This past Friday I led a free Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored bird walk to the south shore of Willow Lake. It was a perfect morning, weather-wise, and the birds were plentiful. There was a significant increase in bird activity on the lake compared to just a few weeks ago.
The last time I was at the lake, it was mostly American coots along with a few ruddy ducks, double-crested cormorants, and not much else. Well, fall migration has certainly brought in large numbers of winter visitors—we identified ten different species of ducks—including canvasback, redhead, ruddy, pintail, gadwall, mallard, shoveler, bufflehead, wigeon and green-winged teal.
We saw two species of grebes – pied-billed and eared – and there were double-crested cormorants, great blue herons and great egrets. At one point, we even had a brief look at a gull flying by that remained unidentified because we didn’t get a good enough look at it before it flew out of sight.
Several birds of prey were present, as well. At least two northern harriers entertained us with their low, buoyant flight that is so distinctive. We observed a peregrine falcon perched in one of the ponderosa pine tree snags up in the rocky dells, and we saw red-tailed hawks and an American kestrel.
The surrounding grassland habitat on the south shore was very birdy. Our abundant summer rains produced a bumper crop of weeds and wild sunflower plants, creating an abundance of seeds for finches, sparrows and blackbirds. We saw three types of finches—house, American and lesser. We also saw five species of sparrows—white-crowned, Lincoln’s, song, savannah and chipping.
We also saw two species of wrens, Bewick’s and rock, and two species of phoebes, Say’s and black. A surprising find were the western meadowlarks we witnessed perched in the crown of a ponderosa pine tree about 50 feet above the rocks of the dells. This is not a typical place for meadowlarks, as they are usually ground dwellers!
We saw numerous flocks of red-winged blackbirds flying over us throughout the morning, headed in a southeasterly direction. Based on the direction they were flying, I could only assume they were headed over to Watson Lake.
When tallying our list for the day, it was interesting to reflect on what we didn’t see. For example, we didn’t see any Canada geese, which is really surprising for this location.
It is fascinating to think how important the reservoirs in Prescott are to wild birds. Historically, there were no naturally-occurring lakes in Prescott. Rather, there were corridors of riparian habitat lining Willow and Granite creeks that did not have areas of sufficient standing water to support numerous ducks, grebes, gulls, geese and shorebirds.
Now, thousands of wild birds rely on these man-made lakes as a stopover place during migration, or as their permanent winter home. The lakes in Prescott contribute in a significant way to the variety of birds that occur in the Prescott area each year.
Dr. Carl Tomoff’s “Birds of Prescott” checklist documents over three hundred and sixty different species of birds that have been observed within a ten mile radius of the courthouse plaza in downtown Prescott. Without the lakes we would have far fewer species here.
It amazes me how birds adapt to changes in the environment and change migration routes, or destinations to exploit the resources they need to survive. If we didn’t have any lakes in Prescott, these birds would just pass right over this area enroute to a different destination that would meet their needs. Our three-hour bird walk resulted in 42 species for the day, which was wonderful!