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Birding Around Corn Creek
Birding Around Las Vegas, Desert National Wildlife Range
Birding Around Corn Creek
Corn Creek
Visitor Center (view NE)

Overview

Corn Creek is a tiny spot of green in a vast sea of Mojave Desert Scrub that attracts desert birds and migrant species like a magnet. Of all the places to watch birds around Las Vegas, historically this has been the best place for finding desert species, seasonal migrants, and unusual migrants -- this is where the birds showed up. Water brings in desert species, trees attract migrants (fruit and cover), and the area is small enough to work it over and follow birds from one side to the other, but habitat changes seem to be leading to an uncertain future. Despite habitat changes, this remains a good birding place and place for watching dragonflies.

Link to historic pre-Visitor Center photos, Phase 1 construction photos, and Phase 2 construction photos.

Link to map of Corn Creek.

Corn Creek
Start of the trail system (view NE)

Description

Corn Creek is a desert oasis located on the edge of a broad, flat valley at the foot of the Sheep Mountains. Several springs in the area provide water for Honey Mesquite, Cottonwood Trees, and wetland plant species. Two springs were used by late-1800s homesteaders, and these springs still provide water for the pond, trees, grass, and orchards that remain.

Most of the habitat immediately surrounding Corn Creek is low-elevation Mojave Desert scrub (creosote bush, white bursage, fourwing saltbush, and a few Mojave yucca). This area is in the rain shadow of the Spring Mountains (to the west), so it gets less rain than usual even for a desert, and as a result the vegetation is sparse and stunted.

Corn CreekCement Pond

To the north of Corn Creek, a long strip of Mesquite-Sand Dune Woodland habitat runs up the valley. This vegetation is supported by subsurface water flow and a few springs. Much of the Las Vegas Valley was covered by similar Sand Dune Woodlands before development. To the west of Corn Creek (along the entrance road), a broad saltbush flat covers the bottom of the valley. To the east, the Sheep Range rises to elevations of about 10,000 feet. These mountains have extensive Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands, smaller areas of Yellow-Pine Forest, and even Bristlecone Pine Forests at highest-elevations. These woodlands provide habitat for montane species that sometimes come down to Corn Creek.

Bird the area by walking north past the Visitor Center into the natural area. Immediately to the left is the cement pond, and just past a foot bridge, a side trail turns right to the two springs that feed the area.

Birding Corn Creek
Northeast side of cement pond (view NW)

Beyond the footbridge, the trail wraps west around the north side of the cement pond to a trail junction (dirt road). From there, use paths of least resistance to wander about and bird the area.

Turning to the right on the service road, the route crosses over a low hill. To the left is the Pahrump Poolfish habitat, and to the right is the Railroad Tie Cabin. Following the service road around to the west about 75 yards past the cabin, the Birdsong Trail takes off to the right. This 0.4-mile loop starts on the service road and runs north to wet areas with trees (see site map), then comes back to the service road by the fenced maintenance yard (farther west).

There are no services at Corn Creek, so be sure you have enough gas to get there and back. Bring water and snacks. Picnicking is not allowed at Corn Creek, but there is a picnic area by a spring with cottonwood trees up the hill to the southeast (Table 1, Site 423). You can see the trees from the Corn Creek parking area, about a mile up the Mormon Well Road.

Birding Corn Creek
Cement Pond behind the visitor center

Location

Corn Creek Field Station is located northwest of Las Vegas on the Desert National Wildlife Range (a federal wildlife refuge), about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Las Vegas off Highway 95. For detailed directions, see Corn Creek Field Station.

Hours

The Wildlife Range is always open, but Corn Creek is open sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open Friday to Sunday.

Fees

None.

Corn Creek
Orchard (view SE)

Birding Corn Creek

Corn Creek is a bird magnet. Everything eventually shows up here. During spring and summer, watch for Phainopepla, desert warblers, desert sparrows, thrashers, and hummingbirds; and during fall, watch for migrants and eastern warblers. This site is also good for falcons, accipiters, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. Winter generally is quiet, but there is always something flitting about.

While driving on Corn Creek Road, watch the saltbush flats for Horned Larks, desert sparrows, and Le Conte's Thrashers; also check the sky for swallows, hawks, and other soaring birds.

Approaching Corn Creek, birders first arrive at the southwest corner of the old horse pasture. Stop here and check the trees, power lines, and the radio tower for perching birds. Continue past the pasture and the maintenance buildings to a parking lot by the Visitor Center.

Corn Creek
Birder at the lower end of the orchard (view W)

Before entering the area, check the parking area for Phainopepla in the Honey Mesquite, Gambel's Quail and Black-throated Sparrows among the shrubs, and hawks and swallows in the sky. This, the interface between the desert and the oasis, is a good place to watch for desert species (e.g., Greater Roadrunner, Mourning Dove, and House Finch) coming in for water.

From the parking area, enter the birding area on the trail that starts off the northeast corner of the visitor center. Staying left at the information kiosk, birders will immediately arrive at the southeast corner of the cement pond. Trees along the pond and up the creek to the right are good for warblers and other songbirds.

During warmer weather, watch for large Yellow-backed Spiny Lizards climbing on the tree trunks and Side-blotched Lizards and Western Whiptail Lizards on the ground. There were lots of bullfrogs and crayfish in the ponds, but their numbers are down since the ponds were drained. The wildlife managers are trying establish Pahrump Poolfish here, hoping that the cement lining will help reduce the number of non-native species competing with, or eating, the poolfish. There is also a man-made poolfish refuge on the north edge of the trees.

Birding Corn Creek
Stream along orchard (view E)

West of the cement pond, look for birds in the grass and on the wooden fence along the orchard. Grassy areas are good for sparrows and other ground birds, and the trees and fence posts provide perches for flycatchers. When fruiting in the spring, the Mulberry trees around the orchard can be full of huge numbers of birds gorging on the ripening fruits. This area is where we most often see Lazuli Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, woodpeckers, and Lucy's Warblers.

The old orchard provides habitat for songbirds, flycatchers, and woodpeckers. The shrubs at the west end of the orchard often hide something interesting (e.g., Brown Thrasher, White-crowned Sparrow). Shrubs and trees on the edge of the orchard often are productive, as many birds drink and bath in the stream. Watch for frogs and toads in the stream, too.

Just beyond the orchard, there is a brief view of the new wetlands. Historically this area has been good for Western Kingbirds and an assortment of other flycatchers (Eastern Kingbird). This is also a good area to look for "unusual" species such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, White-Faced Ibis, Killdeer, Bobolink, and Wilson's Snipe.

Corn Creek

The trail then passes the remnants of Ponds 2 and 3. The ponds are gone, but the trees are good for all sorts of birds. Look for warblers; Hooded, Bullock's, and Scott's Orioles; flycatchers; Cedar Waxwings; and sparrows. Check the ground under the trees just south of the old ponds. Birders also get a few elevated places along this part of the trail to scan the pasture for flycatchers, other perch-foraging birds, and ground-foraging birds.

If you feel a little adventuresome, drop off the old dike and walk around the perimeter of the maintenance yard (the boneyard). The trail between the pasture and the boneyard is overgrown, so watch your footing (and watch for snakes during warmer weather). Alternatively, birders can walk down (and stay on) the road along the north side of the boneyard.

Around the boneyard, check the trees and shrubs along the fence for sparrows, finches, thrashers, and tanagers, and check the pasture again from the far side. Sunflowers along the south side often are full of Lesser Goldfinches and sparrows. The radio-transmitter tower on the northwest corner of the boneyard often hides something interesting (e.g., Prairie Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk).

Birding Corn Creek
Cement Pond behind the visitor center

From the west end of boneyard, scan the Honey Mesquite and Cottonwood Trees to the north, then walk back up the road along the north side of the boneyard towards the main area. The desert shrubs north of the road usually have interesting birds, so watch for Crissal Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Verdin, Phainopepla, and other desert species. Consider wandering up the Birdsong Trail for a closer look.

Continuing on the main trail, stop and visit the poolfish house. The Fish and Wildlife Service built this refuge habitat in 2005 where they keep a remnant population of the endangered Pahrump Poolfish. Native fish are having a hard time throughout the Southwestern U.S. deserts as springs, creeks, and ponds dry up from overuse and drought. Read the information boards to learn of their plight.

Continuing east, the trail arrives at the restored Railroad Tie Cabin. Take a look inside the Railroad Tie Cabin and imagine what it was like to live here some 100 years ago.

Corn Creek

Consider walking back west on the road some 50 yards to the other end of the Birdsong Trail, or continue following the trail as it returns to the cement pond. Watch in this area for Lucy's Warbler. Follow the trail to the left (east) and circle around the cement pond.

Approaching the visitor center, there is a trail junction just before a footbridge over a creek. Follow the creek upstream for about 100 yards to see the two springs that provide water for the area. This trail, the Bighorn Loop Trail, runs out into the desert scrub, but it gets away from the better birding areas but provides an unobstructed view of the sky: watch for hawks, swallows, and drone aircraft.

Leaving Corn Creek, be sure to re-check the saltbush flats for Horned Larks, desert sparrows, and Le Conte's Thrashers.

Birding Corn Creek
Mesquite thickets by the railroad-tie cabin (view N)

Specialties

Of all the places to go birding around Las Vegas, this is the best place for finding desert species, seasonal migrants, and unusual migrants -- this is where the birds show up. Watch for desert residents and seasonal migrants.

Corn Creek is a bird magnet. Everything eventually shows up here. During spring and summer, watch for Phainopepla, desert warblers, desert sparrows, thrashers, and hummingbirds; and during fall, watch for migrants and eastern warblers. This site is also good for falcons, accipiters, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. Keep an open mind and look for unexpected species such as Zone-tailed Hawks, Hooded Warblers, and Harris' Sparrows. Winter generally is quiet, but there is always something flitting about.

Corn Creek Watch for other wildlife too. During warmer weather, watch for large Yellow-backed Spiny Lizards in the trees, and watch for Side-blotched Lizards and Western Whiptail Lizards on the ground. There are lots of Bullfrogs and crayfish in the pond, too. Black-tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontail Rabbits, Coyotes, White-tailed Antelope Squirrels, pocket gophers, and several other species of rodents are common here too. Be sure to visit the poolfish refuge and learn of their plight. During warm weather, keep an eye out for desert tortoise and snakes.
corn creek
Birding at dusk can be rewarding
Birding Corn Creek
Mulberry trees and orchard in summer
Birding Corn Creek
Mojave Desert Scrub and mesquite-sand dune woodlands (view E)
corn creek
Sunflowers by Boneyard
corn creek
Stream below springs with willows (NE of parking)
Birding Corn Creek
Life begins to return: Killdeer at the cement pond
Corn Creek
Bridge over stream at end of orchard
Corn Creek
Bridge over stream at end of orchard
Corn Creek
Bench and spotting scope at top of pasture
Corn Creek
Spotting scope overlooking the pasture

Thanks for coming to visit!
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140225

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