It's a Great Day to Bird

Cibola and Kofa National Wildlife Refuges

December 10, 2016

Another beautiful, sunny Arizona morning.  We drove to the Cibola NWR, which is located in Arizona and California, but you have to drive into California to get to the refuge.  Too bad too because when you are going to the Cibola NWR you can see the mountains in the Kofa NWR where we are camped.  These mountains are directly east of the visitor center but, no direct route from Kofa.  We have to drive an extra 30-40 miles to get here.

Surprisingly, no one was at the visitor center – it was closed on a Saturday.  They had a lot of brochures about hunting, fishing, Burrowing Owl project,  Sandhill Cranes – but no bird list.  I was bummed.  We took the Goose Loop auto tour route, with a stop at the Cornfield Nature Trail.  Not sure why it is called ‘Cornfield’ since the trail does not traverse any fields, let alone cornfields.





Cornfield Trail






Lots of Canada Geese at the refuge



Lots of trees changing color too. So beautiful with the sun shining through.

The refuge is farmed to provide food for the cranes and geese during the winter.  On a board outside the refuge headquarters/visitor center the estimated number of cranes on the refuge is 1200.  We did see a lot of cranes.  These are ‘Greater’ Sandhill Cranes.  Their bills are significantly larger and more pointed than the Lesser Sandhill Crane.



Corn stubble – but no where near the Cornfield Trail.


Sandhill Cranes



Over 30 Sandhill Cranes in this photo alone.  You will notice the cranes have molted and no longer exhibit their  extensive “painted” feathers.

Along the route are a number of artificial burrows for Burrowing Owls.  I estimate around twenty different burrows.  We only saw one Burrowing Owl, however.  The estimated number of Burrowing Owls on the refuge is 10 (per the board).  This doesn’t seem like very many.


Burrowing Owl sign explaining purpose of Burrowing Owl Project (artificial burrows)


No owls visible at these two artificial burrows


Hooray, finally a Burrowing Owl at a burrow


Here he was checking out something flying overhead – probably a goose, crane, or starlings.


I think he wants us to leave.  The male typically stays with the burrow year-round, while the female migrates from September to March.

And speaking of Burrowing Owls, I learned the organization “Wild at Heart” installed 120 artificial burrows at Cibola NWR in 2010.  Thus I only saw about 1/6 of the total artificial burrows on the refuge.  These 20 burrows were spotted along the auto tour route, or seen from the auto tour road.  Lucky for us, these owls are diurnal – and thus we can find them (usually) outside the entrance to their burrows keeping watch.  In California, most of the Burrowing Owls we saw resided in natural burrows, rather than artificial burrows.  I think this owl is Jack’s favorite, and definitely in the top 3 for me.

The Cibola NWR, established in 1964, consists of approximately 18,500 acres comprised of several farm units.  We have visited this refuge several times in the previous years, including as recently as January 2016.  Today we visited both Farm Unit 1 and Farm Unit 3.  In the past we’ve only gone to Farm Unit 1, which has the auto tour route.  We observed 50 different species today in both units.  Not too bad a day of birding.


Natural beehive on a nest box


Up close view


Mountain or Western Bluebird?  Any thoughts?  If so, let me know.


Mountain or Western Bluebird – my guess is Mountain Bluebird.


Looks like the same pose, but on a different medium.


Farm Unit 3 is a first for us.  Some nice areas for birding, although there was a youth waterfowl hunting going on at the same time.  Lucky for us the youth hunt is primarily in the morning and late afternoon – so no shotgun blasts heard.  Not much in the way of waterfowl mid-day during our visit.  All the waterfowl are hanging out in Farm Unit 1, which is closed to hunting.  The waterfowl aren’t dumb.


Pied-billed Grebe










The mighty Colorado River, which bisects the refuge. That part of the refuge west of the river lies in California and that part of the refuge east of the river lies in Arizona.


Saw this Red-naped Sapsucker as we were leaving the refuge

Bird Species Observed or Heard at Cibola National Wildlife Refuge

  • Anna’s Hummingbird
  • Sandhill Crane (Greater)
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Phainopepla
  • Snow Goose
  • Northern Shoveler
  • American Pipit
  • American Wigeon
  • Northern Harrier
  • Black Phoebe
  • Northern Pintail
  • Mallard
  • Canada Goose
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Coot
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Tree Swallow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Eared Grebe
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Vermillion Flycatcher (oh so pretty)
  • Bell’s Vireo
  • European Starling
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Kestrel
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Western or Mountain Bluebird
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Great Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Osprey
  • White-faced Ibis
  • Verdin
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Abert’s Towhee
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Snowy Egret
  • American White Pelican
  • Red-naped Sapsucker
  • Common Raven

We drove back to Kofa NWR for the night.  There aren’t a whole lot of birds in Kofa NWR – not much water.  In fact, the refuge was established to protect Big Horn Sheep, not birds.  Bird life is sparse.  Today I only saw a Phainopepla, and yesterday nothing.  Maybe tomorrow.

December 11, 2016

Today we decided to hike the Palm Canyon Trail (one-half mile one-way), and then hang out at our campsite.  Lazy day.  Read a lot.  Took short walks around the immediate area of our campsite.  Not much to report.  Few birds seen or heard.








View from trailhead parking lot




Canyon with the palms



View of refuge from our campsite


Jack relaxing and reading a book at our campsite

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge was originally established as a game range, managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1976 when it became a national wildlife refuge.   And you can thank 10,000 Boy Scouts for their effort to protect this area for the Big Horn Sheep.  They campaigned in 1936 for the area’s protection, resulting in the establishment of the game refuge.  Of the 665,400 acres within Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, 547,700 acres are designated wilderness.

No beautiful sunset tonight.  But we do love this place.

December 12, 2016

Went into Quartzsite (Arizona) for breakfast.  That town really needs a good restaurant.  We then headed to Sedona Arizona where we will spend the next several weeks relaxing, visiting with family, hiking, birding, doing the Sedona Christmas Bird Count (December 14th), and enjoying the holidays.  Until then …

It’s A Great Day to Bird

Happy Holidays Everyone


1 Comment

  1. Nina Faust

    So did you visit the Oasis Bookstore in Quartzite? That is a real experience. And yes, the restaurants in that town are terrible. What do you expect for a drive in RV town? Nina


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