Northern Harrier looking for breakfast at Historic Canoa Ranch in the middle Santa Cruz Valley to the west of the lake and cienega. This view is looking east toward the Santa Cruz River.
Historic Canoa Ranch comprises approximately 4,800 acres of permanent open space and wildlife habitat, originally the southern end of the 500,000 acre Manning homestead and ranch. It is being restored with the help of the Pima County 2004 Historic Preservation Bond Program approved by voters in 2004. Entrance to the park is off of I-19, just south of Green Valley, see map below.
When the ranch was active in the 1930's and 1940's the Mannings created a lake which dried up after the ranch closed down but has now been restored with an adjacent cienega to the north, see the photograph of the interpretive signage below.
The Santa Cruz River and the De Anza Trail run through the property on the eastern side. The location of the park in the Santa Cruz Valley, combined with the lake and cienega make it an ideal location for a wide variety of birds. (Reference: The History of Canoa Ranch)
Great Blue Heron
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 420mm, 1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 1000, -1/3 EV.
Great Blue Herons are common visitors to the lake, but on Wednesday November 9th this heron decided to look for food to the east, taking him over the walking path, and through the fence. It is hard to "go wide" with a telephoto lens and extender, so I got some really "up close and personal" shots. This bird did not seem bothered by the several birders on the trail.
In the image below, the heron is fishing in the shallows to the east of the lake. They use their long sharp bill to spear fish as well as amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/5000 sec., f/10, ISO 2500, +2/3 EV.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is a Tyrant Flycatcher in the Family Tyrannidae, Order Passeriformes. They are regular residents of SE Arizona, including the city of Tucson. The female is shown at Canoa Ranch above, sitting on a branch waiting for a flying insect to come by.
Now that we know what a mature male looks like, let's take a look at the three images below captured at Canoa Ranch last Wednesday.
This is an immature male just coming into adult plumage with red coming into the breast and head. Many immature birds will look like mature females initially, and this bird on this day looks like a gemish of mom and dad. Soon he will be a bright red male, but right now he is at that awkward stage. Please don't laugh, he might hear you!
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/3200 sec., f/11, ISO 10000, +1/3 EV.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 640, +1/3 EV.
White-crowned Sparrows breed in the northwest U.S. and Canada and far north across Canada and into Alaska. They winter in the U.S. and Mexico, being regular winter visitors in Arizona. They are large sparrows with a small bill and long tail. Mature birds have bold black and white stripes on the head, with a pink or yellow bill. Expect to see them around the lake and in the cienega on almost any trip to the ranch.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/5000 sec., f/11, ISO 10000, +2/3 EV.
Northern Harriers are raptors present throughout North America, breeding in the north central U.S. and into Canada, and wintering to the south, including Arizona.
They feed on small mammals and birds, and have a distinctive hunting behavior, cruising low over fields with their head angled down at 90 degrees. Unlike other hawks they depend on auditory as well as visual cues to find prey, and have facial discs similar to owls. They have the ability to hover over their prey before diving for the kill. So, when the British developed a fighter jet in the 1960's that could fly and hover, they named it the Harrier.
This bird is on the hunt cruising over the fields to the north and east of the lake. It was a windy day, and he was riding on the wind looking for prey below.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/5000 sec., f/11, ISO 10000, +2/3 EV.
The image below was taken at White Water Draw in November of 2015. I was fortunate to find this bird cruising right in front of the walking path. One can see the typical position of the head while hunting and the owl like facial discs.
Canon 6D with Sigma 150-600mm C at 600mm, 1/2000 sec., f/9.0, ISO 800, 0 EV.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/2500 sec., f/10, ISO 2500, +2/3 EV.
The Red-tailed Hawk is probably the most common raptor in North America, living year round throughout the U.S.and breeding in Canada and Alaska. They have variable plumage with colors varying from dark (most common) to light (seen here) and rufous (red) morph, but with a universally reddish dorsal (upper side) tail. They have broad rounded wings and a short wide tail, with a dark bar, seen clearly here, between the shoulder and the wrist. The red tail is best seen from above. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, and occasional birds and snakes.
This bird was soaring above the fields on both sides of Interstate 19. I think the reddish tail can be seen in the last two frames.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/2000 sec., f/11, ISO 4000, +1 1/2 EV.
Not only did we see a Red-tailed Hawk sailing on the winds, but two other raptors, the American Kestrel seen here and the Merlin which follows.
The American Kestrel is North America's smallest falcon, roughly the size of a Mourning Dove, but with larger heads. They commonly perch on high branches or telephone wires, grabbing insects in the air or mice and voles from the ground. They frequent open areas with short ground vegetation and sparse trees, including meadows, grasslands, parks and farm fields, as well as more urban locales.
Here we see a Kestrel soaring on the wind, likely taking advantage of a windy day. In general birds will look for food in the most efficient manner. Most hawks and vultures will wait for rising thermals before taking to the air, moving south during the winter to take advantage of warmer winds.
For good images of a perched female American Kestrel eating lunch, see this post from 2021, Lunch Time in Ft. Lowell Park. Note: if seeing a bird eat another bird is not your thing, skip the link and continue to read below . . . .
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 1250, +1 EV.
Wednesday was a big day, two falcons in the air!
Merlins are described as fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. They live in northern South America, and throughout Central America, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, wintering to the south and west and breeding in northern Canada and Alaska. This bird is a winter resident.
They are not much bigger than an American Kestrel, they are heavier, and known for rapid wingbeats and dark coloration. Like all raptors, the female is larger and heavier than the male.
Of note: Medieval European noblewomen, including Catherine the Great and Mary Queen of Scots, used Merlins for sport to hunt Skylarks. (Ref: All About Birds).
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 700mm, 1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 1000, -1 EV.
Spotted Sandpipers are small shorebirds common in the U.S. coast to coast, often well away from any "shore." They breed in the northern half of the U.S. and into Canada and Alaska, and winter south almost to the tip of South America. This bird is wintering in SE Arizona in winter plumage, without spots on the breast.
Spotted Sandpipers eat mostly small invertebrates such as midges, mayflies, flies (particularly their aquatic larvae), grasshoppers, beetles, worms, snails, and small crustaceans. Spotted Sandpipers are active foragers—in addition to probing into sand or mud with their bills like most sandpipers, they also lunge at moving prey, pick insects off plants, or snap at airborne prey.
To show that Spotted Sandpipers do in fact have spots in breeding season, I have included an image from Pipe Creek on Lake Erie from May of 2022, below, a breeding adult with spots!
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender, 420mm, 1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 3200, +1 EV.
Let's close with one of the many ducks that float and feed on the pond at the ranch. Above is an adult male Redhead, a duck that winters in Arizona and the southern U.S. and all of Mexico and breeds in the Great Plains and the western U.S. as well as Canada. The males sport bright cinnamon-red heads, black chest and rear and gray body. The bill is gray with a black tip. They are diving ducks who may also dabble in shallow waters, eating submerged plants, as well as invertebrates, fish eggs, as well as snails, mussels and clams.
Special thanks to my friend and photography/birding buddy Bob Reese for his quick eye spotting flying raptors, and his rapid bird ID. I would have missed about half of the content of this blog without him!
That's all for now.
It is a great time to visit Historic Canoa Ranch!
Crested Caracara in the air, October 31, 2022.
It is now November in Tucson, and cool weather has returned to the desert. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a "cool place" year round, is now, well, cooler. With the cooler weather comes the return of Raptor Free Flight with one flight a day at 10 am, every day but Wednesday through April 9, 2023. For more on the museum and free flight in the past, see my posts from November 2015, Raptors at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, December 17, 2016, Late Fall in Tucson, Birds East to West, and October 25, 2017, What is a Caracara, and why should I care, or, care, or, or, . . . whatever . . .
On Halloween I arrived when the museum opened, and was greeted by a volunteer just outside the gate with a Burrowing Owl.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 300mm 1/1000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 3200, +2/3EV.
Burrowing Owls live year round throughout the Americas, including SE Arizona, migrating north to breed in the U.S. west of the Mississippi and into Canada. They live underground in burrows and hunt insects and rodents during the day. For more on this special bird, see my post of January 14, 2018, Santa Cruz Flats, where we found them in their natural habitat south and west of Picacho Peak. The post also has photos of two other birds we will see today at the museum, the Great Horned Owl, and the Crested Caracara.
Next stop, the entrance to the museum. I have an annual pass (highly recommended for Tucson residents), members gate to the right. The museum is well staffed with knowledgeable volunteers.
If you have an annual pass, you get free coffee (it is very good!) at the cafe adjacent to the gift shop, to the left as you enter the museum. The patio, photo below, is a great place to start your day, and who can pass up a good cup of coffee on a chilly morning?
The morning sun lit up the desert adjacent to the cafe, image below.
Not far from the cafe I found this Cactus Wren, up close right next to the path, and pretty oblivious to my presence. I was able to catch this image before he decided to move on to the next bush.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 186mm 1/1000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 1600, +2/3EV.
The Cactus Wren is a year round resident of the deserts of SE California, southern Arizona and New Mexico as well as southern Texas and the low lying deserts of Mexico including Baja California. They eat mostly spiders and insects but also fruit. They get the majority of water from the food they eat, rarely drinking standing water, a real survival advantage for a desert dweller. They are known for uttering a ratchety-ratchety sound (noise?) reminiscent of someone trying to start a very old Ford!
Note for the photo geeks: This was shot with a Canon R6 with a RF 100-500mm zoom lens at 186 mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5.0, ISO 1600, +2/3 EV. I cannot tell how close I was to the bird from the camera data, but I do know that the RF 100-500 will focus as close as 90 cm, just under three feet, and I was probably at the limit. This is very close for a zoom lens. So, if you are in the market for a zoom lens for birding, check the minimal focus distance. There is a real advantage to being able to focus up close.
If you have not been to Raptor Free Flight before, grab a map or ask a volunteer, and follow the little round signs. The path meanders downhill to the viewing area just below Cat Canyon off of the eastern portion of the Desert Loop Trail.
On a clear November day, after a night of rain, views from the trail are spectacular.
Plan on arriving at the viewing area about 9:30 am to get a good spot. Bring lots of water; even in the winter it is dry.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 500mm 1/4000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 2500, +1EV.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has 2 Chihuahuan Ravens in residence, both birds rescued and unable to return to the wild. Chihuahuan Ravens are smaller than Common Ravens, with longer nasal bristles and white bases to the body feathers, which we might be able to see in the image above. These characteristics may be difficult to distinguish in the field, unless both species are side by side.
Chihuahuan Ravens live in the southern central U.S. and Mexico, including Texas, New Mexico and portions of Arizona. They prefer hot, dry, open country with grasslands, generally away from urban populations. Most of the ravens we see in and around urban Tucson are Common Ravens, with the Chihuahuan population more likely seen out in the surrounding rural desert.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 500mm 1/4000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 2500, +1.5 EV.
Image above, a Chihuahuan Raven on a trainer's glove. Below, one of the pair comes in for a landing at the Cat Canyon overlook.
Cat Canyon is another spot to view the Raptor Free Flight, especially if you are not up for the trek down the Desert Loop Trail.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 500mm 1/4000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 1600, +1 EV.
And below, taking off!
Great Horned Owl
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 114mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 320, 0 EV.
The most common owl in North America, the Great Horned Owl is a large bird with a thick body, broad and rounded wings, and two feathered tufts on the head. They have excellent night vision due to large eyes with many black and white sensitive rods in the retina which facilitate seeing things in low light and detecting motion. All necessary when your food supply is dependent on hunting at night. Their eyes do not move in their sockets; rather these owls can swivel their heads 270 degrees in either direction providing a comprehensive view of their environment.
Great Horned Owls are covered in soft feathers that keep them warm in winter and help them fly very quietly in pursuit of prey. Since they hunt at night, and neither soar nor migrate, their feathers are designed specifically for soundless flight over short distances with good lift and maneuvering capability. Keep your eyes open; you will not hear them coming!
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 114mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 400, +1/3 EV.
Below, the owl comes in for a landing, heading for the fresh meat the trainer has put out on the branch. After placing the food and signaling the bird, the trainer ducks low keeping their head down. We can see the large talons on the owl's feet.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 114mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 400, +1/3 EV.
Great Horned Owls have four toes on each foot. The image above shows the owl taking off and gives a good view of the right foot, detail below. The outermost toe can rotate forward or backward depending on their needs in handling prey. The cropped image below shows the 4th toe in the outer position, and I think we can see how it could rotate to create a 2 forward and 2 back, or 3 forward and 1 back option. Most raptors have fixed anatomy with 3 toes forward, and 1 back.
Below our owl nibbles its "prey." I have noticed that this bird, resident of the ASDM for many years, closes its eyes when it bites down on food. This may be a reflex behavior to protect the eyes when attacking large prey. Note that Pileated Woodpeckers will deploy the nictitating membrane over the eye with each "hammer" of the bill to protect it from flying wood chips. (NATURE S41E3 Woodpeckers: The Hole Story).
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 186mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 800, +2/3 EV.
The Crested Caracara is a very interesting bird, being a tropical vulture in the falcon family. They live year round from South and Central America into Mexico, coming as far north as Arizona, Texas, and Florida. The Crested Caracara is not a picky eater, consuming insects, fish, birds, and small mammals as well as carrion (dead stuff). Note the lack of feathers on the face, similar to other vultures. To see this bird 5 years ago when he was a juvenile, see my post from 2017: What is a Caracara, and why should I care, or, care, or, or . . .whatever.... To see this bird in the wild, see my post from 2018: Santa Cruz Flats.
Images below, the bird in flight on October 31, 2022.
For the photo geeks: Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm lens, 114 mm, 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 640, +2/3 EV. Post production processing in Adobe Lightroom, and Photoshop. Full disclosure: This otherwise great photo was compromised by a rather large gray sunhat worn by my neighbor to the left. Although I am a big fan of UV protection, the hat did not add anything to the image, so I managed to eliminate it. Photoshop's AI program decided to replace it with an irregular desert mesa (left 1/3 of the image) that unfortunately bears no resemblance to the terrain on the museum property. The sky replacement program cleaned up the sky. The bird was not touched or modified in any way.
Crested Caracaras have dark wings on the back with white tips, a predominantly white tail with dark tips, white neck, mottled breast and black cap. They are part time vultures, so if you see a flash of black and white on the road out in the desert, don't be surprised.
These birds are tough to find and photograph in the wild, as we saw at Santa Cruz Flats. So, Raptor Free Flight is a great opportunity to see this beautiful bird up close.
Image below, what it is all about, eating! The underside of the wings have a lighter appearance than the back. Look closely, and you can see his tongue bringing in his food. Note that birds have tongues, but no teeth. Any crunching, grinding, ripping or tearing is done by the bill, usually customized to match the bird's diet.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 114mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, +1 EV.
Harris Hawks are very social raptors of southern Arizona and Texas, as well as portions of Mexico, Central and South America. They live and hunt together, working cooperatively to isolate prey and make the catch. The ASDM has a number of Harris Hawks but 5 usually fly in a family group on any given day. Above is one of them posing for a photo. They are handsome birds with long legs and long tails, with brown/reddish brown markings, a white rump and white band across the tail. As a group they put on a great show to finish up the free flight session.
Below is another member of the family; note the metal band on the right leg.
Above and below, two members of the team on branches. Note the band on the left leg of the lower bird. Males and females look alike, with females being larger, weighing up to twice as much as males. Note that for all the raptors the females are larger.
Below, one of the hawks goes after food left on the branch, with his/her wings lifted.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 254mm 1/4000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 2000, +1/3 EV.
Above, the bird with the left leg band in the air. The characteristic tail markings are evident, as well as the dark flight wings and reddish-brown shoulders. The leg feathers fit nicely into the bird's underside and the legs tuck in. At one point almost all of them were circling right above us, putting on a good show.
Below, two birds landing together going after food.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 100mm 1/4000 sec., f/4.5, ISO 640, +1 1/3 EV.
Above, taking off for the next stop. The reddish-brown feathers extend well down the legs, and in flight merge into the feather undercarriage, as noted in the earlier in flight image.
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 500mm 1/4000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 1000, +1/3 EV.
Images above and below, one of the hawks lands on a volunteer's glove at the Cat Canyon overlook. Harris Hawk's social nature and relative ease around people make them popular with falconers. (Reference: All About Birds).
And, in closing: Not-a-raptor, Nor flying, a Lilac-crowned Parrot (!!!??)
Canon R6 with RF 100-500mm at 176mm 1/1000 sec., f/5.0, ISO 125, - 1 1/3 EV.
After Free Flight as I was working my way back up to the entrance, I found a volunteer just off of the path with an ASDM resident, a Lilac-crowned Parrot, sometimes called the Lilac-Crowned Amazon. These parrots live year round on the Pacific Slope of Mexico. This bird has been a resident of the ASDM for some time, and today was preening, with just enough time to strike a pose for the photographers!
Many thanks to Dan Weisz for his excellent narration on Monday, and for his help reviewing this text and guidance on details about the Great Horned Owl and the Harris Hawks in the ASDM free flight family.
That's all for now!
More posts coming soon.
A female Northern Cardinal near feeders in Dave Jasper's yard, Portal Road, Portal Arizona, August 29, 2022. Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO 1250, +2/3 EV. Processing in Adobe LR Classic and Topaz DeNoise AI.
If you are a birder, late summer and early fall are a bump in the road. Identifying species is tougher. Most birds replace their feathers after breeding, a process called molting, creating some strange looking creatures. Sorting this all out is complicated by the presence of fledglings who look different to begin with, and then in many cases, molt at the same time as their parents. Ugh!
This post looks at the Northern Cardinals, male and female, in Portal, Arizona during their annual molt. Also, we will see adults feeding recent fledglings. We will then finish up with one of the cardinal's cousins, the Pyrrhuloxia, also (you guessed it) molting.
So, to get you ready for Halloween, let's start with the Northern Cardinal looking very different!
A Reminder: This is what the male Northern Cardinal looks like in the other 11 months of the year . . . ..
Canon 7D Mk II, EF 100-400 mm with 1.4x III extender at 560 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/8.0 ISO 1000, +2/3 EV.
The Northern Cardinal is one of the most reconizable birds in North America, and the mascot for many sports teams. Nevertheless, to refresh your memory, here are two images of adult male Northern Cardinals in full plumage.
The image above was taken at Bob Rodrigues' feeders in Portal, AZ, May 2018, The image below was captured at Tony Battiste's Bed Breakfast and Birds in February of this year. Note that cardinals only molt once a year after breeding and the males keep their bright red plumage all year long, making them a favorite at winter feeders in the snowy northern climes. The male is red with black on the face surrounding an orange bill with fairly straight culmen (the inner part of the bill).
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, 1/800 sec., f/7.1, ISO 200, -1 EV.
But in August, after breeding, the molting begins . . . .
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO 25,600, +2/3 EV. Editing in LR Classic with Topaz DeNoise AI.
This male has probably already replaced feather for feather the contour feathers covering the body, as well as the flight feathers, but the crest has not come in to completion yet. The white specs are sheaths for the new feathers.
All images captured at Dave Jasper's feeders. Cardinals like peanut butter!
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 420 mm, 1/400 sec., f/10, ISO 6400, +2/3 EV. Editing in LR Classic with Topaz DeNoise AI.
Below we see the adult male with a juvenile (recent fledgling) behind him, both molting. Note that the fledglings have dark bills at birth that turn lighter sometime in the fall after their birth.
For all birds the timing of the molt is very important. For cardinals it is reasonably simple: they molt once a year after breeding when a lot of flying is not necessary, and hopefully there is a lot of food to provide energy for the molt, as they also continue to feed the hungry offspring. Note that cardinals are year round residents and do not migrate.
The Juveniles, not long out of the nest, also molt . .
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm at 500 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 102400, +1 EV. Editing in LR Classic with Topaz DeNoise AI. This was shot at 5:55 pm as the afternoon light was fading fast.
Above is a juvenile with a dark bill. This is likely a male, with red coming in on the breast. I believe the image below is of the same bird. They were captured at Dave Jasper's feeders within 4 seconds of each other, close to 6 pm on August 25th. The fledglings grow one set of feathers in the nest, then molt at the end of the summer.
The image below was captured a day later, in the same spot, shortly after 4 pm. This punky looking juvenile Northern Cardinal is in the middle of his first molt.
For more about plumage and molting, see Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World. Note, this is a subscription website. Another helpful reference for the biology of feathers and molting is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology.
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 599 mm, 1/500 sec., f/10, ISO 1250, +2/3 EV. Editing in LR Classic with Topaz DeNoise AI.
And, a Female Cardinal in normal plumage for reference . . .
Canon 7D Mk II, Sigma 150-600mm C at 600 mm, 1/320 sec., f/6/3, ISO 400.
Before we start looking at the females in molt, let's refresh our memories on what a mature female looks like ~11 month out of the year. They have orange bills, black on the face, a buffy breast with some red on the wings, tail and at the tips of the crest. The image above was captured in Portal at the end of April 2016. The image below, a close shot to show detail of the bill, face and crest, was taken at Patagonia State Park in February 2018.
Canon 7D Mk II, EF 100-400mm at 400mm, 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1600.
And, then in August, "What happened to my crest!"'
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm at 428 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/6.3, ISO 102400, +1EV.
Whoops! The crest is gone! The crest feathers are the most obvious, and the most noticeable when they are gone. We know this is a mature bird by the orange bill. The black feathers around the bill are duller, and we can see feather sheaths.
There are some reports that cardinals try to hide when molting. I doubt that this is backed up by data! While molting they are busy looking for food to sustain their molt, as well as feeding and caring for recent fledglings. So not time to go out! Dave Jasper's feeders provided a safe refuge and unending food supply for these hungry birds.
Below, this mature female appears to be hiding behind a rock! To the credit of the Cornell Lab, Merlin Bird ID identified this photo as belonging to the Northern Cardinal.
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO 1250, +2/3 EV. Processing in Adobe LR Classic and Topaz DeNoise AI. Shot at 11 am.
A Female Deals with Molting and a Hungry Kiddo . . .
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO 12800, +2/3 EV. Processing in Adobe LR Classic and Topaz DeNoise AI.
On the right we see an adult female, and on the left most likely a female fledgling, with a dark bill that is turning lighter at the edges.
Below are images of a female cardinal bringing food to a begging juvenile.
In the sequence below, mom seems to detect something is amiss on her daughter's head, and bends down to make it right. Mom's won't stop fussing over the young, be it with their bill or a wet Kleenex!
And also in the Cardinal Family, a Pyrrhuloxia. Let's start with an Adult Male in Full Plumage in Hereford, February 15, 2022.
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens at 500 mm, 1/2000 sec., f/9, ISO 1000, +1/3 EV. Processing in Adobe LR Classic.
Above is a photo of an adult male in Hereford in February, 2022, in his usual plumage. In contrast to cardinals, Pyrrhuloxia have yellow bills (not orange) and a curved culmen (the inner edge of the bill) that looks like a nut-cracker. The feathers around the bill are red and not black, the feathers on the back are gray, and the crest is tipped in red. If GQ had a edition for birds, Pyrrhuloxia would be named best dressed! For more on the differences between cardinals and pyrrhuloxia see Patagonia Arizona, February 2018.
And, in August, in the middle of a molt . . . OMG!!!
Canon R6, RF 100-500 mm lens with RF 1.4 extender at 700 mm, 1/1000 sec., f/10, ISO 3200. Processing in Adobe LR Classic and Topaz DeNoise AI.
This looks like a mystery bird from a sci-fi movie until we spot the angled culmen characteristic of this species, as we can also see in the lead photo from February. We can also guess that as the feathers come in and the crest is restored, this will be a good looking male Pyrrhuloxia.
And for completeness, an adult female in normal plumage.
There may have been female Pyrrhuloxia at the feeders, but I did not identify any. Here is an adult female from Patagonia in March of 2019 for completeness.
That's it for our Halloween warm up!
More coming soon.
Steller's Jay in Summerhaven with 2 peanuts, one shelled and held in his throat, the other ready for winter storage. Canon R6 RF 100-500 mm at 343 mm, f/5/6, 1/2000 second, +1 EV. Post production in Lightroom Classic.
Those who follow my blog regularly (both of you) may have noticed that my last post was at the end of July, on spring migration! Now it is September! So sorry for the delay, but August was a busy month including the Tucson Audubon Society's Southeast Arizona Birding Festival, a day trip to Mt. Lemmon for the Camera Club Tucson Trek Special Interest Group, as well as a 4 day trip to Portal AZ the end of the month. Now I am back to blogging, beginning with this post on two of our resident species in SE Arizona, the Acorn Woodpecker and the Steller's Jay.
Late summer is a time when fledglings join the ranks of adults, many birds are molting creating comic confusion, and nuts are stored for the winter (literally!). So let's start with the Acorn Woodpecker going after food.
The bird release, and the images of the Barred Owl that follow, were captured at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, in Bay Village Ohio. The Center has wildlife on the grounds, a series of exhibits and programs, as well as facilities to provide care and rehabilitation for injured animals.
To the right, members of our group check out emerging flora not far from where the Barred Owl, below, was nesting.
They like old forests and treed swamps, and can be heard at night to hoot, "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?", not to be confused with the call of the White-winged Dove. The calls are different, as well as the time and place the birds live and call. Also, to my ear, recordings of the Barred Owl have more of a barking sound than the White-winged Dove. In fact, playing it at home got my dog barking and running for the door!
It appears that the underwing coverts, feathers that cover the base of the flight feathers, are not in yet, leaving the base of the primaries and secondaries exposed.
Below, back on the perch, bright-eyed and ready for the night.
Wood Duck: Oak Openings Preserve Metropark
Wood Ducks are cavity nesters, with the female inspecting cavities in trees 1 to 2 feet in diameter, 2 to 60 feet off the ground, while the male stands by and watches. They prefer large holes, usually where a branch has broken off. They have clutches of 6 to 16 eggs, and on occasion a female may will lay her eggs in the nest of another female Wood Duck (infraspecific brood parasitism) and leave that female to raise them. Large clutches become larger, and nests with up to 29 eggs have been reported.
Chicks hatch alert and with a full coat of down. A day after hatching they climb out of the nest and fall to the ground. They follow mom to the nearest body of water where they begin to feed on seeds, fruits, insects and other arthropods; they can eat nuts and grains from dry land.
Below at Oak Openings on May 19th we spotted a mom with about a dozen chicks following her downstream.
And, some images from Tucson, Arizona
Another cavity nesting duck, a Hooded Merganser in Tucson
The morning of Oak Openings . . .
Yes, they have lots of coffee. I especially like the sign on the left, "Drink Coffee, Do stupid things faster and with more energy!"
The images above and below are the same, but with different crops, to show how well this bird blends in. Above it looks like a "Where's Waldo" book, and the shot below is not much better, in spite of cropping and some gentle image processing.
Common Nighthawks sleep during the day, laying flat on branches or on the ground, well camouflaged. They take to the skies at night to catch insects on the fly, especially moths.
The image above was captured on the Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas coast in April of 2019, and the two images below at Maumee State Park near our hotel on May 19, 2022.
The sun was below the horizon for us terrestrials in the parking lot, but still shining on the tree tops. We can see that this bird was flying in and out of the sun. The white markings on the wings and neck are quite visible. A very different looking bird in flight than folded up on a branch!
And, in closing, we saw more than birds . . .
Prothonatory Warblers winter along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, breeding in the U.S. east of the Rockies up into Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They live in swampy woodlands, and nest in cavities of dead trees. They nest in the holes created by woodpeckers and chickadees, in natural holes in dead trees, and in nest boxes. The nests are often near or over standing water. They are one of the two warbler species that are cavity nesters, sharing this trait with the Lucy's Warblers that are common in SE Arizona.
This "swamp warbler" is in decline due to loss of nesting habitat in the U.S., and mangroves in its wintering territory.
This bird seen here is likely a male in the mating/nesting cycle in the marsh, or might be on his way north to nest along the north shore of Lake Erie. Magee Marsh is toward the northern end of their range.
Canada Warblers winter in Central America and NW South America, migrating up through eastern coastal Mexico and into the U.S. east of the Rockies up into Canada to breed. This bird is in migration, and a visit to Magee Marsh in May provides a great chance for us to see him aside from trekking in Canada during the summer or Panama in the winter. The males have a long tail, a bold eyeing, and a black necklace on a bright yellow breast and throat. The females are described as gray above with a faint necklace.
For the photo geeks: This bird moved very quickly and kept behind the leaves. I captured upward of 37 images, most of them leaves with a blurry yellow blob somewhere in the frame. I ended up with these 3 that were usable.
Cape May Warbler
In the first three frames we see a female Cape May Warbler, similar in appearance to the Palm Warbler, but without the red cap, and with a yellow ear patch and white under-tail coverts. This female is likely foraging for insects in the understory. Note the narrow decurved bill used to glean bugs or nectar from flowers. Foraging is aided by a unique tongue for a warbler, curved and semi-tubular, good for gathering nectar.
A new venue: Pipe Creek Wildlife Area on Sandusky Bay
Yellow Warblers winter in Central and South America, and breed throughout most of the U.S. and Canada. This is a warbler you can see nesting in Arizona or Ohio. The warblers we see here could be headed further north for breeding, or building their nests right on the marsh. The males and females look alike, except that the chest striping on the male is bolder.
The image below was caught at Wendy Point on May 14th.
For the photo geeks: The image below is a cropped version of the original, which I almost tossed out. As I cropped it down, I suddenly saw the frame of leaves around the bird, making this one of my favorite shots of the lot!
In future posts expect more on Winous Point and the role of hunting clubs in preserving the marshes of Lake Erie.
Here are two Yellow Warblers who seem to be staying put for the summer . . . . .
Every year the male Yellow Warbler comes into his breeding area at the beginning of the season, declares his territory and defends it from other males while also attracting females. Once a female joins the male, she builds a nest in a vertical branch of a bush or small tree, typically within 10 feet of the ground. The photograph to the right is an example shot at Pipe Creek. You can see the nest under construction with the tail of the female sticking straight up, at the top.
Once the nest is complete, the couple will mate, with the female laying 1 to 7 eggs. Throughout a single season Yellow Warblers are monogamous and pairs may persist from season to season.
For the photo geeks: This whole series of shots occurred over 14 seconds. The birds were moving very fast, with branches and leaves in the way of my line of sight. Fortunately the camera was able to keep focus on the birds, and I jockeyed around a bit to try to avoid obstructions. I was standing on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. 10:44 am May 16, 2022.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, Myrtle's
In my experience looking through the camera lens, these birds are much duller in the fall. This bird is striking, with rich colors on the body and great detail. I could not resist closing with these shots.
Reviewing references in Birds of the World*, this bird has likely been through a molt of the body feathers to Definitive Alternate Plumage from February to April creating a great fresh look for the breeding season and for my camera.
*Requires a subscription
All About Birds lists 23 species of woodpecker in the U.S., which includes woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and flickers. On these pages in the past I have shown 8 species of woodpecker (Lewis's, Gila, Hairy, Acorn, Arizona, Ladder-backed, Northern Flicker [Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted], and the Red-naped Sapsucker).
In this post I will revisit the Hairy Woodpecker and add 4 more species to my list (Piliated, Red-headed, Red-bellied, and Downy), all year round residents of NW Ohio, and therefore not really spring migrants, but neat birds!
Before we get to the woodpeckers, here is a map for orientation. Most of the woodpeckers we saw were at Pearson Park, a Toledo Metropark that boasts of being the "last of the great black swamp!" The park is maintained to show what this basin in NW Ohio looked like before it was drained for agriculture in the 19th century. Fortunately they left us walkways and drivable roads. No hip boots required! It is great park, with great facilities, stocked bird feeders, and walking trails. We will see more of the park later in the post.
On the map below Pearson Park is toward the lower left corner, with the orange square showing where photographs were shot. The Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center (where we stayed) is toward the right upper corner on Lake Erie. It is a great spot in its own right with its own marshes and boardwalks, comfortable accommodations and good food. Note that Magee Marsh is east of the conference center, just off of the map.
We spotted these two Pileated Woodpeckers working their way up a dead tree, likely being led by a male, slightly larger than his mate and with a red stripe on the jaw line. Pileated Woodpeckers are monogamous and this pair has likely been together for a while.
In the image below we can see the lower red facial stripe indicative of the male.
SE Arizona where we see them. The Hairy Woodpeckers of the west are described as having darker wings and narrower facial stripes than the eastern varieties.
The Downy Woodpecker looks almost identical to the Hairy Woodpecker, except that the Downy is smaller, with a bill that is shorter then the length of its head. The shots above and below are of a male at Magee Marsh on May 16th. These birds do look like the Hairy, but with a definite "cute factor." In the second image below we see a female sitting in a nest hole just off of the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. Note that all woodpeckers are cavity nesters.
Below is a map showing the location of Cuyahoga National Park just south of Cleveland. More on this great park in future posts.
We spotted this Red-headed Woodpecker working his way up a dead tree, either looking for bugs, or perhaps tending to nuts stored in the cracks and crevices. I have seen similar behavior in Acorn Woodpeckers in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. They gather acorns during the summer and fall and store them in granary trees, dead trunks dedicated to storage of their harvest. The Acorn Woodpeckers will often tend to the acorns and reseat them in their holes to keep them secure and safe from theft by other birds or mammals.
Before we get to the birds, I want to thank our fantastic guides, Dan Donaldson and Andy Jones, who not only know all their birds, and more about them than anyone could hope for, but also know northern Ohio in breadth, depth, and detail, having lived and worked the region in the fields of ornithology and conservation for many years.
Below is a photo taken right after an early morning breakfast at one of our local culinary hotspots (open 24 hours a day), with Andy Jones on the left, and Dan Donaldson on the right. (And, no, I did not see anyone playing keno at breakfast!)
Kirtland's Warbler (pssst . . . this is one of the rare ones!)
I cannot say it better than the Cornell website, All About Birds, so here it is:
"Many male warblers are black and yellow, but Magnolia Warblers take it up a notch, sporting a bold black necklace complete with long tassels, a black mask, and a standout white wing patch. The female lacks the male's bold accoutrements, instead wearing an elegant white eyering on her gray head, 2 thin white wingbars, and yellow underparts with moderate streaking." I believe the bird above is a female.
Magnolia Warblers can look like Kirtland's, except for the black necklace in the male, and bolder wing bars. In Magnolia's the tip of the tail is black with white undertail coverts and the back is greenish.
We can see some of these features in the female shown below.
My thanks to the Cornell Lab's Merlin Bird ID, which now includes excellent voice recognition in the field, as we'll as astounding image recognition. I was able to use my iPhone to photograph bird images from my monitor and have the Merlin app identify the bird consistently!
The bird below is peering up looking for breakfast under a leaf.
Speaking of Magee Marsh . . . . .
The marsh represents a failed farming attempt that became a duck hunting sanctuary known for the wide range of birds present. The preserve became a favorite birding spot and in the 1980's a boardwalk was built, allowing easy walking close to the wood lots and understory with great views of the birds. For more on the history of the marsh see A Brief History of Magee Marsh by John Mollenkopf.
The following warblers were spotted and photographed at Magee Marsh either on Monday the 16th, or Friday the 20th of May.
The male pictured above was feeding not far from the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, doing a very clever "fan dance" in the understory making photography challenging. Hence the slightly blurry image.
The Boardwalk, Magee Marsh . . .
Breeding males have intricate black and white plumage with a bright orange/yellow face and throat. This male was moving fast and staying hidden most of the time, but I did catch the 2 images shown here.
Below is a map of Historic Canoa Ranch. On this satellite photo from Lightroom Classic the pond appears to be empty. The photo was likely taken during the pond construction. The orange and yellow rectangles represent locations of photography during my last trip.
White-faced Ibis takes Petit Bites . . .
The White-faced Ibis is in the order Pelecaniformes, a group of wading birds that includes herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, and you guessed it, pelicans.
Ibises and spoonbills are in the family Threskiornithidae. Both members of this family have specialized bills. The ibises have a long decurved (downward curved) bill for probing in the mud, and the spoonbills have flattened, spatulate-shaped bills to sweep prey from the water. For illustration, to the right is a photograph of Roseate Spoonbills at the Smith Oaks Rookery at High Island, Texas in May of 2019.
Roseate Spoonbills at High Island, Texas, 2019. NOT AT CANOA RANCH! These are in the same family as the White-faced Ibis.
Male and female White-faced Ibis' look similar, with the male being larger. The bird here is coming into breeding plumage.
Great Egret Goes for Gold . . . .
Great Egrets eat mainly small fish, as well as amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates. They hunt where they can wade, belly-deep in fresh or salt water wetlands, alone or in groups.
Here we see a Great Egret who has caught what appears to be a goldfish, a small member of the carp family, native to East Asia, common as pets in North America, and when released into the wild, an invasive pest.
Black-necked Stilts Make Us Dizzy . . .
They have pink legs, and striking black and white plumage. The picture above was captured in May of 2019 In Galveston Texas, the one below the same week but up in the big thicket. I have included them here because they show the markings well in good light.
Above we can see them in close formation with the edge of the pond in the background. Black, white and pink make for a striking appearance.
Below, two birds out of the formation shows the black neck, but predominantly white back and short white tail. Long bill, white spot over the eye.
For the photo geeks: These birds fly fast, and catching them in flight was a challenge. In addition, the sky on the 19th was a milky overcast. All post production processing done in Lightroom Classic CC. The new subject recognition feature tended to identify the white feathers of the stilts as part of the sky (ugh!).
"Killdeer," yes, that is what he said, but he is really a plover . . .
Next stop, the Lark Bunting . . .
Lark Bunting in Breeding Plumage, Elegant in Black and White
Lark Buntings winter in SE Arizona, southern New Mexico, much of Texas and Mexico and breed in the plains states including Colorado, Montana, and the dakotas.
The male above is in his black and white breeding plumage and is likely headed north for breeding. He was one of three males we saw along with three females in the same bush. In the image below we see him with two of the females. It is mostly likely they are traveling together, and may have stopped at Canoa Ranch for a bite to eat on their journey.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About
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