August 4, 2016
Cliff Swallows gathering mud
Cliff Swallows gathering mud
Birders tend to forget, especially as the sauna days of June dance to the drumbeat of global warming, that birds do their own thing, and perhaps their most important thing is to react to changes in the amount of daylight as seasons progress, regardless of weather and temperatures.  Jay Miller, a keen observer of the birdlife on his acre of land in urban Mesa, reports his last spring migrant was a Blue Grosbeak on June 18, followed six days later, on June 24, by his first fall migrants, a group of Cliff Swallows.

The high for June 18 was 111, the weather hot, dry, and sunny.  The high on June 24 was 109, the weather hot, dry, and sunny.  In between, near the summer solstice, the Valley topped out at 118.  Birds, unlike birders, were still moving in the heat.  Jay’s observations from his one acre have been made for well over a decade, his “yard” list is over 190, the Blue Grosbeak was #98 for the calendar year.  There is much to be said for the constancy of Jay’s observations and for the consistency of avian migration patterns which are seasonal and predictable.  Nonetheless, surprises abound.

Comings and goings as the seasons change have been much in Arizona birding news recently because three rarities, let’s call them pioneers, have shown up in southeastern Arizona this year and nested.  The Arizona birding hotline has exploded with opinions and debate about whether these pioneers have appeared in Arizona as the result of climate change.  What’s that old expression about opinions and body parts?  Everyone has one, but you won’t see mine here today.  This is about the birds that keep doing what they do regardless of how we impact their world.

Here in the Southwest it often happens that shorebirds begin their southern migration before songbirds have finished going north.  Monsoon season is prime time to begin checking local greenbelts and sewage ponds even as the calendar says fall won’t bring us heat/humidity relief for two more months.  Back in the day “monsoon season” began when the average daily dew point was at 55 or higher for three consecutive days?  That was prior to 2008 when the government “set” the monsoon on the calendar as beginning on June 15 and ending on September 30.  Tell that to the birds as they wing their beaks at government pronouncements while going about their business of surviving.

On our yard list, which languishes at a meager 66, we’ve never recorded a migrant in the month of June.  We’ve had warblers in May and grosbeaks in July, presumably the former northbound, the latter moving south, but we don’t know for sure.  We were delighted by both.  Jay reports an American Robin in his yard on July 11!  Now there’s your anomaly!  Was it coming or going?  Or stranger still, perhaps oversummering.  Maybe metro Phoenix is the new San Diego for the avian set.

Whatever you believe about climate change, you know it’s been going on since climate became a concept in the human brain.  Ancients believed swallows withstood winter by hibernating in the mud beneath the ponds where they were observed collecting nesting material.  We know a little more about migration now, but certainly not everything.  Enjoy what we have while we still have it, and do whatever you think best to continue having it.  Words to bird by.