Hawk Watch at Ron Morriss Park, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Monday, March 21st
The first time I witnessed a Hawk Watch was many years ago when I lived in Virginia and was helping with banding migrating song birds at Kiptopeke - the end point of the Delmarva Peninsula on the “Eastern Shore” (shared by Delaware-Maryland-Virginia). As with the song birds who came together there because of the wide water separating the tip of the peninsula from Norfolk/Virginia Beach, the hawks did likewise. With my three young sons along, I didn’t take time then to join the birders on the high hill and become a sky-watcher for the migrating hawks but marveled at their ability to see birds coming from a long distance away. They knew by the wing pattern and shape of the bird which hawk would be coming into full view.

For years, the birds had been following that route and ever since the 23-mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1964, more birds have made that crossing safely. With the metal structures and artificial islands, song birds can stop along the way especially on a windy day.

It wasn’t until I visited a Hawk Watch platform in Texas that I began to grasp the magnitude of the monitoring and counting of migrating raptors…when hundreds or thousands of a single species passed by in a single day.  

So, when Desert Rivers Audubon offered a trip to the Tubac Hawk Watch south of Tucson a couple years ago, I quickly signed up and finally “did a hawk watch.”
While it may not get high numbers of raptors, it’s important to tally those that come up the Santa Cruz River and fly over Ron Morriss Park where the watch takes place. The main attraction for regular birders, of course, is the rarity we always hope to see.

Neither Jeanne nor Glenda had yet visited that spot, so we agreed to head for Tubac on the first day of summer, today. Would we see a Short-tailed Hawk?? We can always hope! Would it be a slow day? We hoped not. 
Weather was perfect when we arrived at 8 a.m. but it would grow toasty before we departed around noontime.

Peter Collins was setting up and had already seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly over. We set up folding chairs so we could take time to sit down every now and again over the next several hours that we planned to participate.

With birds chirping all around us, we decided to walk around the dog run and ball field area closer to the Santa Cruz River. 

As birders began to arrive, we returned to our chairs and used our front-row position to look south and east and west for potential migrating raptors.

First to appear was a Black Hawk.

Common Black Hawk (8:50 a.m. fly-over)

After that effort to photograph a raptor in flight, I decided it was certainly easier to take pictures of nearby songbirds.

Female Vermilion Flycatcher
Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Black Vulture [photo by Glenda]

Chipping Sparrows were abundant in the fields around us; through Glenda's spotting scope I got a great view of a gorgeous Lark Sparrow; a Say's Phoebe worked all morning fly-catching; a couple Broad-billed Hummingbirds showed up as did two male Phainopepla that perched on top of distant trees. The only sparrow that got close enough for a picture was this Vesper Sparrow foraging in the stones and grass below the restroom.

Hawk Watchers at Tubac's County Park; Peter Collins at right rear carrying clipboard
Distant Zone-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk overhead [photo by Glenda]

Very beautiful to watch were the local Gray Hawks that flew over but were not part of the migratory count.
Gray Hawk [photo by Glenda]

Another good sighting was this Swainson's Hawk that Glenda was able to photograph well.

The most unexpected bird that flew over was this Crested Caracara. With its white head, white tail and white wingtips, even I could find that one in the blue sky!

Widespread in Mexico, Central and South America, fairly common in Texas but uncommon in Florida and Arizona, I was thrilled to have this strange-looking falcon fly over. It's larger than a Red-tailed Hawk but smaller than Turkey and Black Vultures. The bird is an accomplished scavenger and hunter.

Crested Caracara
After 3 1/2 hours of Hawk Watching, we turned the car toward home with an hour's birding lay-over at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson with me looking, yet again, for the ever - and still - elusive Baltimore Oriole. Wrong time of day! 

Our 300-mile 5:00 to 5:00 birding adventure was exhilarating -- a good thing since the heat could have wiped us out.

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