The hawks are one of the big attractions of SE Arizona in winter, as exemplified by the Rough-legged Hawk on the left, the Peregrine Falcon on the right, and the Red-tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle soaring above the desert. I joined a Field Guides trip led by Chris Benesh to see the hawks and other birds from Dec 28, 2000-Jan 5, 2001. We got plenty of hawks. One day in the Sulphur Springs Valley, our Red-tailed total alone exceeded 100. Other hawks seen on the trip included Rough-legged, Red-shouldered(!), Harris's, Ferruginous, Cooper's, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Bald and Golden Eagles, Northen Harrier, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine and Prairie Falcons. It was a hawk watcher's paradise!
Hawk on the Move!
Sometimes I got really lucky with the photos. I had the camera focused on the Ferruginous Hawk at left, when it suddenly took off. A quick press of the camera button yielded the shot at right.
Of course, hawks weren't the only birds to see. We found both LeConte's and Bendire's Thrashers, loads of sparrows, a variety of juncos, wintering flycatchers, and a host of other birds. In winter, SE Arizona is almost as birdy as S. Florida!
One bird that is common to both S. Florida and SE Arizona is the Burrowing Owl. There is an obvious plumage difference between the two races. That stripe down the front of this owl near Pinal Air Park isn't present on the S. Florida owls. If you don't have a Florida Burrowing Owl handy, check your Sibley guide.
Of course, you shouldn't believe everything you read, even in Sibley's amazing guide. While we were watching Mexican Jays at Madera Canyon, Chris Benesh pointed out that Sibley shows a yellow mandible on the youngsters. As you can see at right, the lower mandible is actually pink.
At Hassayampa, we found an empidonax flycatcher. Empids can be tough, but this one repeatedly dipped its tail, revealing its identity as a Gray Flycatcher. It was the first of several we saw during the trip. Later on, we encountered the tougher Dusky and Hammond's Flycatchers and were glad to have a flycatcher expert like Chris along.