Birding Site: Martinez Lake & Imperial NWR

Most recent visit: 15 Dec 2007
Latest web site update: 22 Dec 2007
Number of visits: 30+


  • Desert creosote flats
  • Mixed mesquite/ironwood washes
  • Athel Tamarisk groves
  • Agricultural fields
  • Ponds, Lakes & River
  • Riparian
  • Marsh
  • Cottonwood & Willow Groves

Clark's Grebe

General Description

About 45 minutes northeast of Yuma, AZ, the Colorado River flows for 30 miles through Imperial NWR and fills Martinez Lake on the south side of the refuge.   This 25,765-acre refuge is an important migration and wintering stop for thousands of waterfowl, many of which can be seen from the observation tower.  North of the headquarters and the closed area are several lookout points that offer fine views of the river and backwaters.  The Red Cloud Mine road and the “Painted” desert nature trail are great places to look for desert birds like Phainopepla, Verdin, and Lucy’s Warbler (early spring).  Cottonwood and Athel Tamarisk groves harbor Summer Tanagers and Blue Grosbeaks.  As with Mittry Lake, a canoe or small boat is a great way to explore the river, Martinez Lake, and the many backwaters.

Target Birds

  • Snow & White-fronted Geese
  • Tundra Swan (rare, winter)
  • Snow, Canada, & White-fronted Geese (migration & winter)
  • Clark’s & Western Grebes (breed)
  • Black and Clapper Rails (breed)
  • Least Bittern (breeds)
  • Sandhill Crane (rare, migration & winter)
  • Bald Eagle (winter)
  • Peregrine & Prairie Falcons (winter)
  • Common Poorwill (breeds)
  • Ladder-backed & Gila Woodpeckers (residents)
  • Willow Flycatcher (migrant)
  • Crissal Thrasher (breeds)
  • Western & Eastern Warblers (wintering, migrants)
  • Summer Tanager
  • Abert's Towhee (breeds)
  • Sage Sparrow

Imperial NWR & Martinez Lake Area

Click on map for aerial view

Birding Locations


Fisher’s Landing
This community of trailers and homes has scattered palms, both ornamental and native trees, and small gardens which at­tract resident Hooded Orioles & doves, migrant tanagers, Gambel’s Quail, and sparrows.  Feeding stations, such as the one in front of Martinez Lake Restaurant,  attract verdins, quail, and four varieties of hummingbirds.   At the south end of the community is a nice overlook at the edge of the Colorado River.  From here you can watch for Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, gulls, terns, and waterfowl.  From the restaurant or the boat dock look out over Martinez Lake for Clark’s & Western Grebes and other waterfowl.


Martinez Lake
Walk out to this elevated point along side the Sheriff’s Station for a good view of Martinez Lake.  The cattail marsh next to you has Virginia and Clapper Rails.  The lake itself is good for a variety of ducks, mergansers, gulls, and terns.  Osprey is here year-round, and joined in winter by soaring harriers and falcons.


Red Cloud Mine Road
The portion of this road just south of the refuge headquarters is good for Lucy’s Warbler and Crissal Thrasher in early spring, and usually has lots of  resident Phainopeplas.   Where there are more mature trees, including large stands of Athel Tamarisks, look for Summer Tanager and Blue Grosbeak in the spring and summer.  Spring is a wonderful time here, with good numbers of warblers, flycatchers, and vireos stopping to rest and feed.  During the 2006 winter we had a good selection of rare wintering passerines:  Eastern Phoebe, American Redstart, and Chestnut-sided Warbler.  In desert areas look for resident Black-throated and wintering Sage Sparrows. 


Imperial NWR Observation Platform
Although this platform isn’t very high, it lets you peek into the closed portion of the refuge.  Views are long-range, so bring your scope.  Snow & Canada Geese are usually visible in the winter months, and migration can turn up White-fronted Geese and Sand-hill Cranes.  Bald Eagles are sometimes seen soaring overhead or perched on a distant cottonwood.  Join us on a Christmas Bird Count to get a closer look at the myriad waterfowl and passerines in the closed area.  During the 2006 winter we had a good selection of rare wintering passerines:  Eastern Phoebe, American Redstart, and Chestnut-sided Warbler.  Keep an eye out for bobcats in the area—we often see them.


Athel Tamarisk Grove
In this large stand of Athel Tamarisks look for Summer Tanager and Blue Grosbeak in the spring and summer.  Spring is a wonderful time here, with good numbers of warblers, flycatchers, and vireos stopping to rest and feed.  This is also a favorite haunt of mosquitoes in all seasons but winter.  We saw a badger here in October 2007. 


Palo Verde Point
Drive to the end of this road (very slowly if in a car) and look out over the pond and the Colorado River Valley.  The pond makes a rough horseshoe, and you’ll need to do some walking around to see into different sections.  It’s good for all three teal, Hooded Merganser, other waterfowl, herons, accipiters, kingfish­­­ers, Black Phoebe & Ash-throated Flycatcher,  and sparrows.


Mesquite Point
A small pond at the end of this road had an unexpected Tundra Swan one winter.  Look for Cinnamon Teal and other puddle ducks, as well as most of the birds you can see from Palo Verde Point.


Painted Desert Trail
This one-mile loop trail winds through colorful canyons and over low hills, providing a good introduction to the southwestern Son-oran Desert.  Unless you come here at the height of migration, you’re likely to see more lizards than birds.  Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Verdin, Phainopepla,  and White-crowned Sparrow can be found here.  At night look and listen for Great Horned Owls, Lesser Nighthawk, and Common Poorwill.


Ironwood Point
At the end of the road you’ll find a much larger body of water and what is often the best selection of birds in the area.  Grebes, mergansers, and both shallow and deep-water ducks feed along side each other here.  Terns and gulls are here in season, and the surrounding reeds are good for Least and American Bittern.  We’ve heard Clapper and Virginia Rails in addition to Soras.  It’s not uncommon to see burros and coyotes around here, too.


Smoke Tree Point (La Paz County)
This point is just north of Yuma County, but the narrow river channel/canyon makes a nice funnel for birds moving up & down, or  migrating along the Colorado.   Waterfowl, pelicans, gulls, terns, and raptors can all be identified easily here.

Driving Directions

From the intersection of I-8 and 16th St in Yuma:

  • Drive east and north on Hwy 95 (16th Str in Yuma) for 22.2 miles to the Martinez Lake turnoff
  • Drive northwest on Martinez Lake Road for 13 miles straight into Fisher’s Landing. (Site #1) 
  • From the store, drive back east on Martinez Lake Road for .5 miles to the intersection of Red Cloud Mine Road.
  • Turn left (north) on Red Cloud Mine Road.  Drive north .5 miles to Joe Young Road.  Turn left (west) on this road and take it to the sheriff station fence. Park along the road here (outside the gate) and walk out to the point. (Site #2) 
  • Back on Red Cloud Mine Road, drive north for another 2.3 miles to an area with lots of mesquites and brush, and park along side the road. (Site #3)
  • Proceed another .2 miles to Meers Point Road, the turn off to the refuge headquarters.  Turn left and follow the winding road .2 miles to the parking lot for the headquarters and observation tower.  (Site #4)
  • Return back to the intersection of Meers Point and Red Cloud Mine Roads. Take Red Cloud Mine Road north; you’ll see it has turned to gravel.  Follow it about .5 miles to a the large Athel Tamarisk Grove (Site #5)
  • Continue another .1 mile to the turnoff for Palo Verde Point.  Follow this side road .4 miles to the end. (Site #6)
  • Back on Red Cloud Mine Road, follow it another .9 miles to the turnoff for Mesquite Point.  Take this side road .5 miles to the end. (Site #7)
  • Back on Red Cloud Mine Road, follow it another .6 miles to a parking area on your right for the Painted Dessert Trail.  (Site #8)
  • Continue on Red Cloud Mine Road .3 miles to the turnoff for Ironwood Point.  Follow this side road .3 miles to the end. (Site #9)
  • Back on Red Cloud Mine Road, go north another .9 miles mile to the turnoff for Smoke Tree Point.  Follow this side road .4 miles to the end. (Site #10)

Site Notes

  • Ownership: Arizona State Game & Fish, USBR, and Private Lands
  • Vehicle Access: a car is fine for most of the roads, some dirt roads might require high clearance
  • Fees: None, unless you plan to hunt or fish
  • Restrooms: Fisher's Landing Store, Imperial NWR headquarters, Meer's Point (.6 miles s. of headquarters)
  • Food: Fisher's Landing stores & restaurant
  • Gas: Chevron & Circle K, on opposite corners of Ave 7E and Hwy 95 (28 miles south)
  • Camping: Private spots at Fisher's Landing, camping on BLM land north of refuge

Site Bird List


Canada Geese (w)
Western waterfowl (w)
Northern Harrier (w)
Merlin (uncommon w)
Cooper's & Sharp-shinned Hawks(w)

Migrant Warblers
Black-throated Gray
Yellow-rumped (w)
Orange-crowned (w)
Common Yellowthroat (b,w)

Western Kingbird (b)
Ash-throated Flycatcher (b,w)
Western Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher

Lazuli Bunting
Blue Grosbeak (b)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (w) 
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (b,w) 
Lesser Goldfinch (w)
Summer Tanager
Bullock's Oriole
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow

Year-round residents:
Pied-billed Grebe
Common Moorhen 
American Coot
Virginia Rail & Sora
herons & egrets
Turkey Vulture
Owls: Western-Screech, Barn, & Great-Horned
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Greater Roadrunner
Gambel's Quail
Ladder-backed & Gila Woodpeckers
Loggerhead Shrike
Say's and Black Phoebes
Song Sparrow


White-tailed Kite
Crissal Thrasher



Anna's Hummingbird


Tundra Swan
Sandhill Crane
Bald Eagle


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