This past week I took some of my own advice—I went birding to find the peace and solitude that comes from spending time in nature.
When my birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas was cancelled a few weeks ago, I was really discouraged. My anticipation for the trip was so high, that I felt very low when I learned I wouldn’t be going. I stewed over it for a few weeks and finally put into action a plan to go birding on my own.
For a period of ten years, I was involved in guiding bird walks for the NAU Road Scholar program. The program was based out of Wickenburg, and we did day trips out and back each day for a week. We visited destinations such as Date Creek Ranch, Burro Creek, Hassayampa River Preserve, Yarnell, Congress, Walnut Grove, and many other stops.
Last week, I re-created the week-long birding trip, cramming it all into a thirty-six -hour time frame. I left my home Friday morning at 5:30 and got home Saturday night just before 6:00. In that thirty-six-hour window, I visited every place the Road Scholar trip visited. It was a whirlwind trip—and I loved it! Of course, I can’t go birding without having a goal in mind for the number of species I would like to see. My goal was an even one hundred species.
On Friday, I spent time birding in Yarnell, Congress, Wickenburg, the Hassayampa River Preserve, and all the way up to Burro Creek before ending my day camping in the desert near Date Creek Ranch. I drove more than 200 miles and saw 72 species on day one.
Some of the highlights included a red-breasted nuthatch in Yarnell, a male Lawrence’s goldfinch at Sunset Park in Wickenburg, and a red-shouldered hawk along the Hassayampa River, in Wickenburg.
On Saturday, I spent several hours birding at Date Creek Ranch and enjoyed a good variety of birds, including a pair of gray hawks, zone-tailed hawks, a beautiful black-throated gray warbler, and more vermilion flycatchers than I could count. From there, I slowly birded my way home—first in Congress, then in Walnut Grove, and finally in Skull Valley before calling it a day.
My time in Walnut Grove was particularly enjoyable. I ate my lunch along the banks of the Hassayampa River before proceeding further into the canyon where there are some man-made ponds.
This was a particularly productive stop with a number of species not previously seen on the trip, including marsh wren, double-crested cormorant, and a ring-necked duck. I also saw a white-winged dove in Walnut Grove, the only one on my trip.
Late in the day, as I was driving on the Skull Valley Connector Road, adjacent to some agricultural fields, I flushed up a barn owl. I was surprised, but pleased, to see it as I don’t see barn owls that often—maybe once or twice a year. It flew up from the ground and landed on some irrigation equipment only a short distance from me, affording excellent looks at it.
Arriving home, I sat at the kitchen table and pulled out my Checklist of The Birds of Arizona booklet, putting check marks next to each species I observed. After checking everything off, I counted up my check marks and I was at 99 species! I couldn’t believe I missed my goal by one species! I went back and reviewed all of the species in the checklist to make sure I didn’t miss anything and then I recounted. I still came up with the same number—99 species. I guess I’ll have to be happy with that!
Until next week, Happy Birding, and be well!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona—Prescott 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.