Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Magic of Migration

Red-tailed Hawk
Just when it seems like you've run out of birds to find, there are more heading your way!  As each new season approaches, one set of birds leave while another arrives.

Peter Collins searches the skyway for hawks
In Arizona, migration truly begins with Peter Collins' Hawk Watch.  Every March, hundreds of hawks and vultures venture north from their wintering homes in Central America and Mexico.  Peter monitors a riparian area near the artsy village of Tubac each day. It's close to the US/Mexican border and it's a favorite place for the migrating birds to rest after a long day of flight. Hundreds of birders join him each week in the count as they watch Common Black Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Gray Hawks, Swainson's Hawks, Zone-tailed Hawks and even one or two random and rare Short-tailed Hawks take flight!  They are often joined by thousands of Black and Turkey Vultures.  For me, this event says, "Spring has arrived."

Snowbirders amass and study hawk photos and flight patterns.  For many, it's their first time watching birds!
I like to join the group at least once a year and watch all the amazing hawks fly over our heads.  I pull my folding chair out from the trunk of my car and monitor the skies.  It's some of the easiest birding I've ever done.  Just sit and watch!

A pair of Common Black Hawks fly over my head.  The Cottonwood trees are in bloom sending cotton looking particles into the air giving it the appearance of snowflakes. 
Soon after the hawks arrive, other birds, like our Western warblers, begin to make their move North into the state of Arizona. 

An Olive Warbler calls
You realize that each season brings with it a new song. 

A male Olive Warbler
Each Spring, I find myself habitually returning to these spaces. Why?  I've seen the birds.  Why must I go and see them again?  And the closest answer I've found is that I quite simply miss them.  They make me happy.  For me, it's a different style of birding for these locations. I walk the trails alone listening for every sound while searching for movement among the vibrantly green new buds on trees and bushes. While I can travel to new lands and find life birds, these birds are different.  They are the ones I know best. My birds.  My friends. 

During a walk at Agua Caliente park, I subconsciously text my friend Kathie. The Lucy's Warblers have arrived and are singing while they are foraging for bugs on the mesquite trees. I forget that this is where I met Kathie for the first time and where I submitted my first ever ebird report.  It seems like so long ago. And I guess it was.  Five years ago, I was a birder nobody:)  Life certainly has changed! 

Lucy's Warbler
After the warblers start to trickle into our mountains and deserts, the shorebirds begin their migration.  Hummingbirds and Orioles all have begun their move.  Then the Tanagers arrive and so on and so forth.  With the arrival of spring migration, the landscape changes and brings with it hope. Renewal. And incredible bird song. I don't know about you, but I find myself having to relearn their calls again!

A Bell's Vireo flies from one tree to the next
From now until the end of May, Arizona birding starts to get exciting.  Which bird are you always happy to see return to your patch?  For my Grandma, it's the Orioles and Hummingbirds.  For me, it's the Nightjar and Owl family.  I love their calls on a hot summer night under the stars.  It's quite a magical experience. Here is a video on Birding Stereotypes created by talented birders Tommy D and Laurence Butler. There are really people like this out in the birding world! I thought it was a joke until I met my first "Hawks Hawks Hawks" guy.  Wow! Until next time......


  1. Wonderful post and photos Chris. Its always so exciting at migration time - you never know what might turn up :) I especially look forward to the return of the swallows and hearing my first cuckoo although sadly the latter species is in decline and not so easy to hear these days.

  2. I love watching magnificent hawks soar...pure poetry. Great captures.

  3. this sounds like the kind of birding I like as well :) Beautiful birds and scenery :)

  4. The olive warbler is so pretty and dainty. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Arizona sound like the place to be when migration stats. LAughed at the video

  6. All I can say is!

    I've been golfing at Tubac and remember my very first ever male Vermillion Flycatcher on the fairway. Awesome area, not only pretty scenes, but definitely great birds. Here in South Texas we experience the Fall Hawk Migration with 1000s of kettles daily. And Agua Caliente....neat park. I especially love the open wing flight image you've captured of the vireo.

  7. Wonderful photos! It's always great to see the birds return during spring.

  8. Real Birders LOVE the Migration times in their areas. As you said, it's the easiest birding you can do... I can't wait for the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks to visit us in May and then again in late Fall.... SO special.

  9. That Hawk Watch sounds like an absolutely magical thing to do, Chris! Loved the video!

    Best wishes - - - Richard

  10. You are spot on as usual Chris. "Magic" is the only word to describe the phenomenon of bird migration but to actually watch in action is also magical. I am so looking forward to our own migration beginning in earnest once we shoo off the current cold weather. How do our swallows and warblers just hundreds of miles south of here know to delay that final push north/ magic is the answer.

    By the way that male Olive Warbler is indeed "magic".

  11. How brilliant to sit in a deck chair watching the activity in the skies Chris, better than TV any day :) Wonderful images as always Chris.


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