Merrill Webb's
 Top 20

Page 2 of 3

Last month [page 1] I listed my top ten Utah places to visit before I die list based on two criteria: greatest numbers of bird species available and scenic attractiveness.  Granted, the Hurricane water treatment ponds and Grandpaís Pond I listed as my number eight choice as a triumvirate arenít very scenic, but the number of possible waterfowl species compensates for the lack of scenery, although if one were to travel five miles south to Sand Hollow Reservoir the scenery is much improved.  So, the final ten locations of the top twenty follows below using the same criteria.  Based on the first ten places I mentioned the observer should have over 200 species on their Utah list.  So, this time we specialize rather than go for numbers.  But there are also some very scenic places I like even though the species numbers may not be highóor unique. 

     Alphabetically the next ten would be Diamond Fork Canyon, Gunnison Bend Reservoir, Maple Canyon, Nebo Creek, Nebo Scenic Loop, Pelican Lake and Ouray, Pine Valley, Sheep Creek Canyon, Soapstone Basin, and South Willow Canyon.

(Listed Alphabetically)  

Diamond Fork Canyon (Utah County) 

     (Note: Purchase a travel map of the Uinta National Forest at either the Pleasant Grove or Spanish Fork Ranger District Offices, or the Provo Supervisors Office on 100 West 100 North before venturing on this trip, or the trips to Nebo Scenic Loop, Sheep Creek Canyon and Soapstone Basin).

     Driving south of Provo on I-15 take the Price exit, #258 (US Highway 6), and drive up Spanish Fork Canyon.  A couple of miles past the Covered Bridge exit watch for the exit for Diamond Fork Canyon on your left.  Within a couple of hundred yards after you exit onto the Diamond Fork road pull off to the right where there is a forest service informational kiosk which overlooks an intermittent pond.  Look for Belted Kingfisher on the wires.  Cross through the gate and walk down the dirt road towards the stream.  The willows to your right have been the most consistent location for me to find Willow Flycatcher in Utah County.

     Return to your car and continue driving north up the canyon.  Watch for Bank Swallows where the road comes close to the stream.  Take the turnoff to Diamond Campground.  Park your car to the side of the road and walk through the campground area.  Or you can take a lunch and pay a small fee to enjoy the scenery and watch for birds while you eat.  Either way the thick vegetation of cottonwoods, sandbar willow and river birch along the stream affords excellent habitat for Gray Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Fox Sparrow during the breeding season.  Dippers and Spotted Sandpipers feed in the stream, and Red-naped Sapsuckers can sometimes be found in the cottonwoods.  Yellow Warblers abound during the breeding season. 

     Return to your car and travel another couple of miles up the canyon watching for Wild Turkey along the way to some picnic tables on the left of the road near some red sandstone buttes.  Expect Canyon Wren here as well as Spotted Towhee, and sometimes Stellerís Jay.  Overhead you should hear White-throated Swifts as they sweep across the mountain face across the road and stream to the south of you.

     If you missed the catbird and the chat at Diamond Campground continue on up the road a short distance to a group picnic site on your right.  Drive down to the stream and watch for these species at this location as well.

     Incidentally, I have seen Pygmy Owl, Bald Eagle and Wild Turkey in this canyon in January, so you might want to consider this as a winter trip possibility, at least the first seven miles north from Spanish Fork Canyon.

     If you continue on up the canyon, the road is still good for another seven miles although the canyon narrows a lot and it is difficult to find a place to stop to listen for birds.  At Springville Crossing the road forks and the good road becomes dirt.  You can continue on to the north and eventually drop down into the right hand fork of Hobble Creek Canyon and come out in Springville.  Ruffed Grouse can sometimes be seen along this road as well as Northern Goshawk.  Or you can turn to the right and eventually come to the Sheep Creek road which will take you either to Strawberry Reservoir or back to Spanish Fork Canyon.  Green-tailed Towhee is abundant along this road.  Do not attempt either road without a forest service map to provide proper directions.

Snow Geese at Gunnison Bend
photo by Lu Giddings

Gunnison Bend Reservoir (Millard County)

     This reservoir is just west of Delta, Millard County, and can be accessed by driving south from Delta on US Highway 6 and taking the Sherwood Shores exit.  Travel north to the reservoir.  This isnít exactly scenic area U.S.A., either, but during the Snow Goose festival in late winter it is a great place to watch the geese come in to land on the reservoir.  There are usually blue phase Snow Geese as well, and sorting through all the Snow Geese to find the Rossís Goose can be challenging and rewarding.  To see and hear the thousands of beautiful, white geese as they descend on the reservoir is well worth the two hour trip from Provo.

Maple Canyon  (Sanpete County)

     I drove into this canyon quite by accident and am recommending it just because of its unique geological characteristics (and some interesting, though not necessarily great birds).  Take the second Nephi exit off I-15 and drive east towards the towns of Fountain Green and Moroni.  At the south end of Fountain Green you will see a road sign directing you to the town of Wales.  Drive past the turn-off to Jerusalem (really) and continue south to Freedom, another small farming community.  (If you havenít been on this road before you probably had no idea there were Utah towns by these two names).  At any rate, when you get to Freedom you will see a sign directing you to a forest service campground, or Maple Canyon.  The drive to the canyon is less than five miles.  As you drive into the canyon take note of the steep canyon walls.  They are made of conglomerate.  There is a small fee to access the campground.  Walk around and take in the unusual geology.  I have found both kinglets and both chickadees here as well as the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and Canyon Wren.

Nebo Creek  (Utah County) 

     South of Provo take the Price exit (#258) off I-15 and drive east up Spanish Fork Canyon on US Highway 6 to Thistle Junction.  Turn off on Highway 89 and travel south.  Just a couple of miles south of the Birdseye Church turn right (west) through a rancherís gate, cross Thistle Creek and drive up Nebo Creek.  The habitat here isnít all that beautiful, but Nebo Creek has typical riparian vegetation of Narrow-leaf Poplar in the stream bottom with mixed pinion-juniper trees on the right of the road.  Watch and listen for Yellow Warblers, Lazuli Buntings and Western Wood-Pewee.  As you travel up the canyon you will cross through an old forest fire burn which killed the cottonwoods leaving dead skeletons of burned out trees which attract insects and Lewisís Woodpeckers.  After crossing the forest boundary in the same type of habitat and traveling on a bit farther, Page Fork is on the left.  If the stream is low enough an attempt at crossing it by car will allow travel up a dirt road for about one and a half miles to the trail head.  A mixture of birds such as Green-tailed Towhee, Warbling Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, and Virginiaís Warblers can be observed in the oak-maple vegetation on the hillside.  A one mile hike up the trail brings you to some conifers where you can find Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch. 

     If you decide not to attempt the stream crossing at Page Fork continue on up the canyon for another mile or so.  There is a mixture of cottonwood, pinion-juniper and oak-maple with associated species of jays, warblers and towhees.

Nebo Scenic Loop (Utah and Juab Counties)

East Slope of Mount Nebo
photo by Merrill Webb

     If you like driving through beautiful forested areas with vistas that reach out in every direction, this scenic loop is for you.  In Payson drive south from the Peteetneet School to access this forest service road.  The low riparian areas along the highway provide good habitat for Yellow-breasted Chat and Black-headed Grosbeak.  There are various pull-out areas along the road as you travel up the canyon to the Payson Lakes area.  Near the Payson Lakes exit stop and look for Lincolnís Sparrows and MacGillivrayís Warblers in the willows.  Watch for Purple Martins feeding over the lakes.  The area near the junction to Blackhawk Campground has been a fairly consistent location to find Flammulated Owl at night.  Stop at the Nebo Bench trail head and look for the Three-toed Woodpecker.  This location has been one of the most reliable and consistent places to find this species in Utah County. All along this paved highway at higher elevations is good habitat for Mountain Bluebird.  Plus, during the summer when the wildflowers are in bloom this makes for a beautiful drive.  You can continue on southward and drop in elevation into Salt Creek Canyon, then drive until you access the main highway (#132). Turn right (west) and follow the road into Nephi.


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