The term ‘indicator species,’ or ‘bioindicator,’ seemed too impersonal and detached to describe the black hawk screeching kee-kee-KEE-KEE as it emerged from a wall of lush cottonwoods and took a low pass right over our heads. We must be close to a nest, we thought, and quickly backed away in the direction we had come. We watched the hawk circle back, take another loud pass, and come to roost in one of the tall creek-bottom hardwoods. When its calls quieted to an intermittent accusatory kek-kek-kek, we stopped and got out the binoculars and camera.
A life-list addition for me, coming from more northern climes than this. An indicator species, symbolizing the relative health of this restored riparian area, and a first for me, number 333 on a list I’d kept since I was eight years old. But neither of these references, these ideas in which we find some measure of our success, touched the rather distinguished bird we watched glide back into the foliage.
We, as a community, though, should feel a sense of accomplishment to catch a glimpse of a black hawk along the edge of Watson Woods, watching below for its next meal. While not necessarily rare, these birds of prey rely on the dwindling greenways along rivers and streams of the arid Southwest for their home. These riparian areas, along with the waterways that support them, are disappearing in our state. Development, water resource extraction, and other impacts have reduced riparian areas to a fraction of the landscape they used to occupy. Home to 90% of our wildlife species, riparian areas now make up less than 1% of our total land in Arizona. Riparian-dependent species, like the black hawk, are increasingly threatened and have come to rely on restoration and preservation efforts to maintain viable populations.
The simple act of setting aside these places, of using restraint and humility, and of doing the best we can to apply our capacities to restore landscapes to some sense of what the land can be, may be the measure of our presence. Not as an indicator of the health of an ecosystem, a parcel of woods, or pool of water, but as our grace and respect as residents of the places we make home.
Prescott Creeks has worked, under agreement with the City of Prescott, to manage, to restore and preserve, Watson Woods Riparian Preserve for twenty years. Through its protected status and the restoration efforts of Prescott Creeks and scores of volunteers, Watson Woods is once again home to the likes of great blue herons, wood ducks, bobcat, yellow warblers, and the black hawk that somehow affirms what we are capable of.
Your contributions will ensure that Watson Woods Riparian Preserve and other natural places in our community will remain for all to enjoy. Please take a moment to make a tax-deductible donation to Prescott Creeks today. Whether you simply pass by and notice the cottonwoods are greening up in the spring, or you take the time to spend part of a day exploring the wetlands and woods, you can take pride that you are a part of the work of keeping a bit of Prescott just a little wild.