On Sunday 2 February 2014, I teamed up with Jason Morgan and headed north to the areas of Prescott and Prescott Valley to do some birding. Jason along with a couple others were getting some very nice photos of the Common Goldeneye. This duck is quite spectacular in appearance and while I have seen them many times in the past, the birds were always at quite a distance and my photos always left a little to be desired. My goal was to try and get a better photo than I had in the past, so our first stop was Yavapai Lake and I was not disappointed. Amongst the 100 or so Ring-necked Ducks were at least 6 male Common Goldeneyes and a single male Canvasback, which was a bonus to me. Had to search a different spot, Fain Park to find the females.
Common Goldeye - Male
Common Goldeye - Female
Canvasback - Male
While we did not linger too long in Fain Park, we did find some other cool waterfowl including a female Lesser Scaup and some Common Mergansers of which the females were the only ones that I could approach close enough for photos.
Lesser Scaup - Female
Common Merganser - Female
During our brief visit we were witness to one of Mother Nature's events in the survival of birds, a raptor capturing another bird for its daily existence. In this case, it was a Cooper's Hawk that captured a Western Scrub-Jay. Typically, jays are notorious for finding the location of a raptor and then sounding the alarm to other birds by sending out alarm calls to let others know of the raptor's location. In this case the Cooper's Hawk got the jump on them and once the victim had been captured, the rest of the Western Scrub-Jays really did a lot of scolding to no avail. Yes, is a bit disturbing to see this, but this happens daily in nature and we could only revel in what we had just witnessed.
Cooper's Hawk with prey, a Western Scrub-Jay
Our next destination was going to be Watson Lake and this is where we had agreed to meet up with another Facebook birder, Cynthia White. She knows the Prescott area well and we were very happy to meet her and actually get the chance to do some birding with her. Watson Lake was covered with waterfowl and it was mindboggling to try to count the various ducks. A couple of highlights were actually raptors that were putting on a show for us. The first was a juvenile Bald Eagle that was being harassed by a couple of Common Ravens. But this eagle really seemed unperturbed by all the commotion and continued to ride the thermals and in fact at one time they were flying almost side-by-side. For those that are reading this and are a bit confused by the coloration of the Bald Eagle, this is a juvenile. It takes about 4 years for a Bald Eagle to obtain its complete white head and tail and dark brown body, which is the vision most people think of when they hear Bald Eagle. A good example in showing that identifying birds can be a bit confusing, especially to new birders and to non-birders.
Bald Eagle - Juvenile
Bald Eagle and Common Raven - (note the size difference)
We also had a Northern Harrier put on quite a show for us as it was flying over the reeds in the lake hunting for prey. A one point it landed on a tree snag and gave us really good close up views of this winter visitor to Arizona. This bird has an 'owl-like' appearance to it, but usually is hard to see as these birds rarely pose close for photos and for viewing.
Once we finished our walk around Watson Lake, we then discussed our other options and I had heard that a Tundra Swan had been reported a few days ago at Willow Lake and we agreed that since we were in the neighborhood, we should at least stop by to take a look. Thanks to Cynthia for knowing how to get there quickly and finding easy access parking. We got out of our vehicles and I noticed a white mound that kind of looked like a white rock or maybe a white piece of trash out in the lake. We all looked a little close and decided it might be the swan with its head tucked under the wing taking a nap. We quickly made out way to the lake edge and the closer we got, I knew we had found our target bird, the Tundra Swan. I had really never seen a swan in the wild before, but I knew they were big and when we got to looking at this one and noticing the company it was keeping; Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and American Coots, then I realized how huge these birds really are. This one never took flight for us, but it think it would be an amazing sight to see these birds take to the air.
In our (or was it my?) obsession to get closer to the swan to try for photos, I observed another unusual bird flying towards us; a White-tailed Kite! I have seen this bird before a few times in Maricopa County and was rather surprised to see one in this location. We made a note of where it might have went and once we finished our business with the swan, we headed in the direction of where we thought it might be and once we got around the large cottonwood tree, we found it perched in another shorter tree. We took a couple of distant photos and as we tried to approach it to get closer it took flight again and it put on a 'kiting' show for us where it would hover in flight without moving forward. This was especially rewarding as I found out that this bird was a life bird for both Jason and Cynthia! While my photos leave a lot to be desired, they are at least good enough for an ID if needed. Cynthia managed a very nice in-flight photo when we first discovered this bird.
This turned out to be a great day for all three of us with Jason getting 3 life birds and Cynthia and myself 1 each. This is definitely a spot that I need to visit more often and I encourage others to do so as well.