Red Rock Audubon Society goes to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon

The end of September was a good time for Red Rock Audubon Society Members to go birding in Northern Arizona. Fall migration was underway in Flagstaff and our visit would coincide with participation in the annual fall Hawk Watch International’s annual raptor counting project at the Grand Canyon.

We began our 2-day trip with a visit to Frances Short Pond at Thorpe Park (a city park birding hotspot near downtown Flagstaff) and then to the Kachina Wetlands (a short drive just south of the city). Both locations were selected due to the proximity to the city and the level of bird sightings indicated on the eBird app.  

The locations proved to be good options. We spotted quite a number of different species of birds including Pygmy Nuthatches, Chipping Sparrows, various Warblers, Northern Flickers, Swainson’s Hawks, Redtail Hawks and Coopers Hawks. Group members intending to capture that great bird photo were especially delighted to witness many Stellar Jays and Western Blue Birds in various lighting conditions.

While strolling the trails at the Kachina Wetlands, we also encountered various wildlife including beautiful butterflies, dragon flies and even a Greater Short-horned Lizard! It was a good reminder to us to occasionally look down. You’ll never know what interesting wildlife you may encounter on the ground.

The second day of our trip was spent at Yaki Point on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and we participated in the Hawk Watch International Raptor Count.  This organization has been collecting data to help with the conservation of migrating raptors since 1991 at Yaki Point. The high concentration of raptors reported from this location led to its designation as an “Important Bird Area” by BirdLife International (a global conservation initiative).

The Hawk Watch International staff were terrific in helping our group learn how to spot raptors, id the birds and observe their migration behaviors.  As expected, one of the first observations were the local resident Turkey Vultures. Throughout the morning, the group also observed several species of raptors including Coopers Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and American Kestrels. Although we observed over 40 birds in just a few hours, the Hawk Watch Staff commented that it was a relatively slow morning! We all thought about how spectacular it would be to visit on a “busy” day!

Seeing the raptors in flight with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop made this Red Rock Audubon Society field trip an incredible bird-watching experience. This trip is an experience that is definitely worth repeating. I highly recommend it.

Mary Marquez Bell

Flagstaff/Grand Canyon Trip Leader