swainsons_hawk2Last week I led a bird-watching trip on one of those very windy spring days. At one point, the wind blew so hard that it tipped over my tripod, which was holding a very expensive spotting scope. It landed in such a way that it totally knocked the scope out of alignment. That was very disappointing. Fortunately, it was a Vortex-brand scope, and all Vortex products come with an unconditional, unlimited lifetime warranty. No matter the cause, Vortex will either repair or replace the scope. What a relief!

We still had a productive morning considering how freezing cold and windy it was. We saw more than 30 species in less than two hours, which was pretty impressive considering the conditions. The winds were so brutal, we called it a day about two hours early. However, as we returned to the store, we saw one of our better finds of the day.

While we were in the store parking lot, before we even had a chance to get from our vehicles into the store, I noticed a large bird of prey flying overhead. I knew instantly that it was a Swainson’s hawk! It was very exciting to see, as I had not seen one yet this year. A small group of common ravens was cavorting in the wind and randomly harassing the hawk. While observing the hawk, someone in the group noticed there was a second hawk – it too was a Swainson’s.

I assume that this is the same pair that was discovered last spring nesting right in town – very unusual behavior for a species that typically prefers a grassland habitat. It is hard to fathom the wonder of bird migration. Swainson’s hawks breed in North America and winter in South America. These two birds recently completed a migration that covered thousands and thousands of miles.

Two days later, as I was driving between the store and my home, I noticed a turkey vulture-looking bird flying fairly low over Demerse Street. Knowing that zone-tailed hawks in flight have a similar appearance and flight pattern as turkey vultures, I slowed down and got a really good look at the bird – and it was indeed a zone-tailed hawk! This was another new bird for my 2012 Centennial Challenge bird count, bringing me to a total of 164 species for the year.

Zone-tailed hawks are another example of a migratory hawk species that has recently returned from its winter haunts to the Prescott area. I saw another one this week flying directly over Willow Creek Road. I find it fascinating that a variety of birds of prey species can be easily observed in urban environments – you just need to be on the lookout.

Another hawk species that has recently returned to the area is the black-hawk. This is a species that prefers riparian habitats. The best location to see this species in the Prescott area is along Granite Creek where there are old-growth Cottonwood trees – such as Watson Woods and in the Granite Dells area.

I had a Lincoln’s sparrow in my yard this week in my bird-feeding area. It was taking advantage of the white-proso millet that I broadcast on the ground for ground-feeding species. With all of these new birds showing up, I am hoping that I will top 200 species on my state list by the end of the month. Buntings, orioles, tanagers, grosbeaks and a variety of other species will be showing up this month.