Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Highway 77-Winkelman to Globe limits

This area follows the route of Highway 77 between the limits of the city of Globe to the north and the town of Winkelman to the south.  The main draw of this area are the recreation areas along the Gila River.  The Gila River is a major migration corridor for birds, and the cottonwood and willow stands along the river with surrounding tamarisk and mesquite make the habitat one to search for migrants and breeding birds in.  Sonoran desert dominates most of the landscape in the southern half of the area, and in the northern half the elevations climb to that of chaparral and juniper-filled slopes and upper desert scrub.  This area is very underbirded, just like most of Gila County.

The birding is very interesting in this area based on a few factors.  One of them is that there are several species that have ranges in Arizona that are mostly in southeastern Arizona.  Some of those species do extend their range further north in smaller numbers.  The Gila River corridor and adjacent desert is a perfect example for some of these species, and for these species, this area is the only one in Gila County where some of them may be observed.  These birds include Rufous-winged Sparrow, Varied Bunting, and Black Vulture.  For Gila County, this is also the best place to see Gray Hawk and Tropical Kingbird, who have been recorded a few times elsewhere within the county.  Other than seeking out those species, this area is great to visit during migrations and winter and it has a lot of potential.  In spring and summer, look for breeding birds that are typical of desert and riparian habitat in the lowlands, as well as chaparral and juniper species in mid-elevations. 

Directions:  The main point from where directions will be based on coming from will be the intersection of Highway 77 and Highway 177 in the town of Winkelman.  From that base point, mileages will be given from traveling north on Highway 77.  The best way to get to the base point would be to take Highway 177 south from Highway 60 in the town of Superior for 32 miles to Highway 77, or to take Highway 77 south from Highway 70 just east of Globe for 32.8 miles south to Winkelman.  The directions for each birding location are described as if heading on Highway 77 to the north of Winkelman.  If coming south from Globe, do the reverse math for distance.



-Winkelman Public Golf Course:  This public golf course has open grass lawns, rows of tall tamarisk trees, and a variety of other trees and vegetation throughout it's grounds.  The northwest side of the golf course has a pond surrounded by willow trees.  Gray Hawk has nested here, and Tropical Kingbird and Common Ground-Dove may be observed in spring and summer.  Mississippi Kite was once regular here, but numbers have decreased over the years and the bird is probably quite rare in Gila County.  This golf course has great potential during migrations.  From the Highway 77/Highway 177 intersection, take Highway 177 just to the west to Griffin Road on the south side of 177.  Take Griffin Road just south to W Quarelli St, and then take Quarelli St (which turns into Golf Course Road) about a half-mile west to reach to golf course where there are a few parking pull offs along the road.

Gila River Hotspots

*The following four birding locations are along the Gila River.  At all of these points, the west side of the river is in Gila County while the east side of the river is Pinal County.

-Winkelman Flats Park:  In the town of Winkleman, this park sits right at the northeast corner of the Highway 77 and Highway 177 intersection.  It has open lawn, grassy areas, riparian habitat along the Gila River, mesquite stands, an isolated stand of cottonwoods, and desert scrub.  This park has great potential all year, especially during migration periods.  One might spot a Black Vulture in this area in midst of much larger numbers of Turkey Vulture.  Black Vulture is rare in Gila County, but appears to have increasing numbers based on eBird observatations.  In spring and summer, species of highlight to look for include Common Black-Hawk, Gray Hawk, and Tropical Kingbird.  This park has had about 160 species recorded on it's grounds.  Rarities that have been found have included Red-breasted Sapsucker (Ed Dunn), and more birding in the park will grow this overall list quickly.

-The Shores Recreation Site:  Drive on Highway 77 for 3.2 miles north of the Highway 77/177 intersection in Winkelman.  This recreation site will be on your right and on the east side of Highway 77. When pulling in there is a restroom.  Proceed past the restroom and follow the road either north or south to different parking, camping, and picnic areas along the Gila River.  It is recommended to walk along the road that parallels the river north and south of the restroom at the entrance.  The walking distance of the whole site is just less than a mile.  Sonoran desertscrub surrounds this area, and along the Gila River are mixed stands of cottonwood, willow, and tamarisk, with stands of mesquite immediately nearby the river.  This site is very productive during spring and fall migrations.  Golden-winged Warbler has been found here before, and other highlights that have been found in over 130 detected species have included Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Black-Hawk, Gray Hawk, Elf Owl, Tropical Kingbird, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Varied Bunting.

-No Name Recreation Site:  Drive on Highway 77 for 4.7 miles north of the Highway 77/177 intersection in Winkelman.  On the east side of Highway 77, there is a dirt road that will be a very sharp right turn if coming north on Highway 77 from Winkelman.  Take this dirt road barely to the south and park.  Walk shortly east to the river after parking (the road is very rough for vehicles past the convenient parking space), and once the Gila River is reached, walk along the trail to the north for close to a half-mile.  The habitat here is similar to the previously mentioned Shores Recreation Site.

-Christmas Recreation Site:  Drive on Highway 77 for 6.6 miles north of the Highway 77/177 intersection in Winkelman, and turn east/right at the noticeable turn off for the Christmas Recreation Site along the Gila River.  This is another location along the Gila River that can be productive.  One can park near the parking area when pulling in at the restroom, and walk north or south for short distances along the river from the restroom to equal up to roughly a half-mile of walking in total.  The habitat here is similar to the other locations.  Varied Bunting has been found here before, including a family group that had recently fledged young.


Rufous-winged Sparrow, other desert birds, and more

Heading north on Highway 77 past the Highway 77/177 junction in Winkelman, there are some suggested routes and stops in upper Sonoran desert that are worth birding and looking for the Gila County-limited Rufous-winged Sparrow.  The Rufous-winged Sparrow's range reaches it's northern limit in the desert areas along Highway 77 that are roughly 9 to 15.5 miles north of Winkelman.  Besides the sparrow, there are other desert birds to look for that may also include another bird that is sparse in Gila County in the Harris's Hawk.  There are private properties adjacent to these roads in many places, be sure to respect the properties if birding here.

-Roundup Drive: Look for this road 9.6 miles north of Highway 77/177, on the left/west side of Highway 77.  Drive in for a short distance and stop at the private property boundary.  There is good habitat for the sparrow here, but respect private property if birding nearby the homes.

-Deer Farm Road: Take this road to the south/left off of Highway 77 at 10.7 miles north of the Highway 77/177 junction.  The sparrow has been recorded along this road at the first intersection (Creeks Lane) after heading south a short distance from Highway 77. 

-Cooley Ranch Road: This road is 12.6 miles north of the Highway 77/177 junction and is on the west/left side of Highway 77.  It takes a sharp turn to the south after turning off of the highway.  The sparrow has been found along the beginning stretches of this road. 

-Cactus Run Road: This road is 14.3 miles north of the Highway 77/177 junction, and is on the western/left side of Highway 77, and heads southward after the turn.

-Dripping Springs Road: Dripping Springs Road is the overall road to bird on when birding in this area.  Although more Rufous-winged Sparrow reports have come from Deer Farm and Cooley Ranch Roads, this road offers a considerable amount of distance for birding with solid habitat for the sparrow.  It is 15.6 miles north of the Highway 77/177 junction in Winkelman, and will be another left turn to the west off of Highway 77.  After driving/birding along this road for about two miles, turn west and to the right to stay on Dripping Springs Road.  Private property goes in the left direction at this intersection, but at the intersection, there is a mix of tall trees on the property along the side of the road that may attract migrants.  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet has been observed here before (Ed Dunn).  Heading another half-mile to the west on Dripping Springs Road is the small Wind Spirit Community.  This is an oasis of a place in the middle of the desert with an incredible mix of trees and plantings, and it has great potential to attract notable migrants.  Walking along this road may reward the birder, but be sure to respect the property and privacy of the community.  Continuing west past the Wind Spirit Community, Dripping Springs Road continues for miles up into chaparral and juniper slopes and is worth exploring further.


Highway 77 north to Globe

From the desert locations just mentioned along Highway 77 and continuing north on the highway toward Globe is a habitat selection of Upper Sonoran desert, chaparral, and juniper.  There are locations that need to be explored in the future along the section of this highway north to the Globe town limits.  Once more of them are explored, they will be added as birding locations to this area.

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