where, when, and what to find

Zion National Park

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 

Zion National Park photo by Tim Avery

Zion National Park is a 229-square-mile park located in Washington, Iron, and Kane counties. A prominent feature of the park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile  deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. The lowest elevation is 3,666' at Coalpits Wash and the highest elevation is 8,726' at Horse Ranch Mountain. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park's unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity between the desert, riparian, and Ponderosa dominated habitats.  The park is basically split into 4 different areas: Zion Canyon, Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyons, and the eastern section.  Each section is quite different and offers a variety of habitats including desert, canyon, riparian, shrubsteppe, mixed Gambel's Oak and Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands, Aspen, and mid-elevation conifer forest.  There are various birding hots pots within that park that include: The Narrows, Angel's Landing, Canyon Overlook, Emerald Pools, The Grotto, Hop Valley Trailhead, Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace RoadKolob Terrace, Kolob Reservoir, Lava Point, Pa'rus Trail, Riverside Walk, Taylor Creek, Watchman Trail, Wheeping Rock, and the South Campground.  Zion Canyon is the most popular and most birded location, and is primarily riparian, dominated by Box Elder, Fremont Cottonwood, maple, and willow. Slot canyons off of Zion Canyon contain pinyon-juniper and Ponderosa pines as well.  Like most national parks there is an entrance fee, and Zion Canyon is closed to public traffic most of the year, so a shuttle system buses you form the visitor center up to the many locations within the park.

The birding in Zion is about as varied as the habitats, and number of places to look for birds.  Since there will be specific hot spot information about areas within the park this is a general guide to birding in Zion--specifically Zion Canyon.  You can go birding year round in the park, but it is most popular from early April through October when the trees are green and bird life in the park is at its height.  The end of April through May is perhaps the absolute best, when migrants mix with resident birds and the cacophony of sounds fills the canyon.  The riparian habitat is home to southwest specialties such as SUMMER TANAGER and LUCY'S WARBLER, along with lots and lots of YELLOW WARBLERS.  CANYON and ROCK WREN singing bounces off the canyon walls, while the twittering of WHITE-THROATED SWIFT an be heard above.  Its not uncommon to see WILD TURKEY near the Zion Lodge or along the road.  Due to the mix of habitat, you also tend to get the mixed Gambel's and Pinyon-Juniper specialists close to or in the riparian habitat as well. BLACK-THROATED GRAY and VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, as well as BUSHTIT, and JUNIPER TITMOUSE are all seen with regularity during the summer months. Two species are often sought out in Zion Canyon--the first being the breeding PAINTED REDSTARTS that represent the northern limit of their range.  Typically found along the river walk or near the Temple of Sinawava, they can be hard to find, but are worth the search!  The other species is the "Mexican" SPOTTED OWL which is found throughout the park but can be hard to detect outside of breeding season when they are singing.  One of the best locations to look for them is in Refrigerator Canyon on the hike to Angel's Landing, as well as Hidden Canyon, and various other slot canyons in the park. The park is one of the most popular biridng parks in the state and the list of vagrants is impressive, including: BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD, GILDED FLICKER, RED-BREASTED SASPSUCKER, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, HERMIT WARBLER, HARRIS'S SPARROW, GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, and ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK. In recent years CALIFORNIA CONDOR are occasionally seen perched high on canyon walls or soaring above--they are also seen with regularity on the Kolob Terrace.  The talking about birding could go on for pages--so instead I say to you--go birding in Zion--you won't regret it!

From I-15 north of La Verkin, take Exit 27 east/south to La Verkin. From south of La Verkin, take I-15 exit 16 onto SR-9 eastbound.  One in La Verkin follow the signs onto SR-9 east to Zion National Park--about 20.3 miles away.  From Hwy 89 east of the park take the turn off to SR-9 and follow the signs to the east entrance.

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