Site Details

descriptions and directions

Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Yellow Jacket Canyon - Montezuma County
Ownership: None Listed
Description: This ribbon of riparian habitat is the undisputed crown jewel of southwestern birding locations. Yellow Jacket Creek has water flowing through it all year, and an extensive riparian corridor lines it for at least two miles. Unfortunately, much of it, including the best stuff, is on private property.

The reason most birders come here is to look for Lucy's Warbler, first discovered breeding here in 2004 and seen in numbers every summer since then. A pair typically nests right on the public property boundary (see below), and up to three other pairs have been seen upstream from there on public land. They usually arrive in late April and are present through July, though they get increasingly harder to find after mid-June.

Lucy's Warblers are far from the only reason to come, though. Summer Tanagers have maintained territories here in 2006 and 2007 and likely breed; rarities such as Yellow-throated Vireo have been seen, and the potential here is phenomenal. Gray Vireo is common along the road in, along with other PJ species such as Pinyon Jay, Common Poorwill, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-throated Sparrow, and others. A few Scott's Orioles can typically be found in the sparser PJ closer to McElmo Canyon.

Habitat: Pinyon/Juniper Forest, Lowland Riparian, Stream
Directions: From the intersection of McElmo Canyon Road (CR G) and US-160/491 just south of Cortez head west on CR G for 20.2 miles to an unmarked and gated road on the right. Open the gate and head north for 2.4 miles, heading straight over the cattle guard at a junction at 1.5 miles, past a National Monument sign for Cannonball Mesa, well off the road. Just before the junction at 2.4 miles you will cross a (usually) dry arroyo. Take a left at 2.4 miles onto an inconspicuous and rough track. Drive down it as far as you can and walk the rest of the way (about 1.5 miles total; bring water!). When you get towards the end of the road, you'll be getting close to the top of some short rimrock cliffs above the cottonwood gallery. If you're in the right place, the road should split shortly before the cliff. Take the right (lower) fork, but watch for a broken-down, unposted fenceline. Do not follow the road through the fenceline--it is the beginning of private property that birders are specifically forbidden from accessing. Instead follow the fenceline to the right, until you reach the top of the short cliff. Below you you'll see how the road does a hairpin turn and comes back out into public land through the continuation of the fenceline. Head right (northeast) along the cliff until you find a safe place to descend. Stay east of the fence. In 2006, at least one Lucy's territory seemed to stretch along about 100 meters of stream bottom, roughly centered on the fenceline. Everything down-canyon from here is private property; you can bird upstream from here to about the first side canyon on the right and stay on public land.

To navigate around this area you will probably want to use the Bowdish Canyon Quadrangle topographic map or the Cortez area BLM map.
Other Wildlife:
Other Attractions:

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Other Sites in Montezuma County
eBird Seasonal Bar Chart

Latest Yellow Jacket Canyon Sightings from eBird


CBRC Records from Yellow Jacket Canyon

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Ladder-backed Woodpecker2006-104 7/4/2006
Yellow-throated Vireo2004-255/26/2004
Lucy's Warbler2004-21 5/27/2004
Lucy's Warbler2005-35 4/30/2005
Lucy's Warbler2006-105 7/4/2006
Lucy's Warbler2007-85 5/27/2007
Lucy's Warbler2008-55 5/8/2008
Summer Tanager2006-106 7/4/2006