where, when, and what to find

Quail Creek Reservoir & SP

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 

Quail Creek State Park from Google Street View

Quail Creek Reservoir is a 600 acre man made body of water that was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek, but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline. Two dams form the reservoir with a maximum depth of 120' .  The surrounding red rock desert and dry slopes create an oasis in the desert.  There is a campground along the main road with a number of deciduous trees creating a migrant trap.  The shore line provides numerous beaches, sandbars, and exposed rocks.  Near the inlet there are often mudflats when there is low water, and an overgrown riparian habitat created  a lush environment in this otherwise arid location.

Quail Creek really is an oasis in the desert.  For over a decade it was the only major body of water in the area and attracted a fair share of amazing birds.  With the addition of Sand Hollow just to the south there is some competition, but the rare birds still find their way here.  For birders this is often a better location due to there being fewer water sports enthusiasts than Sand Hollow.  In any event, the bird list here is approaching 200 species and from October through April just about anything can show up. With 27 species of waterfowl on record the list is impressive.  EURASIAN WIGEON, BLACK, SURF, and WHITE-WINGED SCOTER have all been seen here.  Quail Creek is one of the few lakes in Utah where all 4 Loon species found in Utah have been seen.  RED-THROATED, YELLOW-BILLED, and PACIFIC LOON in addition to COMMON have all been seen here on multiple occasions. All regularly occurring grebes have been seen here as well as RED-NECKED GREBE.  During January 2015 a BROWN PELICAN was here for less than 24 hours and NEOTROPIC CORMORANT has been seen here a handful of times.  During the winter it is not uncommon to see all 3 MERGANSER species here, as well as WESTERN GREBE, and large rafts of gulls that are usually mostly RING-BILLED with some CALIFORNIA GULLS. With these gulls there have been some great finds. MEW, THAYER'S, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL have all been seen, while HERRING GULL is reported occasionally.  During fall migration SABINE'S GULL are reported form time to time; while in the spring FRANKLIN'S and BONAPARETE'S GULLS are often reported.  All 4 regularly occurring Utah TERN species have been seen as well.  In October 2007 a very confiding LONG-TAILED JAEGER provided a lot of Utah Birders with their state lifer for this species here.

While waterbirds are the focus here, the shoreline boasts its own impressive species list.  Migrant shorebirds can't help but use this location--and that means a variety of species have been seen.  Notably PECTORAL SANDPIPER, BAIRD'S SANDPIPER, MARBLED GODWIT, and LONG-BILLED CURLEW. Moving away from the shore the campground is a great spot to look for migrants in May and during the fall. What is actually expected here is up to interpretation.  The campground host in the past has had feeders for hummingbirds and songbirds.  ANNA'S and COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD have been seen, as have WHITE-THROATED and HARRIS'S SPARROW.  Some of the best passerine birding though is by the inlet.  The thick riparian habitat here attracts various warblers--with YELLOW and LUCY'S breeding here.  YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, PACIFIC WREN, and WILLOW FLYCATCHER have been seen here.  One of the better finds here has been a PRAIRIE WARBLER!  The cliffs at the inlet are a good location to look for both CANYON and ROCK WREN.  BLACK-THROATED SPARROW can be found here and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW has been observed as well.  The list goes on and on--really the best way to learn more about the birds here is to go birding at Quail Creek.  You won't be disappointed.

Birding here is all done along the west edge form the main road.  There is a pullout at the dam which is good for scanning the lower reaches of the reservoir for waterbirds. In the spring keep an eye out for BLUE GROSBEAK here.  You can scan the middle portions of the reservoir from the campground, as well as the main beach.  Walking here is easiest by parking in the campground area and walking the trees, and also in the boat launch area to walk or scope.  Near the inlet there are numerous pullouts to scan the upper reaches of the reservoir, and to park and walk into the riparian areas.

From I-15 exit 16 for Hurricane/Zion head east on UT-9 for 2.5 miles. Turn left at the light and follow the road 1.1 miles tll you reach the dam on your right.  There is a viewpoint here where you can park.  You can also continue on the road another .9 miles to the campground on your right.  From here is is another .9 miles till the inlet.  Alternatively from southbound I-15 north of Leeds you can take ext 23 and go left under the freeway. Turn right onto N. Main Street and follow this road south for 3.8 miles.  Turn here and youare at the inlet and can follow the raod along the reservoir.

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