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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
8:54 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Column: A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?

Kingfisher (Courtesy photo)

Kingfisher (Courtesy photo)

This past Saturday I led a guided bird walk to Fain Park in Prescott Valley. I really enjoy visiting this small urban park, as it has a variety of habitats which results in a good variety of birds.

One of the first birds we spotted was a female belted kingfisher flying towards the lake from below the dam. We watched as she flew right past us and landed in a tree on the opposite side of the lake. Fortunately, we had a spotting scope so everyone in the group got great looks at this beautiful bird.

There were surprisingly few birds on the lake-a handful of coots and mallards, two pied-billed grebes, four ring-necked ducks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Well, not really, but we did see a crissal thrasher sitting up in a tree, singing its beautiful song. It was a very cooperative bird and we were able to look at it with the scope, as well.

At one point we saw a black-chinned sparrow; at times it was so close we couldn't even focus on it! When we first saw the bird, it was a short distance away, and then it quickly disappeared into the dense chaparral habitat. I didn't get my binoculars on it quickly enough to identify it, but I thought that perhaps it was a rufous-crowned sparrow, as this is a species I frequently see in this area.

On a rare occasion, when leading a bird walk, I will play a recording of the vocalization of a bird in an attempt to get a better look at it. Using recordings is strongly discouraged during breeding season, as you don't want to agitate nesting birds. Seeing how it was November, I thought I'd give it a try.

It is important to point out that there are 'birding ethics', written or unwritten, that exist among field birders. The use of recordings, which is now so readily available with iPhones, has heated up the debate on whether or not using bird recordings is ethical.

One guideline on using recordings is that they should be used 'judiciously,' which isn't very specific! My interpretation of this obscure recommendation is to use it infrequently. Well, on this particular day I chose to get out my phone, as I have an app called iBird Pro. I played the vocalization for a rufous-crowned sparrow and a black-chinned sparrow responded.

It literally flew right over us and landed so close we didn't even need to use binoculars. I put my phone away and didn't use it again for the rest of the walk, but it was fascinating to see how a black-chinned sparrow reacted to the call of a rufous-crowned sparrow.

Birding has come a long way since the days of John James Audubon. Back in the 1800's, early naturalist identified birds by shooting them. Once he had the bird in hand, he would be able to tell what he was looking at.

I'm glad I live in an era where we are fortunate to have amazing tools for bird watching and identification, such as binoculars, scopes and even iPhones with apps that show illustrations, photographs, range maps and vocalizations for the species you are looking up.

Have a great Thanksgiving, and I hope you can visit our store on Small Business Saturday. We will be having an open house with refreshments, and a special offer on binoculars to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn with two locations in northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.