2016 Arizona Raptor Tour Report

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Highlights of Bill Clark’s Arizona Raptor Workshop

12-20 March 2016

by Bill Clark

Common Black Hawk, adult by Sergio Seipke
Flocks of Common Black Hawks were seen every day at the hawkwatch.
Photo by Sergio Seipke

The main focus of this tour is to observe the unique migration of Common Black Hawks at Tubac, Arizona. We had five participants on this tour, two from England and three from Virginia. At the hawkwatch we had nice flights of adult Common Black Hawks migrating on six mornings. Some were close overhead and we often saw up to eight of them in one thermal. Also passing on migration were Merlins, Northern Harriers, and one Swainson’s Hawk, as well as many Turkey Vultures. Several times, we had migrating Peregrines pass right overhead. We also were treated to multiple sightings of Zone-tailed and Gray Hawks. Gray and Cooper’s Hawks performed display flights on several mornings. We also had local Turkey and Black Vultures flying by periodically. We saw the local Red-tailed Hawks and local Kestrel pair almost all the time. One adult Harlan’s Hawk passed high overhead. We had one or more Sharp-shinned Hawks almost every day, allowing us to compare them to the resident Cooper’s Hawks. We also had distant Golden Eagles several times.

Zone-tailed Hawk, juvenile by Sergio Seipke
Zone-tailed Hawk can be quite similar in flight to Turkey Vulture. This similarity is even more marked when the Zone-tail is a juvenile. They lack the dark trailing edge of the wings and the tail appears plain. But the shape of the head can be a useful identification trait: a big, round head indicates a zone-tail, whereas a pointed head is the mark of the vulture.
Photo by Sergio Seipke

A pair of Common Ravens was building a nest in a nearby cottonwood and was present much of the time, flying in with bits of cotton and other materials in the beaks. We saw flocks of distant Chihuahuan Ravens soaring in the distance. We had a variety of passerines to keep us occupied when no raptors were visible. One late afternoon we returned to the count site to observe raptors setting down. We saw two Common Black Hawks descend into the cottonwood trees.

Gray Hawk, adult by Sergio Seipke
We were delighted to see local pairs of Gray Hawk displaying.
Photo by Sergio Seipke

We went to other raptor areas after lunch. The first day after lunch we visited the Paton’s hummingbird feeders and then traveled to the San Rafael grasslands. Here we saw Kestrels, Northern Harriers, and Red-tailed Hawks. The second day we went to the Santa Cruz flats, an agricultural area, where we saw several Crested Caracaras and six Burrowing Owls. We had some wintering Red-tails, including one rufous-morph adult. We ended the day seeing briefly a dark-morph Harlan’s Hawk, which flushed as we drove by.

Cooper's Hawk, juvenile by Sergio Seipke
Cooper’s Hawks were seen every day at the hawkwatch.
Photo by Sergio Seipke

We were told of a partial albino Red-tailed Hawk in Green Valley. We missed it at first, but did see it early one morning before going to Tubac. It was perched in a bare tree on a golf course some distance from the street. But we could see it well, especially through the telescope. A normally plumaged adult Red-tail flew in and joined it. Soon thereafter they copulated, so we knew that the white one was a female. We returned one day after lunch and had long looks at both adults flying and doing display flights. Wow!

Red-tailed Hawk, adult female partial albino by 

Bill Clark
Partial albino, adult female Red-tailed Hawk. What a stunning bird!
Photo by Bill Clark

Several mornings after we left Tubac, we checked a sewage pond and added some ducks and other birds to our list. One afternoon we went to look at Harris’s and Cooper’s Hawks breeding in Tucson and saw both. This after a stop at the Tucson Audubon book shop.

Harris's Hawk, adult by Sergio Seipke
Harris’s Hawks breed in urban Tucson.
Photo by Sergio Seipke

We took an all-day trip to the Sulphur Springs Valley. We had great success in seeing Ferruginous Hawks, including an adult and a juvenile flying directly overhead, to the delight of the photographers. We also saw an adult Peregrine capture a meadowlark and then watched it eat it on the crossbar of a telephone pole. We saw two Merlins and one dark Harlan’s Hawks, as well as many Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, and Northern Harriers. We stopped after lunch at the Willcox sewage pond and added several species to our list. Here we also saw a distant adult Golden Eagle soaring and hunting, later joined by another adult. We saw well a juvenile rufous-morph Red-tailed Hawk that I had banded the Friday before the tour began. It was in the same place. We ended the day at Whitewater Draw wildlife area, where we had some lingering cranes and other birds.

Ferruginous Hawk, adult by Sergio Seipke
Sulphur Springs Valley is great Ferruginous Hawk country!
Photo by Sergio Seipke

Our last day we drove to Miller Canyon after lunch and looked for the Northern Goshawk pair nesting there. We had long looks at the male, who was distant enough to not be upset by our presence but close enough for good looks. We ended the day at the Beaty’s hummingbird feeders.

All in all it was a great trip with a congenial group.

2016 Arizona Group Shot

Visit our Arizona Raptor Tour page to learn more about current and future editions of this raptour.

Word of mouth

"Every day of the trip offered varied avian rewards but the immensity of the migration on the peak days was the highlight of the trip and an experience beyond description.​"

Frank Maher, USA

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