139631aAs you read the paper this morning, warm and snug in your cozy home, picture me tromping through Granite Basin Recreation Area in subfreezing temperatures looking for birds! That is where I will be today from before sunrise until after sunset. What would possess a person to go bird watching all day in cold, wet conditions in the middle of December? The annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count!

I scouted out my area again this past week in preparation for the count. It is a large territory to cover – from the intersection of Iron Springs and Granite Basin Road all the way to Granite Mountain. I was pleased with the variety of birds I saw, including a good number of red crossbills. Crossbills have a very unique beak structure where their upper and lower bills cross over one another. I also saw a Townsend’s warbler and some red-breasted nuthatches – both of which I hope I can find again on the day of the actual count.

I struck out on evening grosbeaks again this past week at Granite Basin. This is a species that continues to elude me in spite of my best efforts to find them. I was confident that I would see them a few weeks ago when friends invited me to visit their yard. They have evening grosbeaks visiting their feeders on a regular basis, and it was almost guaranteed that I would see them by simply going to their home. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, all I saw when I arrived was a large feral cat sitting under their bird feeder! Not only did I not see the evening grosbeaks, I did not see a single bird anywhere in their yard.

This past Saturday, I led a Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored bird walk to Fain Park in Prescott Valley. The weather was sunny but cold and it had rained during the night. Unfortunately, most of the people that had signed up for the walk cancelled due to weather – but the field trip went on. From the main parking area we walked up the road that leads to the Valley of Lights display to reach the Calvary Trail trailhead.

Several weeks ago, a black and white warbler had been observed in this area, and I was hoping we could find it. As we hiked in the riparian area east of the dam, we had an amazing find. In fact, it was once of my best sightings of the whole year – a northern parula! I have seen this eastern warbler in other parts of the country, but never in Arizona. Needless to say, this was a new species for my 2014 State List, bringing me to 273 species for the year.

Another unusual find was a pair of brown creepers that were bark-gleaning in the same stand of Gooding willows where we discovered the parula. We also got great looks at a merlin (a small falcon) that was plucking a bird that it had captured. It sat in the same tree for over an hour, allowing us to get really good looks at it.

We saw several Cassin’s finches in the Park. This species of finch is closely related to our common house finches. If you are not familiar with Cassin’s finch, I would encourage you to look them up in your bird book so you are familiar with their appearance. It is possible that you could have them in your yard, so be on the lookout. Their preferred seed is black-oil sunflower seed in the shell.

Until next week, Happy Birding!