By Nick Worth
Have you ever seen a Lesser Yellowlegs? How about a Nashville Warbler, a Crissal Thrasher or a Black-headed Grosbeak? If not, this Saturday might be your chance.
This year’s North American Migration Count (NAMC) in Arizona will be held on Saturday, May 11. The Arizona Field Ornithologists (AZFO) has organized the NAMC since 2004, with each of Arizona’s 15 counties holding their counts on the same day.
According to Eric Hough, the Navajo County organizer, the NAMC is always held on the second Saturday in May.
Navajo County is home to many species of birds and plays host to many others during the annual bird migrations. Hough noted that last year’s count yielded 2,701 individual birds of 126 species.
“Cumulatively, the Navajo County NAMC has detected 193 different bird species since 2005, with past counts having yielded such species as Scaled Quail, Bald Eagle, Zone-tailed Hawk, Bonaparte’s Gull, Long-eared and Flammulated Owls, American Three-toed and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Greater Pewee, Mexican Jay, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Painted Redstart, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black-chinned Sparrow, Hooded Oriole and Evening Grosbeak,” Hough explained in an email. “Several areas within the county offer birders the opportunity to find sought after species such as Lewis’s Woodpecker, Gray Vireo, Pinyon Jay, Red-faced Warbler and Red Crossbill,” he added.
Hough said he is currently working on a manuscript dealing with the birds of Navajo County. “There are over 350 species that have been sighted countywide,” Hough stated. He said his book would also carry descriptions of the best birding sites in the county.
In addition, Hough said local bird populations are subject to change. Some species of birds that formerly migrated through are beginning to establish breeding populations in the area.
“Some Lucy’s Warblers have established a local breeding colony and they’re expanding on the Colorado Plateau,” Hough said.
Waterfowl and shorebirds of all types use local lakes and streams as stopping off places to rest and feed on their way north in the spring and again in the fall while on their way south for the winter. Wherever there is standing water you can find the birds, including wastewater treatment plants and even flood irrigated farm fields.
Last week a flock of nine White-faced Ibis were seen feeding in a flooded field near the bridge on Highway 77 on the north end of Snowflake and a Snowy Egret and a Great Blue Heron were seen in the flooded portion of the nearby Cottonwood Wash under the bridge. A small group of sandpipers was also making use of a field in Taylor.
Hough, who is also a Seasonal Wildlife Technician for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said one of the best spots in Navajo County for birding is the impoundment at Hidden Cove Petroglyph Park, behind the golf course.
“There have been 187 species of birds recorded there over the past seven years,” said Hough. “Usually the salt cedar won’t draw in that many birds, but the water there attracts a lot of different species.”
Hough said some unusual birds at the Holbrook impoundment in the past have included a Sabine’s Gull, a Long-tailed Duck, Orchard Orioles, both Black and Forrester’s Terns and Hooded Orioles.
“Along the I-40 corridor, McHood Park in Winslow is also a good site for finding birds, said Hough. “There is a breeding population of Crissal Thrashers in Winslow and in Holbrook.”
Joseph City offers opportunities for birders, as well. Hough said many species of migrant birds can be detected simply by walking, or driving and scanning the trees in town.
In the past, Cholla Lake has been a stopping-off place for American White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans and Great Egrets, but even though it is now impossible for the public to access Cholla Lake, some species that use the lake can still be observed flying overhead. Rare sightings of a Cattle Egret and a Bonaparte’s Gull were recently made in Joseph City in that manner.
Hough said observers don’t have to be expert birders in order to participate. “It’s open to anyone, really,” Hough said. “We can group people of varying experience together for the count.”
Hough also stressed the fact that bird counters in the NAMC don’t necessarily have to drive to a specific spot, or cover a lot of ground in order to participate in the count. “Common birds in the yard will count,” said Hough. He said the NAMC counts all birds present, not just migratory species.
One of this year’s NAMC participants has committed to counting the birds in her yard feeders in Pinetop.
Hough said if people are interested in participating, but will be out of the county, they can still participate by helping the count in other Arizona counties they may be traveling to.
Hough said he sees a secondary advantage to participating in the count, other than providing scientific data to the AZFO. “It gets the public engaged in watching the natural world that’s around them in their yard, neighborhood and their local parks,” he said.
For more information, or to sign up for the NAMC, go to the website of the AZFO at AZFO.org.
By Nick Worth