainages that include lush stands of pine, fir, and oak. Red-faced Warbler and Painted Redstart are common. This is a very under-birded area that needs more coverage. For more information on this area, a separate page containing photos of birds and scenes from this site and maps of the area, is available at the link here- North Blue River Road
Luna Lake: Luna Lake is 4 miles east of Alpine on the north side of Highway 180, and only a few miles west of New Mexico. It is a productive lake for birding, and the area in and around the lake contain open water, marsh, creekside riparian, grasslands and meadows, and ponderosa pine forest. Eared and Pied-billed Grebes, Canada Goose, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, and Gadwall are among the waterbirds that nest here. These species nest at Luna Lake in high quantities, and because of that the western half of the lake is closed from April to August for a safe refuge for these species. Bald Eagles also are in the area, and the northwestern part of Luna Lake is closed off in season for their protection. Luna Lake is a worthy stop for birding throughout the year. A variety of waterfowl will use the lake, as well as gulls, terns, herons, and shorebirds. Some of the oddities that have been found at Luna Lake have included Brown Pelican and a Sandhill Crane that summered along the lake for many consecutive years. In the marsh areas along the lake, listen for Virginia Rail and Sora and look for Yellow-headed Blackbird. The grasslands/meadows in the area harbor raptors, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrow, and Mountain Bluebird. Montezuma Quail has been heard here before. Luna Lake is surrounded by ponderosa pine forest. Look for all of the typical species of the White Mountains that are found in this forest habitat. Olive Warbler has been seen at times with some regularity in these pine forests (Stuart Healy). Birding wise, one has several places to bird at when at Luna Lake. Waterfowl and other waterbirds are best scanned for at the southern edges of the lake. Follow the road into Luna Lake further east to the tackle shop. They have hummingbird feeders up which may produce interesting observations. Continue east and then north on the road to the Luna Lake Campground areas. The forest habitats near the campground provide more birding, and Lewis's Woodpecker and Williamson's Sapsucker may be seen in this section. For more information on Luna Lake, a separate page with photographs of both birds and scenes, an eBird hotspot link, and an area map is available at the link here- Luna Lake
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