A bald eagle in the snag at Willow Lake.
Last Saturday's bird walk to Willow Lake was a great success from the moment we arrived. As we exited our cars, there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the top of a telephone pole right where we parked. In the distance, we could see a lone bald eagle sitting in a snag in the granite boulders at the southeast edge of the lake. Now that is what I call a great start to a bird walk!
And it only got better. While we saw thousands of water birds, I think the highlight was the number of birds of prey we observed. In addition to the bald eagle and the red-tailed hawk, we saw several northern harriers, an American kestrel, a peregrine falcon and an osprey.
The dead ponderosa pine tree snag in the boulders is the perfect place for birds of prey to perch. If you are ever walking on the trails or hiking on the boulders at Willow Lake, I encourage you to check the tree frequently for birds of prey. Over the course of two hours we saw three different species perched in that tree!
The harriers were coursing low over the weedy fields, trying to flush up a quick meal. At one point, two harriers had a little dispute and came together in mid-air, locking talons briefly before breaking apart and going their separate ways. That was very exciting to see!
The osprey was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. When we first saw it, it was very far away and was flying at a great height. Gradually, it flew in our direction and eventually it flew directly over us. It was pretty thrilling to get such great views of this stately bird.
The peregrine was a late arrival - we had finished birding at Willow and were ready to get into our vehicles to drive over to Watson Lake to look for two common loons. Just before getting in the car, I glanced over at the ponderosa pine snag one last time. Sure enough, there was a large bird perched in the tree.
Even with my Vortex Razor scope I wasn't able to positively identify the bird, as it was several hundred yards away. However, I felt certain it was a peregrine. Everyone in the group was willing to walk all the way back so that we could get a positive ID.
Before we had even walked halfway towards the tree, the bird took flight, launching itself downwards at a tremendous speed. I got my binoculars on the bird as it went racing past us, and I was able to get a positive identification - it was indeed a peregrine falcon.
There were thousands of ducks on the lake, including pintail, rudy, redhead, canvasback, wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, bufflehead, mallard, ring-necked and green-winged teal. We also saw great egret, great blue heron, ring-billed gull, and over 20 American avocets in winter plumage.
Leaving Willow Lake, we made a quick stop at the pullout off Highway 89 overlooking Watson Lake. Our goal was to find the common loons that had been reported earlier. Fortunately, I had my scope, as the loons were several hundred yards away, but we saw them. We also added killdeer and double-crested cormorants to our tally from the overlook.
If you are interested in participating in upcoming free guided bird walks, call the store at 443-5900 to sign up. Also, this Saturday, Nov. 9, at 9 a.m., the Prescott Audubon Society will be leading a bird walk at the Highlands Center for Natural History. You don't need to pre-register, just show up!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 45 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email firstname.lastname@example.org.