where, when, and what to find

Center Creek Canyon & Bald Knoll

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 

Bald Knoll at Sunrise photo by Tim Avery

Center Creek Canyon follows Center Creek out of Center Creek city on the east end of Heber to the summit of Bald Knoll.  Bald Knoll is one of the furthest south and west "peaks" over 10,000' in the Uinta Mountain Range.  With continuous strings of forest, and tree line a number of species typical of the High Uinta's can be found here at what is basically the extreme southwest of their range from this mountain group.  For birding purposes the canyon above Timber Lakes, following Lake Creek out of Heber is also included in this hot spot with the center point being about Bald Knoll.  The habitat is typical of the higher elevation sites consisting predominantly of coniferous forest, with a good mix of aspen.  The tree line can be found here around 10,000' so there are lots of open "tundra" sections comprising mostly of tall grasses, rock outcroppings, cliffs, and open meadows.  Numerous small springs, creeks, beaver ponds, and other man made holding ponds provide ample water sources.  To date I am the only birder to submit checklists from here, as it is a rather out of the way location, but unique in where it sits in relation to the other peaks in the Uinta range.

There really is no right or wrong way to bird this location, or exact spots to go.  One highlight here is the summit of Bald Knoll which can be hiked to as part of your birding.  Another option is to just drive Lake Creek and Center Creek in a loop out of Heber birding along the way.  There are various locations you can stop and hike in the woods looking for birds.  The area is mostly National Forest so open to you for exploration.  The road is closed during the winter, and mostly accessible from June through October.  The summer birding is going to be your typical high Uinta birding.  I have only been in the fall when the leaves are turning and the drive is a nice get away from the valleys.  The birding is fantastic this time of year and a lot of high elevation species are very active and easy to find.  Early in the morning and during the night NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL are encountered on most days.  GREAT HORNED OWL has also been heard.  RUFFED GROUSE are an easy find on the shrub covered hillsides near springs.  In 2014 I was surprised to also find DUSKY GROUSE here for the first time.  During the fall at height of the day when temperatures are up and bird activity is at a lull, the open sky line provides a great opportunity to hawk watch.  RED-TAILED HAWK are common while, NORTHERN HARRIER, GOLDEN EAGLE, SHARP-SHINNED and COOPER's HAWKS, and TURKEY VULTURES fill in as well.  NORTHERN GOSHAWK have been observed several times in the forest here and are occasionally heard calling.  One of the most notable birds found here is GRAY JAY.  There are several other sites where it has been reported nearby including one further south--but it is found with good consistency on and around Bald Knoll. This represents the extreme southwest range of this species in the mountains here. Other corvids including STELLER'S JAY and CLARK'S NUTCRACKER are also present, and even BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE at this high elevation. Mountain finches are in no short supply with CASSIN'S FINCH being common, and PINE GROSBEAK and RED CROSSBILL are found on most outings.  EVENING GROSBEAK has also been recorded here,and during fall migration large flocks of GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES have been observed along the ridge lines of Bald Knoll.  During the height of junco migration 1,000's of DARK-EYED JUNCO of varying sub-species are observed in the meadows here along with other sparrows including WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, LINCOLN'S SPARROW, and GREEN TAILED-TOWHEE. Resident woodpeckers include both HAIRY and DOWNY WOODPECKERS, and more notably AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER which are relatively common at this site.  The species list here only numbers about 50 but the birding is fantastic and close to Salt Lake.  It is also wide open spaces where few people visit making it a great birding location!

To reach this specific location a high clearance vehicle is recommended.  From the intersection of Main Street and Center Street in Heber, take Center street east.  Shortly after leaving town it will turn into Lake Creek Road.  Follow this 13 miles past Timber Creek. Here the road will turn into Forest Road FR096 for about a 1/2 mile before turning into FR083. Keep fol owing for 2.2 miles till you reach a junction.  Turn right staying on FR083 for another .5 miles. Here take a slight right onto FR094 which will wind over the tree line on a rocky not-well-maintained road.  Continue for 2.2 miles till you see a pull off on your right.  Pull in here and drive to the trees to park.  The trail continues west form here along a ridge line and continues to Bald Knoll to your northwest. You can also reach this area from Center Creek Canyon, but the Lake Creek Option provides birding through better habitat and a nicer road.

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