where, when, and what to find

River Lane

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, March 2, 2015 

River Lane from Google Street View

River Lane is probably the most well known (or top 2) birding location in Utah County.  River Lane follows the Spanish Fork River for a couple miles until it dumps into the south end of Utah Lake.  The first mile of road passes through agricultural and private land. Some grassland  along with riparian habitat along road edges creates an interesting mix of habitats.  Once you reach the end of the pavement and hit dirt road you will drive right on the rivers edge for about a mile to the lake.  The river is on the southside of the road with thick riparian habitat on both sides of the river, as well as on the north side of the road.  Aside from the cottonwood and other deciduous tree canopy there is a large russian olive component, as well as willow, and various other deciduous bushes and shrubs creating a thick understory.  The habitat is truly unique and everything to the south and northeast is primarily agricultural land, lake shore, or marsh.  At the end of the road, the river mouth open up and an old road follows the lake shore north.  Following this you can continue in riparian habitat as well.  Views of the lake form here add an open water habitat.  Someone created a separate hot spot for this location called River Lane -- Sandy Beach.  This is probably a good thing to take note of birds just at the end of the road.  This area is heavily used by the public for fishing, and various other activities.  Unfortunately, some people that visit don't have any respect for the area leaving their garbage, and in some instances dumping large amounts of trash here.  There have also been incidents of poaching various birds here, and dead migrants found on several occasions with obvious trauma. But the birding is incredible, and these sorts of things are the exception to what is an otherwise amazing place.

River Lane has long been a popular migrant trap amongst Utah Birders.  From late April through May and again in August through October passerine migrants can be found in decent numbers in the riparian habitat along the road.  It has had major fallout in the past--and has had some great rarities.  There is no such thing as a bad day of birding here--some just are slower than others.  In reality you can park at one end of the road and walk the entire length and back to bird it; but usually the best method is to pick a spot, park and walk around until you feel you've birded the area good, then driving further down the road and repeating.  Usually you can make 4 or 5 stops by the time you hit the end of the road. So lets talk about the birding here.  Common residents here include RING-NECKED PHEASANT, NORTHERN HARRIER, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, and SONG SPARROW.  During spring migration things seem to come in waves here with a nice mix of ORANGE-CROWNED and VIRGINIA'S WARBLERS, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT in late April.  May is by far the time of year that most birders visit.  On May 30, 2011 an incredible fallout occurred across parts of central and northern Utah, and River Lane saw its fair share of incredible sightings.  An estimated 200 WESTERN TANAGERS painted the trees, while dozens of OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS mingled with various empids, dozens of warblers, grosbeaks, and buntings.  Species that usually show up in minimal numbers were everywhere.  Notable spring migrants here include SAGEBRUSH SPARROW, LARK BUNTING, INDIGO BUNTING, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and LONG-EARED OWL.

The breeding season although hot and muggy along the river can turn up some birds that aren't all that common elsewhere in the county or northern part of the state. GRAY CATBIRD and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT are both found here fairly easily.  Historically YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO were reported here infrequently in the summer leading some to believe they may have nested in the area.  But in recent years they have been a no show. Another interesting bird that shows up here on the tail end of migration through the middle of June are PURPLE MARTIN.  BLUE GROSBEAK and EASTERN KINGBIRD also tend to get noticed here during the summer as well as the early fall. The summer can be a real slow time here, and birders usually stay away until August and September when things pick up again.

Fall brings all kinds of great birds--potentially even greater diversity than in the spring.  CASSIN'S VIREO, TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, NASHVILLE WARBLER, and various sparrows pop up here during fall migration. Interesting note, there are no spring records for SAVANNAH SPARROW here--only fall.  The fall rarity pool is impressive as well.  ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, BLACK-AND-WHITE-WARBLER, YELLOW-THROATED VIREO, RED-EYED VIREO, NORTHERN PARULA, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, and TENNESSEE WARBLER are some of the very noteworthy species that have been observed.  It's not uncommon in spring and fall to be able to see all 6 regularly occurring swallows here in one day--and if you're lucky you can tack on the martin.  Fall also brings COMMMON NIGHTHAWKS, which are often flushed form perches while you walk the side roads in search of migrants.  The list goes on and on. A typical day here in the fall could turn up 40-50 species in just a couple hours.

The winter doesn't get quite the attention as migration, but sparrow flocks can be found along the road.  While predominantly WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and DARK-EYED JUNCO are found AMERICAN TREE, WHITE-THROATED, and HARRIS'S SPARROW have all been observed here.  MERLIN are also seen with some regularity in the winter months; while NORTHERN SHRIKE are rare here but fairly regular nearby on Swede Lane.

River Lane is a premier Utah birding destination.  With a location list of over 200 species this trap is the kind of place where just about any bird might show up in Utah.  Any time you pass through Springville, take an hour and swing out and bird River Lane--you might just find something great!

From I-15 Exit 260 in Springville go west on Rte 77 for 4.2 miles.  At the stop sign turn right and go another .2 miles to River Lane.  Turn right here and you are on River Lane.  Follow this north for 1.3 miles. It will jog to the left and then right again about half way.  At the 1.3 mile mark you have to turn left onto a dirt road.  After .2 miles you're along the river and the best birding until you reach the lake.

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