Big Lake Recreation Area
The Big Lake Area has three lakes that are productive for birding, as well as a variety of other habitats that include marsh, grassland, and mixed-conifer and aspen forest. These three lakes hold a lot of potential for interesting waterbirds throughout the year. Osprey and Bald Eagle are seen with regularity.
Getting to the Big Lake Recreation Area: From Highway 260, take Highway 273 south for about 14 miles to the Big Lake Recreation Area. From Eagar, travel west on Highway 260 for 18.7 miles and turn left (south) onto Highway 273. From Show Low, head east on Highway 260 for 35.7 miles before turning right (south) onto Highway 273. Highway 273 is closed in winters past the Sunrise Area.
Overview Map: For an overview map that shows the birding locations in the Big Lake Recreation Area, click on the link here- Big Lake Recreation Area Overview Map
Basin Lake: Basin Lake is the first of three lakes in the Big Lake Recreation Area if coming south on Highway 273. At 14.7 miles of driving on Highway 273, look for a small pulloff on the south side of 273. This is shortly after entering the Big Lake Recreation Area. Park at this pulloff and go through the fence and into the grassland area. Walk in the southeast direction for a quarter-of-a-mile to look over Basin Lake. Basin Lake is a small marshy lake that is pond-like. This is a good place to find nesting waterfowl such as Gadwall, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead, and Ruddy Duck as well as Yellow-headed Blackbird around the lake edges. Basin Lake can be a quick stop in general to check over and look for interesting waterbirds throughout the year. Grassland habitat surrounds this lake. Keep an eye out for Swainson's Hawk, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. For more on Basin Lake, a separate page that contains pictures of the location, an eBird hotspot, and a location map is available at the link here- Basin Lake
Crescent Lake: After driving south for 15.5 miles on Higway 273 from Highway 260, the first and northern-most pulloff for Crescent Lake is on the south side of 273. This road accesses the north and west side of Crescent Lake. The well named Crescent Lake does have a crescent shape and is a long and narrow lake for the most part. It is an easier lake to scan for waterbirds because of the narrow and long shape. The first access road into the north and west side of the lake gives a great overview of the widest section of the lake and it also runs along an isolated stand of mixed conifer and aspen forest. Forest birds may be seen along the edges, and the stand of trees itself is closed to protect Bald Eagles and other wildlife who live in the area. Other than this stand of trees, Crescent Lake is surrounded by grassland. Back on Highway 273 and heading south, there are pulloffs along the road to view Crescent Lake from the highway. At 17.1 miles, a boat launch and the south side of Crescent Lake is accessed by a turnoff on the west side of 273, which is 1.6 miles south of the north side of Crescent Lake. In summer, look for Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Swainson's Hawk, and forest birds along the mentioned stand. Montezuma Quail has been heard in the grassland here. Checking the lake in spring and fall will turn up waterfowl in numbers as well as the potential to find interesting migrants. For a separate page on Crescent Lake that includes pictures, a link to the lake's hotspot page on eBird, and a map of the lake, that page is available at the link here- Crescent Lake
Big Lake Recreation Area: The 575-acre Big Lake is a very popular lake for fishing, outdoor activities, and vacations in Arizona. This 9,000' in elevation recreation area is usually very crowded in summer and on holiday weekends. Big Lake Recreation Area is also a great place for birding. With the large lake, surrounding meadows, grasslands, mixed conifer and aspen forests, it has the potential to harbor a variety of different bird species. If heading south on Highway 273 from Highway 260, the first access point to Big Lake comes at the northeastern section of the lake where the dam is. This turnoff on the west side of Highway 273 comes at 18 miles. Take this dirt road to the west if wanting to scan the northeastern section of the lake, which often has waterbirds. Continuing the drive at 18.8 miles is the main turnoff to the Big Lake Recreation area on the west side of 273. Driving along this road for a few miles goes along the southern perimeter of the lake and the road eventually wraps around to the west side of the lake. There are many pulloff points to park along the lake and scan for birds on the water. At this recreation area, there are a handful of campgrounds with plenty of amenities as well as a visitor center. Rainbow Campground, the largest campground in the recreation area, has 152 campsites. The campground is situated in mixed conifer and aspen forest. Walking through the campground is bound to result in a pleasant birding experience with a variety of different forest birds. Sections of the forest that surround Big Lake were burned in the 2011 Wallow Fire, and a lot of it is still productive. Big Lake is a good place to check during migrations. Look for Bald Eagle and Osprey perched along the lake or hunting over the water. Scanning the lake for waterfowl, loons, grebes, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and more during migration periods is suggested. Loons seem to favor Big Lake. Common Loon has been seen at the lake in fall with some regularity and Pacific Loon has been found in November 2008 (six on the lake-John Yerger), and October 2014 (Eric Hough). Despite the crowds that are common at Big Lake, coming and exploring the area earlier in the morning will be productive in summer months. For more information on the Big Lake Recreation Area, a separate page that contains pictures of the location, a link to the hotspot on eBird, and a map of the area is available at the link here- Big Lake Recreation Area
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