Watson Lake and Riparian Preserve, Yavapai, Arizona

Friday, December 18th:
Since I live year-round in the Phoenix valley, my blood thins with summer temperatures that reach as high as 117° (hottest day this summer--August 17th).
This past week, the mercury has dived to freezing and it feels like I'll never warm up. So, why would I head to the high country of Prescott today? You know the answer: A BIRD! 

When I lived in Virginia, I spent many winter days at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge with thousands of Snow Geese and hundreds of Whistling Swans whose voices and elegant bodies I remember well. Today, my target was a Tundra Swan (the American Birding Association's new name for the same Whistling Swan I saw in VA).  I would be thrilled to find even one in Arizona where it had been reported at Watson Lake.

High country (5,400') is cold country. When I arrived at 7:30 a.m., it was 26°F with snow on the ground. By the time I switched to my big heavy coat, tucked my camera inside it, put my spotting scope together and headed out, it was almost 8 a.m., but still the same temp!

Snow beside the rail-to-trail pathway
Except for Common Ravens overhead and the two House Sparrows that flushed from the eaves of the restroom building, birds were very quiet. No wind was a big help and I was dressed warmly. Yet all the backwater inlets coming toward the Peavine Trail were frozen over - no ducks - where, on my last visit, there were many.

Peavine Trail this morning
A juvenile Northern Harrier showed up, perched a few times and then settled on a snag in the distance - a bit far for a good photo.

Next bird I saw was even bigger - an American White Pelican. There's no mistaking that bird and I was just too cold to fuss with a photo. Two pair of fingered gloves made my hands a bit clumsy and I didn't want to open my jacket to pull the camera.

But as soon as I reached my target - the TUNDRA SWAN - my blood quickened. I found it in the scope but left the scope to take a path closer to the lake with the hope of decent photos of this graceful bird that pleases me so much.

Tundra Swan (above and below)

Canvasback front left of preening Tundra Swan

The lake was full of ducks and geese that I took time to jot down in my field notebook. Then I turned back on the Peavine to take the trail through the riparian area with the hope of seeing the Wood Ducks that live there. The trail through that area was mostly powder snow but not over my shoes. Snow on a later trail there was well packed down with previous footsteps.

Wood Duck pond - frozen over

After leaving this spot, I drove to the overlook of the same lake but had definitely made the best choice by starting on the trail where I got reasonable photos of the Tundra Swan.

With more birding on the horizon, I chose to return home and save a thorough birding of  other Prescott Lakes for a warmer day. Am I glad I went?  You betcha!!

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  1. Yes! COLD temps! I actually felt my bones ache up there! The altitude and freezing temps put my body into shock. But I very much prefer the cold over our crazy heat. Glad you found the Swan and so glad to have gotten the chance to go birding with you yesterday! Happy Sunday!

  2. Yes! I enjoyed our birding together yesterday as well. Happy house cleaning! i've skipped the Trumpeter trip fortunately as it looks like they've left. Hope it worked for Susan, though, as it vaulted her into first place!