Birding: Recent experiences in nature underscore the importance of being observant

In sports there is an expression of how important it is to “show up.” When it comes to wildlife observation, probably the most critical skill is to be observant. Individuals who are not observant miss out on the abundance of nature that is all around them.

Earlier this week, I had one of those split-second moments where I was able to observe something of which probably nobody else was even aware. I was filling up my car at the Fry’s gas station at the intersection of Fair Street and Miller Valley Road when a raven flew overhead.

At almost the exact same moment as the raven flew over, I heard a faint sound that drew my attention to the pavement about 20 feet away. There I saw a bone as it came to rest on the asphalt. I went over and picked it up. The raven had dropped it mid-flight, as it was picked clean!

Being observant results in seeing things that otherwise go unseen. One day this week, I sat on a boulder on the banks of Oak Creek in a lush, riparian area just below Cathedral Rock. What did I hear, and what did I see?

I saw thousands of tiny bugs dancing on the surface of the water, fish swimming in the creek, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies flitting about, a common black hawk flying overhead, a belted kingfisher calling downstream and a black phoebe sallying out over the river catching flying insects.

Another story from this week was seeing an adult Swainson’s hawk perched in a tree in the Arizona Pioneers’ Home Cemetery behind the store. It was well concealed in the shade of the foliage, making it a tricky sighting. But there it was, eating what appeared to be the remains of a rock squirrel.

Swainson’s hawk migration is in full swing right now, and it is a sight to behold. This is a species of hawk that flocks together — oftentimes in large numbers of 50, 60 or more. They are especially prevalent in grassland habitats surrounding Chino Valley and north of Highway 89A in Prescott Valley.

Swainson’s hawks are large birds, similar in size to red-tailed hawks. This time of year, their diet consists primarily of grasshoppers, which are abundant in the grasslands after our summer monsoon rains. If you want to witness this spectacle, I would encourage you to go east on Perkinsville Road from Highway 89 in Chino Valley. Look on the ground for these large hawks, not just up in the air or in trees.

Another large, daytime migrator is the turkey vulture. They are passing through this area in large numbers right now. It is hard to look up into the sky at any given moment and not see a vulture. This will last for another week or two before their numbers dwindle and only stragglers will be passing through.

The first Prescott Audubon Society meeting for the 2017-18 season is next Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. The title of the presentation is “A Love Affair with Hummingbirds.” The presenter will be Conservation Biologist Karen Krebbs. Karen has been studying hummingbirds for more than 30 years and has worked at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for more than 26 years.

The month of September is flying by, and I want to promote our ninth annual Wild Bird Photography Contest. The submission period runs through the Sept. 30. We encourage anyone interested in wild bird photography to submit pictures for this fun, annual event. Photo contest guidelines are available for review on the Jay’s Bird Barn website at www.jaysbirdbarn.com.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.