In the lower reaches, short-horned lizards, eastern fence lizards, western rattlesnakes and ringtails share sandy sage flats, arid rocky slopes, deep canyons and sandstone mesas with jackrabbits, prairie dogs, wintering elk and mule deer. Piñon jays, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles commonly grace the sun-drenched skies.
Coyotes, various foxes, cougars and black bears may roam the region at any elevation, while in the high country — either below or above timberline — watchful observers may see Rocky Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, snowshoe hares, ptarmigan or a lynx.
Shiras Moose may also be seen at most elevations, though they generally stick to the higher willow flats and conifer forests north of Pagosa Springs. As the largest members of the deer family, lone individuals have occasionally wandered the streets and outskirts of town.
While a complete list of Pagosa Country birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals is quite long, ardent wildlife watchers will observe little without going about it properly. Though many — if not a majority — of species are nocturnal, most will forage in the twilight hours before sunrise, or at dusk. Obscured clothing, careful movements and a good pair of binoculars will improve the likelihood of encountering an owl, bobcat, bull elk or black bear.
Foxes and coyotes, mule deer, bears, magpies, crows and ravens, golden and bald eagles, wild turkeys and vultures are more numerous than in years past. While solitary and secretive, mountain lions are apparently increasing in number, and reported sightings now seem more frequent, particularly as humans live and recreate further into their territory.
In the spring and early summer, infrequent hikers and wildlife watchers will invariably stumble upon a newborn fawn or elk calf. Baby birds, rabbits, foxes and squirrels may appear quite approachable, yet mother is almost certainly nearby. As long as a potential predator lurks about, she’ll not return to feed or coddle her young. Therefore, it is always best to back away and leave little ones as they’re found. Survival in the wild is challenging enough, without avoidable human interference.
In a bountiful region as rich and diverse as Pagosa Country, vigilant observers will enjoy an array of wildlife matched by few places on earth. Those inclined need only travel the canyons, mesas and forests early or late, move in silence and employ functional field glasses. And, with a little luck, a digital camera capable of shooting in low light without a flash may just capture the memory of a lifetime.