A pair of Sandhill Cranes coming in for a landing at Whitewater Draw, McNeal, Arizona, January 12, 2021.
As we approach the equinox and the first day of spring, let's look back at some of the birds that make winter in SE Arizona so special. Let's start with wading birds on our local ponds.
Herons and Egrets, a Short Tail . . . . .
Herons and Egrets are in the family Ardeidae in the order Pelecaniformes. They are medium to large wading birds found mostly on coastal and inland waterways, and most places in SE Arizona where there is water.
Let's start with the Black-crowned Night-Heron, captured here on the duck pond at Reid Park, just south of Barnum Hill. Yes, the same Barnum hill that is part of the controversial Zoo expansion. In the images above and below, a Black-crowned Night-Heron is standing on one leg at the edge of the pond. Looks like he is waiting for a ferry.
In the image above, a heron is hanging out with the local turtles, in his hunched back mode, a common pose when standing. However, his neck is quite long when extended.
Below, a canine park visitor gets a bit too close, and our heron begins to take off.
Herons and Egrets have very long wings, good for slow flight, and very short tails, helpful if you are wading all day looking for food. Who wants a long tail dragging in the water while looking for lunch?
It is unusual to see a heron in the air, so this is a good opportunity to see the long wings with alula evident, image below. The alula is basically the birds thumb, with a few associated feathers, which is helpful aerodynamically to increase lift on slow landings. For more on the alula, see this link: Texas Coast Part V (see immature Little Blue Heron in flight)
There were at least 4 Black-crowned Night-Herons at the pond that day, and one of them took flight and found a sunny spot to preen in a date palm tree just south of the pond. In the images below we can see him* scratching.
*I cannot assume this is a male, as the males and females look alike.
The Green Heron is described as having a velvet green back, but we are more likely to see the chestnut sides and dark cap. This bird was captured in the reeds on one of the southern ponds at Sweetwater Wetlands on February 12th. The heron below was sitting quite close to visitors on a rock in the stream right by the entrance on March 7th, and is partially backlit by the morning sun. Based on his coloration, he is likely a juvenile.
As noted earlier, the short tail is a real advantage for wading birds.
Green Herons eat fish, but also frogs. To see how much a Green Heron can swallow at one time, see my post from September 2017, "I Can't Believe He Ate the Whole Thing," Part II
Great Egrets have orange bills and black feet, and wade in the shallows looking for fish. This bird was captured at Agua Caliente on February 9th on the newly finished east pond. He is looking for food, seems to come up short, and takes off for a short hop to the other end of the pond.
The county has done a beautiful job with the reconstruction and replanting. It continues to be a popular place to visit and a great place for birds.
Up in the air we can see the Great Egret's black feet. Again, a short tail and long legs, which act as stabilizers in flight.
The Snowy Egret has a dark bill and bright orange feet, as well as wispy feathers that grow from the neck and back in breeding season. This bird was captured at Sweetwater Wetlands on the pond/river that the water department constructed right at the entrance. He (or she) put on a show for the visitors, stirring up prey with his feet and catching them with darting action of his bill.
This bird may be a regular, and seems to feed in late morning.
Egrets were prime sources of feathers for ladies' hats in the late 19th century and were hunted almost to extinction. Their plight led to the formation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1896, followed by multiple state societies and the founding of the National Audubon Society in 1905.
In the images shown below we can see the bright orange feet which this heron is using to stir up food from the sandy bottom.
A Songbird Mash-up, I cannot pass on the passerines . . .
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a songbird (passerine) in the family Regulidae along with other kinglets: small, highly active insectivores of forests and woodlands. The male Ruby-crowned in fact has a ruby crown, only occasionally seen when the bird is at the correct angle (as we see in the images above and below) or in the breeding season when the crown is displayed.
All the images here were captured at Sweetwater Wetlands in January and February. I caught the birds in flight as I was firing off a burst of photos as they were hunting for bugs. Both images were captured at 1/1250 second at f8, a fast shutter but clearly not fast enough.
In the image above and below we see the typical white eye-ring, and below the characteristic white wing-bar and black bar below it.
Gnatcatchers are very small insectivores in the family Polioptilidae.
Black-tailed Gnatcatchers are year round residents of the Southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, living in arroyos and scrublands with mesquite, ocotillo and cactus, where they feed on insects and spiders. They have a white eyering with a black tail with white details on the underside, seen in the image below.
These pictures were captured at Tohono Chul park, just northwest of Ina and Oracle.
Bewick's Wren is a small hyperactive wren with a bold white eyebrow. They are year round residents of SE Arizona and this image was captured at Sweetwater Wetlands. They eat a wide variety of insects, but also seeds and fruit during the winter which accounts for their range.
John James Audubon collected the first recognized specimen of this bird and named it after his friend Thomas Bewick, a famous 18th century British engraver and author/illustrator of A History of British Birds.
The Common Yellow-throat is an olive warbler with a yellow-throat and a black mask in the males. The bird here is likely an immature male, given the somewhat mottled appearance of the mask, photographed at Sweetwater Wetlands in February. The very last image, shown below, is a mature male, captured at Sweetwater in April of 2018, shown here to illustrate the difference. Like other warblers they eat insects and nest close to the ground. SE Arizona is in their breeding territory.
Orange-crowned Warblers are olive or yellowish in coloration, with a thin pointed bill, and an orange crown patch that is only rarely evident, usually when the bird is excited or agitated. Here we can see a hint of the patch in the images below as the bird turns its crown toward the camera.
Getting all my Ducks in a row, or synchronized swimming at the wetlands . . . . .
Green Wing and Cinnamon Teals feeding at Sweetwater Wetlands February 12th
Hanging out with the Teals, Green Wing and Cinnamon that is . . . . .
Both of these species were hanging out together at Sweetwater Wetlands in February, up close to the observation deck on one of the south ponds. In the images above and below we see a Green Wing Teal with characteristic head and wing markings.
Below is a Cinnamon Teal to the right, with a Green Wing Teal bottoms up, feeding.
In the image above and the series below we see a male Cinnamon Teal preening. Note that he appears to be scratching his back with his head, or maybe he is scratching his head with his back, but either way, it requires a long and flexible neck.
A Ring-necked Duck out of water, but not for long, or, "Why am I doing this?"
A Ring-necked Duck has a ring around its neck, usually very hard to see, but I think evident in the photo above. The more prominent ring is around its bill, but when it came time to name this species, the neck won.
These photos were captured at Agua Caliente on February 29th. The new pond has a beach, and this duck decided to venture up onto land. Why, I am not sure, and if he knew when he left the water, he promptly forgot and turned around. Regardless of his goal, it does give us a rare opportunity to see this duck out of water.
At Reid Park on February 19th we spotted this male Canvasback Duck, with characteristic long sloping forehead, rusty head and neck and white canvas back marked by black feathers fore and aft. Females are brown overall but with the same distinctive head shape.
The Canvasback is a diving duck, disappearing under water looking for plant tubers on the bottom. We are in their winter territory. They breed in the northern U.S. including Wyoming and Montana, into Canada and all the way up to Alaska. This duck will be leaving for his summer range soon.
Winter is not Winter without Sandhill Cranes . . . . .
Whitewater Draw is a wildlife conservation area close to McNeal Arizona managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. It consists of a large water/marsh area, or playa, with paths adjacent to the water and observation decks at the southeast corner of the water facing north. Sandhill Cranes migrate south every fall from as far north as Alaska and Siberia to Whitewater Draw and spend the winter roosting at the playa, and flying north to cornfields each morning to feed on residual corn from the growing season. In late morning, like clockwork, they return to the draw for some rest and hydration.
The crane count for Arizona this year was 47,601, about half of them at Whitewater Draw. The numbers have been increasing in recent years, perhaps due to lack of good feeding/roosting areas other places.
In the image above we see two cranes together, circling for a landing after their morning in the cornfields. Cranes mate for life, and families often stay together for the migration. It is common to see groups of 5 to 7 cranes flying and landing together.
Given the high crane count this year, it is common to see the sky darken in late morning as thousands of birds fly down from the northern fields back to Whitewater Draw. Below we see flocks approaching the playa.
The birds circle above the marsh as they descend and find their landing spot.
As they approach their landing they drop their legs to slow down and maintain balance. Note that like herons and egrets the tail is relatively short and shorter than the legs in flight.
In the image above, three cranes find their landing spot. This is likely a family group.
It is cold in McNeal in January. In the images below we see some of the cranes standing on the ice, and others in the water drinking.
For more on Sandhill Cranes, see these posts from prior years: Whitewater Draw: December 2015, Whitewater Draw, January 2018
Speaking of Mash-ups, let's close with Javelina, a Rock Squirrel, and a Chinese Goose . . . . .
On February 2nd we traveled to Catalina State Park for some winter birding. We did not see a lot of birds, but we did see a squadron (really, that's what it is called!) of Javelina on higher ground feeding on vegetation including prickly pear cactus.
Javelina are Peccaries, hoofed mammals originating from South America. Although they look like pigs they are not. They have distinct scent glands which they use to identify each other. They are docile if left alone but can be aggressive if approached, especially if with offspring. Feeding them in your yard is a bad idea. They become too comfortable close to people and can get aggressive.
The day we went birding at Sweetwater Wetlands and photographed the ducks feeding on the pond, a Rock Squirrel posed right next to the trail.
Rock Squirrels are residents of the southwest and Mexico. They are social animals, living in complex burrows, which provide safe shelter, living space and food storage. They are well acclimated to our climate, being able to go long periods of time without water. They are primarily herbivores.
Back to Reid Park and Barnum Hill, I captured this Chinese Goose shown below who seems to be a permanent resident, and attracts much attention from visitors.
The Chinese Goose is a breed of domesticated goose descended from the wild Swan Goose. They have a knob on the upper side of the bill, more prominent in males than in females. This goose was likely left at the park in days past, and is now a regular resident. Note that it is important not to leave pets or domesticated birds at parks and preserves, where they may not survive or may become dominant over our native species.
This large goose is very photogenic.
Yes, you guessed it, the end!
That's it for the winter wrap-up. Stay safe, stay well, and get vaccinated as soon as you can!
Happy trails! Spring is here!
American Kestrel with recent kill on a snag above the roadway, Ft. Lowell Park, Tucson, Arizona, November 21, 2020, 9:30 am.
Today's post will be about finding food and eating. After all, a bird's life is all about getting lunch before being lunch, finding a mate, and making more birds. Food, of course, comes first! As we all wrap up the holidays, for better or worse, I think we can agree. (I think I smell dinner . . . .)
I will start with an American Kestrel eating after a successful hunt. If seeing a bird eating another bird makes you feel queasy, go on to the next entry, the Lark Sparrow. They stick to seeds and insects. Also, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you might want to skip ahead.
This female American Kestrel has grabbed a bird which I can say with pretty good certainty had black and white feathers, but at this point in the meal was otherwise unidentifiable. The Kestrel appears to have eaten most of the bird, and is working her way down to the thigh. Note that most raptors start with the head.
Note that male Kestrels have similar markings, but with slate gray wings. For more on the American Kestrel, see the Cornell All About Birds site.
In the image shown below we see that she has one leg left, complete with the foot, which she eats whole as we will see further on in the series. If this seem gross or unseemly, don't forget the time you gnawed on a chicken leg, or went out for wings and hot sauce.
This may remind some of an old camp song, something about, "great green gobs of . . " and "dirty little birdie feet . . ." Caution, once this song gets in your head, it is hard to get rid of . . .
For more images of a bird swallowing "the whole thing" click here.
In the images shown below we see our Kestrel toward the end of her meal, getting every last bite off of her talons. Nothing goes to waste, and one must keep ones nails clean!
Note: No need for toothpicks, birds do not have teeth. They use their sharp and strong bills for crushing and breaking food apart, and their tongues to help get it down.
On the field just under the American Kestrel was a flock of Lark Sparrows feeding on seeds. In retrospect it is somewhat surprising that the sparrows were grouped en masse so close to a predator. They were both eating as it were, so maybe they put aside differences for a communal lunch break.
Lark Sparrows live year round in SE Arizona, Texas, Mexico and the California coast, breeding throughout the central U.S as far east as Ohio and Indiana. They frequent prairies, grasslands with low understory, eating insects and seeds.
Adults are gray with a thick bill and a striking head pattern that we see here. They have a black spot in the middle of the breast which we may be able to see faintly in the image shown below.
Not far from the Lark Sparrows we found several Lesser Goldfinch in a large Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides), which is a member of the sunflower family, which these goldfinches favor. Note that they also eat coffeeberry, elderberry, and madrone fruits, as well as buds of cottonwoods, alders, sycamores, willows, and oaks. Lesser Goldfinches are regulars in backyard feeders, especially Nyjer seed feeders.
Lesser Goldfinches live throughout Mexico, southern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and the northern California coast.
Many thanks to Jeff Babson for the plant identification.
Full disclosure here: This Belted Kingfisher was photographed on water not really in Ft. Lowell park, but not far away. I suspect this is the same kingfisher who has been spotted on the pond at the park.
The Belted Kingfisher is in the family Alcedinidae, one of six families in the order Coraciifiormes. This order is diverse and includes Bee-eaters (Meropidae) , Rollers (Coraciidae) Ground-rollers of Madagascar (Brachypteraciidae), todies (Todidae), and motmots (Momotidae), as well as Kingfishers. (Ref: Lovette and Fitzpatrick, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology, Third Edition, pp 49-50)
Kingfishers are sit-and-wait predators that eat mostly fish. The Belted Kingfisher lives throughout North America, breeding in the very northern U.S. and Canada/Alaska. They winter to the south including Arizona and Mexico.
They are stocky birds with large heads with a shaggy crest and a straight, thick pointed bill. Perched, they look top heavy. The males are blue-gray above, white below with a blue band, or belt, across the chest. Females are flashier with an added rusty band across the belly.
This female likes to hunt for small fish late in the day as the sun is sinking below the tree line, making photography a challenge. However, she is a creature of habit, and has about 6 favorite perches she returns to on a regular basis. The image above has her in a shady spot where she can view the water.
In the image below she is taking off from one of her regular perches, heading for the water. Wings up, we can see her body markings well, as well as the underside of her flight feathers and upper side of her tail.
In the image below, markings on her dorsal wings are evident, as well as her neck and relatively short tail.
In the image below, she is landing into the sun on a favorite snag.
Belted Kingfishers emit a loud rattling call that may be the first clue to their presence. SE Arizona is in their wintering territory, and their arrival is a welcome greeting from the north during our winter months.
The other kingfisher we can encounter locally is the Green Kingfisher who lives in Mexico, but has been spotted as far north as SE Arizona, with past sightings along the San Pedro River. As of January 1, 2021, eBird shows sightings in December 2020 near Tubac along the De Anza trail.
That's it for lunch; poultry, seeds and seafood.
Happy New Year and very best wishes for 2021!
Stay safe, stay well! Get vaccinated!
Northern Jacana on the Santa Cruz River just south of Ina Street, Tucson, Arizona, December 7, 2020
The Northern Jacana
The Northern Jacana is a medium sized shorebird that resides year round in lowlands of Mexico and Central America down as far south as southwestern Panama. The species is seen sporadically in the U.S. along the southern Texas coast, and rarely in S.E. Arizona. This bird has been spotted under the Ina Street bridge at the Santa Cruz River for some weeks, viewed from the bridge looking south. How it got here is unclear.
Northern Jacanas eat insects from vegetation and aquatic invertebrates, as well as some seeds and aquatic vegetation. This male or female (they look the same, the female is larger) is hunting for food in and out of the reeds, walking on water vegetation with its long toes. In some parts of its range it is known as the "Jesus bird" for its apparent ability to walk on water. We got lucky on the morning of December 7th when the bird wandered out to forage for a while. These photos were taken from the bridge over the river, more on that later in the post.
The Northern Jacana has long legs and very long toes. Adults are reddish brown, with a dark head, neck and breast. There is a yellow shield on the forehead, as seen in the image leading this post, and below.
Northern Jacanas are known for their sexual role reversal and polyandry, where the female takes on more than one male during the breeding season. The females are larger and heavier than the males and more aggressive. The males build the nests, incubate the eggs and raise the precocial young. The females provide eggs for up to 4 nests in one territory. The males defend their nests against other males, and the females defend their region from other females. The number of nests per female depends on food availability: more food, more nests. (Reference: Birds of the World, Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
The flight feathers are yellow, as we can see in the images in flight above and below. For the photo geeks, I was shooting into the sun, with a slow shutter of 1/200 second not expecting the bird to take flight. 1/1000th or higher would have given me better images!
In the images that follow, we can see the bird's very long toes that allow him/her to walk on floating reeds and river vegetation.
Where is the Ina Street Bridge?
Yes, I know, Ina Road has many bridges over who knows what, but in this case I am referring to the bridge over the Santa Cruz River, on W. Ina Road between I-10 and N. Silverbell Road, here in Tucson, Arizona. See the map above, generated on Google Maps.
The bridge is new, and fenced sidewalks create a link between The Chuck Huckelberry Loop coming up from the south on the east side of the river and the north bound trail to the west side of the river. The sidewalk on the south side of Ina has a secure fence (not wall) that allows viewing of water in the Santa Cruz below and to the south. A telephoto lens just fits in between the rails, or over the top, but be sure you have straps on your gear. It is along way down to a lot of sand and water.
This is where our Northern Jacana has been hanging out for some weeks, in and out of the reeds and walking on the floating vegetation.
You can park south of Ina and west of the river as shown on the map above to get access to trails along the river, and to the Loop itself.
The photograph above was captured looking south. The county wastewater treatment plant discharges fully treated water into the Santa Cruz, restoring flow in the stretch of river to the north of the plant.
The photograph below was taken from the loop trail under the bridge. Waterfalls in Tucson are not common!
Pied-billed Grebe and Least Sandpiper
The Northern Jacana was not the only bird out on the morning of the 7th. The image above is of two Pied-billed Grebes to the south of the bridge, and below Least Sandpipers foraging under the bridge.
That's all for now! Stay safe, stay well.
Bear Wallow, 9:12 am, October 23, 2020. Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 24 mm, 1/100 sec at f/22 ISO 1250 with polarizing filter.
In special memory of Frank Rose (1927-2020) who touched so many people in so many ways, and for those on the mountain, awakened the wonders of flowers and trees in the Catalinas. We miss you Frank.
Bear Wallow is a small valley that runs east to west not far from the top of the mountain at mile post 22. For a Map see this link. The trail through the valley can be accessed either from E. Upper Bear Wallow Road which runs east of the highway where it makes a hairpin turn, or from Soldiers Camp Road which is across the highway from the Butterfly Trailhead. There is a huge culvert, a tunnel if you like, that runs under the highway providing hikers and picnickers access the the valley on either side of the highway. The valley is loaded with oaks and maples, as well as varieties of pine trees.
If you are not from Tucson, this valley is a one hour drive north of Tucson at at 7800 feet. Yes, you can go from the Sonoran Desert to pines, oaks and maples in an hour. About 30 degrees cooler also!
Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 35 mm, 1/60 sec at f/22 ISO 800 with polarizing filter.
For the photo geeks: Fall is a good time to ignore the common wisdom of shooting with the sun at your back, and instead shoot into the sun and catch the leaves transilluminated.
To get the star burst effect of the sun set your aperture at ~ f/22, and/or line up the sun right at the edge of a trunk or branch. Add a polarizing filter to darken the sky and eliminate reflections from leaves, enhancing their color. Note that polarizers only work when shooting at 90 degrees to the sun.
For a great article on shooting in the fall, see Fall Color Fundamentals, text and photos by Kevin McNeal in the September 2020 issue of Outdoor Photographer.
Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 24 mm, 1/50 sec at f/8 ISO 125 with polarizing filter.
For this photo shoot I parked by the side of E. Upper Bear Wallow Road, which runs east from the highway right at the hairpin turn. See the map below. The road runs the length of the wallow to the east, then turns uphill and becomes E. Mt Bigelow Road up to the U of A Observatory and the radio towers.
These images were captured east and west of the highway, on either side of the huge culvert that runs under the highway. In October the sun is getting lower in the sky and the lighting will change as the day progresses.
Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 28 mm, 1/100 sec at f/22 ISO 1600 with polarizing filter.
Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 40 mm, 1/100 sec at f/22 ISO 1600 with polarizing filter.
Canon EOS R6 with EF 17-40 mm f/4L at 45 mm, 1/100 sec at f/11 ISO 640 with polarizing filter.
November is still fall, but the leaves have fallen and we have seen our first snow a week ago.
More soon. Stay safe, stay well.
Wilson's Warbler, male, Carter Canyon September 24, 2020
Before we get to the rest of the photos, let's have a frank discussion about warblers. Ready? What are they? Well, the name warbler is used internationally to describe several different, unrelated families of birds. Okay, that's clear. Oh, and some of them (like the Painted Redstart) don't have warbler in their name. Even clearer.
The good news is that these warblers are divided into three broad categories by continent. So, for North and South America (and associated islands) we have the New World Warblers. This is a group of just over 100 species in the family Parulidae (and the lonely Olive Warbler now in the family Peucedramidae. Crystal clear and straight forward - right). Fortunately for anyone living in the Americas, these birds are small, colorful, fun to watch but terribly frustrating to identify.
The second category is Old World Warblers, over 400 species of plain and drab songbirds living in Africa, Asia and Europe. So if you live in cold and rainy England, you get to see drab warblers. Oh joy. The third group are the Australasian Warblers, over 60 species in the family Acathizidae. This includes the Weebill, Australia's smallest bird. If you take at trip down under, study up on these.
Okay, since most of us live in North America (granted, I might have a few fans from another continent), let's focus in on a group known as Wood Warblers. Wood Warblers are a subset of the 100 plus New World warblers that live in North America. David Allen Sibley describes Wood Warblers as belonging to one of 54 species, 53 in the family Parulidae, and that one lonely Olive Warbler in the family Peucedramidae.
So far so good. One step further, if we limit ourselves to SE Arizona, there are by my count 33 Wood Warblers in Richard Taylor's guide Birds of Southeastern Arizona. This number is not fixed since warblers are migratory, and may stray off their recognized migratory paths. And, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum identifies 6 Wood Warblers as representative of Sonoran Desert species: Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler (AKA butter butt), Wilson's Warbler (see my lead photo at the top of the post), Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat (no "warbler" in that name) and Lucy's Warbler.
So, in our travel restricted pandemic mode, we can settle down to watch between 30 to 40 species of Wood Warbler. Some are resident, but many are migratory, making their way into our lives on an intermittent basis. At least SOMEONE is traveling!.
So, with that introduction, let's begin by looking at some of the many warblers that were hanging out on the mountain in October.
Townsend's Warblers winter in Mexico, Central America, and portions of SE Arizona, as well as the Pacific costal areas from Baja to Oregon. They breed in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. This is most likely a female, with a pale throat. I captured this image along Carter Canyon Road on September 24th. The males have black throats, and bolder contrast of the yellow and black head markings.
This female is likely a migrant, although Cornell's range map does show a winter location in SE Arizona. I would not expect this bird to stay in the mountain in the winter; she needs insects for food, although the species will eat tree sap and other sugars if needed during the winter.
It is fun to watch warblers forage for insects. They move rapidly in the understory and will from time to time pause on a branch and look in all directions for the next bite-full.
Hermit Warblers breed in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and winter in southern Mexico and Central America. They pass through Arizona during their migration.
Males have a black chin, females a yellow chin. This could be an immature, given the pale chin and dusky cheek. Hermit Warblers eat insects as well as sugar rich sap.
Diet and food availability help determine habitat and migration patterns. Warblers (with some exceptions) eat insects, and "follow the food," going south during the winter.
The male Wilson's Warbler is easy to identify with his bright yellow body and black cap. Females have an olive crown and occasionally a small black cap. They live throughout North America, breeding in the Pacific Northwest and further north through Canada into Alaska and all the way east to northern Maine and Nova Scotia. They winter in southern Louisiana and Mexico, and south into Central America. Range maps show their migration throughout the lower 48 states, including SE Arizona and Summerhaven.
They eat larval insects, spiders, beetles, and caterpillars off leaves and twigs in the understory. They will also take to the air to catch flies, bees, mayflies, aphids and other insects.
Here we see "Mr. Wilson" looking carefully for bugs on adjacent leaves.
Black-throated Gray Warbler
We have seen the Black-throated Grey Warbler during the summer on the mountain, see my post of August 1, 2020. The Black-throated Grey Warbler lives west of the Rockies, breeding in SE Arizona and eastern New Mexico all the way up to the Pacific Northwest and Canada, wintering in southern Mexico. They forage for insects in the lower understory. The image above was captured as the bird foraged on the ground, just off of the lower section of Upper Goat Hill Road. Image below, a Black-throated Gray Warbler in a pine.
That's it for warblers. Let's take a look at some of the woodpeckers active in October.
Red-naped Sapsucker (and a local Acorn!)
The Red-naped Sapsucker is a woodpecker who eats tree sap, fruit and insects. They breed in the rockies and west, wintering from Arizona south into Mexico. This bird is on the way south, but may winter in Tucson. Their varied diet gives them more options for their winter residence, in distinction to some warblers who can only eat insects.
Woodpeckers use their tails to brace themselves on bark and branches, allowing them to use their bills as drilling devices. The images above and below show the tail, and how they deftly use it against a branch.
In the image below we see our Red-naped Sapsucker to the right, but to the left is an Acorn Woodpecker, a local resident, keeping an eye on him.
Image below, the Acorn moves closer. . . . .
And and then moves to displace the intruder. This was just west of Sabino Canyon Parkway, near Retreat.
"This tree isn't big enough for both of us!"
The acorn continued to harass the sapsucker, who had likely strayed into the acorn's territory.
The Red-shafted Northern Flicker is a large brown woodpecker with an extensive range throughout North America, living year round throughout the lower 48 states and Mexico, and breeding as well in Canada. The male has a red malar stripe, the female, shown here, does not.
Flickers eat mainly insects, especially ants and beetles which they forage from the ground. They eat seeds and fruits as well, which helps explain their extensive year round range, even in cold climates. Their tongues can extend 2 inches, facilitating snaring of bugs.
The female here was foraging on the ground just west of Sabino Canyon Parkway in the village. They peck into the ground as other woodpeckers peck at tree bark. She allowed me to get fairly close for these shots.
Next we have two Vireos. Vireos are small to medium sized songbirds found in North and South America and Southeast Asia. They are typically somewhat dull in appearance and greenish in color, the smaller species resembling wood warblers, except they have heavier bills.
Here in the images above and below we see a Warbling Vireo ("warbles" but is not a warbler!). Warbling Vireos breed in much of the lower 48 states and Canada, wintering in southern Mexico and Central America. This bird is likely in migration south. They are plain birds with a "yellow wash" on their underparts, and a faint white stripe above the eye. Their bill is clearly chunkier that what we see in warblers.
They eat insects, adding fruit to their diet during the winter
Here we see a Cassin's Vireo, with white underparts washed with yellow, two white wingbars, and distinctive white "spectacles", white eye rings that connect over the bill, giving the appearances of eyeglasses.
Cassin's Vireos live west of the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, breeding from coastal California into the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and wintering from SW Arizona into southern Mexico, staying close to the Pacific Coast. This bird is likely in migration.
They eat mostly insects, occasionally fruit in winter, which likely explains their migratory pattern, wintering in southern climes that provide an insect diet.
Brown Creepers are small songbirds that live throughout North America and Canada, and as far south as Central America. They eat a variety of insects which they skillfully extract from the bulky bark of the biggest trees they can find. They start at the bottom and work their way up to the top, pulling insects and larvae out of crevices in the bark. They are mottled brown and white with a slender decurved bill, ideal for extracting insects. They are tough to spot given their coloration that blends in perfectly with the trees they feed on.
Images above and below shows a creeper braced on the trunk with large feet and thin tail, looking for food. The markings and decurved bill are evident.
Image below: Without moving his feet, this creeper looks like a yoga instructor, bending deep into a crevice in the bark.
Voila! He comes up with an insect!
When they reach the top of the tree, they fly down to the bottom of same tree or another and start all over again, methodically working their way to the top.
That's it for October!
Stay tuned. Fall colors from Bear Wallow coming soon!
Stay safe, stay well.
Fall on the mountain, two Yellow-eyed Juncos spar over water rights! (Or, two birds fly into a bar . . . . .)
So, winter in coming and that means it is time for a little tussle over winter territory.
Yellow-eyed Juncos are residents of the mountains of SE Arizona and SW New Mexico all the way south to Guatemala, being locally abundant, sedentary and as described by Cornell's Birds of the World, philopatric, tending to remain or return to a particular area. This makes them easy to study; therefore much is known about our local friends. For more details, see Birds of the World, my reference for this post.
Here we see a sequence of two males in an aggressive display over a water bowl kindly provided (along with food) by one of our friendly neighbors on the mountain. These dominance displays are observed year-round but are reported to occur most often when birds are in winter flocks and during territory establishment in early spring.
A Yellow-eyed Junco testing the waters by dipping his tail in the pond! Males and females look alike. I am assuming this is a male because of the behavior that followed this otherwise sedate portrait.
The male on the left is drinking at the water, when the male on the right flies in.
The interloper challenges the resident male by lifting his wings.
The stare down . . . .
The junco on the right raises up his head, the face-to-face bob, one of the 8 dominance moves reported in NJ Moore's 1972 PhD thesis, Ethology of the Mexican Junco, University of Arizona (Reference: Birds of the World) .
The bird on the left counters, raising his head and lifting his wings.
The junco on the right in turn stretches to look taller.
Then lifts his wings, as his opponent on the left crouches . . . .
At the sound of the bell, they are into the air
Tumbling in the air, the bird that was on the left is now on top. The crouch was a good move!
The bird that was sitting on the left is on top, maintaining his position. The juncos tumble staying airborne.
Our interloper decides to break off and begin his exit.
Perhaps wisely, he decides there must be water somewhere else. On to the next bar . . . .
For the photo geeks: This series was shot with a Canon R6 mirrorless full frame digital camera, attached to a Canon EF 100-400 mm IS II with a 1.4x extender, at 1/400 sec, f/7.1, ISO 2500, electronic shutter at ~20 frames/second. I captured 37 frames in under 2 seconds. The lack of a mirror allows rapid frame capture.
That's it for our dueling juncos! More October birds coming soon.
* with apologies to Edward Lear and his original poem, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.
Above is a Great Horned Owl, but where is the hummingbird? Be patient, it's coming.
This post is a tribute to backyard photography in the time of Covid-19. None of us can get out as much as we want, and so we find our sit-spot* close to home and see who shows up.
In this case it was a Great Horned Owl who decided late in the afternoon of August 17th to find his sit-spot on top of our back yard water fountain. The top of the stone fountain is a popular spot for local birds, especially in our recent summer heat.
The image below shows what is probably a female with lots of water bubbling right in front of her. Why a female? Although field marks do not help distinguish males from females, females develop a brood patch on the chest/abdomen which is devoid of feathers to allow them to put their nice warm tummy right on their eggs or hatchlings. This owl has a crease down the middle, where the feather from each side meet, indicating coverage of a brood patch. Could it me a male? Well, only female Great Horned Owls incubate eggs, so no brood patch for the male of this species. My thanks to Dan Weisz for picking up this detail in the images.
She was there for an hour.
*Thanks to Melissa Groo and her recent online course, Bird Photography with Melissa Groo, available through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Academy, at this link. One of her tips is to find a "sit spot" where bird are active, and just sit and watch.
My thanks to our son Chuck who spotted this owl from the kitchen and sent out the alert. I started with a few shots through the glass back door, then ventured around the house to the back yard. My subject was quite tolerant of my presence. I eventually found my sit-spot on a patio chair, and waited.
Great Horned Owls sleep during the day, and hunt at night. [For details, I recommend Cornell's site Birds of the World, which will provide complete information and a review of past research, and is a reference for this post. However, it does require a subscription. A great alternative is All About Birds also from the Cornell Lab, which is free. ] They are nocturnal perch hunters, taking prey as small as scorpions and as large as rabbits. They will also take birds including ducks, geese, and herons. Barn Owls are also on their diet, which is why the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum here in Tucson does not fly the two species together for their raptor free-flight exhibits.
In the images above and below, our afternoon visitor demonstrates her neck agility as she checks out our backyard. Great Horned Owls can swivel their heads more than 180 degrees, more than compensating for eyes that remain fixed in their sockets. Their large talons take a force of 13 kgs to open, allowing them to sever the necks of prey.
This bird was snoozing about half the time. In the image above, her lids meet halfway, and in the image below the upper lids are completely closed. Note that the upper lids have dark feathers in the center that give the appearance of pupils. There is likely a survival advantage for appearing awake during sleep.
Enter humming birds. In the image below, a female Rufous Hummingbird, likely on her fall migration south from Canada to Mexico, approaches the fountain, in about the same focal plane as the owl, but to her left, and maybe a bit behind. The owl looked behind her perch from time to time, but did not seem interested in this hummingbird, or other birds in the yard.
Below, a female Anna's Hummingbird decides to approach the water from the front, taking advantage of a sleepy owl. Note that female Great Horned Owls weigh on average about 1500 grams (1.5 kgs) compared to the Anna's fighting weight of 4 grams. That is a 375X advantage for the owl. (Reference: Birds of the World).
In the next set of images the owl sees the Anna's and tracks her as she approaches the fountain. Fortunately for me they were in the same focal plane. This is the set of shots I was hoping for, and to get ready I moved the shutter speed up to 1/2000. Stats for the image below: Canon EOS 7D Mk II, EF 100-400 at 100 mm, f/4.5 at 1/2000 second, ISO 1600.
'The female Anna's approaches the water cautiously and eventually gets a drink, all under the watchful eye of the the owl.
The Anna's backs off, meeting her everyday goal of getting some dinner without being dinner. The owl seems happy to have a place to sit with lots of water to drink, and maybe thinking of larger entree's for later that evening. Some prefer to dine late.
That's it for a bit of backyard birding during the pandemic. Stay safe, stay well!
[Posted 8/24/, updated 8/25/2020]
Many thanks to Jeff Babson, Stephen Vaughan, Tom Richardson, and Dan Weisz for their review of selected images, help in hummingbird identification and sex identification of the owl.
I usually begin each blog post with one of my better bird photos to get you hooked, click on the link and start "turning the pages." However, today I felt the best intro was to show you a new addition to an otherwise quiet Summerhaven; one of many new warning signs the county put up in late July.
With the exception of the green island that is Summerhaven (the map looks like Italy on support hose), much of what we love in the Catalinas has been burned. Not a moonscape, rather most of what we see from the road is charring from ground fire, with tall green trees still in abundance, and some greening on the ground occurring even now. The forest will come back, it is just not ready for visitors yet.
As of this writing, The Coronado National Forest is closed until November 1, 2020. The burned areas are not safe for hiking, and flash flooding is a real risk. During the month of July Summerhaven has been open only to residents, but is open to the public beginning Saturday August 1st. The delay was to allow time for crews to repair certain critical guard rail posts. This first phase was complete by Friday July 31st, with the second phase continuing into August while the road is open to traffic.
So come on up! Stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants, and sample the fudge at the general store.
What follows is a sampler of birds in the village after the fire, beginning when residents could return in early July. The regulars are still here, with more warblers taking advantage of insects in the understory and water in the creek. Here are a few.
Red-faced Warblers winter in the mountains of Mexico, and breed in southern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. We are very fortunate to have them in SE Arizona for the summer.
They seem to like riparian areas around Sabino Creek and in Rose Canyon, where they forage in the conifers and understory and nest in the ground. We have seen more of them this year in Summerhaven, perhaps due to loss of habitat and food in Rose Canyon and other habitats after the fire. I hope Summerhaven's green island will attract and keep the populations thriving on Mt. Lemmon.
The females look similar to the males, but are a more orangish-red. I believe all the birds we see here are males.
All images here were captured relatively low in the understory near Sabino Creek on private land, not far from the water department.
In the image below we see a male feeding off of insects on the understory. Note that the leaves have galls hanging from their underside, the plant's response to flies or wasps laying eggs in the plant tissue. As the eggs mature, they will likely produce more food for the birds. [Thanks to Jeff Babson for the botany lesson!]
And, a final view of a male, striking an appealing pose.
Black-throated Gray Warbler
The Black-throated Gray Warbler, as the name describes, is black and gray, with a black throat in the male and more muted throat markings for the female, with two characteristic yellow spots just above and in front of the eye on each side.
These warblers breed in pine and mixed pine-oak forests west of the Rockies from SE Arizona into southern Canada. They winter in southern Mexico. Their song is described as a buzzy zeedle zeedle zeedle zeet-chee.
They forage for insects and nest in trees, anywhere from 3 to 35 feet above ground.
Like the Red-faced Warblers, I have seen more of them in Summerhaven this summer, in the pines and understory around Sabino Creek, again likely a result of the Bighorn Fire.
Image above, a nice pose facing away, but looking back at the camera, showing off his/her yellow spot. Below, "here's looking at ya'" with both yellow spots in evidence.
In the series of images below, a female is bathing in the creek, adjacent to Sabino Canyon Parkway.
And, preening to take full advantage of the bath . . . . .
Finally, clean and fluffy.
Like the Red-faced Warbler, the Painted Redstart is considered a specialty of the borderlands of the southwest. They are warblers who live year round in the mountains of central Mexico, but travel north into SE Arizona and western New Mexico to breed. They favor mountainous riparian areas making Sabino Creek and Rose Canyon a perfect match.
As with our other two species in this post, the Bighorn Fire has displaced them from favored habitats, bringing more of them into the Summerhaven area. The bird above was photographed in Summerhaven close to the creek.
Painted Redstarts are striking birds with bright red breasts, black and white wings, and a distinctive half eye ring. They forage by flashing their white wing patches and outer tail feathers, flushing out insects which they then pursue and capture.
This summer we have had two juveniles hanging out at our feeders, not far from the creek, but definitely out of their usual foraging neighborhood. The bird shown below has minimal red in the breast, characteristic wing markings and a developing half eye-ring. He seems to think he is a feeder bird, maybe a hummer, as he explores the nectar feeder.
The bird below is developing a red breast, but also wonders if a seed block is right for lunch. He tried pecking at it several times, but was quickly scared off by a possessive Pine Siskin.
The juvenile below landed on our railing and deck, and almost flew into the cabin. Here we see a sequence of observation and hopping about as he sizes up the world around him.
In the images below we see an adult in typical foraging behavior flashing the wings and tail.
The final image below shows full wing and tail deployment as he hopes to scare up some bugs.
We looked at some adult Abert's Squirrels in my October 2019 post, see this link. Here are two juveniles on July 22nd, tussling with each other about 20 feet off of the ground.
Abert's are small tree squirrels that live from the Rocky Mountains south into Mexico, with a population living year round here on Mt. Lemmon. They like cool and dry ponderosa pine forests, where they feed on the seeds and pinecones. They are excellent climbers and can hold onto a tree with their hind feet, freeing up their fore feet for eating.
Here we can see juveniles practicing their tree skills. Their feet are evident in these images.
Holding onto the tree sideways is not a problem for these fellas. Adults can hang upside down from their hind feet alone. These offspring likely were born here in Summerhaven, and are not migrants from the fire.
That's all for now. Soon we will start seeing birds stopping over in the village on their way south. We are already seeing Rufous Hummingbirds at the feeders, on their way to Mexico from the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Stay tuned!
Red-faced Warbler, Rose Canyon, May 14, 2020.
As we saw from my last post in March, the first day of spring is also the last day of winter (snow at 7500 feet in SE Arizona!). Although I would like to think that spring comes to the mountain in April, alas it does not! April is a cold month, with a few pussy willows budding and a lot of water running in the creek, but otherwise cold and gray. However, come May 1st, and everything explodes, trees begin to leaf, Cow Parsnip miraculously sprouts out of the mud in stream beds, and our nesting birds arrive for the summer.
This post is a sampling of what the first two weeks of May 2020 had to offer, starting with the Meadow Trail up at 9100', descending to 7500' for some Summerhaven offerings, and then driving down to Rose Canyon at 7000', where in early May the park was closed to all but foot traffic, making it ideal for birding!
The Meadow Trail: 9100 feet.
When you get to Summerhaven on the Hitchcock Highway, turn right up the hill toward Ski Valley, drive past the Iron Door, and up the mountain to the gate for the Sky Center. Park to the left where the trails begins.
Disclaimer: The two images below were captured in August a few years back. The trail does not look like this in May - it is not as green and the flowers are not in bloom yet. The good news is that if you want to see the trail this way, wait until August, all these goodies are coming soon!
The image below was captured at the the beginning of the trail, just to the south of the observatories and the U of A Sky Center. The image that follows shows the flat top of the mountain as you walk south to the edge of the rock wall, where the swallows feed. This is all at about 9100', with little variation in terrain, but differences in tree density. There are good nesting opportunities here, regardless of whether you are a cavity or ground nester.
Violet-green Swallows winter in southern Mexico and Central America, and breed from northern Mexico into Alaska. Mt Lemmon is in the southern range of their summer territory, with open skies and lots of bugs to the south of the rock ledge, and lots of nesting locations in the woods to the north.
Above and below are images of the swallow perching and preening between food forays. Folded up, the wings are longer than the tail. These birds move very fast and dart quickly making flight photography very difficult.
Above and below, the violet markings on the rump are evident.
Above and below, long wings and short tail.
We have seen Spotted Towhee's in prior posts, but usually in the winter or fall when I have caught the males rummaging through leaf litter. The month of May brings the males to the top of the trees to be seen and heard by interested females.
Down to 7500', let's look at some of the birds that hang out closer to the creek and home bird feeders.
Sabino Creek in Marshall Gulch, May 2020.
Black-headed Grosbeak's are chunky songbirds that winter in southern Mexico and breed in mountainous regions of northern Mexico, Arizona, and up into the Rockies and Canada. The males arrived this year in mid-April, with the females arriving about two weeks later. Their song is often described as a tipsy Robin, who cannot quite get the words right! Their chunky bills are great for cracking open sunflower seeds, making them regular visitors to feeders.
The first three images are mature males with dark heads, and cinnamon breasts.
The image in the frame below is an immature male or female - they look much alike until the male develops his characteristic black head and orange breast. The picture that follows is most likely a mature female, getting ready for nesting on May 1st.
Again, many thanks to Jeff Babson at Sky Island Tours for his help in confirming the age and gender of these birds.
Townsend's Warblers are in the group of birds that we are lucky enough to catch at one of their rest stops (Mt Lemmon) on their way migrating north. They winter in southern Mexico and Central America, and breed in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, going up as far north as Alaska.
This is a male we spotted high in the trees above Upper Loma Linda Extension on May 9th. Like all warblers, they move very fast in the distance, making good photography a challenge. This bird is likely feeding on insects on this conifer.
To remind us that there are predators out there, we see an occasional Cooper's Hawk stopping by our feeders looking for a quick bite. After looking around a while he (or she) decided to move on.
To prove that Cooper's Hawks do eat, I have added the image below from my archive, August 2019. This one caught a bird near the cabin and perched to eat in good view. FYI, they eat the head first, most likely because of the high nutritional content: fat, fat-soluble vitamins, and protein.
Drive down the highway south of the Palisade Ranger Station, and you will come to Rose Canyon on your right. The first two weeks of May it was closed to traffic and campers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but many visitors parked on the main road, and walked down. We visited the canyon on May 14th, and found many birds in nesting and breeding mode.
Red-faced Warblers winter in southern Mexico and Central America, and breed in mountainous regions of northern Mexico, Arizona, and western New Mexico. We are fortunate to have them on Mt. Lemmon as nesters for the summer. They forage in the understory, favoring riparian areas, and nest in the ground. Here in early May, they are present in abundance in Rose Canyon, with the males singing from the upper branches. Later in the season they stay low to the ground gathering food for their nestlings, and are tougher to spot.
The Painted Redstart is a distinctive red, black and white warbler with a geographic distribution similar to the Red-faced Warbler - wintering in southern Mexico and breeding in the mountains to the north including SE Arizona, and W. New Mexico. They are the only member of their genus seen north of the U.S. border. They have a very characteristic foraging technique, fanning the tail and wings to scare up insects from the foliage. Here we can see their markings and some of the foraging behavior.
Here we see an adult (sexes are similar year round) fanning its wings and tail to get bugs to come out from their hiding places. These birds move very fast!
The Hermit Thrush is a very nondescript bird with a spectacular song. Here is a link to a YouTube video of a Hermit Thrush singing in Maine. Kenn Kaufman in his writings notes that plain looking birds need distinctive songs to identify themselves, and the Hermit Thrush is one of them!
Another nondescript bird with a distinctive song is the Warbling Vireo. SE Arizona is just on the border of their range, so Rose Canyon could be breeding territory, or this bird may be moving north. Given that it is May and the bird was singing, I am guessing this is breeding territory. Here is a link to a You-Tube video of the Warbling Vireo.
When we walked down the road toward the lake in mid-May, the park was closed, so there was no traffic whatsoever! The birds were very close to the road, including this male Western Bluebird sitting on top of a speed limit sign!
We are in the Western Bluebird's year round territory. They winter in Tucson, and nest in cavities and bird houses up on the mountain. A number of Mt. Lemmon residents have put out bird houses, which helps keep the population up.
The images above and below, a female perched on a branch. There are plenty of good nesting sites in Rose Canyon.
White-breasted Nuthatches are common on the mountain, living with us year round. They forage for insects and seeds off of tree bark, often hanging upside down and working their way from the top of the tree to the bottom.
Cordilleran Flycatchers are small flycatchers that winter in southern Mexico and breed each summer in the mountains of the pacific west of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades, including Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho and Montana. They started arriving to the mountain in early May, and by now they are well into nesting in Rose Canyon and Turkey Run, among other locations. See this link to my post on their nesting behavior from last fall.
The males and females are indistinguishable. The females are ledge nesters, looking for any flat place, including the rubber tires of inactive vehicles!
That's a wrap for early May on the mountain!
Stay safe, stay healthy!
Happy Trails! More soon . . . ..
Wild Turkeys and fresh snow, Mt Lemmon, March 18, 2020, the last official day of winter!
Mt. Lemmon in January: Acorn Woodpeckers and Pine Siskins
We last dropped in on the mountain community of Acorn Woodpeckers in October as they prepared for winter. Well, winter arrived, and here we see a male tending to the granary tree at Ajo and Loma Linda Extension on January 31st. In the image above he is sitting on a main branch of the dead granary tree, below he is checking out inventory, almost halfway through winter. Like all woodpeckers he is using tail to brace himself on the tree.
It appears that his winter store of acorns is down from fall inventory. We see acorns in the image above, captured on January 31st. For comparison, the image below was captured on October 18th. It is on a different part of the same tree, but most of the holes appear full, the result of the fall harvest.
And, then the Pine Siskins
Pine Siskins are small birds in the finch family that live throughout North America and reside year round on Mt Lemmon. They move in flocks, and come in large numbers to the feeders, especially in the winter when other food sources are scarce. In this series of images we see the birds going after each other for their part of the feed cylinder. It's not like there is not enough to go around!
The last of the series, below, catches a bird with his wings extended showing the yellow markings on the wing, usually only seen when folded.
For the photo geeks: This was shot with a Canon 7D Mk II, with an EF 100-400 Mk II, 286 mm, at 1/250 sec. at f/6.3 with fill flash using a Better Beamer. The combination of the flash and relatively slow shutter speed (required for synchronization) captured the wing extended (flash), but also the bird on right behind the wing (slow shutter exposed the bird before the wing overlapped it).
Return to White Water Draw: Great Horned Owl
We returned to White Water Draw on February 19, 2020 with a birding group led by Jeff Babson. Since my last visit in December, a pair of Great Horned Owls have set up camp in the barn right at the entrance to the preserve. The images above and below are the male, snoozing mid-morning.
Below we see the female sitting on her nest, presumably on eggs. There seems to be lots of prey in the White Water Draw area, so hopefully there will be enough food this spring for Mom, Dad, and their hatchlings. Portions of the barn are roped off under the nest.
Image above, just a slit of eye as she sleeps. Below, the left eye opens just a bit, then in the next frame looks a bit more menacing, before they shut us out entirely.
Zzzzzzzzzz . . . . . . . .
As we started our walk, there was a large flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds hanging out (literally) on wetland reeds. SE Arizona is in their wintering territory. My guess is that most of the birds we are seeing here are females, with some males mixed in. Males have more yellow on the breast and head than the females do.
Flocks of Blackbirds often are made up of predominantly one sex. In southern Arizona winter flocks are often females. Males typically migrate north before females to set up their territories before the females arrive.
Below, two females are mixing it up.
Special thanks to Jeff Babson both for the tour in February, and for his help reviewing these images.
For more on White Water Draw (WWD) and Sandhill Cranes, click on this link which will take you to all my posts on WWD going back to 2015.
In February there was less water than in December, but the cranes were still close in and to the right of the main viewing decks. They returned late morning, filling the sky as seen in the image above.
The images below show a family of three on their approach.
Images below, heavy air traffic on the approach, with a crowded landing field.
In the two images below we can see an immature crane who has not yet molted into adult plumage. The vast majority of immature cranes molt before the fall migration, but a few do not, and stand out from the crowd.
Snow Geese are amazing birds that breed in far northern Canada, Alaska and the Artic, and winter in the central U.S., east coast, and portions of Mexico. We are fortunate that they like inland wetlands such as White Water Draw and Bosque del Apache. Images above and below show a flock of Snow Geese coming into the wetlands for a landing around noon.
In the images below we can see one goose with distinct coloration, a blue morph. This change in coloration is determined by one gene. Note also in the detail below that this goose is missing one secondary flight feather on the right wing. Snow Geese do not molt in the winter so this is likely the result of an altercation with another goose, or a close encounter with a predator.
The geese pictured below are flying a landing pattern very close to the observation path.
In the image below, the geese are bunking right next to the Sandhill Cranes.
Least Sandpipers are the smallest of the shorebirds, known as "peeps" - about 5 to 6 inches long and weighing in at 1 ounce. They breed in far northern Canada and Alaska, and winter in the southern U.S., including the pacific coast, and Mexico.
In the images here we can see this sandpiper's distinctive yellow-green legs, and hunched posture as he hunts for food on the edge of the water.
We spotted this Marsh Wren moving quickly through the understory adjacent to the wetlands, and I tried many times to get a good photo without success. Then, while I was standing on the viewing deck looking for incoming cranes and geese, he popped out of the undergrowth and began hopping from branch to branch right below me. A good angle and good lighting produced this series.
This Marsh Wren is in his winter range. Some do live year round in northern Arizona, but most breed in the northern U.S. and Canada. Described by the Cornell website as pugnacious, they are ground foragers that live in marshes. They will built multiple nests and breed with multiple females, often destroying eggs and nestlings of other Marsh Wrens.
If you read my last post you know I ended it with a "footnote" - a note about birds feet. The Marsh Wren has a foot with the most common configuration, 4 toes. We can clearly see all 4 toes in this series, and the way the wren can use them to stand on a flat surface, or encircle a branch or reed.
In the last two frames below, the wren is hanging upside down with his toes firmly attached to the branch, and then moves upright without changing his foothold. As they say in the game of squash, it is all in the wrist.
"Wait, don't go. What about those Wild Turkeys in the snow?"
I was in the middle of editing this post here on Mt Lemmon when it snowed!! 6 inches on Wednesday the 18th into the 19th. I decided to lead off with the Wild Turkeys, but I cannot leave you all hanging there. So here are some more images of the last day of winter and the first day of spring (the 19th is early for spring and here is a link explaining why).
It started snowing early afternoon, and the Pine Siskins were at the feeders in force.
The following morning, March 19th, this Northern Flicker came by to say hello! (For the photo geeks, this image was shot through the sliding glass door on the cabin, which I do believe is better glass than the side window of a Ford van. Opening the door and having the subject stay put was not an option.)
One final "footnote." The Northern Flicker has 4 toes, two in front and two in back.
That's a wrap for winter!
Spring is here!
Stay safe, stay well.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About