march26-jays-bird-barnI am working in Wickenburg this week as the coordinator for a Northern Arizona University sponsored Road Scholar program. This is my eighth consecutive year participating in this event, where does the time go?

This weeks’ group consists of 18 participants from 10 different states. Their birding experience and skill level is varied, but everyone is passionate about bird watching, learning and spending time outdoors.

We spent Tuesday morning at Date Creek Ranch in the Date Creek Mountains, northwest of Wickenburg. The area can best be described as a riparian habitat running right through the middle of Sonoran Desert habitat.

The creek is lined with willow and cottonwood trees but on either side there are palo verde trees, sahuaros, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, creosote, and this year, a host of wonderful wildflowers.

The combination of water and vegetation provides a lush habitat, attracting both year-round and migrating bird species. This is a great time of year to get out bird watching as you will be able to observe the overlap in year-round birds, wintering birds that haven’t left yet, arriving spring birds that will stay, and migrating birds that are just passing through on their way north.

Some of the year-round birds we have seen are northern cardinals, Gambel’s quail, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk and cactus wren. Wintering birds that we have seen which haven’t left yet include ruby-crowned kinglets, white-crowned sparrows, cedar waxwings and yellow-rumped warblers.

Examples of spring arrivals that we have seen that will stay include turkey vulture, gray hawk, zone-tailed hawk, white-winged dove, ash-throated flycatcher, Lucy’s warbler, Bell’s vireo and hooded orioles. So far, we have seen only a handful of spring birds that are just passing through including warbling vireos and orange-crowned warblers.

For me, the bird of the day was a Gray Hawk that we first observed through a spotting scope, and then with binoculars as it took flight and circled above us.

Wednesday we were at Burro Creek, which is located along Highway 93. This might sound funny, but the bird of the day was a lone ring-billed gull! What was it doing in the middle of the desert? Well, it was probably on the move between its wintering grounds and where it will spend the summer, and it found the habitat it needed to re-fuel before continuing on its way.

I asked the participants as we arrived at Burro Creek the following question; “If you had been driven to this location blind folded and once we arrived the blindfolds were removed, what would you be able to surmise about the area based on the birds you are seeing”?

In addition to the lone gull we saw some great blue herons, a belted kingfisher, a few mallards and a small group of cinnamon teal. Based just on this information, if someone were to plop you down in the middle of this part of Arizona, you would know that there was an abundance of water there.

It is an exciting time of year to get outdoors and observe the ebb and flow of migration. Truthfully, the variety of birds you observe can change overnight this time of year because most song birds migrate at night. You will go to bed one night not having seen any yellow or Lucy’s warblers for example, and the next day when you wake up they are greeting you with their cheerful, lively song. While you were sleeping, they were flying in an effort to return to their summer home! Isn’t nature simply amazing?

Until next week, Happy Birding!