Originally Published: September 5, 2018 8:46 p.m.
I was in Tucson this past weekend to attend the University of Arizona/BYU football game. While in Tucson I also visited two backyard wild bird stores and a feed store. Having worked in retail since high school, I have always enjoyed visiting the “competition.”
I was also able to work in a little birding while there. At one point, we visited a cemetery. As I got out of the car, I wondered to myself whether or not I should grab my binoculars. For some unknown reason, I decided not to. Whenever that happens (you would think I would learn) I usually regret that decision later.
As we walked through the cemetery, I realized I was hearing a bird vocalization that I was not instantly familiar with. I am not perfect at identifying birds solely by their song, but I am pretty good at recognizing most everything I hear. The realization that I did not know what I was hearing caused me to want to find the bird making the sound. It wasn’t long before I tracked down the source of the vocalization. Flying high over the Sonoran Desert landscape, dotted with giant sahuaros, were a handful of swallow-like birds.
Since I didn’t have my binoculars on me, I whipped out my iPhone, opened the iBird Pro app, typed in the name “Purple Martin,” and selected the audio option. Within seconds I was hearing the vocalization of purple martins straight from my phone. What I was hearing from the birds in flight and the recordings I was listening to on my iPhone were a perfect match!
A bit triumphantly, I announced to my son that the birds we were hearing were purple martins based on my matching their vocalizations with the recordings on the iBird app. My son remarked, “How did you go from not knowing what you were hearing to identifying the birds so quickly?”
Using clues provided by nature such as habitat, the flight pattern of the birds, a little birding intuition, and having a working knowledge of hundreds of bird vocalizations all helped me to identify the birds as purple martins. Birders in this modern age are blessed to have a lot of tools at our fingertips such as amazing optics and apps on our phones!
A little while later we visited the Sweetwater Wetlands, a city-owned water reclamation facility. Shortly after arriving, I heard another unique vocalization — one that sounded a lot like a kingbird, but not quite the same as either the western or Cassin’s kingbird. I tracked down the birds (this time I was wearing my binoculars) and I was able to identify them as tropical kingbirds.
This Saturday, Sept. 8, Jay’s Bird Barn will have a booth at the Arizona Trail Day celebration in Flagstaff at Buffalo Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This annual event celebrates the creation of the Arizona Trail, a path over 800 miles in length between the Mexico border and the Utah border.
Each year we attend this event in an effort to connect with like-minded individuals who love spending time in nature. A segment of the Arizona Trail passes through Buffalo Park, so you can easily hike, run, or ride the Arizona Trail from the park. For more information on the event, visit www.aztrail.org.
As a reminder, the submission period for our 10th annual wild bird photography contest runs from Sept. 1-29. For more information on this year’s contest, stop by the store or check out 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.