Have you noticed how the days are gradually getting shorter? My cue for shorter days is the absence of birds singing in the early morning hours. It was just a few months ago when I was awoken each day by the repetitious song of spotted towhees. Nowadays when I wake up, it is relatively quiet.
On Monday evening this week I hiked the loop trail at Thumb Butte. I took the dirt trail that goes to the right, and, as I was approaching the summit there were two peregrine falcons flying around and over the top of Thumb Butte, vocalizing repeatedly! If you are working on your Centennial bird list and haven’t seen a peregrine yet, hiking Thumb Butte is a good location to see it.
Last week my wife and I were hiking the Willow Lake Loop Trail. The trailhead is located at the parking lot for the boat ramp on the north shore of Willow Lake. Fortunately, I had my binoculars with me, as I got an unexpected surprise while hiking.
We had hiked for maybe 30 minutes, and we were on the seg-ment of the trail where there is a wooden bridge that spans a small
chasm in the granite boulders. Right at that point in the hike, a duck took flight from the surface of the water, flying only a short distance before resettling on the water.
What struck me as it flew was a distinctive pattern of white and black wings. I did not know what it was when it flew, but I did know that it was something “different.” When I put my binoculars on the bird I knew instantly that it was a black-bellied whistling duck! What an exciting find – and to top it off, it was the 200th species I have seen so far this year in the state of Arizona. Additionally, after it landed it began vocalizing, repeating its call over and over, which was icing on the cake for identification purposes.
A black-bellied whistling duck was observed at Willow Lake earlier this year in May or June. I went out several times to try and find it, as I was anxious to add this species to my state list. I tromped all around the lake, from the south shore to the north shore, to the west shore. I never did find it.
Then about a month ago, a black-bellied whistling duck was observed again at Willow Lake. This was when our family was out of town on vacation, so I didn’t have a chance to go looking for it.
Then a whole month later, with no thought whatsoever that this bird was even a possibility, I just literally happened upon it. Since there had been no sightings since the first week of July, it didn’t even occur to me that the bird might still be in the area and I wasn’t even looking for it.
It is probably safe to assume that the duck that I saw was the same bird as the one reported last month, and the same as that was one seen back in the May/June time frame.
Why such a big deal about a duck? In Dr. Tomoff’s Birds of Prescott, Arizona checklist, this species is listed as an “accidental vagrant,” meaning it has been observed in the Prescott area five or fewer times since 1974! Why this particular bird has stuck around is anybody’s guess. I’m just glad I got to see it!