By Thursday afternoon last week, our NAU-sponsored Road Scholar group had amassed a bird list of 97 species. We were having a great trip, and it was about to get better. For our evening meal, we had reservations to eat outside on the patio at the Wickenburg Country Club, and I encouraged the participants to bring their binoculars just in case we saw something interesting.
I am convinced that everyone inside the restaurant watching our group was well entertained that evening. I am sure the patrons thought we were either weird, strange – or both! Try picturing a group of birders having dinner outside. Each time a birder spotted a new bird – either for the day or for the week – everyone jumped up from the table, binoculars in hand, trying to see the latest discovery.
Our success in seeing birds was almost to the point of being ridiculous. Someone spotted a male vermilion by the ponds, and a redhead (a type of duck) on one of the ponds. I spotted a Harris’s hawk as it flew in and landed on a palm tree so close that we really didn’t even need our binoculars to look at it. It was truly one of those, “hold your breath,” “don’t move,” “wow” moments.
At one point, I saw some bronzed cowbirds down on one of the greens, which was new for our trip list. There were hooded orioles, gila woodpeckers, western kingbirds, yellow-rumped warblers… the list goes on and on. Over the course of our meal, we saw 18 different bird species, and added three to our trip list – bringing us to exactly 100 species for the week!
The icing on the cake was the observation of three lesser nighthawks. It was several minutes past sunset when I saw the distinctive flight pattern of nighthawks, far in the distance, flying right in our direction. I yelled out, “Nighthawks!” and the whole table erupted. Everyone jumped to their feet as the birds flew closer and closer, eventually flying almost right over us!
The next morning we were birding in a residential area in Congress, looking for specialty Sonoran Desert birds such as gilded flicker and pyrrhuloxia. We were successful in adding these birds to our trip list, but we had an even more exciting find. At one point, I saw a bird in the distance that just kind of caught my eye – it was different enough to draw my attention. I made a quick decision to check it out, only to discover that it was a small falcon, a merlin.
But it wasn’t just a merlin – it had a bird in its talons! Normally songbirds would be very afraid of a merlin, but seeing how it had already caught prey, we witnessed a congregation of birds that were gathered together in an effort to harass the falcon in an effort to scare it away. In the same tree with the merlin, we saw house finch, lesser goldfinch, verdin, northern mockingbird, western kingbird, gila woodpecker, Eurasian collared dove and mourning dove!
The merlin, with prey in “hand,” had no intentions of leaving and proceeded to prepare its meal by plucking off the feathers. Sometimes the thrill of birding is watching nature in action!
On Saturday, April 11, at 8 a.m., the Prescott Audubon Society will be leading a free guided bird walk at the Highlands Center for Natural History, 1375 S. Walker Road. The bird walk is open to everyone regardless of skill level.
Until next week, Happy Birding!