Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to do a little bird watching on the north side of Willow Lake. The habitat in this area is primarily live scrub oak mixed with pinyon pine and juniper.
My timing must have been good, because it was delightfully “birdy.” While I didn’t see any new species for my 2012 state list, I saw many familiar birds that define this area. These include Crissal thrasher, phainopepla, ash-throated flycatcher, Bullock’s oriole, blue grosbeak, lark sparrow, canyon and spotted towhee, western scrub jay and Bewick’s wren.
Wild birds are restricted in their distribution by elevation and vegetation. You can literally tell where you are by the types of birds you are encountering. If someone were to “drop” you into an area where you had never been before-if you knew your birds well-you could surmise some of the facts about the area where you were by the types of birds you were seeing and hearing.
One of my finds on this particular day was a northern mockingbird building a nest in a scrub oak tree right off of the trail. I was able to observe it making trips to gather sticks and twigs before flying to the tree where it was constructing its nest.
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of birding at a private residence out Williamson Valley Road. The home is situated about 13 miles out, and is close to Talking Rock. The habitat is predominantly pinyon/juniper with a mix of low-growing shrubs.
The birding was awesome! I even added one species to my 2012 Centennial Challenge list-a black-chinned sparrow. Other highlights were seeing scores of baby quail. I can’t remember a time when I have seen so many baby quail all in one place.
Other highlights included numerous Crissal thrashers, a white-winged dove and bronzed cowbirds. Most folks are familiar with the more common brown-headed cowbird species and don’t realize that there is a second cowbird species that occurs in this area in summer.
One of the nesting boxes in their yard had tenants-a pair of ash-throated flycatchers. I was able to see the pair coming and going from the nesting box, and at one point a pair of western bluebirds checked out the nesting box.
On Monday of this week, I was working on pruning some desert willow trees in my yard and I stumbled upon an active lesser goldfinch nest with mom sitting on the nest incubating her eggs. I was impressed by her boldness as she sat on her nest. Before discovering the nest, I was cutting out dead twigs and branches that were only 6 to 8 inches from the nest-and she didn’t budge!
Nesting activity, as evidenced by my observations this past week, is certainly in full swing right now. As you spend time out in your yard, I encourage you to be observant and pay attention to the bird behavior you are seeing in your yard. Most songbird species have two or three clutches of eggs during breeding season, so it is possible to see several families of birds between the months of March and September.
A quick note on baby birds: if you find any baby birds that are out of the nest, unless they are in imminent danger, leave them right where you found them. Chances are their parents are not very far away, and they will continue to provide and care for their babies long after thy have left the nest.