Mountain Lions, Javelinas, and lots of birds defined our Arizona adventure

As Linda and I started our hike up Miller Canyon in southeast Arizona in early May, a guy with a rifle and three dogs came down the hill, stopping to visit with us. He and his parents own the four cottages there, and he’d been hunting a mountain lion that morning.

The lion had killed a deer on the hill above their cottages, and he’d initially sat at the dead deer, expecting the lion to return to finish its feast. But it did not return, so he sent the dogs after it. Unfortunately, the dogs had left the canyon and hustled over to the next canyon, Ramsey Canyon, so he had to scramble to get down Miller and up Ramsey to capture them.

He told me anyone can get one lion permit, and the state sells about 3000 permits a year, but only 300 lions are killed. We had noticed signs on several of our hikes warning us to beware of mountain lions, so I was especially interested in what this fellow had to say!

In late April and early May, Linda and I enjoyed a fabulous birding adventure in southeast Arizona. We’d visited there for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, so we returned this year. The birding in this area is fantastic, and we saw lots of birds, including some stunning ones like the red faced warbler.

We spent two days in Tucson, enjoying a day of birding with a guide, Melody Kehl. We birded with Melody two days last year and she is fantastic, including serving a gourmet lunch. Linda gave Melody a list of 9 birds we wanted to see, and she found all of them for us, plus 50 more. Check out her interesting website at

We arrived on day one in time to drive up to Catalina State Park in Tucson and hike the birding trail, a favorite of ours from last year. And we saw a lot of birds there, including stunning Vermillion flycatchers.

After a day and a half in Tucson, we headed to Patagonia for a very relaxing birding adventure, staying for 11 days at Cross Creek Cottages where Regina Medley is a wonderful host, with mountains right behind us, a cottage with lots of amenities and art, and a great porch overlooking trees loaded with birds. Regina also has friendly rescue burros. The small town of Patagonia has everything you need including the Wagon Wheel Saloon, our favorite dining spot.

We birded the Huachuca Mountains an hour east of Patagonia with trips to Carr Canyon, Miller Canyon, and Ramsay Canyon. By getting up in the higher elevations we were able to add several new species to our life’s list, including spotted owls.

But we really didn’t need to leave Patagonia to bird, because in that area the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Audubon’s Patton Center for Hummingbirds, and the Patagonia Lake State Park, all draw lots of birders and lots of birds. And the scenery is stunning.

Patagonia Lake is the only lake in the area and it is a very busy place. Some folks were astonished when I told them that in my little town of Mount Vernon we have seven lakes.

One day in the state park we had a coyote walk by us, and another day at TNC’s preserve we had 10 javelinas feeding in the creek right in front of us.

The state park is full of cattle, and I learned that in Arizona if you want to keep cattle off your land, it’s your responsibility to fence them out. Apparently the state park has not had enough money to do that, and the cattle have really damaged the habitat in the park. We ran into many birders who were not comfortable birding amongst the cattle, some of which roared at us and pawed the ground!

Coues Deer

We saw lots of Coues deer, a subspecies of the white-tailed deer. They are smaller than our deer, and most common in Arizona’s southeastern mountains where we spent our time.

The Coues deer’s coat is grayish-brown salt-and-pepper with white underparts. Bucks stand just over 30 inches at the shoulder and rarely weigh over 100 pounds. Does average 65 pounds. Nevertheless, I read on the Arizona Fish and Game Department’s website that, “The Coues white-tailed deer is perhaps Arizona’s finest game animal. Wary, and expert at using cover, whitetails rarely offer the hunter a standing shot once jumped.”

I found this information surprising, because many of these deer stood around and stared at us. The F&G website also reported, “The species has become increasingly important in the harvest. Although the statewide take has varied from 1500 to more than 7000 whitetails a year, depending on the vagaries of drought and fawn survival, the recent trend has been for this species to constitute an ever greater proportion of the statewide harvest. For example, whitetails comprised less than 15 percent of Arizona’s deer harvest in 1961, but today, they comprise over 40 percent of the total deer harvest.”

Gila Monster

One morning, while birding a trail in Patagonia Lake State Park, Linda and I saw a monstrous lizard. I took photos and stopped in at the visitor center where Ranger Abe Randolph identified the beast as a Gila Monster.

Abe was quite excited, because this was a rare sighting of the only lizard that is poisonous. The last sighting of a Gila Monster in the park was in March of 2016. And Abe informed me that no one had been killed by a Gila Monster in many years. Sort of assuring, I guess.

If I’d known what this was, and that it is poisonous, I probably wouldn’t have followed it up the knoll to get photos and a video! But Abe was pleased that I did, and he posted the photos and video on the parks’ website.

Water, Mines, and Ranches

Arizona is facing a disastrous water problem. Mines and ranches have depleted and/or ruined the water supply in many areas. It’s troubling to cross bridges over rivers and look down to see a dry river bed – no water there at all. Even the creeks we enjoyed birding were just a trickle, with lots of lost habitat due to water withdrawal.

It reminded me of the time I was fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana. As we passed a creek, my guide told me the creek contained habitat for an endangered fish. But the creek was completely dry.

“What happened to the water?” I asked. And my guide said it was all taken by ranches. “We do things a little differently here in Montana,” he said. Indeed!

We were right on the border with Mexico and saw lots of border patrol agents, keeping an eye out for smugglers and illegal immigrants. Sometimes there would be two or three border patrol trucks, parked all day in one location. We also saw blimps in the sky above us, keeping an eye on the border. Made us wonder why we need to build an expensive wall.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.