Important Bird Areas

Agua Fria National Monument Riparian Corridors

Arizona

The Monument, east of I-17 from Black Canyon City to above Cordes Junction, is generally a series of plateaus and mesas deeply cut by the Agua Fria River and its major tributaries. The principal bird attractor is the 26.5 miles of riparian corridor along the Agua Fria and the considerable amount within the tributary canyons. Much of this is mature, native riparian woodland with cottonwoods, willows, sycamores and mesquite. Audubon has been monitoring the breeding population of Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos with summer interns recruited from Audubon Arizona's River Pathways high school program. Sonoran Audubon Society is the steward for this IBA. They are actively conducting bird surveys in all seasons. Information about the Sonoran Audubon Society and their IBA monitoring program can be found in their e-newsletter: http://www.sonoranaudubon.org/newsletter/index.htm

Ornithological Summary

The extensive riparian woodland along the Agua Fria River and its tributaries provides both breeding and wintering habitat for a number of bird species and constitutes a recently discovered migration route paralleling the one along the Verde River. In more than 850 person-hours of counting over two years, Sonoran Audubon Society bird suveyors have noted 177 bird species found using the Agua Fria National Monument . Many of the upland species are found in pockets of riparian-type habitat within the larger semi-desert grassland.

The Arizona Game and Fish led Breeding Bird Atlas (2 blocks) documented an additional four species, resulting in a total species count of 179 species using the Agua Fria National Monument. Combining atlas block surveys and Audubon surveys results in a total of 111 confirmed, probable, or possible nesting species.

Twenty-eight species of special conservation status [including Federal T &E, AZ Threatened species, AZ Partners in Flight Priority Species (APIF), Audubon WatchList-Red and Yellow listed, and USFWS Birds of Conservation Concern] use the habitats within this IBA during some part of the year. Breeding species of conservation concern (13, maybe 14) include: Common Black-Hawk (APIF), Peregrine Falcon (AZ Threatened), Golden Eagle (USFWS), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (APIF), Costa's Humminbird (Audubon-Yellow listed), Belted Kingfisher (AZ Threatened), Gray Flycatcher (APIF), Loggerhead Shrike (USFWS), Bell's Vireo (Audubon-Red listed), Juniper Titmouse (APIF), Abert's Towhee (Audubon-Yellow listed), Lucy's Warber (Audubon-Yellow listed), and Yellow Warbler (USFWS). Bendire's Thrasher observed in the summer, may yet be found to breed.

This IBA may be equally critical for species of conservation concern in migration, the IBA provides critical stop-over habitat for 12 species of various conservation status. Migrant species using the Aqua Fria riaprain corridor include: Swainson's Hawk (Audubon-Yellow listed), Red-naped Sapsucker (APIF), Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Endangered), Gray Flycatcher (APIF), Cordilleran Flycatcher (APIF), Crissal Thrasher (USFWS), Lark Bunting (USFWS), Brewer's Sparrow (APIF, Audubon-Yellow listed), Virginia's Warbler (Audubon-Yellow listed), Black-throated Gray Warbler (APIF, USFWS), MacGillivray's Warbler (APIF), and Gray Vireo (APIF, Audubon-Yellow listed).

Wintering species of conservation concern include three species: Bald Eagle (Threatened), Sage Thrasher (APIF), and Lawrence's Goldfinch (Audubon-Red listed). Two relatively rare species in Arizona also nest in the Aqua Fria riparian corridor in relatively high numbers, Great Blue Heron (25 individuals observed in 2003) and Zone-tailed Hawk (11 individuals, 2003). Two riparian obligate species occur in exceptionally high numbers as well, Summer Tanager (64 individuals, 2003) and Hooded Oriole (24 individuals, 2003), along with eight of the breeding species of special conservation status, particularly outstanding: Yellow-billed Cuckoo (20 individuals, 2003; 0.63 and 0.82 birds per km of riparian habitat in 2002 and 2003 respectively, 20.65 km surveyed), Yellow Warbler (65 individuals, 2003), and Lucy's Warbler (84 individuals, 2003). Nesting and migrating raptors are abundant, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl (7 pairs), Zone-tailed Hawk (4 pairs), and with at least one pair of Golden Eagle, Common Black-Hawk, and Peregrine Falcon.

Conservation Issues

Grassland and riparian habitat health requires management of grazing, off highway vehicle travel and the fire regime. Loss of grasslands would impact the small Pronghorn Antelope population, as well as the grassland bird assemblage (sparrows, meadowlarks, and Gambel?s quail). Immediate concerns are: spread of invasive plants and animals such as tamarisk and crayfish, illegal off-road vehicle use,. Upstream groundwater extraction and development Strategies: Off-highway vehicle management, seasonal exclusion of livestock from the riparian areas and fire management through prescription fires.

Ownership

This Identified IBA is within a BLM National Monument, designated in 2000 by President Clinton. The IBA is the entire monument. Present management allows grazing and off-road vehicles, and mining only if verification of exisiting resources (one site-not active).

Habitat

The Agua Fria National Monument consists of higher elevation mesa, about 4000-foot elevation, deeply cut by the main river and its many tributary canyons. A few of these streams are perennial, most are seasonal or intermittent. The monument is at an intersection and overlap of several biotic communities. The mesas are largely Semi-Desert Grassland (all designations from Brown et al 1982) with pockets of chaparral, mesquite and riparian communities. A number of wells and cattle and wildlife watering tanks create very local microhabitats.

Other Flora and Fauna:
Pronghorn Antelope herd present and managed by Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Land Use

Under its management of the monument, the Bureau of Land Management has closed a number of roads (essentially tracks) and designated some for off-road recreation. Much day to day management is provided by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish. In November 2003, BLM began taking comments on its management plan for the monument and for the headwaters of the Agua Fria above the monument. Features of this plan will increase the value of the monument to both birds and birdwatchers. Sonoran Audubon Society has been active on the monument since 2001 conducting seasonal bird surveys with volunteers.

The IBA is within a BLM National Monument, designated 2000 by President Clinton. Present management allows grazing and off-road vehicles, and continued mining (one site-not active). The primary use of the mesas is cattle grazing. A number of wells and cattle and wildlife watering tanks create very local microhabitats.

Research and Conservation Projects:
Sonoran Audubon continuing seasonal volunteer bird counts throughout entire monument, riparian and uplands.

Arizona Game and Fish Yellow-billed Cuckoo annual surveys.

AGFD Pronghorn Antelope studies.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden plant inventory.

University of Arizona, Department of RNR, plant inventory.

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