Buckeye & Arlington, Maricopa County, AZ

April 2, 2015
Target birding has its ups and downs. It seems to be a test of patience, fortitude, persistence and rationale. And, all of those things came to mind in my first stop of the day, not listed in the caption because the bird sought was a no-show.

The good thing in that experience was that my birding friend, Susan, had returned from a distant two-week family visit and was able to join me at Arizona State University to search for the Northern Parula warbler, an eastern bird being seen off and on at a particular location on the Main Campus. (In cottonwoods on north side of the Engineering Research Center on Tyler Mall)  After two hours of patiently checking off birds other than the one we were looking for, we decided to move on.

With Melanie Herring's weekend report of Swainson's Hawks swirling in kettles over Buckeye, it was tempting enough to lure us in that direction. With Susan as navigator, she spied the hawks overhead north of where they had been reported, so we immediately pulled over on Tuthill Road. (Take Jackrabbit exit from I-10; it becomes Tuthill.)

What a sight! We counted 20 - no 30 - no, there were more! How many Swainson's Hawks had I seen in the sky at once before this? TWO! Now, they were filling my binocular view and more! Clouds in the sky seemed to doom good photos but I tried to catch a few soaring and swooping. 

Migrating Swainson's Hawks

Although the Swainson's Hawk is a western raptor, it prefers open grasslands and desert prairies so it is not a common bird in the Phoenix area. They winter in South America making Argentina a preferred location. Almost the entire population lifts off in February to migrate north in spring in large swirling kettles (wide columns) with birds flying low enough to photograph and high enough to escape binocular view.

We stayed at that location letting the experience soak into our fiber before continuing south on Tuthill to the reported first sighting on the weekend at Queen Creek Road. There, we were dismayed to see a tractor stirring up a lot of dust (agricultural fields). But, then, the birds came into view - in the field!! 

Poor photos to show how we saw them in the distance
Swainson's Hawks not only cruise low over a field for prey like a Northern Harrier, they perch on the ground in front of burrows or holes, often hunting communally. 

Migrating Swainson's Hawk perched at critter hole

The bird's chestnut-colored bib helps distinguish it from any Red-tailed Hawks that fly into their kettle. We spotted just one RTHA among them. Not all the Swainson's were in the fields. They were still moving overhead so I tried again to photograph one in flight.

Swainson's Hawk (above and below)

There were too many hawks in each kettle to count; there were hundreds upon hundreds in an amazing display of a seasonal flight they do each year.  I was thrilled beyond words to witness it.

So, what's to do for an encore? I drove over to Arlington where I felt mostly lost but as long as Susan was still navigating and there were agricultural fields around, I knew I might find some Long-billed Curlew, a treat on any day and a first-of-year bird for me if we found them. Eventually, at an irrigated field with standing water . . . success! 

Standing in the small pool of water near the road were some Long-billed Curlew and one Greater Yellowlegs. Then, we noticed that the alfalfa was crawling with LB Curlew; only their backs were showing above the green. But what an interesting bird to see fully displayed.
Long-billed Curlew
Greater Yellowlegs between two LBCU
Greater Yellowlegs

More Long-billed Curlew

What a memorable birding day!

[We stopped on the way home to check the birds at Lower River Road Ponds.]

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful adventure Babs! Love your Swainson's Hawks. I can't believe the numbers. Jackpot! Have a good weekend. Chris