Site Status: Identified 07/2002 Recognized 04/2011
Ownership: City of Prescott
Area: 2.3 square miles, 1,501 acres
Criteria: D1 – State Species of Conservation Concern
D4ii – Waterfowl Significant Concentration (>2000)
D4iii – Wading birds concentration site
This Important Bird Area (IBA) is located within the city limits of Prescott, AZ at 5100 ft. elevation. It occurs in two sections, Watson Lake east of Highway 89 and Willow Lake west of Highway 89. The IBA includes Watson and Willow Lakes and immediate surrounding uplands, and 2 miles of Granite Creek flowing into Watson Lake. Prescott Audubon Society is the steward for this IBA.
Watson and Willow Lakes are most notable for the number of waterfowl they support during the migration and winter periods. These lakes are particularly important to large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds during the fall migration. In wet years waterfowl numbers can exceed 5000 birds at one time. Notably abundant are Northern Pintails and Northern Shovler. Shorebird numbers in the fall can exceed 300 birds on a given day, including Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets. White-faced Ibis and Forester’s Tern also regularly occur in the fall, and Marbled Godwits occur in the spring migration. There are no other comparable lake systems within a distance of 200-300 miles east and west, and 60 to 150 miles north and south, thus indicating the importance of the lakes ecosystem as stop-over feeding and resting site for these migrants. Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks and Common Merganser over-winter in this lake system in large numbers. Wintering Bald Eagles and resident Peregrine Falcons find available prey among the waterfowl flocks. Wood Duck (approximately 50 pairs) are notable breeders within the two lakes ecosystem. There are Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorant rookeries as well. The riparian area is small, and supports breeding Yellow Warbler in abundance, breeding Lucy’s Warblers, and nesting Green Heron. Bird data for this IBA is collected by Prescott Audubon Society volunteers since 2005 and the results are posted on the Arizona IBA website, www.aziba.org
The City of Prescott has implemented regulations regarding recreational use of the two lakes, most notably a “no wake” regulation on Watson Lake with limited horsepower motors. Kayaking is the only boating allowed on Willow Lake. Kayakers do disturb the waterfowl in the winter, but this is intermittent, and the birds seem to stay in spite of these disturbances. Periodic consultation with City staffers and council by Prescott Creeks and Prescott Audubon has increased the City’s awareness of the value of the IBA as an ecotourism value. The first annual Get Out… Get Into It festival in 2011 included a dedication of this Important Bird Area.
Prescott Creeks is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the ecological integrity of the Granite Creek Watershed riparian systems and associated wetlands through conservation, restoration and education. This organization is currently restoring Watson Woods Riparian Preserve just south of Watson Lake and a part of this IBA. As part of the restoration project, avian monitoring coordinated by Prescott Audubon Society is ongoing throughout the year.