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The Colors of October

October 23, 2009

Great Horned Owl

It’s October, and even here on the Mexican border a change is in the air. The mornings are cool, and traces of fall color dot the hillsides. The foliage show begins with the yellows of Western Coral Bean and Ocotillo in the deserts and foothills, Quaking Aspens flanking the mountain peaks, and Fremont Cottonwoods along the San Pedro River. The best is yet to come as Bigtooth Maples and Arizona Sycamores trace ribbons of crimson and copper down the mountain canyons between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Migrating birds also mark the changing seasons. Hummingbird activity around feeders has been spectacular this fall, but this is not necessarily good news. It’s the result of one of the driest “monsoons” on record–a stop-and-start rainy season during a time when southeastern Arizona normally receives 70% of its annual precipitation. Many annual wildflowers were unable to survive the dry spells, including species that, in a normal year, fuel the southward migration of hummingbirds. With their preferred flowers unusually scarce, the hummers swarmed feeders in numbers not seen for many years. Hopefully the rains in Mexico will provide better conditions as they continue their migration.

Our regular bird monitoring projects also keep our fingers on the pulse of the seasons. Our first “snowbirds,” Green-tailed Towhees and White-crowned Sparrows, moved in as Wilson’s Warblers, Lazuli Buntings, and Calliope Hummingbirds were moving out. Swainson’s Hawks are a rare sight now; most are on their way to Argentina, to be replaced by Northern Harriers and Ferruginous Hawks. The few hundred Sandhill Cranes that have arrived in the Sulphur Springs Valley will be followed by thousands more over the next few weeks and the eagles that will hunt them…but that’s a story for another post.

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