Important Bird Areas

Cave Creek Ecosystem Maricopa County

Arizona

Cave Creek Riparian beginning on Tonto National Forest at Seven Springs and including Walnut Creek. Continuing on to Spur Cross Conservation Area (Maricopa County and including all Desert Foothills Land Trust preserves (Jewel of the Creek, Go John, ) within the watershed and riparian corridor zoned as protected by the city of Cave Creek. Terminus at the Carefree Highway.

Ornithological Summary

Three Audubon WatchList species are found in very high abundance, they are: Abert's Towhee (Yellow listed, high of 14.6 birds detected/km), Lucy?s Warbler (Yellow listed, 7.7 birds/km), and Bell's Vireo (Red listed, 7.5 birds/km), the first resident and nesting, the latter two migrants and nesting. Two other Audubon WatchList species are also found within this IBA, Costa's Hummingbird (Yellow listed) and Gilded Flicker (Red listed), both nesting and year round residents. Common Black-Hawks (AZ Game and Fish listed Species of Greatest Conservation Need, Tier 1b), one pair, are within the Seven Springs area. Elf Owl, an Audubon WatchList species (Yellow listed), breeds within the IBA. the full avian community associated with the riparian community type, include breeding populations of Black Phoebe, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Lucy's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Abert's Towhee, Song Sparrow (localized to Jewel Preserve), Blue Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole, and Bullock's Oriole. Furthermore the site represents a high quality example of the Sonoran desertscrub community and supports the full range of bird species associated with this ecological community type, including healthy populations of Gambel?s Quail, White-winged Dove, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Costa's Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Verdin, Cactus Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Phainopepla, Black-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and Lesser Goldfinch.

Conservation Issues

The Cave Creek Complex Fire ravaged much of the Cave Creek watershed in 2005. The proposed IBA was largely spared. However, subsequent floods damaged low lying vegetation, washed away soil and exposed considerable cobble that remains today.

There are two active water rights at Seven Springs, both of which allow for withdrawals from Seven Springs Wash. One is a privately held right for 90 acre feet/year that predates the Forest Service. This water is available for domestic and agricultural use. The permittee withdraws water for a commercial bottled water operation. Water use is monitored by the Cave Creek Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest, which has a right of 488 acre feet/year to maintain the riparian vegetation and provide water for recreational purposes. Sufficient flow is being maintained in Seven Springs Wash and Cave Creek, as riparian vegetation continues to thrive in these drainages.

Ownership

The IBA encompasses a 17-mile long riparian
corridor along the creek, portions of three tributary washes (totaling 4 miles)
and associated uplands.  Tonto National
Forest lands, a portion of the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, five Desert
Foothills Land Trust preserves and connecting privately owned flood-prone
lands.

Habitat

located in the Sonoran Desert Eco-region, specifically the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran desertscrub biome. The IBA encompasses cottonwood/willow/sycamore and mesquite bosque riparian areas along with associated desert scrub uplands. Flowing or standing water is present in many places. There is considerable elevation change and habitat diversity. Much of the land is publicly owned and in a natural undisturbed state. This IBA meets the Criterion, Rare, Unique, or Exceptional Representative Habitat/Ecological Community, because it is an exceptional example of a lowland mesic and xeric southwestern riparian community, with adjoining undisturbed high quality upland Sonoran desertscrub vegetation. The perennial water found in reaches of Cave Creek supports a healthy high quality cottonwood/willow and sycamore vegetation and ecological community.

Land Use

Educational activities that are ongoing at Seven Springs, the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, Jewel of the Creek Preserve and Watt Preserve. Examples of these activities include regularly scheduled programs and hikes at Spur Cross, Audubon field trips to Seven Springs, Spur Cross and the Jewel, bird banding weekends, and faculty-student experiences conducted at the preserves.