The Book Cliffs are the epitome of "underbirded-Utah". The Book Cliffs are a series of desert mountains and cliffs in eastern Utah. They are so named because the cliffs of Cretaceous sandstone that cap many of the south-facing buttes appear similar to a shelf of books. This desert region is generally dry and mostly barren desert. Decent amounts of shrubsteppe habitat cover the flat lands, while juniper woodlands are common in the boulder strewn hillsides and dry canyons. Riparian stretches follow streams like the one in Cottonwood Canyon creating an oasis for riparian species and those using adjacent habitats. The remoteness of locations like this are generally why most birders don't visit. Cottonwood Canyon Road stretch for 5 miles along a creek with scattered riparian habitat consisting of a canopy of Cottonwood, with willow and various other shrubs and trees as well.
The first time I went birding here wasn't to find rarities or bird a new location--it was part of a summer job conducting breeding riparian bird surveys for the Department of Wildlife Resources. I was able to spend 2 days birding here; 1 the day before I conducted the survey, and the other the day of the survey. I actually spent a 3rd day here 2 months later conducting a habitat survey but never entered a checklist... oops. Like most desert riparian habitat across central Utah the expected species here include YELLOW WARBLER, BULLOCK'S ORIOLE, and SPOTTED TOWHEE. One specialty bird present in decent numbers here is YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. Due to the surrounding juniper woodlands a number of species crossed into the riparian habitat here including DUSKY FLYCATCHER, BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER, LAZULI BUNTING, and WESTERN SCRUB-JAY. Both CHUKAR and WILD TURKEY can be found in the canyon as well. It is generally believed that Spotted Owl are probably found in the upper reaches of some of these canyons and worth looking for if you are here. This isn't your run of the mill birding location that you will visit just for fun. It takes a concerted effort to get here and if you visit should plan on taking a couple of days and camping along the creek. The same thing can be said for other canyons, creeks, and hikes in the Book Cliffs, San Rafael Swell, and just about anywhere in the desert in Utah that doesn't get a lot of coverage!
From the I-70 at exit 182 head east on I-70 for 32 miles. Take exit 214 towards Cisco. At the bottom of the ramp turn left onto UT-128 which will turn to dirt after .2 miles. Continuing north the road becomes BLM road 181/Cottonwood Road. Follow this for 5.3 miles before turning left. This is actually still BLM 181/Cottonwood Road. Follow this for 7.1 miles taking a slight right onto BLM 185/Cottonwood Canyon Road. In 1.4 miles look for the left turn into the canyon. From here you can continue at least 5 miles up canyon along habitat.