Florida Scrub JayI was in Wickenburg last week leading a bird-watching trip for Northern Arizona University‘s Road Scholar program (formerly known as Elderhostel). The title for the Wickenburg program is “Cactus Wrens to Vermilion Flycatchers: Birding in the Desert.”

I love birding in the Sonoran Desert and its surrounding environs. One of the best places to find birds in the desert is near water, so we spent quite a bit of time birding in riparian habitats. Rivers in the desert are like an oasis, creating a magnet for wildlife and birds.

In an average year, we see close to 80 species during the week, but this year we tallied 97 species! We also broke our “curse” of not seeing a greater roadrunner, which is usually a target bird for many of the participants who come on this trip from all over the country.

Last year on this trip we saw a green kingfisher at the Hassayampa River Preserve. That was the bird of the trip last year. We were fortunate again this year to see some really rare birds. On our first day, while birding at Date Creek Ranch, we discovered a common ground dove – which is actually not common at all! We had thought that this was going to be this year’s bird of the week. However, the very next day, we discovered a beautiful golden-crowned sparrow while birding at Burrow Creek. This is also a very uncommon bird in Arizona, and it became our new bird of the week. This particular bird was very cooperative, and we saw it several times over the course of a few hours.

The next day, while birding at the Hassayampa River Preserve, the best find of the day was Lawrence’s goldfinches. On three different occasions I saw at least one male, but, unfortunately, each time I saw one, I was unable to get the other group members on the bird with their binoculars.

On Thursday we were in the Yarnell/Peeples Valley/Walnut Grove area, and we had a wonderful day. We didn’t see anything particularly rare, but we saw a fabulous variety of birds, including northern cardinals, cedar waxwings and a Townsend’s solitaire.

Our last day was spent in Congress, and we enjoyed great success finding our target birds in that area, including Pyrrhuloxia and gilded flicker. We also got a brief look at a prairie falcon in flight.

One of the highlights in Congress was discovering an active Harris’ Hawk nest site that was under construction. Several hawks were flying back and forth between a eucalyptus tree and a non-native Austrian Pine. The hawks were stripping live branches off of the eucalyptus tree and using them to build their nest in the pine tree. We were in a residential neighborhood birding from the street, and the pine tree was in someone’s front yard! We got really good looks at the hawks as they flew directly overhead carrying branches to the nest site. It was interesting to observe how some of the birds carried the sticks with their feet, and others carried the branches in their beaks.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Prescott College Environmental Studies Spring Colloquium is sponsoring a presentation by Dr. Carl Tomoff, author of the “Birds of Prescott, Arizona Checklist.” His presentation is titled “Breeding Birds of the Prescott Region: Ecological & Historical Perspectives.” The program will be in the Crossroads Conference Center at Prescott College located at 220 Grove Avenue. I hope to see you there!