The Fremont River flows from west to east 14 miles across the Waterpocket Fold within Capitol Reef National Park. On its way, the river cuts a narrow, deep gorge through Miners Mountain, slows down through the orchards in the historic community of Fruita, and finally carves through the sandstone along SR 24 the remaining distance through the park. The riparian vegetation communities present in the area vary from dense willow thickets to gallery cottonwood forests. At least 165 of the 225 species of birds recorded in the park can be found along the Fremont River. The best area for watching birds is in the riparian and orchard habitats in the Fruita Valley. The spring migration brings a large mixture of low and high elevation migrants along with the occasional eastern warbler or Arizona desert vagrant.
The primary portion of the site can be accessed by driving 12 miles east of Torrey, UT on State Route 24. The Fremont River riparian area will be an obvious contrast to the slickrock and pinyon-juniper country that surrounds it. There are numerous pullouts along the river for birding. Additional information about access to the Fremont River and birding in the park is available at the Capitol Reef National Park visitor center at the junction of SR 24 and the Scenic Drive.
Is this site accessible to the public? Yes
The Fremont River is a lush oasis of abundant flora and fauna in an otherwise arid landscape of desert scrub and slickrock. As such, it is extremely important to resident birds both within the riparian area and from surrounding xeric habitats. It is an important refugium for all species during drought years, which happen often in this area that receives only 7.5 inches of rainfall per year. Migrants depend on the river system as a stopover site to rest and to feed before continuing their journey.
Criterion UT-1: Sites important to endangered, threatened or species of special concern in Utah.
Peregrine Falcons and Mexican Spotted Owls nest in the cliffs near the Fremont River and use the riparian corridor for hunting. Up to two breeding pairs of each species can be found nearby. Southwest Willow Flycatchers use the riparian vegetation during migration and, although pairs and singing males have been seen, no nesting has been discovered. Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Common Yellowthroats, and Blue Grosbeaks are all found along the Fremont River in small numbers during the summer and in larger numbers during migration.
Criterion UT-2: Utah Partners in Flight Priority Species.
Seven Utah PIF priority species are commonly found in the Fremont River Valley. Although minimal census data exists for these species, observations indicate that the area is very important for them. Virginia?s Warblers, Brewer?s Sparrows, and Black-throated Grey Warblers use the riparian corridor to feed and raise their young during the late summer. Although they nest in the adjacent pinyon-juniper, park staff always catches several fledglings and adults in mist nets during July and August riparian banding along the Fremont. They appear to be foraging in the riparian zone to build up fat reserves prior to the fall migration. Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black Rosy-Finch, and Lewis? Woodpecker
are also seen in the riparian areas and orchards during various times of the year.
Criterion UT-3: Site containing species assemblages associated with a representative, rare or threatened natural community in Utah.
The lowland riparian vegetation communities present in the area vary from dense willow thickets to gallery cottonwood forests and contain some of the most diverse avian assemblages in Utah. Statewide, lowland riparian communities represent a small acreage (0.23%) but a disproportionately high number of bird species (66-75%) use these areas during some portion of their lives. Within Capitol Reef National Park at least 165 (74%) of the 225 species of birds recorded in the park can be found along the Fremont River.
The Fremont River is one of the few large areas of riparian vegetation available to long distance migratory birds as they travel along the uplift at the western margin of the Canyonlands physiographic subprovince. In addition, elevational migrants use the Fremont River corridor to move up and down from the 11,000? mountains west of the park to the 4,000? deserts on east side. The abundance of aquatic insect hatches during the spring provides food for insectivous birds and maturing fruit in the orchards supplies food for the frugivores. In addition, young birds from all surrounding habitats feed in the riparian community to build up fat reserves for the fall migration. Ninety-two migratory bird species have been recorded in the area but no scientific studies have been done to document number of birds present during migration. The presence and frequency of unusual/rare bird species in the park indicates the importance of the Fremont River as a location for the birds to rest and feed during migration to their final destination.
Unusual/rare birds include:
Capitol Reef National Park has been gathering mist-netting data for a MAPS station along the Fremont River since 1996. Utah Department of Wildlife Resources has been running a point count station along the river since 1993. These efforts are providing data to evaluate long-term trends in bird species for this region.
This area is an ideal location to conduct educational programs on birds. Every year in conjunction with Migratory Bird Day, the park hosts a ranger-led birding walk to teach people about the importance of birds in the ecosystem in addition to what species are present. Each year a weeklong day camp for school children is held in the Fremont Valley and a lesson about birds is given at the MAPS banding station. This is always a highlight for the children because they get to see the birds close-up. Campfire programs are given to park visitors at night that present information about wildlife in the area, including birds.