Bird Lady Blog

October 8, 2009

Raptuous Raptors

Filed under: Munds Park Birding,Raptors — Munds Park Birding @ 4:08 am

ospreyI ended post #3 with the promise that I would have more information about fall migration.  Less than a two-hour drive from Munds Park is the site of one of two Arizona Raptor Migration Projects.  Raptor is another word for “bird of prey” such as hawks, eagles, and owls.  Hawk Watch International monitors birds of prey crossing the Grand Canyon each year at two different points from August 27th through the end of October.  The first time I went to view the migration was seven years ago.  After a breakfast of Belgium waffles at the El Tovar Lodge, I headed over to Lipin Point to join ornithologists who counted these magnificent birds soaring through the InterMountain Flyway down from Canada and the northern states to their wintering grounds.  I saw my first Peregrine Falcon at Lipin Point and learned the difference between a Coopers Hawk and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.  It is quite a sight to behold, standing at eye level with the hawks, falcons, and eagles that come soaring across the vast expanse of the Canyon to land on the south side – all with the intent of resting before continuing on with their migration.

 For those of you who are not birders, you might want to take a cue from my husband.  While I was birding at the Hawk Watch, he was on the tram sightseeing all the way to the western end of the Grand Canyon and then back again to the El Tovar Lodge.  On the El Tovar patio, while enjoying a martini, he was privileged to see several California Condors soaring overhead, close enough so that he could read the numbers that were attached as identifiers on their wings.  Even he, a non-birder, was impressed.

There are several raptors at Munds Park, one of the most common being the Red Tailed Hawk.  The story goes that if you see a hawk and are unclear about what kind it is, just say “Red Tailed” and you will be right 90% of the time, no matter where you are in the U.S.  The Red Tailed Hawk is a hawk of open country, so you will most likely see it soaring above the golf course or an open meadow or perched on an electric pole along the road.  Like its name, a key identifier of this hawk is its red tail.  Probably the most famous Red-Tailed Hawk in the country is one named “Pale Male”, who took up residence on a building on 5th Avenue across from New York City’s Central Park.  He has had several mates over the years and was responsible for siring over 26 chicks over nearly a decade.  An entire documentary was produced about Pale Male, and the film won “Best of Festival 2009” at the International Wildlife Film Festival.  If you don’t believe me, “google” Pale Male for yourself and enjoy the information.

Another raptor found in Munds Park is the Osprey.  For those of you who frequent Lake Odell, you may have seen or heard it and its offspring.  Ospreys have nested at Lake Odell for many years.  This bird has a wing span of up to six feet, and it is predominantly brown on top, with white undersides, and a black eye patch.  The Osprey is unusual in that it is a single species that occurs nearly worldwide, found on all continents except Antarctica.  Ninety-nine percent of the Osprey’s diet is fish, and after it catches a fish, it turns it head-first to reduce the drag as it flies.  The Ospreys at Munds Park may fly to California or South America for the winter.  I’ve seen wintering Osprey above the golf course at Arizona Country Club (56th Street and Thomas in Phoenix) or Tempe Town Lake (Scottsdale Road and Rio Solado Parkway), so maybe those birds have decided the grass in not always greener in South America. 

And then there is the occasional sighting of the Bald Eagle in Munds Park.  The Bald Eagle is the only eagle unique to North America and, of course, our National Bird, beating out the Turkey as proposed by Benjamin Franklin.  With its striking dark body and white head, a fully mature Bald Eagle is hard to miss.  Look for them in the fall or late winter soaring high overhead or basking at the top of a dead tree to catch the warmth of the sun.  The Bald Eagle eats primarily dead or dying fish.  It has very few enemies, especially as it is now protected from humans like other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The first Bald Eagle I saw was on the very last hole of a 6-day, 6-round golfing trip in British Columbia.  As I readied for my 3rd shot, approaching the green with an 8-iron, low and behold above the green soared a Vancouver resident Bald Eagle.  Even the Canadians we golfed with, who had seen many a Bald Eagle, got excited because it was a “lifer” for me.  Since then I’ve spotted a Bald Eagle around Munds Park twice, and both times were as thrilling.

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