Bird watching at Watson Woods and Lake

Visual reference

Jay's Bird Barn (now The Lookout)/Courtesy

Perched male phainopeplas appear to be all black and have a ragged crest.

Eric Moore

Eric Moore is the owner of The Lookout, formerly known as Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years.

If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at:

Last Friday I led a Jay's Bird Barn (now The Lookout)-sponsored bird walk to Watson Woods and Watson Lake. It was a productive morning in terms of the varieties of bird species observed - we saw more than 40 different species in less than three hours.

For me, the highlight was seeing males - of several different colorful species - in breeding plumage. No offense, ladies, but in the world of birds, males are the showy ones. We saw beautiful male summer tanager, male blue grosbeak and male Bullock's oriole. Better yet, we were able to get scope views of both the grosbeak and the oriole - wow!

While binoculars are great for bird watching - I usually don't go anywhere without mine - there is nothing like a good scope to observe birds up close and personal. The added magnification a scope offers provides unparalleled viewing, allowing you to see with clarity the finest details of the distinctive coloration pattern of each wild bird species.

Most bird watching binoculars have a fixed magnification, ranging anywhere between eight to 12 power. This means, depending upon the pair you are using, the object you are looking at will appear somewhere between eight and 12 times closer, and larger.

Spotting scopes, on the other hand, have variable magnification and provide significantly more magnification. On the low end of the magnification scale, spotting scopes usually start in the range of twenty to twenty-four power. Power and magnification are synonymous. With the variable magnification feature, you can zoom up to 60 or 70 power, depending upon the make and model.

After spending a considerable amount of time birding in the lush riparian habitat of Watson Woods, we went up onto the Peavine Trail and hiked out to a point where we could look over the lake. From this vantage point, we added a number of new bird species to our day list, including America white pelican, and an absolutely gorgeous male wood duck.

Last week, I suggested to readers of my column to be on the lookout for baby quail. The day after my column appeared, my wife saw a quail family in our yard with 12 babies!

The next day, I saw a different quail family in our yard with nine babies. Interestingly, there was no female associated with the family I saw - just a protective male taking good care of his brood. Baby quail are highly susceptible to predation, as they are not capable of flight.

On Saturday, there was a pair of ravens in the pine tree directly above the area where the male quail was watching over his brood. I was desperately hoping the ravens wouldn't see the baby quail, knowing they would readily eat the babies.

Fortunately, the ravens flew off and the baby quail were safe - for now. Baby quail face a slew of risks. Drowning is a big risk, so only put about a half-inch of water in your ground-level bird baths.

Other risks include skunks, raccoons, snakes, scrub-jays, bobcats and housecats. I strongly urge homeowners to keep their cats indoors to protect defenseless baby quail from a death that is totally preventable.

This Saturday, the Prescott Audubon Society will be hosting a free guided bird walk in Watson Woods at 7:30 a.m. Meet at the Peavine Trailhead parking area off of Sundog Ranch Road. No registration is required, and everyone is welcome.

Birding tip of the week:Be on the lookout for phainopeplas. Not familiar with phainopepla? Perched males appear to be all black and have a ragged crest. In flight they have bold white patches in their wings.

Females are light gray in color and their wing patches are less pronounced.

Until next week, Happy Birding!