Trackers Visit Birder's Paradise
On a very warm September morning, a small, avid group of Sedona Westerners met at 7 am to go on a hiking/bird watching experience. All Tracker hikes have an educational component to them. They assembled at Jay’s Bird Barn in West Sedona before proceeding about 10 miles south to Page Springs.
The Page Springs area is an Audubon-sanctioned IBA (Important Bird Area) along the banks of Oak Creek. All riparian areas, consisting of large, leafy, deciduous trees and shrubs near a freshwater source, are bird magnets. The sheer numbers and varieties of species is much greater in these areas than in a simple pine/juniper habitat.
Dena Greenwood, the manager of the bird shop and leader of this hike, is a well-known and highly-regarded bird enthusiast. She has taught birding at OLLI, Yavapai College, and has led many ElderHostel trips.
Greenwood stated that September is the in-between season for birds: the summer birds who have been breeding are now leaving to go south, and the winter birds are starting to come into the area. In addition, some are year-around in the Verde Valley. But, she said, “there is no bad time for birding here” -- there are always birds around, with the peak month being in late spring (May).
As the group began to walk around the bubbling ponds area of the fish hatchery, Greenwood spotted a relatively rare immature common black hawk. He proceeded to put on a show for all by attempting to hunt -- he actually captured and tore apart a small snake right in front of the group. The mother hawk looked down from her high perch on a snag and watched him proudly. They eat amphibians, but not fish. This is a bird that people come from all over to spot here, since there are only about 44 breeding pairs in a very narrow range in Arizona.
Spotting the black phoebe flycatcher several times after hearing the song “fee-bee”, it is a handsome bird with a black vest with a white belly. The black phoebe is always found around water and is quite common.
Near a huge brush pile, a family of Gambel’s quail numbering 14 was poking around. Most were the teen-agers of the summer breeding season and their mother. Greenwood claimed that the little topknot on the head is not for display, but is sensory in function. In another brush pile, an Abert’s towhee pair was seen: these fat, roundish, brown birds with a patch of orange under the rump, love piles of brush. A good reason to keep a brush pile somewhere on your property!!
Around the ponds were also seen a Cooper’s hawk, which is a bird-eating small hawk which lives in woods and has a barred tail. Violet green swallows with their bristles around their beaks to aid in insect capture and the flashy blue belted kingfisher were also noticed swooping around the water.
Greenwood stood and listened frequently: she identifies birds by sound first and then looks for them with her naked eye, and finally uses her binoculars to observe. She heard the Bewick’s wren, which sounds somewhat like a rotary phone dial, nests in existing tree cavities and eats insects on tree trunks. Also the Gila woodpecker and yellow warbler were heard, along with the familiar mourning doves.
Greenwood listened again and heard the “potato chip” call of the summer tanager: the females are bright yellow and the males are all red. They glean insects from the leaf surfaces of cottonwoods. Later a female western tanager was seen as well.
As the group walked around a more wooded area near the main part of the fish hatchery, the yellow-breasted chat was seen flitting through the trees -- it is a large warbler, pretty, very secretive and makes a whole array of sounds among the branches.
At the end of the morning, the birders gathered to update their bird lists and found that in a short three-hour period, they had seen or heard some 25 different species of birds.
Greenwood leads bird hikes every Wednesday to different habitats. If interested, get on the e-mail list for hike and bird event notification by signing-up at Jay’s Bird Barn.
The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website: www.sedonawesterners.org. You may also join by attending a monthly meeting, our next one will be on Thursday, November 11th, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley Center, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.