By Alan Dean Foster
We’ve lived in Prescott for 36 years and I still take the local nature for granted. It’s amazing how downright blasé you can become over time about such things. It’s usually when we have visitors from out of town, often from metropolitan areas where the only real wildlife tends to hang around liquor stores, that I realize how fortunate we are, and how each of us really needs to take time from work and commuting and the damn TV and the addictive internet to get out and have a look around town for something besides the weekly arts and crafts festival.
We’re doubly fortunate because our house backs onto one of the several major creeks that run through town. That gives us access not only to more wildlife but to a greater variety of visitors, as critters that tend to hang out elsewhere come down for the occasional drink. There’s the rare bobcat, and deer, and skunks. We had a bear once, a long time ago, and of course coyotes and javelinas are a steady presence. But to get a real feel for Prescott city wildlife you have to pay attention to the birds.
I’m not going to turn this into a birdwatcher column. For one thing, there are better local resources available and for another, I’d probably get every subspecies wrong. But as someone who originally moved here from Los Angeles, I can’t help being endlessly fascinated by the diversity of our avian regulars.
There’s a telephone pole on the property where red-tailed hawks nest every year. We can virtually predict the onset of spring when they start showing up to circle over the creek and start hunting. The ravens annoy the heck out of them but they persist. Then there’s the young bald eagle that seems to have made a dead tree out at Willow Lake its principle hunting spot. I know they nest out at Lynx Lake and elsewhere, but there’s something about seeing a bald eagle in what is essentially an urban environment that gives one hope for the future of the planet. Traffic whizzes past on Willow Lake road and this huge raptor just sits there, ignoring the steady flow of cars while keeping a patient lookout for shallow-swimming fish. Compared to seeing the same bird in, say, coastal Alaska, the experience is almost surreal.
In the shallows dwell the herons. Tall, elegant birds, the Fred Astaire of the local bird world, they pick their way with stately, measured grace through the still waters, ever on the lookout for anything moving and edible.
Because they’re full, Willow and Watson lakes are swarming with birds right now. More ducks than Disney, harriers sweeping low over the marshlands patrolling for rodents, our ever-present coots, geese, swans, and much more. If you block out the nearby traffic you can imagine yourself in the wilderness, yet this profusion of winged life lies only a short drive from the city center. Brewer’s blackbirds haunt our grocery store parking lots, looking for leftovers, and there are enough sarcastic ravens on patrol to please the most devoted Poe fan (no, not the Star Wars variety).
In the summer, we trade wintering birds for hummingbirds. What other city’s avian population switches on such a regular, predictable basis from winter to tropical? Right now at the house we have white-crowned sparrows and juncos and the ever-resident blue jays, canyon and spotted-towhees, and of course quail. Flickers make a home in the roof of the garage. Great Horned Owls entertain us at night. Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks will be showing up soon, and robins and woodpeckers and a resident small cloud of goldfinches. The first doves just arrived. The wrens and nuthatches will be checking out the smaller rentals. Saw a green-headed grosbeak last year; first one ever on the property.
Then there’s the Crissal Thrasher. Except for its coloring, it looks like an exotic that would be more at home in Central or South America. It has a hard time with the seed feeders, but it manages well enough. I love the names given to unusual birds, even if the best aren’t bestowed on our common Prescott residents.
There’s no Shining Sunbeam (an Ecuadorian hummingbird) here, or Spangled Cotinga (Ecuador again), but I’ll settle for a daily visit from a Crissal Thrasher in between searching the internet and picking up the groceries.
Sometimes, we here in Prescott don’t realize how lucky we are. Remember that the next time you have to clean off the car.
Alan Dean Foster is author of more than 120 books, visitor to more than 100 countries, and still frustrated by the human species. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster.Com.