Cibola refuge (GPS 33.363653,-114.66931) is one of the last major stopovers of the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. It’s located in the floodplain of the lower Colorado River between Arizona and California and surrounded by a fringe of desert ridges and washes. The refuge encompasses both the historic Colorado River channel as well as a channelized portion constructed in the late 1960s. Along with these main water-bodies, several important backwaters are home to many wildlife species that reside in this Yuma Desert portion of the Sonoran Desert. Over 250 species of birds have been identified at Cibola, including several kinds of geese, sandhill cranes, snowy egrets, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. Other species that inhabit the area include mule deer, Gambel’s quail, bobcat, golden eagles, and coyotes. In 2010, rangers relocated burrowing owls from Wild at Heart refuge to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.
At the visitors center, there are displays and kiosks but the taxidermy specimens were out being cleaned that week so much of the learning center looked baren. Behind the center is a short trail displaying plants of the region and a small pond where you can catch a glimpse of the small and endangered desert pupfish.
We took a short 3-mile drive on Goose Loop. You’re not allowed to get out of the car as to not scare the wildlife. Along the loop, there are several places to stop and view birds. At the long pond, we saw Canadian geese, mallards, common mergansers, northern pintails, American wigeons, and tons of American coots.
We also stopped at a walking nature trail which leads to a loafing pond but there wasn’t much to be seen. The trail itself is quite peaceful with rustling aspen leaves. Further along the auto trail are the burrowing owl dens and farm fields filled with sandhill cranes, herons, and egrets. We also saw a pair of kestrels hunting.
Beyond the loop, we drove south along the levee road along the Colorado River to Cibola Lake and the overlook. Although the lake was empty of birds that day, were told that’s where the herons, pelicans and other waterfowl like to hang out.
Fishing is allowed along the banks of the Colorado River, but you need a state license. There is also hunting during the waterfowl season, but if you are a bird watcher or photographer I would suggest checking on hunting times and avoid the hunting crowd altogether.