Last week I participated in the Prescott Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. My assigned area each year is Granite Basin, from Iron Springs Road all the way down to Granite Basin Lake, including the surrounding area.
The weather was very mild compared to previous years, where I have trudged through snow and freezing temperatures. This year was very pleasant — until the wind really kicked up. By the end of the day, I couldn’t help but think the wind negatively impacted my birding.
My morning started out great. I was seeing a large number of birds and adding species to my list at a good clip. Somewhere between 11:30 a.m. and noon, I was already at 37 species for the day. I was on track to have a great day. Then I hit a wall of silence and inactivity. From noon on, I couldn’t find a bird to save my life, let alone add a new species to my list.
At 4:27 p.m., I saw an American kestrel — species number 38 for the day. I went more than four hours without adding a single bird to my list. It was a very unusual day. I worked hard, I persisted, and I didn’t give up, but no matter how much of an effort I made, the birds with either absent or hunkered down.
I walked 9.5 miles, birded for over 10 hours, and ended the day with 38 species. It was discouraging to work so hard to only add one additional species from noon on. That is why I am assuming the wind had an impact on my birding.
In spite of the long afternoon with little activity, I really enjoyed my morning bird watching. I saw several uncommon birds, such as Pacific wren, fox sparrow, and golden-crowned kinglets. I also enjoyed seeing flocks of western bluebirds and Cassin’s finches. Those two species were the most abundant varieties of birds I saw.
My low species count was frustrating, as there were so many varieties of birds I didn’t see. For example, I did not see or hear a single American robin all day. For me that is almost shameful. How could I bird for more than 10 hours, covering miles and miles of territory, and not see a single robin?
In the end, I just had to accept the fact that the birds simply were not in the basin this year. I think our protracted drought and the lack of natural food sources altered their migration pattern, and they are somewhere else this winter. The basin is filled with manzanita and silktassel, but I didn’t see a single berry on any of the shrubs.
Some other really common bird species escaped my view as well, such as mourning dove, yellow-rumped warbler, Steller’s jay and pine siskin — I didn’t see a single one of these species all day. There were no mallards on the lake — not one — and I never saw a great blue heron or a red-winged blackbird. It was indeed a very strange day.
There were other less common species I missed, too, that I usually can find, such as Williamson’s sapsucker, Townsend’s solitaire and phainopepla. Not this year.
One unique observation I had was a healthy looking crissal thrasher that had a normal looking lower mandible (beak) but the top mandible was broken off and it just had a stub. It is amazing how this bird has learned to adapt and forage for food with half of its beak missing.
I know it will probably come as a big surprise to you all, but I plan to start off the New Year by going bird watching on New Year’s Day.
Until next year, 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 email@example.com.