Sunday, October 6, 2013

Migration in central Arizona

Adult male Cooper's Hawk, Sierra Prieta Overlook, Prescott AZ, 25 September 2013
       For the last several years, I haven't done a whole lot of migration hawkwatching. I definitely miss being in the thick of migration season at such epic locations as Cape May, Kiptopeke or Veracruz when every day brings the possibility of something amazing. 
        Last year,  my wife and I moved to Prescott, AZ. (near the geographical center of the state) and I immediately began looking at maps to find a good spot to see some migrant raptors. Mountains rise to the west and of town to just over 7000 feet. I noticed a pullout along a dirt road running along a southwest facing escarpment that dropped steeply to the west...the Sierra Prieta Overlook (SPO). Besides looking out over such a view, anyone visiting has to 'overlook' the broken glass from weekend revelry. This spot had potential. 
       Migrant raptors don't congregate in too many places in Arizona to make hours of watching pay off. Yaki Point, on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, has been operated by Hawkwatch International for several years and produces some decent flights. A good place to see Broad-wings reliably. Not far south of here is the Aubrey Cliffs IBA, a volcanic bluff running north of the town of Seligman. Arizona Game and Fish coordinates volunteers to cover this site during fall and decent numbers are seen. South of Tucson along the Santa Cruz River, a recently discovered passage of Gray, Common Black and Zone-tailed Hawks is the only other concentration of note. I wanted something a little closer to home. 
      So, with a bit of hope, my binoculars and a notepad, I ventured up to the SPO for a few days last September and saw...nothing. Local Red-tails and milling vultures. I knew the site wasn't going to produce a ton of birds, but maybe a trickle. But I would find out this fall that the site is fairly sensitive to wind direction and speed. I just needed to spend more time. My ego was bruised a bit, but not beaten.
      Why not give Spring a try? I only spent parts of three days in late March and early April and noted migrating Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk, Swainson's, Zone-tailed and Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Numbers were low, but it was encouraging. Other commitments kept me from more days on the SPO, but my gut told me that more birds were passing the site. In a stroke of luck, I was able to convince the Arizona Field Ornithologists to award me a small grant to explore the site in greater detail in 2014. Fingers are crossed for good flights. 
     A couple of weeks ago, on 24 September, I found myself at the SPO scanning the hills and ridges to the north looking for migrants. I had to give the fall flight another chance. I wasn't disappointed this time. The winds were from the southwest (perfect) and there were birds. Needless to say, I was pleased. The totals for 5 hours of watching:
T. Vulture - 42
Sharp-shinned - 10
Cooper's - 24
Red-tail - 12 (difficult to get accurate with local birds confusing things)
A. kestrel - 12 (most of them before 9am)
Peregrine - 2
Total - 102
      On subsequent days, I also observed a few N. harriers and Swainson's hawks, but overall numbers were significantly lower. For the first few days in October, the winds have been northeasterly, which isn't good for the overlook, and migrants have been scarce. But, I will be back up there soon, looking north. My goal for the season is a migrating goshawk. It's just gotta happen.

1 comment:

  1. Zachary- Northern goshawks are a common winter resident in Yuma, Apache Junction, and Tucson, which includes male and female mature and immature and polymorphic male and female in Tucson. These hawks can very often be observed as they soar or rip through the sky at average elevation of 200 feet. My ebook "The man who saw too many goshawks" is available from The best - Nelson Briefer- goshawk specialist- Anacortes, WA.