jays-bird-barn-10-29-15This past Thursday I led a Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored bird walk to both Willow and Watson Lakes. It was a beautiful fall day – just perfect for bird watching.

One of the first birds we observed at Willow Lake was a Merlin (a small falcon) that zipped past us and flew to the large ponderosa pine snag in the rocky dells. It was so far away that even with a scope it was hard to make it out clearly, so we walked over to the edge of the rocks and put the scope on it to confirm our initial identification.

There were several pleasant surprises at the lakes, such as a lone greater yellowlegs (a type of sandpiper), a pair of belted kingfishers that were actively hunting, both great and snowy egrets, a lone ring-billed gull, a white-faced ibis, several dowitchers and a small group of least sandpipers. In my opinion, it would seem that our mild fall weather has delayed migration for a variety of bird species that would normally be gone by now.

As usual, for this time of year, there were hundreds of ducks on the lakes, including shovelers, redheads, mallards, gadwall, pintail, ring-necked, ruddy, canvasback, American wigeon, green-winged teal and three species of grebes – western, pied-billed and eared. In addition to all of the ducks, there were hundreds of American Coots at Willow Lake, and at Watson Lake there was a good-sized flock of Canada geese.

The water level at the lakes is so low right now I am thinking that in some ways this might benefit bird species that dive for aquatic food. As the water level goes down, all of the fish and crawdads have a smaller area to live in which is creating a higher concentration of prey in a smaller area. In the short term, this could benefit Bald Eagles, belted kingfishers, grebes, cormorants, mergansers and loons.

On the flip side, however, the low water level could have a negative impact on ducks and coots that forage for aquatic plants near the surface of the lake. If there is not enough food to sustain the numbers of water birds at the lakes, then some of them will have to move elsewhere to survive.

Before leaving the store, I told the bird watchers that it was very likely that we would see both Bald Eagles and peregrine falcons, but we didn’t see either! However, in addition to the merlin, other birds of prey observed were northern harriers, red-tailed hawk and an American Kestrel. The harriers put on a good show, first flying very high and then later engaging in their more typical flight behavior of flying low over open areas as they actively hunted for prey.

On a different note, my rare backyard bird visitor that I wrote about last week – a female broad-billed hummingbird – is still frequenting my yard. So far it has been here for 14 days! I will keep up my hummingbird feeder this fall for however long it chooses to stay.

This Saturday, Oct. 31, Arizona’s Raptor Experience (from Chino Valley) will be at Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a collection of live birds of prey on display. We will provide a free lunch during this event, and at noon I will be announcing the winners of this year’s wild bird photo contest. I hope you will join us as we celebrate the joy that birds bring into our lives.

Until next week, Happy Birding!