I received a text last week from a customer who lives in Montezuma Well (in the Verde Valley) reporting a rufous-backed robin in his yard. This is really an incredible find. I have only seen this species in North America on two previous occasions — once at the Cameron Trading post north of Flagstaff, and once at the Hassayampa River Preserve in Wickenburg.
The ‘normal’ range for rufous-backed robins is in Mexico. While birding in Alamos, Mexico in May of this year, rufous-backed robins were as abundant there as American robins are here.
One of the thrills of bird watching and backyard bird feeding is the fact that you never know what you might see — either in your yard or out in the field. One of the fascinating aspects of wild birds is their ability to show up just about anywhere. Their ability to fly provides them with almost unlimited mobility, so sometimes birds show up way out of their ‘normal’ range.
In the 30 years I have lived in Prescott, I have had my share of rare bird sightings, both in my yard and also when I have been bird watching out in the field. Some of the rare birds I have seen in my yard include hooded warbler, ovenbird, broad-billed hummingbird and yellow-billed cuckoo. A few of my rare bird sightings out in the field include rose-breasted grosbeak, golden-crowned sparrow, black-throated blue warbler and varied thrush. Interestingly, all of these rare birds were observed in Granite Basin over a period of many years.
Last week I led a Jay’s Bird Barn bird walk at Willow Lake, and our group had a wonderful rare bird sighting. We were birding along the south shore of the lake when we observed a pair of Caspian terns flying back and forth over the lake, plunge-diving into the water as they hunted for food.
Over the years I have seen Caspian terns in Prescott on several occasions. However, when I went to enter my bird list into eBird on Friday, Caspian tern was flagged as a rare bird. Why? Time of year. Seeing a Caspian tern in May or August is not terribly unusual, as they migrate through our area on their way north in the spring and on their way south in the fall. However, seeing a Caspian tern in late October is very unusual, as they are typically long gone by this time of year.
Our bird walk on Friday was super productive and enjoyable. We had amazing looks at a peregrine falcon that put on an aerial display as it flew around us. We also saw a lone pelican, a ring-billed gull, a small flock of black-necked stilts, several northern harriers and a belted kingfisher.
One of my favorite sightings was a male yellow-headed blackbird. I was able to get it in the scope, allowing everyone in the group to get great looks at this striking bird species. A lot of the unusual birds we saw could be considered stragglers that should be moving out soon, as it is getting late in the year for them to still be here. When we compiled our list we came up with 44 species — not bad for a morning bird walk in late October!
This Saturday, Oct. 30th, at noon, I will be announcing the winners of our 13th annual wild bird photography contest. It will also be the last day to view the photo contest pictures. On Monday, Nov. 1st, we will be putting up a new exhibit — art work by local artist Diane Iverson.
If you observe a rare bird, please call the store and report it! Until next week, Happy birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. 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.