Canon R6, EF 24-105mm at 73mm, 1/640 sec., f/11, ISO 200, -1/3 EV, panoramic.
The photograph at the top of the post was captured on December 13, 2022 the morning after a winter storm system came through bringing much needed rain. I was standing just north of the visitor center on the trail east of the tram road, facing the Rincon mountains. If you look carefully you can see snow on the top of Mica Mountain.
Sabino Canyon is a great place for birds in the winter, due in large part to the ready access to water and the presence of food, including Mistletoe berries growing on Mesquite Trees. Many birds eat fruit during the winter and depend on berries. Although Mistletoe is considered a parasitic plant, in the wild it grows abundantly and provides much needed food for birds.
The image below is looking south toward the visitor center. The dense understory provides insects and berries for our avian friends, including the Western Bluebird.
Canon R6, EF 24-105mm at 24mm, 1/640 sec., f/11, ISO 160, -1 EV.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm at 500mm, 1/2000 sec., f/11, ISO 800, +2/3 EV.
On December 14, 2022, a small block of Western Bluebirds, males and females, were working the understory across the desert floor looking for food. In the photograph above, a male takes a break and sits in the sun, likely looking for both food and predators. He wants to get lunch before he is lunch . . . .
Below another male on another day, December 6, 2022, shortly after 2 pm south and west of Sabino Canyon, close to the Rillito River. He was one of a small flock, working the understory for food.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender at 480mm, 1/800 sec., f/10, ISO 5000, +1 EV.
The Western Bluebird is in the Order Passiformes (songbirds) in the Family Turdidae, Thrushes and Allies. Other species in this family include: Thrushes (Varied, Veery, Gray-cheeked, Bicknell's, Swainson's, Wood, and Hermit), Townsend's Solitaire, and the American Robin. (Ref: All About Birds, Bird Guide). Males are blue above with a rusty throat and chest. The amount of blue in the bird will depend on the light. Females are grayish above with bluish wings and tail, and a subdued orange-brown breast (Ref: All About Birds).
Below, a male on the left, and a female on the right, also December 6, 2022 near the Rillito. The birds this day were busily gathering berries and insects from trees and bushes in the low understory. I feel fortunate to have captured this shot with the male and female together, holding still!
In the image below, a female Western Bluebird grabs a Mistletoe berry from a Mesquite tree in Sabino Canyon, just north of the visitor center, December 14, 2022.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm at 500mm, 1/1000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 2000, +2/3 EV.
Below, possibly the same female is perched for a photoshoot. The blue coloration on the wings and tail is evident, with the gray back.
In the series below a female is scarfing down berries, December 6, 2022, just south of the Rillito. Birds have tongues, but no teeth. Food is either broken up or torn by action of the bill, or swallowed whole, as in this case. Not all birds can digest fruit. Being able to do so is a big advantage, especially in winter when insects are scarcer, and helps the species extend its range.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4x Extender at 700mm, 1/800 sec., f/10, ISO 12,800, +1 2/3 EV.
Gulp! Down it goes!
Breeding season in Summerhaven, 2022 . . . . .
The images I captured in December reminded me of shots I captured last June which I never had a chance to process or post (chalk it up to sloth!). For years local residents in Summerhaven have put out nest boxes for the Western Bluebirds. Western Bluebirds are cavity nesters, and if they cannot find a natural cavity, for example an unused Acorn Woodpecker hole, they won't breed at all. So, nest boxes increase the options and helps to keep the generations coming. This is very important in an era when global climate change is impinging on habitat with loss of both food and nesting spots.
Below, a mama Western Bluebird is likely drying off after a bath in Sabino Creek (at its origin!) and taking a short rest from her domestic duties. June 19, 2022, Loma Linda Extension Road.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm at 500mm, 1/1600 sec., f/8, ISO 5000, +1/3 EV.
Below likely the same female is at work flying in with lunch for the kids. Big bugs, yum! In the second shot we can see blue on the wings and tail.
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm at 500mm, 1/1600 sec., f/8, ISO 2500, +1/3 EV.
Below, she has delivered lunch and keeps her eye out for predators. Note that Common Ravens and Steller's Jays are aggressive predators on Mt. Lemmon during breeding season, raiding nests for eggs or young hatchlings.
In the image above, the female reaches into the nest and then below comes out with a fecal sac. In some species, including the Western Bluebird, the hatchlings will enclose fecal contents, including residual food and urates (urine), in a clear membrane creating a sac which the parents can grab and dispose of in a distant location. This keeps the nest clean and free of odors that might attract predators.
Below, mom takes off with the sac. Sometimes an adult will eat the sac rather than dispose of it; when the hatchlings are very young their digestive tracts are not very efficient leaving significant nutrients behind, making the sac a valuable source of food for the parent.
Below, a male sits at the nest, just to show the world that dad's are involved too! Sometime other adult pairs or immatures will serve as helpers at a nest.
Western Bluebirds will have 2-8 eggs per clutch, and up to three broods per season.
Back to Sabino Canyon . . . .
Canon R6, RF 100-500mm with 1.4 Ext., at 454mm, 1/640 sec., f/10, ISO 2500, 0 EV.
Late in the afternoon of December 14th I was walking back to the visitor center just to the east of the tram road when I spotted two
In closing . . .
No post on Sabino Canyon would be complete without at least one image of running water. Below is an iPhone 13 photo captured on December 14th at the creek as it runs south from the Bear Canyon tram road. Fall color is in evidence on the banks.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro. 5.7 mm, f/1.5, 1/8700 sec., ISO 50.
Sabino Canyon is great anytime of year, but the winters are exceptional, so if you have not gone there recently there is still time!
That's all for now! More coming soon, stay tuned!
January 29, 2023: Special thanks to Jeff Babson for his help in verifying the species for some of the images.
A lighting strike at Agua Caliente Park at Soldier Trail and Roger Road in September started a wildfire that burned most of the palm trees adjacent to the stream that feeds the eastern lake. Fortunately Rural Metro was able to get the fire out and prevent further spread to the rest of the park. No structures were lost.
The County did clean-up and repair in October and November. The park reopened the Monday after Thanksgiving, November 28th. We were there bright and early to celebrate and say Hi! to the birds!
The images above and below (iPhone 13) show the area that burned, now fenced off until the rest of the repair and restoration can be completed. Most of the trees look viable, although charred. The tops are now green! There must be food up there, because the Gila Woodpeckers are active in the very top branches.
A few charred palm leaves don't discourage the Gila Woodpeckers
Canon R6 RF 100-500mm with 1.4 Extender, 700 mm, 1/2000, f/10, ISO 3200, +0 EV.
Images above and below, Gila Woodpeckers perched among the charred branches, with new green growth above.
In the image above, a male Gila Woodpecker on a slightly toasted branch. Below detail of the new growth at the top of a tree that is otherwise charred. Hopefully most of the remaining trees will survive.
The ponds are intact, and full of birds:
The rest of the park looks untouched. The eastern pond adjacent to the ranch house looks great, and was home to a number of birds this morning.
For reference, I am showing a mature male Vermilion to the right, in early morning light in the fall of 2016 at Agua Caliente State Park. They are bright red, with a dark bill and eye markings, and dark wings.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
It is a great time to visit Historic Canoa Ranch!
On Halloween I arrived when the museum opened, and was greeted by a volunteer just outside the gate with a Burrowing Owl.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great Horned Owl
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!
Great Horned Owls live among us in Tucson. For more on two backyard visitors, an owl and a hummer from August 2020, see my post: The Owl and the Hummingbird.
On that day this female Great Horned Owl was either too sleepy to eat, or hummingbirds are not on her diet. Maybe she is trying to cut back! They both survived the encounter.
Images below, the bird in flight on October 31, 2022.
Below is another member of the family; note the metal band on the right leg.
Below, one of the hawks goes after food left on the branch, with his/her wings lifted.
Below, two birds landing together going after food.
And, in closing: Not-a-raptor, Nor flying, a Lilac-crowned Parrot (!!!??)
More posts coming soon.
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 . . . ..
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).
But in August, after breeding, the molting begins . . . .
All images captured at Dave Jasper's feeders. Cardinals like peanut butter!
Other birds, including many warblers, molt twice a year, going into breeding plumage sometime in the late winter, and then back into non-breeding plumage in the fall. The molts need to occur at a time when there is adequate food and not during migration.
Some birds, such as raptors, need to fly in order to eat. Molting for them has to occur over a long time period, one feather at at time, so that they can continue to hunt. To the right is a Red-tailed Hawk, light morph, showing feather by feather replacement. Note tail feathers coming in at the midline first. Still flying, still eating!
Red-tailed Hawk, Wilcox Lake, May 2018. For more on the sequence of the molt and wing anatomy see The Meadow Trail, . . Summer 2021 wrap-up.The Meadow Trail, Mt. Lemmon, Arizona, Summer 2021 wrap-up
The Juveniles, not long out of the nest, also 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.
And, a Female Cardinal in normal plumage for reference . . .
And, then in August, "What happened to my crest!"'
A Female Deals with Molting and a Hungry Kiddo . . .
Below are images of a female cardinal bringing food to a begging juvenile.
And also in the Cardinal Family, a Pyrrhuloxia. Let's start with an Adult Male in Full Plumage in Hereford, February 15, 2022.
And, in August, in the middle of a molt . . . OMG!!!
And for completeness, an adult female in normal plumage.
More coming soon.
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.
Acorn Woodpeckers eat, well . . . , Acorns! (and some other stuff!)
So, it is not clear whether the adult male arriving with the acorns in in fact the father, or a distant relative from his colony. For more on Acorn Woodpeckers on Mt. Lemmon see this post: October 2019 on Mt Lemmon.
These images were captured in Cave Creek Canyon in Portal in late August. The riparian oak woodlands near the creek are perfect for this species.
Above, a male arrives with two acorns, caps still attached, much to the pleasure of a hungry juvenile.
Note that Acorn Woodpeckers eat other nuts as well as insects and other arthropods.
Now, let's go to Mt. Lemmon. . . .
This sequence reminds me of a Vaudeville act. The markings on the Acorn Woodpecker make all their antics more entertaining.
Now Enter the Steller's Jay . . . . .
Steller's Jays love peanuts, as we will see shortly, but in spite of their reputation for smarts*, on this day this bird seemed reluctant to try to get peanuts from the feeder. Although the Acorn pulled lots of peanuts from the feeder, the jay did not even sit on it. Jays may be cautious of new settings, especially related to food, a trait found in Common Ravens, one of their cousins.
For more on Common Ravens see The Mind of the Raven, Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-birds, by Bernd Heinrich. Caution: this is not a short read! I would start with the Afterword (p. 353) to get oriented and then look especially at Chapters 18-20 (Raven's Fears, Raven and Wolves in Yellowstone, and From Wolf-Birds to Human-Birds).
Below a Steller's Jay grabs a peanut from a small stash on a rock.
*see The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman, Penguin books 2016.
Most of the peanuts were hauled away intact for caching, but below we see a male or female (they look alike) cracking open a peanut shell and extracting the peanut.
Note that birds have tongues, but no teeth. Food that needs to be broken up or crushed needs to be done by the bill. Some birds have specialized bills, for example the Pyrrhuloxia has an angle to the bill (the culmen) creating a great nutcracker. For more on their specialized bills and comparison to the Northern Cardinal, see Patagonia, Arizona, February 2018.
In this case, it appears that the jay is increasing his food gathering efficiency by holding a shelled peanut in his throat, and a whole peanut in his bill. Similar behavior has been seen in Common Ravens, see Mind of the Raven, Chapter 25.
Stay tuned for more from Portal, AZ, in August, including hummingbirds and the tragicomedy of Northern Cardinals molting.
Purple Martins winter throughout central South America, migrating up through Central America and Mexico in the spring, breeding for the most part east of the Rockies from the gulf coast up into Canada, with some nesting in the mountains of Mexico and Arizona and along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Martins are cavity nesters, but have nested in houses beginning with native Americans hanging up empty gourds as nests well before European settlers arrived. In the early 19th century John James Audubon chose his lodgings based on the quality of the martin boxes hung on tavern sign boards. By 1900 almost all nests east of the Rockies were in human built habitat, whereas the western populations still nest in traditional tree cavities.
Martin houses are generally arranged like condos or apartments in clusters, as shown in the image above. Here there appears to be 18 units on the pole, elevated well above ground level. The materials for houses vary, including the units we see here molded out of plastic to look like gourds, with screw-on side caps for cleaning, a porch in front of each unit, and a narrow entrance with passageway to discourage predators. Houses may be built of wood or metal.
Purple Martins have been extensively studied due to their wide range, large population, and popularity with the public. Research shows that they are among the earliest returnees to North America in the spring, likely arriving in NE Ohio in April. These birds were photographed on May 17, 2022 at the Winous Point Shooting Club and the affiliated Marsh Conservancy.* These birds are likely choosing accommodations for the nesting season and more birds may still be arriving on site from the south.
* Shooting clubs on the shores of Lake Erie over the past 100 years have been the main drivers of marshland conservation. No marshes mean no ducks, and therefore no fall hunting. In fact, throughout the U.S. hunters and conservationists/naturalists have worked closely together to preserve and regulate our natural world to maintain the proper balance of forces and conserve species.
In the image below he/she takes off for the upper unit.
Below the male is clearly making noise at the intruder, who lands nonetheless.
Below a confrontation, this time with the resident male, while the female checks out the accommodations.
Older territorial male Purple Martins arrive early at nest sites, with females arriving later. This may be an instance of a single dominant male presiding over a number of units being visited by newly arriving females.
Purple Martins eat flying insects at all times of year. Although birdhouse manufacturers advertise that martins can routinely eat greater than 2,000 mosquitoes a day, there is no credible evidence that martins eat mosquitoes at all (ref: Birds of the World). Martins fly high and during the day, mosquitoes fly low and mostly at night.
My thanks to Andy Jones and Jeff Babson, who both reviewed this group of images as I was trying to figure out what this all meant. Juvenile males look like females, and banding in Ohio does not really help with sex identification. So, could be a young male, could be a female.
Great Blue Heron Rookery
Above, we see the characteristic S-shaped neck as the adult flys , with the short, wide tail, and long legs following behind. As the bird comes in for a landing, the legs droop like huge landing gear, and the wings flare out for a controlled stall.
In the above photograph the alula, or "bastard thumb" is laid flat, and the associated feathers are lighter than the rest of the leading edge, right where the wing angles back. More on the alula below.
Dunlins are a North American shorebird that winter (non breeding) in coastal areas from Mexico up through the U.S. and Canada on both the east and west coasts. They are named after their color in the off season, a mousy gray-brown of "dun" color, seen below in a shot I captured last October in Cape May, New Jersey. However, in breeding season they develop a vivid rusty back and a black belly patch. This coloration at one time led to the name "Red-backed Sandpiper." However this bird drew the off-season card, and ended up "dun." In fact, the name comes from the word dunling, the earliest known English name of the species. "Dun" meaning gray brown, and "ling" the diminutive; it is literally a "little brown job."
They breed all the way north in the Arctic on the northern shores of Canada and Alaska. They nest in the subarctic or arctic tundra in wet areas, feeding close to where they nest. This bird is likely on his way north, stopping in Ohio for some rest and food.
This North American shorebird, similar to the Dunlin, winters along the the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and portions of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America. They breed in Northern Canada and Alaska, so presumably the winter residents of coastal Argentina are long range migrants, following the food along the shoreline to North America and then joining the rest of the population to migrate north across most of the lower 48 states and Canada to their nesting territory. This bird, like the Dunlin, is in migration, stopping in the marshes of Lake Erie to rest and feed.
They were once on the decline because of hunting but have rebounded in recent years, in part because of their wide-ranging diet, flexible choices for foraging locations, and some special features such as large eyes which help them to forage at night, especially in moonlight. It is interesting that both Dunlins and Semipalmated Plovers have adaptions to forage at night, a real advantage nutritionally.
And for contrast, a Killdeer from Canoa Ranch
More from SE Arizona soon!
Part 1, June 5, 2022, covered 6 species of migrating warbler, with a call-out on Magee Marsh and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Part 2, June 11th shifted gears and looked at 5 species of resident woodpeckers in NW Ohio, with call-outs to Pearson Park, one of the Toledo Metroparks, Kelley's Island, and Cuyahoga National Park. Part 3, June 22nd, covered more warblers at Magee Marsh, Pipe Creek Wilderness on Sandusky Bay, as well as Wendy Point in Cleveland.
This post, 4 of 5, explores the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center and the Lights-out Cleveland program, a Barred Owl momma and her two fledglings at sunset, Wood Ducks up in a tree and in the water, an American Woodcock hiding in the understory, a Common Nighthawk (technically "common" but generally hard to see!) snoozing on a branch and hunting moths in the air, and a surprise mammal in closing. So, hang on, here we go!
Lights Out Cleveland: A Rose-breasted Grosbeak is released!
Key supporters of the program are the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center. As part of the program, volunteers recover stunned birds in the early hours of the morning and transport them to the Center to be cared for until they are ready for release.
We had the privilege of hearing about the program at the Center, and helping release three birds. As you can guess, when that little bundle of feathers gets close to the grass, it moves very fast. I was able to catch this female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as she made for the exit.
For more on Lights Out in New York City, including new laws designed to decrease light pollution during peak migration, see All About Birds, New York City Passes Landmark Lights-Out Laws
I have added other images, below, to show the striking appearance of the male: black and white with a rose-red breast. The photograph directly below was captured at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark on May 19th, against a very bright, milky sky.
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.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About
Agua Caliente Park
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Back Yard Birding
Bosque Del Apache
Catalina State Park
Fort Lowell Park
Oracle State Park
San Pedro River
Santa Cruz Flats
Tucson Audubon Festival
Tucson Mountain Park
White Water Draw