Important Bird Area
Did you know that Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is part of the Watson and Willow Lakes Important Bird Area (IBA)? An IBA is a site that is small enough to be entirely conserved and differ in its character, habitat, or ornithological importance from the surrounding habitat. In the United States the Program is administered by the National Audubon Society. Prescott Creeks has been working together with the Prescott Audubon Society since ~2008 to monitor the birds at the Preserve. All-volunteer teams survey the Preserve three times each year to create a record of which birds are present and their approximate numbers. In the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve Showcase Video, Karen O’Neil (a member of both Prescott Audubon and Prescott Creeks) says of the surveys: ‘The whole point is to know which birds are there. It’s just as important to keep common birds common as it is to find rare birds. We survey to make sure these birds are around in good numbers.’ Monitoring results from the IBA studies are used by Prescott Creeks in management decisions, restoration planning, educational programming, and direct bird conservation efforts
The American Kestrel Nest Box Program is one such conservation project that has been ongoing for six years in coordination with Prescott Audubon and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Data shows that American Kestrels are experiencing long-term population declines in much of North America. There are multiple nest boxes deployed to provide nesting locations for the American Kestrels, in wetland and riparian habitats in the Preserve and surrounding areas. Kestrels rely on cavities in older trees, and nest boxes, to raise their young. Initial success had multiple boxes in the Preserve occupied and fledging offspring. Since then the boxes have largely been unoccupied. Environmental conditions over the last few years have made it difficult for Kestrels to make a living – too dry and not enough food, so they’ve been relatively scarce in the Preserve. However, we got very excited during the August IBA survey when a male/female pair were observed in the Preserve. Two rehabilitated Kestrels were also released there in the late summer. We are hopeful that they will stick around and use one of the nest boxes provided by the program. Stay tuned for updates.
Common Black Hawks
After a very dry winter and spring this year, we were surprised to find that the Common Black Hawks had built a new nest in the Preserve (after a pair of Great Horned Owls occupied the hawks previous nest). Common Black Hawks are neotropical migrants and “wildlife of special concern” in Arizona with only about 250 pairs known to be in the Southwestern United States. They have been regular migrants to the Preserve since about 2010 but had not nested for the last few years – presumably for similar reasons as described above for the American Kestrels. Then we found the pair constructing a new nest! Periodic observation of the nest from a safe and discrete distance (to avoid disturbing the birds) showed a hawk consistently sitting on the nest – indicating an egg was present in the nest. We believe the chick hatched just before the hottest week of the year! (What a tough start to life!) An interesting observation was and adult Common Black Hawk hunting in an open area and catching a pocket gopher. This is notable because Common Black Hawks have a diet consisting of primarily small creatures found in water (mostly fish, frogs, tadpoles). The chick was off the nest by the end of July. We’ll watch again next year, but they may pick a new nest sight again next year as they’ve had at least 4 nest locations in the last 12 years.
This summer we observed the first special status (Threatened) species since completion of the ecological restoration work conducted between 2008 and 2013. This can be viewed as an indicator of project success! Ongoing monitoring of the IBA and specific surveys for the species will indicate if this was a one-time occurrence, or if the species has found the Preserve suitable for nesting.
While birdwatching is an accessible and excellent way to be outdoors and connecting with nature, the American Birding Association, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Audubon each offer excellent guidelines for ethically observing birds. A commonality of each source’s guidance is to keep your distance and avoid causing unnecessary disturbance or stress to the birds you are attempting to observe.
Long lenses and good equipment (like what you can find at Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott) can help you get the awesome view or shot!