February 2023

About our Cover Bird - Evening Grosbeak

  • The Evening Grosbeak is a songbird without a song—that is, it does not seem to use any complex sounds to attract a mate or defend its territory. It does have a small repertoire of simple calls, including sweet, piercing notes and burry chirps.
  • Evening Grosbeaks are irregular (or “irruptive”) winter migrants (see article below). Some years these spectacular finches show up at feeders far south of their normal winter range—providing a treat for backyard bird watchers.
  • With their enormous bills, Evening Grosbeaks can crush seeds that are too large for Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins to open. These smaller birds often seek out the grosbeaks and glean the food scraps they leave behind.
(Photo credit - Alice Madar)

Our Mission Statement:

To promote the understanding and appreciation of birds and other wildlife and the conservation and restoration of their natural habitats.

Most of the articles in this newsletter have been submitted by NAAS members.  Please email articles or notes to: NAAS Audubon.

President's Message

by Kay Hawklee

2023 is off to a great start for NAAS. Our new website went live just before the first of the year. We hope you are enjoying it and please email if you have any questions or problems.  

Goals for 2023 are coming to fruition quickly. We are expecting to announce an Affiliation with The Wildlife Society’s student club shortly. Watch our Announcement page for this exciting news. It is our hope that this collaboration will provide students with bird survey skills, under-and post-graduate projects, and many more win/wins for students, birds and NAAS.

In February, NAAS has two events for Arizona’s SciTech Festival for students. February 11th at Sedona Library and February 25th at Sedona Wetlands.  The “Fun Day” at Sedona Wetlands is for everyone! There will be booths and bird walks, a scope at the back pond trained on the colorful waterfowl and much more. Plan to attend this event and learn much more about NAAS’s successful partnership with the City of Sedona. Watch our calendar for more information on these events.

There is a joint Arizona/New Mexico Audubon Chapter Conference on April 23-25th in Silver City, New Mexico. I’m sure that collaboration and communication between Arizona and New Mexico Audubon Chapters will be very important; but the Field Trips led by local wildlife biologists might just upstage our indoor time. The nearby Gila Wilderness is one of my favorite places to bird. One trip to “The Gila”, I was lucky enough to see 7 Lucy’s Warblers in one bush before I ever got out of the truck!  It’s where I learned to sit at a river and just watch Yellow Warblers, Vermillion Flycatchers trilling and so many more fun species. It’s a jewel that should not be missed. Look for further information on our website as April approaches.

Don’t forget that The Verde Valley Bird Festival registration has begun. This year’s festival will be on April 27-30. The quicker you claim your spot on these fabulous trips the better chance you have of going where you want, with the leader of your choice. 

This is the first issue of the BlackHawk Watch that is being edited and published by our new Webmaster, Cindy Correll. We can’t thank her enough for volunteering her time and expertise to spread the word about NAAS’s mission!

Thank you for your membership and let’s make 2023 the best bird year ever!

Upcoming Activites

by Nanette Armstrong

What:  Bird Talk, Walk & Make

When:  Saturday Feb. 11, 2023 from 11:30 to 12:30

WhereA fun bird activity is planned for school-age students at the Sedona Public Library 3250 White Bear Road, Sedona, AZ.   

Price: Free!

Part of the Verde Valley Sci-Tech Festival 2023, Northern Arizona Audubon Society is partnering with the Youth Services Department of the Sedona Public Library to provide a birding activity. The librarian will showcase bird books the library has to offer for check-out, both fiction and non-fiction. She will read a few stories about birds and point out the field guides available too. Then, the students will be led on a bird walk around the library parking lot which is quite birdy! Topping off the hour, the students will make a little bird feeder to take home.  Loaner binoculars are available for the students. Parents may come along too. Start time is 11:30am. https://sciencevortex.org/vvscitechfest2023/ 

What: The Birds Who Watch You Back; Some Corvid Abilities. By Dr. Emily Faun Cory with "Shade" the Raven

When: Wednesday, February 22. Come at 5:30 for ‘cookies & conversation’ with the program beginning at 6:00. 

Where: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, Sedona, AZ.

Free to all ages. All invited! 

An overview of the abilities of Family Corvidae and the research with Shade the Common Raven and her wild kin.  Dr. Cory will delight us with her photos and research, with her inquisitive raven, Shade, in attendance. Shade is an African white-necked raven, Corbus alibicollis.  In Europe they are called white-named or white-collared ravens depending on the country.

Emily was born and raised in Northern Arizona, playing in the wilds while working with hot air balloons with her parents for the family business, Northern Light Balloon Expeditions. She attended University of Arizona, where she accidentally earned far too many degrees, which include a Professional Science Master's in Applied Bioscience, an M.A. in Psychology (studying raven intelligence), and a PhD in Psychology with a minor in Astrobiology. During these years she interned at Reid Park Zoo and at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. In addition, she volunteered for the Desert Museum for 14 years, in departments such as Raptor Free Flight and the Interpretive Animal Collection. She has traveled the world studying animal behavior, including Rwanda watching the mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park. She is now back home with the family business, plotting new research for the future.

What: Audubon Family Fun Day at Sedona Wetlands Preserve

When: Saturday February 25, 10:00 - 2:00

Where: 7500 AZ-89A, 86336

Free to all ages. All invited! 

This is part of the Verde Valley Sci-Tech Festival 2023. 

NAAS will have a variety of booths with a fun, interactive activity at each stop. Partnering with us will be Friends of the Verde River with Bio-Blitz, Yavapai County Flood Control with their watershed model/table, Michael Erb with his coloring book of local birds, and the Sedona Sewage Treatment Plant with tours of their facility. https://sciencevortex.org/vvscitechfest2023/ 

We’ll have an assortment of activities around the Sedona Wetlands Preserve. Of course we’ll have birding at the big platform with Rich Armstrong and his viewing scope. Some of the offerings include a bird identification game, an artist with a guided art project, and get your exercise in with a bird migration game and a scavenger hunt around the ponds. 

Want to volunteer? Contact Nanette at nancearmstrong@gmail.com 928-282-3675

Christmas Bird Count

- Sedona

by Rich Armstrong

The Sedona Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was December 15th. It was a freezing cold morning, but clear and no wind. 

There were 10 teams, 37 people on those teams, and 9 feeder watchers. Everyone considered it a fun day! 

We reported 121 species, 2nd highest ever (the record was 124 in 2017). There were also 4 "count week" birds, which means they were seen either 3 days before or 3 days after the count day, but not on the count day. 

The highlights were Winter Wren, Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Fox Sparrow, Pacific Wren, Williamson's Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Steller's Jay, Merlin, Louisiana Waterthrush, and the irruption year of Evening Grosbeaks, Cassin's Finches, and Mountain Bluebirds. 

Thanks to Rich and Nanette Armstrong for hosting a countdown dinner at their house that was enjoyed by about 20.


Winter Wren by John Coons

Williams Sapsucker by Toni Hansen

Cassin's Finch by Jonathan Montgomery

Evening Grosbeak by Jonathan Montgomery

Mountain Bluebird by Jonathan Montgomery

Fox Sparrow by Alice Madar

Golden Crowned Sparrow by Alice Madar

Most birders look at all birds, but always are hoping for rarities. And there are degrees of rareness. White-throated Sparrows are rare here in the Verde Valley, but they are observed in small numbers every year. This year was especially good as the Sedona CBC had a record 6 and they were also seen on both the Jerome & Camp Verde CBCs. The rarest bird found in last 2 months was a Winter Wren found by super birder John Coons in Oak Creek Valley. It takes more skill to tell Winter Wren from Pacific Wren than most of us have. Next a Varied Thrush found at Page Springs, only the 2nd reported in Yavapai County in last 11 years. It was seen by a few people but did not stay. The 3rd rarest bird was Eastern Bluebird and there were 2, 1st at Red Rock State park found and photographed by Tori Marshall & 2nd on Camp Verde CBC found by Linda Sporer. Neither was seen by others. This is only 2nd time in 11 years they were seen, but it makes one wonder if they are overlooked as people see many similar Western Bluebirds. Next rarest were Brown Thrasher & Louisiana Waterthrush both at Red Rock Crossing. A few years ago there was a Brown Thrasher that wintered at Bubbling Ponds seen by many, and a different year there was a  Louisiana Waterthrush  that wintered at Bubbling Ponds seen by many. This year both stayed at least a few days and were seen by quite a few. Next a Rufous-backed Robin was found in Cornville by Kay Hawklee and a Golden-crowned Sparrow found at Page Springs by Kay Hawklee. Neither cooperated at all, but the sparrow was refound by Janie Stewart on a field trip a month later. There have been maybe 5 or 6 reports of each of these in last 11 years. Downy Woodpecker is pretty rare and 1 was found in the VOC area by Jason Wilder. Harris' Sparrow is really quite rare. However, one has come back to same feeders at Dead Horse for quite a few years, and has been seen by a great many. Fox Sparrows & Pacific Wrens are not as rare as it seems since they can be somewhat secretive. But this winter there were sightings of the sparrow at Red Rock Crossing, Cornville, VOC, and 2 in Cottonwood, and 2 sightings of the wren in Oak Creek Valley. Black & White Warblers are Eastern birds, but seem to show up in the Verde Valley almost every year. This Winter it is nice to have 1 at the Bubbling Ponds. Williamson's Sapsuckers are a little rare here in the Valley and this winter there were at least 3 sightings. Snow geese are a little rare, but 2 at the Del Rio Pond essentially all year has been crazy. Then a sort of rare bird - a Northern Pygmy Owl was found at Red Rock Crossing. They nest both on the Mingus and in Oak Creek Canyon. Maybe they come down to the Verde Valley more than we think, but since most don't bird much at night we might not know. Finally there are irruption species that are rare most years, but common some winters - see my separate article.

There is nothing more exciting for a birder than finding a rare bird, especially if many others get to see it. So get out there and bird, and you could be the next person to find a rare bird!


Christmas Bird Count - Flagstaff

by Brian Hofstetter

The Flagstaff CBC (formally called the Mount Elden CBC) was conducted this year on December 29th. Five groups were led by Terry Blows, Barbara Phillips, Christina Vojta, John Wilson, and Brian Hofstetter. There were also two independent watchers. Although there was snow on the ground, all the birders got through it with positive attitudes in classic CBC style.

Overall, we observed 58 species. This year was the highest ever for Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay with a total of 22, beating the previous record by 4. It was also the highest ever for Mountain Bluebird (100) and one away from the all-time high for Evening Grosbeak (85). From my personal observations, Evening Grosbeaks seem to be doing well in this part of the state.

Domestic Mallards were recorded by Terry Blows for the first time on the CBC although they have undoubtedly been seen before without being recorded. This is something to note as it is good to keep track of domestic and wild Mallards in the field.

Other highlights of birds that are not always seen on CBCs include Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red Crossbill, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Merlin, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. In other nature highlights, we also had bobcat tracks as well as a live leafhopper which I was shocked to see so late into winter!

I am grateful to all participants and I hope they enjoyed this year’s CBC as much as I did!

Brian Hofstetter, Mount Elden CBC Compiler 2022-23



You just never know who you will meet on a NAAS Field Trip: “I worked on Tern Island.” “I did too.” This is what I heard while scanning through my scope at John Lake Playa last September. Two men who joined the I-40 “Migrant Trap” Field Trip had both worked as technicians doing bird research on Tern Island within French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, located approximately 490 miles northwest of Oahu. 

Dr. Jeremy Mizel and Mark Philippart are two experienced scientists who have a long history researching birds. But you’d never know it unless you listen closely as they are both extremely humble and introverted.

Seabird species surveyed at Tern Island include:

Sooty and White Terns; Brown and Black Noddies; Masked, Brown and Red-footed Boobies; Wedge-tailed and Christmas Shearwater; Tristram's Storm-Petrel; Black-footed and Laysan Albatross; Great Frigatebird and Red-tailed Tropicbird.

Mark tells about how he learned of Tern Island jobs:  

"I first heard about Tern Island while volunteering on the Hawaiian Crow recovery project in early 1996.  One of the biologists I worked with had been there on a short visit and raved about how wonderful it was.  The following year, I had a 2-month break between seasonal field jobs and would have to pass through Honolulu on my way to Guam, so I thought why not try to spend that time on Tern Island? I contacted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife office and found out that usually they only accepted volunteers for 6-month stints, but lucky for me, there was a volunteer who needed to leave early in order to take over a job on Laysan Island.  I booked my flight to Guam with a 2+ month layover in Honolulu, and after a couple days in the big city, I was on the single-prop plane flight to Tern Island in the French Frigate Shoals... (This was February 1997.)"

As a volunteer, Mark noted that the job is to help the refuge manager with various tasks around the island.  Which included maintenance/repair of facilities, checking for sea turtles washed over the sea wall, data entry, long term monitoring of some of the breeding seabirds, etc.  Mark took over for the volunteer responsible for monitoring White Terns & Red-tailed Tropicbirds. 

Jeremy got out of undergrad and wanted to work outdoors. His hard work and dedication to birds has allowed him that opportunity - in spades. He’s worked outdoors in many, many states on numerous projects; but realized that to go deeper into helping birds, he had to get more degrees. 

His story about working on Tern Island described flying in on a four-seater plane and landing on a 900-meter long airstrip with seabirds nesting to the sides. Researchers stayed in Coast Guard barracks. He experienced 25’ high waves that covered half of the island. In later years, the barracks were severely damaged by a storm bigger than the one Jeremy experienced.

In an interview, Jeremy spoke of the ease and difficulty of banding adult albatrosses. Easy because there have no predators and difficult because it takes two people to curl up their wings and with a wingspan over six feet, you can understand the physical challenge.  According to Jeremy, the mark-recapture study of the two albatross species is the most intensive part of the monitoring. This allowed them to monitor survival and other demographic parameters. 

Imagine meeting folks who saw hundreds of thousands of seabirds on a tiny island with an airstrip created during WWII, who were both responsible for monitoring the nesting of the same two species: White Terns & Red-tailed Tropicbirds. It can happen if you attend a NAAS Field Trip!

Look for more upcoming articles on these and other experienced scientists associated with NAAS whose love of birds is exemplified in their work.

Monarch Waystation at Page Springs

Fish Hatchery Visitor Center

by Denise Gibbs

More gardening volunteers and substitute volunteers are needed for 2023! Training and hands-on instruction provided. If interested, please contact garden coordinator Denise Gibbs at Monarchtagger@gmail.com.


Volunteer gardeners L to R:  Paula Burns, Susan Meyer, Colleen Peck, Pay Neyman (not shown are Tricia Egger, Becky Hardy, Rob Gibbs, and Denise Gibbs).


The NAAS-sponsored Monarch Waystation/Pollinator Garden was a busy place this past year!  Not only were there 9 volunteer gardeners who cared for the garden, but butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds were frequent visitors and residents.  Monarch, Queen, and Milkweed tussock moth caterpillars munched on the leaves of 5 native milkweed species, while dozens of other pollinator species sipped nectar and collected pollen. And, of course— the visiting public enjoyed watching all the action and learning about our native pollinators and their associations with Arizona’s native plants.

The success of the garden is a result of the dedication, expertise, and energy of the volunteer gardeners.  This year’s volunteers were:  Paula Burns, Susan Meyer, Pat Neyman, Colleen Peck, Becky Hardy, Tricia Egger, Wanda Warren, Rob Gibbs, and Denise Gibbs.  

Volunteer gardeners commit to working in the garden for 2 hours at least one Friday per month from March to November, selecting dates that fit their schedules.  Some prefer to work alone to enjoy the sounds of flowing water and birds singing, while some appreciate the company other gardeners. A typical volunteer session may include planting, weeding, pruning, and watering, with an occasional break to chat with and educate visitors.  Volunteers frequently stay longer to walk the trails and watch birds. Each week, the gardener on duty sends out a group email with the highlights of what they saw in the garden that day, so everyone stays updated. Gardeners may also choose to attend social get-togethers and butterfly training sessions. A final volunteer work session in November to prepare the garden for winter is attended by all volunteers.

Camp Verde Library Pollinator

and Learning Garden Project

By Jenny Barnes

Many of us remember Dena Greenwood, who was a much-beloved educator in Northern Arizona, residing in the Verde Valley.  She left us far too early in June of 2018. As an expression of appreciation and memorialization, NAAS members and other dear friends gave donations that created the Greenwood Fund. This fund recognized Dena’s tireless andloving commitment to birds, the birding community and the preservation of the natural world of Northern Arizona.

Randy Miller, Dena’s beloved husband, and friend Brent Bitz have decided that the balance of the Greenwood Fund will be donated to help support a new Camp Verde Library Pollinator and Learning Garden project.  The funds are being sent to Friends of the Verde River and they will pass on the money as part of their River Friendly Living program. So, the pollinator garden will be the result of a three-way partnership between Camp Verde Community Library, Friends of the Verde River, and Northern Arizona Audubon Society.

According to Kathy Hellman, Camp Verde Community Library Director, the interactive garden will demonstrate water conservation techniques, the value of pollinators, and techniques for successful and sustainable greenspaces in the Verde Valley. 

The goals of the garden are to: 

  • Implement and demonstrate the capture and use of rainwater.

  • Provide and encourage hands-on learning opportunities.

  • Turn a neglected area of library grounds into a beautiful garden space (on the east side of the Camp Verde Community Library adjacent to the Black Bridge) that is ADA-accessible

The project is a multiyear process of three phases: planning, implementation, and on-going maintenance and use, says Kathy Hellman. This program will help give information about what really thrives in the various microclimates of the Verde Valley, especially for newcomers. A big goal of the pollinator garden is to showcase and provide hands-on experience with a variety of solutions that are relevant to the Verde Valley. For example, the garden will provide an opportunity to observe pollinators (such as butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and others) and use xeriscaping. This type of landscaping has plants that require minimal water usage, especially native plants adapted to arid environments.

And learning gardens promote hands on interactive learning. Plants, insects, birds, and weather all become part of the learning process to understand the natural growth of plants and the impact that rain, drought, and other natural forces have on plant life. Dena would love knowing that water conservation techniques and the value of pollinators for the health of gardens are being taught. She would very much appreciate that people of all ages are being taught harvesting techniques for successful and sustainable greenspaces in the Verde Valley. The pollinator and learning garden will give NAAS another opportunity to provide butterfly and birding education.  NAAS volunteers maintain a Monarch Butterfly Waystation at Page Springs Fish Hatchery, so the chapter already has valuable experience with pollinator gardens that can be passed on.

Photo Credit - Eric Gofreed

An Irruption Year

by Rich Armstrong

Northern birds usually stay north, but some years quite a few of them travel south. With a change in the density of the population to an unusual place, we call that an irruption. 

The irruption poster bird is the Snowy Owl. When vole populations crash, the owl’s main food, Snowy Owls can be all over the northern United States, but of course that does not reach Arizona.

Irruption species that sometimes come to the Verde Valley are Evening Grosbeaks, Cassin's Finches, Pine Siskin, and Red Crossbills. The theory is that some years their northern food sources are scarce and they have to go further south in search of food.

This year has been an irruption year for all 4 of these, and very exciting for us. I don't think Pinyon Jays, Steller's Jays, Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Mountain Bluebirds really count as irruption species, but some winters there are more at lower elevations than other years. This can be exciting as well. So enjoy all the Evening Grosbeaks, Cassin's Finches, and Red Crossbills now, since there will likely not be any next winter.


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