This past Saturday, my wife Gayla and I finished hiking the Prescott Circle for the first time. Several months ago we started where the trail crosses Iron Springs Road and heads north and east towards Williamson Valley Road.
From the time we started hiking the circle trail we hiked it in the same direction. Our last segment was from Thumb Butte Road over to Iron Springs Road. This section of the trail traverses a lovely area in the Prescott National Forest, but the one thing that really stuck out to both of us was how dry the landscape was.
All of the little creeks we crossed during our hike were bone dry.
This year’s monsoon season is quite a contrast from last year, where we recorded approximately twelve inches of rain at our home. This year, I don’t think we’ve received so much as an inch where we live.
On a walk in Watson Woods a few days ago, I was surprised to see large cottonwood trees with all of their leaves bright yellow, as if it were fall and we had had a frost, causing the leaves to change colors. Of course, we haven’t had a frost, so you may be wondering why the leaves are turning yellow.
The absence of sufficient rains this monsoon season is forcing trees to shed their leaves to reduce their demand for water. Cottonwoods are a riparian obligate—they typically only grow where the water table is high and the roots of the trees can tap into this water supply. Even the plants in my yard are stressed. I have been doing a lot of hand-watering these past few weeks to save plants that would otherwise die due to the lack of summer rains.
I can’t help but wonder what impact the lack of a robust monsoon season will have on our seed-eating bird species this winter. I think we are going to experience the complete opposite situation this winter compared to last winter. Last year’s abundant monsoon rains produced a bounteous crop of natural food sources which our wild birds exploited throughout the winter months.
Our monsoon season is typically a time of renewal and regeneration, and is a pleasant reprieve following several hot, dry months. In a ‘normal’ year, our summer rains produce a profusion of weeds and native plants that produce seeds which are consumed by our winter bird residents.
Realistically, we are already more than two months into our monsoon season, and we have less than a month to go before our traditional rainy season ends. If the rains don’t come, there will certainly be far less wild, natural food sources available to wild animals this coming winter.
While our weather has been in the 90’s this week, fall migration is already underway. On our hike this past Saturday, we saw a beautiful male Wilson’s warbler, one example of a migrating songbird. We are about four weeks away from the arrival of one of our most common fall and winter residents—the white-crowned sparrow.
It is not unlikely that the variety of birds occurring in your yard this time of year will actually increase as we experience migrating songbirds moving south throughout the Arizona Central Highlands area. Be on the lookout for buntings, warblers, tanagers, and green-tailed towhees.
Another phenomenon we experience this time of year is seeing evidence of post-breeding dispersal. Adults that were formerly tied to a specific territory while rearing their young are now empty-nesters. Unconstrained by parental responsibilities, they are free to move about as they forage for food.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
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.