Migration in Phoenix

The Sonoran desert doesn’t seem a likely migratory path. After all, the desert is hot and bare, doesn’t seem like a food source, much less a water source. That was true before the Valley became a resort area and we built so many golf courses that, from the air, we must look like the land of 1,000 water traps.

10517_1046718704507_1721871691_97585_316300_nAnd birds do migrate through the Sonoran. In the fall, there are seed pods, insects, small mammals for food. Last night I heard a Great Horned Owl. They are year-round residents, but there seem to be more of them in the fall.

My friend Betty lives next to the Aqua Fria River, not too far from the Gila River. Both of the water ways are often dusty rather than wet, but there are ponds that dot around them. The Gila River is the main waterway that egrets use to migrate from Northern states to Mexico.

Before Betty knew that, she saw proof. She came out of her house to see about a dozen or so sitting in her tall trees. When she sent me the photograph, I had to laugh. I think of long-legged birds stalking around water, not sitting in trees. Yet there they were–big, tall, long-legged–and sitting in the tree tops.

In the next few weeks, she’ll see a lot more–sandhill cranes travel through Wilcox, hummingbirds travel in such numbers that you often hear the metallic whir of their wings before you see them. Small, colorful seed eaters, big swooping hawks all appear, use the bird bath, and continue on. Many birds fly at night, so while we are dreaming, they are overhead, honking. Yep, Canada geese (not Canadian geese, please, we aren’t taking citizenship), those big noisy birds with the chin-strap marking, fly at night, at heights that keep pilots in jetliners awake and worried.

It’s fall in Arizona, and the very mark of autumn that I thought I left back East–bird migration–is here, too. I’m happy watching the birds I don’t recognize travel through.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer an naturalist who lives in Phoenix.


3 thoughts on “Migration in Phoenix

  1. Quinn….in what is today a deep freeze here in Missoula, I am still watching as the migratory birds continue to travel the flyway that is just two blocks north of my little bungalow. Today’s clear bright blue skies are the perfect background for the groups that are making their journey to warmer climes…my yearlong delight is in discovering the visitors at my feeders who are not native to this place and are traveling through. After now three years of retirement here I know many by their songs before I can see them…the large herons, osprey, eagles, hawks and sandhills are quite a show in the sky, often just appearing as silhouettes. What a treat it must have been to see that egret tree in Arizona – a scene that I saw often in the coastal waters of Humboldt County, California where I worked the last 14 years of that piece of my journey.
    Birds, always a huge piece of the story of place for me. They find their way into poems and journal notes, in pieces of artwork and sculpture. Their gestures and mannerisms callingn out to me every day.


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