550px-barn_swallowFirst, a hearty thank you to all of those who offered their homes for the Great Backyard Bird Count event. Over a three-day period we visited 11 different homes and we were received like royalty. The hospitality and the birds were great.

Last Saturday, as part of the Backyard Bird Count, I led a group of birders to three homes, and we made a quick visit to the south shore of Willow Lake. If you haven’t gotten out to the lakes to bird you should do this soon, as many of our wintering waterfowl will be leaving shortly. There are all kinds of ducks at the lakes – shovelers, buffleheads, pintails, canvasbacks, redheads, wigeon, ruddy, etc.

While at Willow Lake I saw two swallows in flight, from a great distance. I did not positively identify them because they were so far away, but if I had to guess what they were I would say northern rough-winged swallows. It seems so early to have swallows back!

At one of the homes, we were able to get a great look at a Crissal thrasher that was preening itself right out in the open. That was a good find, as usually they are so secretive and difficult to observe. Another good find was a lone Rufous-crowned sparrow. This species was new for my 2012 state list.

My best bird sighting of the week was seeing two golden eagles on Monday. Now that is a thrill. One was a juvenile and the other an adult. The juvenile looked like it had just flown off of the pages of “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” as the illustrations perfectly matched what I was seeing in the field.

I have mentioned in previous columns that hummingbirds are starting to show up. On Saturday, we saw two hummingbirds at one home, and at Willow Lake we saw one out in the wild. It is not too early to put up at least one feeder if you haven’t already done so. I have already seen two different hummers in my yard this month as well.

With as dry a winter as we are having, I think it might be a big year for hummingbirds at backyard feeders, as there probably will not be a profusion of wildflower and other nectar sources for the hummers. In previous drought years, we have seen this behavior before – homeowners were inundated with hummingbirds because there just weren’t sufficient natural food sources available to them.

As a reminder so you start thinking about it, the Highlands Center for Natural History will once again be sponsoring the annual Birding Spree event, which occurs in April and May. This is a great opportunity for you to get out in nature and go birding with some truly gifted naturalists who will teach you a lot more than just bird identification.

Also, Jay’s Bird Barn continues to offer free weekly bird walks in the Prescott area. The dates, times, locations, and field trip leader information are all available online at www.jaysbirdbarn.com. To reserve your place, call the store at 443-5900.

My 2012 Centennial Challenge bird list is now up to 129 species, and I added one more county to my list this past weekend. One of the recommendations is to visit all fifteen counties in Arizona during the Centennial year. So far I have birded in Coconino, Maricopa, Mohave and Yavapai counties. For more information on the Centennial Challenge, visit the Jay’s Bird Barn website.