where, when, and what to find

Comb Wash

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 

Comb Wash photo by Google Maps User

Comb Wash is a valley in southeastern Utah that runs from Elk Ridge in the north approximately 35 miles to the south, where it merges with the San Juan River at an elevation of about 4200'. The eastern edge of the wash forms steep cliffs of Navajo Sandstone, rising in places to 1000' above the valley floor. On the western edge of Comb Wash is a series of canyons draining Cedar Mesa. To the north is Arch Canyon, which has Texas Canyon as an upper tributary. In the central section are Mule Canyon, Dry Wash, and the combined outlet of Fish and Owl Canyons. To the south are McCloyd's Canyon (containing the Moon House ruin) and Road Canyon. Scattered throughout these canyons are cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans.  State Route 95 crosses the northern part of Comb Wash, while U.S. Route 163 crosses further south. Running along the wash is a primitive road, often impassable after floods. Nearby are the Natural Bridges National Monument, the Grand Gulch Primitive Area, the Valley of the Gods scenic area, and Goosenecks State Park.   Tha habitat in the wash bottoms is desert riparian dominated by Fremont Cottonwood and and understory of willows.  Shrubsteppe borders the floodplain which leads to some juniper woodlands and then the cliffs.

Comb Wash is another area that could be considered the Beaver Dam Wash of southeast Utah.  It's remote, and few birders go there, so the species list is still relatively small.  But the potential for major rarities during migration seems high.  The desert habitat makes the tree line in the wash a bit of a migrant trap, and the whole area somewhat of a migrant highway. Birders that have visited generally are between April and October when the tourist season is at its height here.  If you are passing between Natural Bridges and parts east you pass through the wash so its worth even a quick stop. As with most riparian strips in southeast Utah this is a good and reliable location for LUCY'S WARBLER. Two other warblers are also rather common with YELLOW WARBLER and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT being found on most summer visits.  BLACK-THROATED SPARROW inhabit the river bottom here and can often be heard singing along the road.  BLUE GROSBEAK and LAZULI BUNTING can both be found usually, and I suspect there might be localized Indigo Buntings here given their prevalence at such sites in southern Utah.  Other common breeders include: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, PLUMBEOUS VIREO, and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER.  ROCK, CANYON, and BEWICK'S WREN are all found here year round.  Occasionally things like BUSHTIT, PINYON JAY, and CASSIN'S KIGBIRD are reported. Fall migration definitely brings migrants through with early to mid September looking like a real good time to visit.  Some migrants recorded here include: ORANGE-CROWNED, MACGILLIVRAY'S, and WILSON'S WARBLER; BREWER'S, VESPER, LINCOLN'S, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW; WESTERN TANAGER and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK.  During the summer at night you can find COMMON POORWILL, and possibly COMMON NIGHTHAWK which are occasionally seen during migration.  WESTERN SCREECH-OWL are year round residents of the wash as well.  I like birding south of the highway where some very thick patches of cottonwood can be found.  There are also great sites to the north though.  You could spend days here and not cover all the great spots as there is lots to discover.  Birding can be done form the road, or by walking int he river bed; or a combination of both.  The road can become impassable after flash floods, so keep that in mind when visiting.

From the intersection of Center and Main Streets in Blanding head south on Main Street for 4 miles.  Turn right onto SR-95 and go 14.1 miles dropping into the wash.  Here you can turn left and follow a dirt road south through the wash.  Alternatively you can continue .1 mile west then turn right and take a dirt road north in the wash.

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