Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Birding in the Desert

Most people are aware of how hot it can be in and around the Phoenix vicinity in the summer.  Daytime temperatures are consistently over 100° F every day and can range upwards to 119° F on the most extreme side.  Needless to say, that kind of heat creates more challenges for birders as it gets to be unbearable to be outdoors and in the sun for any length of time.  Even in the shade it is downright HOT.  The only logical thing to do is to try getting an hour of birding in the very early morning before the sun starts beating down.  Personally, I prefer to get out of the Phoenix valley area and head to upper elevations where the temperatures moderate quite a bit and the night time lows make a big difference in morning birding.  Near the Phoenix area, even the night time lows might only fall to about 90° F, which is not much relief.  

There are birds to be seen in this heat and it amazes me that some survive these 2 to 3 months of extreme heat, but they do.  This heat makes for proper planning for any kind of a birding trip.  But even locally, one has the chance to see some wonderful and awesome birds in the heat of the summer.  One recent warm Sunday morning I ventured out with a mission to try and get a photograph of a Barn Owl and I met up with a couple of other birders, Pam Barnhart and Louis Hoeniger at about 5:30 in the morning..  I have seen Barn Owls several times, but most generally they are rather skittish and spook quite easily and all I get to see is the view of it flying away.  This time, we had much better luck and one was sitting tight and not too concerned with my presence.  Yes, the eyes appear to be closed, but I think it was only squinting and was keenly watching us.  After all, daytime is usually their roosting time and one should avoid stressing them by getting too close.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Also in the same area a Great Horned Owl was trying to find a roost for an undisturbed day of resting.  And only a mile a way, a pair of Burrowing Owls were seen along the road side near their burrow and perched on the power lines above.

Great Horned Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Always nice to find 3 species of owls in one day, but there were other birds as well.  Had the opportunity to see a couple Least Bitterns in flight which did not present any photos, but a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, a Gambel's Quail, and an oddly colored singing Blue Grosbeak all allowed a couple of photos.

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Female

Gambel's Quail

Blue Grosbeak

Once 8:00 AM rolls around, you quickly realize that summer is here and it is high time to seek cooler environments, such as air conditioned homes or vehicles.  It made for a short time for birding, but it was a trip that was necessary for me and my urgent need to see and observe more birds.  Have some cooler trips planned for later on this summer to escape the heat of the desert, and when fall rolls around, then it is a free for all and some great birding.   


  1. Every time I see an owl, I fall in love. And the Barn is such an elegant creature unique from the others. A proper owl I think:)

    1. Chris, I also think the Barn Owl is unique in appearance and really sets itself apart from the many other species. Too bad that their numbers are declining in parts of the US.