Patagonia Lake State PArk - Patagonia, Arizona

"Most birders have one bird," says Craig Anderson, a volunteer with Audubon Arizona, "that one bird that drew them to it. For me, it was the Vermilion Flycatcher." He rolls up his sleeve to show the red and black tattoo-- a rendition so accurate it could have come from Sibley's Guide to Western Birds-- which commemorates his first birding love affair.

Many may go their whole lives-- birders or not-- without spotting this diminutive yet brilliant bird. Craig tells stories of hiking for hours in hopes of seeing this dash of color through the grass, but for those who prefer less of an expedition to find the flycatcher, there exists no better location than Patagonia Lake State Park.

Tucked away like an oasis, Patagonia Lake draws families and nature-lovers from across the state and beyond, and offers the average traveler the chance to see such a rare a beautiful bird. The habitat of the lake is a perfect home for an astounding number of insects, which in turn support a population of flycatchers in overwhelming numbers. Just try telling a birder you pass on the trail that you saw a Vermilion, and you'll see by their weary nod and smile that, here, this is not breaking news.

But while abundant, the beauty of these birds is not lost on many, and you might see more cameras on the trails than you do binoculars. That's because-- to the joy of all amateur photographers-- this most beautiful of birds is also one of the easiest to photograph. Flycatchers like to perch on the very edge of exposed branches as they wait for their meal to fly by-- then they drop, and twist, and twirl in the air until they've caught what they were after. And at Patagonia Lake, you have the opportunity to watch this acrobatic display again and again-- interrupted, of course, with your frequent breaks to cool off in the water.