It is spring in Tucson, and Agua Caliente Park is busy with activity. The winter visitors have left for northern climes, migrants from the south are stopping by on their way north, and our locals are building nests. Here is mix of what was happening in April.
Cooper's Hawks nested in 2017 in a large pine tree next to the cottage, and they (or another couple?) are back using it again this year. As a prelude to this nesting activity, here are two images captured in February showing a Cooper's Hawk displaying fluffy white tail coverts as a part of their courtship ritual.
This could be a male or a female, both sexes display this way. The two sexes look alike, the only difference is that the female is larger than the male (If you are going to carry those eggs and feed those chicks, you gotta be big!)
Below, likely the female, is working on nest building. The nest is high in a pine tree just south of the cottage. This view is looking up from the ground on the north side of the cottage and tree.
Below a view of the female tending to the nest. I caught her face between her legs!
Below, the male and the female sitting together in the nest. This was captured on April 5th looking up from the south side of the tree. Stay tuned, hopefully we will be seeing hatchlings in May!
A female Anna's Hummingbird is sitting on a newly built nest. The nest is built of plant down and spider webs, from the bottom up. These materials allow for expansion of the nest as the hatchlings grow. The clutch size is usually 2 eggs.
Nesting, hatching and feeding the offspring is strictly up to the female. The male provides the genetic material, and then disappears off into the flowers. Hatchlings keep momma busy, as posts from 2017 demonstrate!
Again, I am hoping for offspring in May.
A Vermilion Flycatcher on her nest. They commonly build nests on horizontal branches of Mesquite Trees. Not all nests survive, and they may nest more than once during a season.
Unlike Hummingbirds, the male supports the female during nesting and hatching, including feeding the female while she sits on the eggs.
Not everyone is nesting, or at least, we don't see their nests! Here are some feathered citizens of the park up and about looking for food, or maybe a mate!
On one of the Thursday morning bird walks we were lucky and spotted a Great Egret fishing on the newly constructed/rebuilt pond on the western side of the park. Here he is looking for breakfast, and below makes the lunge, having spotted what he wants. He seems to have grabbed a bite, and swallows it down in the following frame.
As if to say, "Sorry to have to eat and fly!", he takes off looking for the next culinary opportunity. These are beautiful birds in flight.
Later in the month, on the same pond, we discovered a Spotted Sandpiper along the shore in breeding plumage with spots on the breast. The Spotted Sandpiper is common in the U.S. from east to west, and all the way south to Central America. They live in SE Arizona during the winter, and travel north to breed. This fellow may be a migrant, stopping for food and water on the way north to breeding territory. They blend in very well to the surroundings, good for their survival, a challenge for the photographer.
Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a regular resident of SE Arizona, and it is not unusual to see them at Agua Caliente. Above, a heron is peering at a line of turtles, as if to say, "I wonder what they taste like?" The turtles are lined up as though paying homage to a taller and much faster neighbor.
Below, a heron one Sunday morning in good light.
Below, a Great Blue Heron in flight demonstrating the remarkable wingspan. The second image shows the feather groupings including the flared tail. Finally, a tree landing!
The Hooded Oriole is a resident of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico, and is always fun to see in good light. I realize that these images end up looking like mug shots from the Sheriff's office. He was released on his own recognizance, with a promise to return and visit again!
The Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, is a regular resident of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. Here are three images in good lighting. Lighting is not everything, but it is close!
The Northern Beardless-tyrannulet is a neotropical bird living in Mexico and Central America year round. However, it will breed as far north as NW Mexico and just over the border into SE Arizona. If you are having a "Big Year", Tucson is the place to come to add this to your list. These birds are relatively unassuming with a slight crest and two broad white wing bars. They are currently working on a nest in the park.
The Great-tailed Grackle is a long legged, slender blackbird with a V-shaped tail. Above we see a male in a dominance display, letting other males know that he is the king of the date palm, at least for the time being.
Below, a female in good light.
That's all for now! Stay tuned, more to come.
Scaled Quail, Sierra Vista Southeast, Robert Gallucci's feeders.
For those of you who read my post of March 26th, you joined us for part 1 of our trip, Madera Canyon. This is the promised part 2, the Huachuca Mountains and canyons and the valley to the southeast. Sorry for the delay in posting, it took longer than I anticipated!
We made our way from Madera Canyon across the Coronado National Forest to Sonita and then to Sierra Vista. We stayed at Battiste Bed, Breakfast and Birds, which I highly recommend. Our hosts Tony and Julie Battiste were fantastic, and the accommodations were spacious and comfortable. Tony is an expert birder and guide. He has created an excellent yard with feeders and water features, complete with a photo blind with room for two to sit comfortably. The yard and blind are part of the B and B overnight, and can be used by others for a fee. Be sure to call first to be sure it is available, 520 803 6908.
We also visited a Sierra Vista South newcomer, Robert Gallucci, a professional photographer originally from New Jersey, who has a home and yard with feeders ($10 feeder fee). Rob is also an expert birder, and runs tours. Rob's house is not far from Tony's, but whereas Tony is close to the foothills, Rob is in the open flat country. This difference means different species, as we will see later in the post.
We visited Huachuca Canyon, one of the hotspots in SE Arizona and the home to a wintering male Elegant Trogan. Alas, the trogan was not home when we visited (we should have sent him a "Tweet" in advance) but we did spot other birds. This canyon is part of Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army Installation and requires a pass for entry - more on this later.
Our last stop was Ramsey Canyon and the Nature Conservancy Preserve at the end of the road. Below is a view of the canyon a short way uphill from the Nature Conservancy entrance.
Ramsey Canyon, on the Nature Conservancy Preserve.
Ramsey Canyon is all private, with a narrow (but paved) two lane road. There is no public parking, and no parking on the road. The Nature Conservancy with trails and birding is at the end of the road. They have room for just under 30 cars, and when they are full, there is no other place to park. There are a number of B and B's in Ramsey Canyon, and if you stay at one of them, it is a short walk to the Nature Conservancy site.
Below is the map of this leg of the trip from Adobe's Lightroom. My Canon 7D Mk II has a GPS chip in it, and every image is date, time, and location stamped. Lightroom shows you where your images were captured. I added annotation to make it easier to read. The numbers refer to the number of images at each site. Rest assured I have edited these ~1500 images down a reasonable number for this post. So you don't have to make another pot of coffee to make it through the post, unless of course, you really like coffee!
Look carefully, and you will see Fort Huachuca in the upper left. Our B and B and Ramsey Canyon were to the south. Note that in the upper right is San Pedro House, another birding hotspot, on the San Pedro River. We did not visit this time, but it is a 20 minute drive from Ramsey Canyon.
First stop: Sierra Vista Southeast: Battiste Bed, Breakfast, and Birds.
There were many Rufous Hummingbirds at Tony's feeders and perched in the yard. For whatever reason, they mostly flew in, and sat and posed. There did not spend much time hovering over the nectar feeders. Maybe their tummies were full from another yard and they just wanted a place to rest. In any case, they are beautiful birds.
The Rufous Hummingbird is a brightly colored, feisty bird that breeds in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, winters in Mexico and the southern U.S. gulf states and Florida, and migrates throughout the western U.S. from Texas to California. The males captured here are likely migrants, on their way north for breeding. Their migration circuit is a clockwise loop, up the Pacific coast to Canada to breed in the spring, then back south in the fall through the Rocky Mountains to Mexico.
They are known for being very territorial, even in migration, chasing other birds from feeders. Of note is that the Rufous was the only hummingbird we saw in our two days at Tony's. Likely they were keeping the others away.
The Rufous Hummingbird has short wings that when folded fall short of the tail, as we can see above. In the two images below, this male is fluffing up his feathers, possible after a morning bath.
Scott's Oriole is a striking black and yellow bird of the desert southwest, closely associated with Yucca plants. They feed on insects, fruit and nectar, and here we see a male showing some interest in the grape jelly at the top of this log. They breed in Northern Mexico and Arizona and New Mexico.
Below are two images taken 1 second apart. A Curved Bill Thrasher decided he wanted this perch, and in a flash the Scott's Oriole was gone, leaving only black and yellow feathers floating in the air. We did not see the Oriole again.
The Pyrrhuloxia is a year around resident of southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as most of Mexico. They are closely related to the Northern Cardinal, but with distinctive red and gray coloration, which we can see in these males. For more on the distinction between Pyrrhuloxia and Cardinals, see my post from Patagonia.
Pyrrhuloxia are primarily seed eaters, with a curved culmen, the inner upper portion of the beak (upper mandible). This distinctive feature is clear in the images above and below. A nice feature for cracking seeds apart.
Battiste Bed, Breakfast and Birds was a great place to stay and bird. We saw many more species than shown here, but time and space (oh, the limitations of physics!) leads us on to another stop in Sierra Vista South, Robert Gallucci's backyard.
Rob Gallucci is a recent transplant from New Jersey who has a home on what looks like former ranch land a bit south and east of Tony and Julie's B and B. As mentioned previously Rob is a photographer and tour guide, who alerted Tony that he had Scaled Quail in his backyard. So we packed up the gear and headed over to Rob's place to check out the Scaled Quail.
Scaled Quail are ground dwellers of the southwest, with a snappy crest and contour feathers on the breast that look like scales on a fish. Their range is central and northern Mexico, and north into SE Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas. Their numbers are in decline due to loss of habitat with overgrazing and development decreasing places to feed and nest. They are gregarious birds staying on the ground in groups, as well as being monogamous.
The quail we see here hopped up onto the wall around Rob's property, strutting on the wall, and then cruising down to the yard to feed on seeds.
It is interesting that these birds, which are ubiquitous throughout our region, preferentially select flat plains like Rob's yard, and not the foothills at Tony's. To see the terrain differences, see the map at the beginning of this post.
Again, many thanks to Rob for the "Scaled Quail Alert" and making his yard available for birders. See his photo website at: RGallucci.
Cassin's Finch is a small songbird with a short stocky bill, and a rosy-pink appearance overall with more red on a peaked crown. They breed in Canada, winter in Mexico as well as eastern Arizona and New Mexico, living year round in the rocky mountain states. My guess is these birds are migrating, stocking up at Tony's all-you-can-eat breakfast bar for the long flight north.
The Black-throated Sparrow is a year-around resident of Southern Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, heading as far north as Oregon for summer breeding generally staying west of the Rockies. For more images from the Tucson area, see this entry Birds, Black-throated Sparrow.
Black-throated Sparrows have a striking appearance and a "cute factor" that makes them fun to watch and photograph.
Oh, the poor House Sparrow, striking in appearance, but getting no respect as an "invasive species." It's not their fault that they were introduced into Brooklyn in 1851. Got to admit they adapted well, spreading to the Rocky Mountains by 1900. they are common in North America year round, and prefer nesting and feeding close to man-made structures, living well in town close to houses.
Next stop, Huachuca Canyon!
Huachuca Canyon is considered one of THE prime birding hotspots in SE Arizona. On this trip we were probably too early in the season for many of the species, but had heard that there was a male Elegant Trogan wintering in the canyon, and often hanging out in convenient spots, like the parking lot!
The canyon is on the Fort Huachuca military base, and entry requires a pass. The Army issues passes at the East Gate off of Highway 90. Pull into the parking area on the right before you get to the gates themselves. The pass requires a background check and creation of a photo ID, which takes about 15 minutes if there is no line. I am told Monday mornings are busier. We were there toward the end of the week, and had a minimal wait. Our passes were good for 30 days.
Once inside the fort, follow a map to the Huachuca Canyon, which is set up as a park and hiking area. The road into the canyon is dirt. Drive with your windows closed!
Alas, no Elegant Trogan's for us today! We did see a few other birds though, see below. Rest assured, we will be back!
The American Robin is widespread throughout all of North America, from southern Mexico to northern Canada. Here we see a Robin along a stream which runs along the trail just up the canyon from the parking area. We saw someone driving this stream in a Jeep, but they did not get far before turning around, and I would not recommend it.
Below, another Robin, sitting on a branch.
We spotted this fellow hopping on branches. Special thanks to Jeff Babson for acting as my bird ID coach and umpire, providing assistance reviewing images to help me make a positive ID. The Flycatcher's are tough (for me) to ID.
The Hammond's is similar to Gray and Dusky Flycatchers The Hammond's has a short, stubby, and all black bill, with a short notched tail, which looks even shorter because they are long-winged. The Gray Flycatcher is longer billed and longer tailed. Dusky is intermediate in shape between Gray and Hammond's and in fact is often identified by eliminating the other two.
For more details on Flycatchers, and in fact for identifying all birds, see Kenn Kaufman's book, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, Understanding What You See and Hear.
Let's finish with a fleeting image of a Painted Redstart fanning his tail to kick up the bugs!
Last stop, Ramsey Canyon.
As I noted at the beginning of the post, Ramsey Canyon is totally private, with a paved, but narrow road. There are B and B's in the canyon but for day trips it is best to park up at the end of the canyon at the Nature Conservancy Preserve. Remember, they have just under 30 parking places, and when they are taken there is no other parking. So come early, and be careful on busy days, or if there is a rare bird alert. Also note that they are closed Tuesday and Wednesday of each week and on holidays. Check their website in advance to be sure they are open if you are planning a trip.
We visited March 17th, and again the following Thursday, but did not see many birds. I did get landscapes on the 22nd, with one sample above. The canyon is beautiful with large Arizona Sycamores, still in leafless winter mode. The preserve is beautifully maintained, with excellent trails with markers.
Western Wood-Pewees are gray to brown flycatchers that live in open woodlands and forests near streams, places just like Ramsey Canyon. They sit high on exposed branches, waiting for insects to fly by. Their range runs from Central America to Alaska, breeding throughout this area in woodlands and forests.
Well, that is it for the Huachuca Mountains and environs.
Stay tuned - more to come soon.
Painted Redstart, Madera Canyon, March 15, 2018
If you have been following my blog, you will have noticed that the majority of posts are about Southeast Arizona, which for me means everything east and south of the Tucson metropolitan area and Mt. Lemmon, roughly bounded by Interstate 19 to the west, the I-10 corridor to the north, and the state line with New Mexico to the east. Last week we traveled south of Tucson to the Santa Rita mountains and Madera Canyon, then east to the Huachuca Mountains and Sierra Vista Southeast. This post is on the Santa Ritas and Madera Canyon, part 2 will be our exploration of the Huachucas and Ramsey Canyon.
The entrance to Madera Canyon is in the northern foothills of the Santa Ritas, at 4500 feet elevation. It is 14 miles, 27 minutes by car from Green Valley, right in their backyard.
From Tucson, the usual route is south on I-19 to Green Valley, then Continental Road to White House/Madera Canyon Road to the entrance. However, we decided to stick to the "blue highways" and took Kolb south to Valencia west, then south on Wilmot, west on W. Sahuarita Road to S. Nogales Highway to Continental Road. It is a smooth and uncrowded route through beautiful Sonoran desert. And, you get to drive by several federal prisons! One way the trip is 50 miles, and about 1 hour 15 minutes.
Madera Canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest. This link is a great resource. There is hiking and picnicking, and of course, birding, but no overnight camping. However, there are several lodges, including our choice on this trip, The Chuparosa Inn, Bed and Breakfast. Our host was Luis Calvo, who you can see giving a video tour of the canyon at Visit Tucson, Santa Rita Mountains. Many thanks to Luis, his wife and staff for a wonderful spot to enjoy the canyon.
Chuparosa Inn, Bed and Breakfast
The Chuparosa Inn is right on the main road (above) but also straddles the creek (below). Luis and his wife have done a wonderful job of designing the house and yard to take full advantage of the location. We found some of our best birding was right on their decks and patios at sunrise, close to their feeders and a hot cup of coffee! I set up my tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head and waited for the show to begin.
The Broad-billed Hummingbird is a small colorful bird with a red bill, dark at the tip, and a notched tail. Males have a blue throat and bluish green belly. We can see the distinctive field marks in the bird above, perched above the creek in the afternoon sun. They live year round in Mexico, and come as far north as SE Arizona and New Mexico to breed.
All bird's feathers have small muscles where they implant into the skin, which allows them to move the feather, allowing them to "fluff up" for warmth. We can see the difference between the bulky fluffed look of the first frame, and the leaner look of the second frame, above.
Below, the bird has raised and then lowered the feathers on the crown, something we will see later in this post in the Rivoli's.
Rivoli's Hummingbird was formerly known as the Magnificent from the 1980's until 2017, when the northern subspecies of the genus Eugenes was split from the larger southern subspecies of Costa Rica and Panama. The northerners were renamed Rivoli's Hummingbird, and the southern species names the Talamanca Hummingbird. The bird was named in honor of the Duke of Rivoli, an amateur French ornithologist. Anna's Hummingbird was named after his wife, Anna, the Duchess of Rivoli.
Rivoli's are large hummingbirds, which is evident when they share feeders with other hummingbirds. The males are dark green above, with an iridescent yellow-green throat and a purple crown. They may appear dark in poor light. They have a white dot behind the eye.
These first three images, one above, two below, were captured at the Chuparosa Inn above the creek as the bird fed on flesh blooms from their fruit trees.
The color of the feathers varies strikingly with the angle to the light, as we can see in the images below.
Above and below, we can see how the bird can change the height of his crown, and how the change in angle changes the color.
Below, a late afternoon view of the back, with some fill-flash added.
Mexican Jays are in the family Corvidae, also known as Corvids. This family includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. They live in social groups in the Mexican mountains, and as far north as SE Arizona and Western New Mexico. Above we see three jays together, although there were more in the grouping. All images captured at the Chuparosa Inn.
Above, a possible breeding pair. Below, one of a pair gathers coconut shavings from a planter for a nest.
All set for home improvement !
Short break for a quadruped . . .
The inn has multiple feeders set up, and as one might expect, they attract anything that eats seeds, including hungry squirrels. This critter has taken up residence in the feeder, eye just visible on the right. Wild turkeys also stroll the property, grabbing what they can from low slung feeders.
Bath time !
Water runs over rocks on the uphill side of the terrace and acts as both a drinking and bathing source. Above Pine Siskins enjoy the bath, and below, get a drink.
Two images below, a Bridled Titmouse gets a late afternoon bath.
We see a lot of Yellow-eyed Juncos on Mt Lemmon, up at ~7500 feet, but here we find at ~5000 feet a Dark-eyed Junco, with a red back, similar to the Yellow-eyed brethren. Dark-eyed Juncos breed in Canada and Alaska, winter as far south as SE Arizona and Mexico, and can be seen year round from Northern Arizona and New Mexico up into the Rockies, northern California coast, and western Canada. There is a lot of variation in markings and coloration for these birds, with the Red-backed variety more common in SE Arizona. The Cornell website show the variations by region.
More on the canyon . . . .
We had two days in the canyon, and as you can see, we spotted a lot of birds in a great setting at the Chuparosa Inn. We also hung out at the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge (see map below) and walked around the Whitehouse Picnic Area. But some of our best birding was on the path south (uphill) of Proctor Road up along Madera Creek. This area is easy to walk, with beautiful views of the mountains to the south.
Note that the top of the map below is South, the bottom North.
Above, the trailhead at the Proctor Parking area.
Our major "find" on our walk was a very active Painted Redstart. He was jumping from branch to branch in a large tree right on the pathway. Getting him to "stay still" in good light was a challenge. The image above was captured along with a series of images that featured mostly leaves and an occasionally blurry flash of feathers. For this image I got lucky, he stayed still for a second in a beam of sunlight and was in the camera's focal plane.
Painted Redstarts are warblers with bright red bellies, white wing patches, and a white crescent below the eye. All field markings are evident in the lead image above.
Above and below, our subject has caught an insect, and begun to munch it down.
Image above shows markings of the back and tail, and below the belly and tail, with the tail fanned out showing the white feathers laterally. The Painted Redstart will fan its tail, as below, and move back and forth, to flush out insects from the leaves. A bit like shaking a vending machine to see what comes out!
Images below, good views of the breast and tail, and the distinctive white half-eye ring.
Painted Redstarts like riparian and arid woodland areas especially in mountains. They eat mostly insects as well as some tree sap, sugar water from feeders, as well as peanut butter and suet. Painted Redstarts live year round in the Mexican and Central American interior, breeding north into Arizona, New Mexico and portions of Texas.
That's it for Madera Canyon !
"Are you sure you know what you are doing? "
Stay tuned for the next installment, the Huachuca Mountains, Sierra Vista Southeast, and Ramsey Canyon.
Eastern Meadowlark, White Water Draw, January 20, 2018
No winter in SE Arizona is complete without a trip to White Water Draw (WWD), a Chihuahuan desert grassland habitat in the middle of agricultural land close to McNeal, Arizona. Located in Cochise County, WWD is just over 1500 acres of land maintained by Arizona Game and Fish, map below. See my prior posts November 2015 and January 2016.
We returned to WWD on a birding tour led by Jeff Babson, this time with Cochise Community College, on Saturday January 20th. We overnighted in Bisbee on the 19th, then met Jeff and the tour at WWD on the 20th. Bisbee is a fun place to stay, and only a 30 minute drive from WWD. This time we stayed at the Bisbee Inn/Hotel La More which was great. They have an open kitchen/dining area in the back of the first floor which guests can use for "bring in" food (you know, the "takeout" you put in the car and then "bring in"), as well as fixings for breakfast. They also have a sitting area with TV and games/books. A classic old hotel, which boasts several ghosts in residence, although we missed them on our stay.
Let's start with Sandhill Cranes, the birds that seem to bring everyone "flocking" to WWD in the winter months. These are large birds, with long necks, long legs and wide wings. They mate for life, can live 30 years, and tend to stay in family groups as they migrate back and forth from summer breeding grounds in Canada and the northern U.S. to winter foraging in Arizona/New Mexico wetlands, and for some species, Florida. For details of the birds, their behavior and ranges see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and The Aldo Leopold Foundation site.
They begin to arrive at WWD in November, leaving in the early spring. They sleep at night in the wetlands, and leave at first light for nearby cornfields, where there is enough corn left on the ground from the harvest to meet their daily needs and "bulk them up" for the flight home in the spring. At WWD they return from the fields between 11am and noon, and may or may not return to the fields in the afternoon. This is convenient for those of us who really don't want to get up before dawn on a cold morning. Go ahead and get some breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, and wait for the cranes to darken the skies with their return flight at 11 am.
Arizona Game and Fish has a live Sandhill Crane Cam so you can check out when the birds come and go, and if they are there in numbers before you pack up and head to WWD. Also, they allow free overnight parking and camping for RV's. Note that they have vault toilets, but no water.
Below, Sandhill Cranes in flight. Hard to watch them in flight without a smile on your face!
The image below is uncropped by intent to show the density of birds as they come in at noon to land, and the different directions they take. They circle and appear to be taking instructions from a flight controller, peeling off in groups and putting down their "landing gear" for the glide in. Notice the differences between the upper left and lower right.
Below, a family group sharing their space with various shorebirds.
WWD is agricultural land set aside for conservation and wildlife management. So, the area around it is comprised of ranches and dirt roads, with plenty of wires - strung high on power poles or low on fences. Here we see a Loggerhead Shrike on a power line in the morning sun.
Loggerhead Shrikes are thick-bodied songbirds with blocky heads and a thick bill with a small hook. The tail is long and rounded. They sit on low exposed perches and look for rodents, lizards insects and other birds. They are known for impaling a kill on thorns or barbed wire to be eaten later. Their range runs east to west across the U.S. and they are regulars at WWD.
For more on Loggerhead Shrikes and similar species, including field marks, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.
The American Pipit is a small slender drab bird that frequents open country in the southern U.S. from coast to coast, and throughout Mexico. They breed only above the timberline, all the way up to Alaska and northern Canada, and on higher peaks in the lower 48. In Arizona they winter in the southeast near water and agricultural lands, making WWD a great spot to see them. They breed on the treeless slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. A look at the Range Map on the Cornell website shows the breeding range as determined by altitude.
American Pipits don't hop, they run or walk, as we can see in the images above and below.
Below we see a Pipit getting ready to cross one of the wetland channels. It is always important to look both ways before crossing, first left, then right. You can never tell when a raptor has decided to exceed posted limits looking for a snack!
Remember, these birds walk or run, they don't hop, so our friend here steps off into the abyss (above), saved by those really handy wings, making an uneventful crossing.
Their drab appearance is a real asset in this foraging environment. They blend in really well. Great for their safety, not so great for the photographer who wants to have their subject stand out from the background.
The Killdeer is a brown and white plover with a long bill and two black breast bands. They are one of the more common birds in Southeastern Arizona, making Richard Taylor's "Top 40" list in his field guide Birds of Southeastern Arizona. However, in my experience they are tough to spot, and for me, tougher to photograph. I have spotted them at Sweetwater Wetlands, but usually 50 to 100 yards away with lots of grass in the way. However on this trip to WWD this Killdeer got quite close. One advantage of WWD is that the elevated walking paths come very close to the wetlands and the food sources that draw birds.
Killdeer are common throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada. They can be found in wetlands, lawns, golf courses, athletic fields and parking lots. Their name comes from their voice, an excited kill-deer. They are known for faking a broken wing to lead predators away from their nests, or distracting cows from stepping on their eggs by fluffing up, displaying the tail above the head, and running toward the cow to make it change its path.
Although their white breast bands are striking they do manage to blend in with muddy wetlands, making good imaging a bit tougher.
Time to get back to our "cover photo," the Eastern Meadowlark. This bird is actually not in the Lark family, rather it is in the blackbird family, which includes cowbirds and orioles.
The Eastern Meadowlark is very similar to the Western Meadowlark, with differences in song (which is hard to see in a photo, and which I did not hear) and subtle differences in field markings. The tip off here is partially population biology (there are more Eastern's in SE Arizona than Westerns) and partially markings, in this case paler cheeks and a whiter tail, which I think we can see in the last image.
Eastern Meadowlarks live right where we see them, in farm fields, grasslands and wetlands. They are ground nesters, singing from exposed perches such as the barbed wire. They eat mostly insects, and during the winter, spilled corn and seeds.
Special thanks to Jeff Babson for his help in discerning the subtle differences between the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks.
American Kestrels are also among Richard Taylor's "Top 40" and always a joy to see. For a female Kestrel on the hunt, see my post from New Year's Day. Kestrel's are the smallest North American Falcon. My guess is that this is a male, with slate blue on the wings.
This Kestrel was sitting on a power line not far from WWD. My wife volunteered to drive, and I sat in the passenger seat and rolled all the windows down. The car makes a great blind. The birds accept cars as part of their environment, and unless you lean out an open window and scream a lot, they will generally ignore you. One caution: the roads out this way are not paved, so be ready for a lot of dust getting onto and into the car. Keep your gear covered. Also a monthly car wash plan helps!
Looks like this fellow is looking for lunch from his high perch. He takes off in the last frame (unexpectedly as usual) maybe for a quick bite, or a better perch. I was focused on the cable, and he dove out of my sweet spot, creating a softer image.
Let's close with a common friend that often gets a shrug, "Oh, a White-crowned Sparrow." They are handsome birds, and this one picked a nice perch and a look toward the camera and just says, "Include me!"
That's all for now ! Stay tuned, more great travels in store for this spring !
Lincoln's Sparrow, Audubon's Paton Center for Hummingbirds, February 2, 2018
Patagonia, population 913, is located 64 miles and 1 hour 20 minutes south of Tucson on Arizona Highway 82 between Sonoita and Nogales. At 4000 feet above sea level, the town sits on the Sonoita Creek riparian area between the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains. Self described as "quirky", it is a wonderful community and a great place to visit and overnight to enjoy birds and wildlife, as well as the local culture of food and art.
Founded in 1898, the town supported mining in the region and sat on a railway line that ran from Benson to Nogales. In time the rail line was abandoned, but the railway station in Patagonia was preserved and serves as a municipal building. The rail bed, absent tracks, is preserved in places, including the Patagonia Sonita Creek Preserve, reviewed later in this post.
Below is a map of Patagonia showing the site of the Audubon Paton Center, as well as the Duquesne House, where we stayed.
Be advised to follow all speed laws. Local law enforcement with radar guns are not unheard of along Route 82 as the speed limits are reduced coming into town.
Duquesne House Inn and Gardens
The Duquesne House is a wonderful bed and breakfast in central Patagonia, three blocks south and east of Highway 82. The building dates to 1898 but is beautifully restored and maintained with excellent accommodations and food. Our Inkeepeers Rick and Bekki Jaynes were fantastic. Everything was beautiful and spotless, with really really good breakfasts. I would definitely "recommend and return."
The inn has large gardens in the back with many comfortable places to sit and multiple bird feeders. The image below was taken in the early morning. A great way to bird while waking up with an excellent cup of coffee.
As the sun was peeking over the mountains, we were visited by a Curve-billed Thrasher warming up and looking for food. Curve-billed Thrashers are common year around residents of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as well as all of Mexico. They are ground foragers and nest in cactus and shrubs 3 to 5 feet above the ground, making spring nests accessible for viewing. For more on their spring nests see this page on this site.
Anna's Hummingbird, Male
Anna's Hummingbirds are common residents of the Pacific Coast into Arizona and NW Mexico. The male is grey to green, with an iridescent green back, and throat feathers that vary in color from grey/brown to iridescent rose/pink depending on the angle of the light. This male was hanging out at the feeders at the inn. As I shot a burst in silent mode he moved his head slightly, showing how the color can change with his angle to the sun.
Patagonia Lake State Park
Sonoita Creek runs through Patagonia and into the Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve then into Patagonia Lake, created in 1968 by damming the creek. The lake and surrounding acreage became a state park in 1975. For more on the Patagonia Lake State Park click here.
The map below shows the park facilities at the lake including a Lakeside Market, campsites, and a birding trail along the creek, Sonoita Creek Trail, at the eastern end. We walked this trail two mornings.
The trail begins at the far east end of the park, trail kiosk below. The early parts of the trail include well stocked bird feeders and benches for sitting. As the trail continues, it goes through a gated fence and down some steps toward the lake. The trail is even and not rocky, although not well marked. However, with the lake on one side and the mountains on the other it is tough to get lost.
The reason for the gate will become evident soon!
Pyrrhuloxia, male, female and their lookalikes!
Pyrrhuloxia are striking songbirds related to the Northern Cardinal, but limited in range to southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Like the Northern Cardinal they have crests. The males are grey and red, with a grey/yellow beak that has a curved culmen, the inner upper portion of the beak. This curve makes these beaks great for cracking seeds and nuts.
Images above and below: male Pyrrhuloxia on a rock near the beginning of the creek trail.
Below two males sharing a rock. During mating season they are very territorial. As of February 1st, they seem to be tolerating each other !
The male Pyrrhuloxia can be confused with the female Northern Cardinal. Below are mug shots of the two taken on this trip. The male on the left is red and grey, with red around the face and a grey/yellow beak with the characteristic nutcracker curve. The Cardinal has black around her face, an orange bill with straighter culmen, and a buffy breast.
Left: Male Pyrrhuloxia. Right: Female Cardinal
For completeness, Female Pyrrhuloxia below . . . .
The female Pyrrhuloxia is more grey, does not have black around the face, and has a grey beak with the curved culman.
And now, a milk break . . . .
Ah yes, that is why we went through a gated fence with a big sign that read, "KEEP THIS GATE CLOSED." It would not do to have cows wandering among the campsites. As I noted in my post on Santa Cruz Flats much of Arizona is open range, cattle everywhere (potentially). The cattle we saw near the lake appear to be cows and their calves. They were quite docile. However, they leave manure, so watch where you are stepping, especially if you wander off on a side trail.
The base of the Arizona economy 100 years ago was the Three C's, Cattle, Copper, and Cotton. Two more were added, Citrus and Climate. So, if you trip on a cow pie, know that it is a really important cow pie!
Aurochs, the wild ancestors of modern cows, were first domesticated ~10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Their descendants were introduced into North America in 1525 at Vera Cruz, Mexico. For more on our bovine friends and a historical timeline see ProCon.org.
The Black Phoebe is a flycatcher of the Western U.S. that lives and feeds near any water source. These birds have black heads and upper bodies with white bellies. They eat a variety of insects and rarely berries. This bird was feeding along Sonoita Creek as it was entering the lake. They are tolerant of humans and tend to stick to one territory to nest and feed, making "Phoebe watching" easier, with binoculars or camera. For more on the Black Phoebe see this link.
Song Sparrows are medium sized sparrows with long rounded tails. Their markings vary greatly by region. Here we see the reddish appearance typical of birds in the southwest. He was looking for food on the creek.
Paton Center for Hummingbirds
The Paton Center for Hummingbirds is a Tucson Audubon site right in Patagonia and just north and east of the Nature Conservancy's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. For the story of the Paton's, their love for birds, and all the work that went into making the Paton Center a reality, see this link.
Much work has been done on the Paton Center since it became a part of Tucson Audubon in 2014, including re-landscaping the back yard and the creation of feeders, paths, and benches. In addition, a path has recently been completed from the SE corner of the Paton Center along Blue Heaven Road into the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
Year-round residents of western and coastal Mexico, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird nests in Arizona Sycamore, which in the U.S. is found in riparian areas of SE Arizona and SW New Mexico. These striking birds sport white breasts, red bills, and violet crowns that vary in color with the angle to the sun. All images here captured at the Paton Center on February 2, 2018.
Above, a Violet-crowned sitting on a branch, and below two images with his tongue extended. The images that follow show what is probably harvesting bugs from the tree, so he may also be catching them on the fly. Either that, or he is cleaning his tongue and bill after gorging on nectar!
For more on hummingbird tongues as elastic micropumps see this this link to the NYT. The article by James Gorman includes a nice video of tongues in action, and references recent research published in 2015.
This Lincoln's Sparrow was spotted on a very well planned and executed pile of twigs not far from a small pond at the Paton Center. He looks wet, giving his feathers a sharper, bolder look. Lincoln's Sparrows like to stay concealed among twigs and thickets near water, rarely popping up to be seen.
The Lincoln's Sparrow was named by John James Audubon after his traveling companion Thomas Lincoln, who managed to capture a specimen on an expedition to Labrador.
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve visitor center just off of Blue Heaven Road.
The Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve lies south and west of Patagonia along the first two miles of the Sonoita Creek and adjacent floodplain. It contains rare Fremont Cottonwood-Goodding willows riparian forests, with trees of more than 100 feet tall and 130 years old.
The 873-acre preserve was the first project in Arizona for The Nature Conservancy, purchased in 1966 in conjunction with the Tucson Audubon Society. The area is rich in history, including portions of the railbed of the Santa Fe Railroad built between Benson and Nogales as part of the New Mexico and Arizona line.
You can get to the preserve visitor center by driving past the Paton Center on Blue Heaven Road a few miles. There is also a path from the Paton Center to the preserve open during the day. As always, wear solid shoes and carry water.
Map of Patagonia, Paton Center, and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
The Greater Roadrunner is a large cuckoo with long legs, very long tail, and long neck. They are residents of the desert southwest but can be seen as far east as the Mississippi River. They spend their time on the ground, hopping to low branches or shrubs just long enough to spy for food. They are weak flyers, taking to the air just long enough to get to their next ground location. Their diet consists of any animal they can catch including lizards, frogs, snakes, as well as birds.
Above, a Greater Roadrunner not far from the visitor center looking for lunch.
Black Vultures are large raptors slightly larger than a Red-tailed Hawk and smaller than a Turkey Vulture. The are black with stubby tails. The hawk above was circling above the visitor center, perhaps waiting for whatever the Roadrunner did not want.
This image shows the hawk's typical black color with white/silver wingtips looking like white mittens. The legs are white, and the wings relative straight with a leading anterior edge.
Which reminds me, the Tubac Hawk Watch will begin in March in Tubac at the county park which is adjacent to the Santa Cruz River flyway. For more on hawk watching, see HawkWatch International.
The Railroad Trail
There are excellent trails within the preserve, including the Railroad Trail, which follows the rail bed, complete with cement abutments at either end where bridges spanned the creek. The image above is at the southern end of the trail. The preserve will be very green in spring.
Along the trail we spotted this Hermit Thrush hiding in dense foliage.
Below, the northern limit of the Railroad Trail, looking out over the abutment where a bridge once stood.
Along the trail we spotted this Bridled Titmouse. This species is in the family Paridae, along with Tits and Chickadees. Their range comprises central Mexico extending north as far as SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.
Above, portions of the preserve showing portions of the floodplain. This is a beautiful site, and a great walk on level ground, with or without your favorite avian species.
That's it for now! Enjoy the rest of February, and don't forget the hawk watch in Tubac in March. More posts soon.
Special thanks to Jeff Babson, Sky Island Tours, for his help in the identification of a number of these birds during the creation of this post. It is not unusual to see a bird and get an image and then wonder later, "What was that?" Jeff, many thanks.
Burrowing Owl, peeking over a berm.
On Sunday January 7th, my wife and I joined Jeff Babson and a flock of fellow birders for a trek to Santa Cruz Flats, a spread of farmland south and west of Picacho Peak in Pinal County, Arizona. From Tucson we traveled I-10 north past Picacho Peak to Toltec Road, Exit 203, and headed south into the farmland that comprises Santa Cruz Flats. The area is great for birds that favor open ground and fields, as well as raptors looking for food.
In the image below, Jeff has his spotting scope set up aimed north and east searching for critters. We had mixed clouds early on, giving way to sunshine and good light throughout the morning. There is a lot of land out here. Nice straight horizon and flat fields.
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II has GPS built-in that stamps every image with the location. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has a mapping function that produced the map below, showing the number of images for each coordinate. I have added annotation with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint and copied it as a JPEG, below.
Map of Santa Cruz Flats with spotting locations, January 7, 2018
The Toltec Road exit is off of I-10 toward the top of the map. The spotting location for the image above is approximately at the yellow call-out with the number 7 on the map. An early stop was a hay barn, below, which is labeled on the map above, Owls in Barn.
Let's start with three owls in a barn . . . .
This barn has a window cut at one end, allowing good views down the length of the building. If you look at the peak of the roof straight up at 12 o'clock, you can see a pale oblong shape that is in fact two Barn Owls snoozing.
Image above: Canon EOS 6D (full frame) with Canon EF 17-40 mm f4 lens at 17 mm. Image below, Canon EOS 7D II (cropped sensor), with EOS 100-400 mm II, at 400 mm with 1.4 extender for effective focal length of 560 mm.
These two owls were nicely side-lit. They don't seem to mind sleeping in the light
Barn Owls are nocturnal hunters who roost in quiet out of the way places during the day, such as barns and abandoned buildings. At night they hunt in open fields and meadows, making Santas Cruz Flats an ideal place to live. They have excellent night vision, but their hearing is considered superior among raptors. They can hear and locate prey as they fly quietly over open fields. For more images of Barn Owls in free flight see these two links: Raptors at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and High Desert Museum, Bend, OR.
Barn Owls swallow their prey whole and about twice a day regurgitate large pellets with the compressed remains of their meals. What appears to be a pile of pellets can be seen on the floor of the barn.
I did say 3 owls. The third is a Great Horned Owl who is perched just above the fourth high window on the left, just barely visible looking like a hash mark. Switching from the Canon 6D to the 7D with the 100-400 mm lens, I captured the images below, albeit at an ISO of 6400, 1/125 second.
Great Horned Owls are also nocturnal. They are powerful predators, and will attack and take down birds and mammals larger than themselves, including other raptors; Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, and other owls. Yes, they eat Barn Owls. Note that at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum they will run raptor free flight with both owls, but never together.
So, are these three owls living in peaceful coexistence, or is the Great Horned Owl just waiting for the right moment? I guess it is always a good idea to have extra food on hand.
And a fourth by the road . . . .
East of the barn was a colony of Burrowing Owls, sitting on and around remnants of a cement irrigation ditch. Above an owl peeks over a berm. Below a fellow birder and photographer sets sights on our subject.
Below a closer view of the owl on a irrigation ditch.
We spent some time looking at the owls from a distance, and then slowly walked down the road to get closer. The owls would dodge below the berm, making it hard to get a good view of them.
We finally gave up, loaded up the cars again, and headed to our next stop.
We started down the road, Dorothy was driving, I was in the passenger seat, with two fellow birders in the backseat of the Subaru. Suddenly Dorothy stopped and pointed to the right. There was a Burrowing Owl, sitting on top of the berm right next to us. My thanks to our fellow birder Kat who was able to reach in the back of the Forester and grab my gear. Using the car as a blind, I was able to get the images below.
Burrowing Owls live underground in burrows dug themselves or taken over from other burrowing animals. These owls are living under old concrete irrigation channels. They hunt during the day for insects and rodents. They are sandy colored with long legs and yellow eyes. The head is flattened with white eyebrows.
Above, the owl has turned his head backwards, showing the mobility of the neck that owls are known for.
Burrowing Owl populations have fallen in recent years due to loss of habitat, including declines in other burrowing animal populations, such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels.
In the field behind the Burrowing Owl were Horned Larks, regular residents of fields in SE Arizona, where they forage for seeds and insects. They have a characteristic yellow face, black mask, and black feathers on the head that look like horns. They socialize in flocks and forage in bare fields close to the surface. They are tough to see, and almost impossible to get close to. Telephoto and patience is required.
These images were captured at 11:30 am. Although it was cool in the early morning, the desert was heating up by noon, creating rising thermals. The warm air from the ground mixing with cooler upper air creates diffraction that is evident when viewing distant objects. This is the same shimmering effect given off by a highway on a hot day. It can be annoying for birders with binoculars, and drive photographers nuts. All the settings on the camera can be "right" and the image looks out of focus.
I was getting thermal effects with these larks. I took many frames, picked the best looking ones, and processed in Lightroom to get these images.
More on thermals later.
Let's go back to our map, copy below. We are now in the right lower corner, facing northeast, with the southwest face of Picacho Peak in the background. We spotted two Crested Caracara's sitting in a snag on the far side of a field. It was shortly afternoon and we were definitely seeing diffraction from rising thermals off of the fields. Note the telephone poles in the background that appear to be curved and irregular.
If you like French Impressionism, you with LOVE this next photo! The image below is a cropped version of the one above. Shutter 1/1000, f 8.0, ISO 320. Lots of thermal effect.
Crested Caracara's are tropical vultures in the falcon family. [And you thought your Thanksgiving dinners were challenging!] The Caracara lives year round in Mexico, Central and South America, coming just far enough north as Arizona and Texas. They eat almost everything, dead or alive, fresh or rotted. [Yup, Thanksgiving would be difficult].
The birds we spotted across the field took off, and I was able to track one flying north and west. The bird seemed to get into clear air, and a number of images were sharper. Below is a sequence I caught panning east to west.
For close up images of the Crested Caracara see this link from my post on raptor free flight at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Northern Harrier Hawk
Not far from where we spotted the Caracara, Dorothy spotted a bird waaay away in one of the fields. Jeff took a quick look and said, "Here is a mystery bird!" We lined up at the spotting scope. And the answer was . . . . Northern Harrier Hawk. It was waaaay far away, and the distance plus the thermals created more French Impressionism in the Sonoran Desert.
Northern Harrier Hawks winter throughout the southern U.S. and deep into Mexico, breeding in the northern U.S. and Canada, and as far north as Alaska. They hunt low to the ground and can hover over fields looking for prey. For images of a Harrier at White Water Draw, see this link.
That's it for Santa Cruz Flats! We had a great day and look forward to returning soon. Don't forget that this is open range, the cattle share just about everything, including the road. Keep one eye on the birds, the other on the road, so you don't end up sharing the front seat with 2000 lbs of fresh beef.
American Kestrel enjoying New Year's Day at one of her favorite dining spots in midtown Tucson, Ft. Lowell Park.
Monday, January 1st we welcomed in the New Year at Fort Lowell Park, a Tucson City park on the site of the old fort at Craycroft and Ft. Lowell. The park is a treasure in the northern midtown area, on the south side of the Rillito River, and east of Craycroft, complete with soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a playground, and a pond that attracts ducks and various water birds. For more on the history of the fort and the historic site, see the website for the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association. Note that Fort Lowell Day will be on February 10th; a great chance to learn about the history of the fort and see cavalry reenactments.
The park is a great wildlife area with a well maintained duck pond and adjacent fields. Below a view of signage on the edge of the pond on the southside, with ball fields in the background to the right. Below that, a view of the pond from the northside facing south.
We shared the park on the 1st with walkers and birders, dozens of ducks, and one female American Kestrel who was out looking for breakfast. Below she is standing on on the field south and west of the duck pond, looking for ground critters, likely voles, who have done a good job of aerating the field with their burrows. We know this is a female by her warm red wings. Males have similar markings but with slate gray wings.
The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America, about the size of a Mourning Dove.
I was able to catch her on different perches, mostly on high snags, but in the shot below she is sitting on top of a fence pole. Her size can be judged by the diameter of the post and especially the size of the chain links on the fence.
From this perch she rapidly dove toward the field to catch a vole. Although I was waiting for her to fly, camera in "rapid focus, rapid fire flight mode," the first shot I got was toward the end of the dive when she is flaring her wings to slow down. She has almost every wing and tail feather displayed as she is in full "brake" mode. The sequence that follows show her plunging into a hole looking for a vole.
For the photo geeks: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with EF 100-400 IS II at 400 mm, 1/2500 sec at f 5.6, ISO 400. Post-production processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
She dug around for a while but came up empty, taking off to continue the hunt from another perch.
Below, two images showing the early stage of another dive toward the turf. Kestrel's are beautiful birds, probably my favorite raptor.
The pond has lots of wild ducks, mixed in with what looks like a more permanent population of domestic waterfowl. Below an American Widgeon. For more on these birds and for images in flight, see my last post of December 9, 2017, from Sweetwater Wetlands.
Let's close with a familiar friend who is common, but always stands out. I have never seen a birding group that does not stop to marvel at a Vermilion Flycatcher, no matter how many they have seen. Below a male close up on a branch, not far from the duck pond.
That's all for now - Happy New Year everyone! More posts coming soon.
My last post on Sweetwater Wetlands was early October. As the fall has progressed so has the bird count. Cooler weather has brought more birds out, and the waterfowl are reappearing in larger numbers. This post features 11 of our feathered friends spotted in November, plus one mammal (keep reading to find out who the mystery critter is!). All images captured on one of the Wednesday morning Audubon walks led by Luke Safford, Audubon Volunteer Coordinator.
I lead off with a Red-tailed Hawk from the November 22nd walk. Red-tailed Hawks are common in North America, often seen soaring above fields or perched on telephone poles looking for prey. This one was perched on dead branches south of the wetlands, likely looking for breakfast.
Red-tailed Hawks are large with broad rounded wings and a short wide tail. Most are brown above, and pale below with a streaked belly. The underside of the wing has a characteristic dark bar between the shoulder and wrist, as seen in the two infight images below.
I usually try to "wait out" a sitting raptor for some shots on the wing, knowing they spend a good part of their day in the air. They usually wait until I look down to check my camera settings to take off, but in this case I got lucky, and was ready at flight time.
Northern Flicker, western "Red-shafted."
Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers that eat ants and beetles which puts them foraging on the ground more often than hammering away on a tree trunk. The western birds have a red malar stripe (males) and red on the flight feathers. The eastern birds have a black malar stripe and yellow wing markings. And, to make things even more confusing, the two populations will interbreed in the middle of the county to create interesting combinations. For more on this, and stunning photographs, see Tom Grey's Website.
Above and below, male "Red-shafted" with red malar stripe.
Below, a male Northern Flicker in flight. The red wing markings are just visible.
Below, likely a female without the red malar stripe in flight. Red coloration of the wing feathers is evident.
American Wigeons are ducks that breed in the summer in the northwest U.S. and Canada and winter in the southwest into Mexico, and Florida. The male has a green streak running back from the eye, with a narrow white patch on the crown. Above and below we see Widgeons in flight above the wetlands.
Below a female followed by a male.
The White-crowned Sparrow is a medium to large sparrow with a long tail and a square tip. They are regular winter residents at the wetlands, as well as bushy areas throughout SE Arizona. They may be seen in flocks. Above, a member sitting on a branch, and below in flight. It is fun to get the birds in flight, but as I mentioned earlier, a challenge.
The American Bittern is a stocky brown heron that inhabits marshes and lakes with reeds. At rest or when approached it will stand rigid with the bill pointing up, as though trying to blend in with the reeds. Prefers marshes to trees, and are tough to spot.
This bird was spotted by a fellow birder on November 8th on the western portion of the wetlands. Even after finding him, it was hard to relocate and point out to others.
The image above shows the detailed markings of the bird. Below the wider shot shows how well the bird can blend in with surroundings.
Snowy Egrets are regular inhabitants at the wetlands, with their summer (breeding) and winter (non-breeding) territories overlapping in SE Arizona. For more on Snowy Egrets, see my blog post from October 2017, click here.
To the right is our subject sitting for an early morning portrait with good side lighting.
Below is a landing sequence I captured on November 8th from the west side of the wetlands. I love getting birds in flight, and in this case we can see the Egret slowing down for a tree landing, legs down, head feathers up, wings pumping to maintain lift as he slows down.
Pause: Time to guess the mystery mammal!
Hint: has four legs, a tail. Could have been Wilbur or Wilma, I am not sure . . . .
Coming soon, keep reading . . . . .
Red-naped Sapsuckers are woodpeckers with a fondness for sugar. They peck holes in the bark of aspen, birch and willow to suck out the sweet sap. These images were captured on two separate days, but likely in the same tree: this bird's version of Circle K with unlimited fountain services. These birds are tough to photograph, moving very fast in and out of the shadows.
Drum roll . . . . and the mystery mammal is: Bobcat!
The Bobcat is a nocturnal cat roughly twice the size of a house cat with large paws and tufted ears, and a short tail with a black tip. The cat's name comes from the tail, which appears to have been clipped or "bobbed." They are mostly nocturnal, and although observant birders have smelled their urine on morning walks, seeing them is unusual.
On the morning of Wednesday November 15th, I decided to walk back to the parking lot early along with another birder/photographer. He first spotted this cat right on the walking path, just a bit west of the first pond and overlook with the ramada. We followed our subject carefully from a distance. Below you can see a sequence, "the hunt." He has clearly spotted something in the reeds, crouches and then disappears into the reeds. He did emerge, but without his prey. He preened a bit, then disappeared down the path.
The image below shows the tail and leg marking well. You can see the tufted ears in profile.
Time to preen a bit and move on!
The Black Phoebe is a flycatcher, described as sooty gray on the upper parts and chest, and clean white on the belly. They commonly perch on branches looking for insects, making photography easier. The images above and below were captured on November 29th.
Below are a sequence of images captured in late December 2015 on the San Pedro River in Hereford, close to the San Pedro House. The bird was flying a route next to the river, moving from perch to perch, catching insects along the way. With a bit of patience, it was possible to learn the route, and focus on a perch, knowing that in time the flycatcher would return to the perch. The bird was close, and the light was good. Last image shows the bird in flight heading for the next bug.
Oregon Dark-eyed Junco
The Oregon Dark-eyed Junco summers throughout Canada and into Alaska and winters as far south as SE Arizona and northern Mexico. This was the first of the species for Sweetwater this year, image captured on November 29th. The bird was moving fast near the recharge basin, and this is the best image I could get.
Below are two images I captured at Cave Creek Canyon, Portal, Arizona, in January of 2016.
Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warblers summer for breeding in the east and northeast U.S. all the way up into eastern Canada, and winter in Florida, Mexico and Central America and south to South America. Their migration territory includes the central U. S. and northern Mexico, which just barely includes SE Arizona north of the border with Mexico. It is great to see them here.
They are boldly striped in black and white, and forage for insects more like nuthatches than warblers. All images here captured on November 29th. Like nuthatches, they move very fast and will forage upside down.
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls are powerful raptors present throughout the United States, and common throughout SE Arizona. A pair lives at Agua Caliente, there are several pairs at Catalina State Park, however, this was the first Great Horned Owl I have seen at Sweetwater. This bird was on the southwest portion of the pathway, sitting quietly in a mesquite tree mid-morning. They are nocturnal, and when spotted at Agua Caliente they are commonly snoozing, but this fellow looks awake.
That's a wrap !
Thanks for "clicking in" everyone.
Happy trails !
I first posted on Sabino Canyon in December 2015, Part I on birds, with the promise of Part II on landscapes "to follow shortly." Well, "shortly" became 2 years! Yup, I know, 2 years late. But think of it this way. If I had posted 2 years ago, it would have been in January of 2016, after all the great fall colors had faded, and I would in essence have said, "See what you missed!" You would have been bummed! So, by posting now, you can put a Sabino Canyon visit on your November/December calendar today and see the 2017 version of all these great scenes!
The image above, and the two below were captured on the eastern side of Sabino Creek looking west, shortly after noon on November 23rd. I bought a tram ticket, and got off on the first stop close to the creek, avoiding the long walk on the paved road that marks the beginning of the trek up the canyon. Then, with the help of a backpack for the photo gear, and using my tripod as a walking stick, I forded the creek, avoiding slippery rocks. Note that if the water is high, you will get your feet wet. Walking poles are helpful. All shots obtained using a tripod and shutter release cable. Canon EOS 6D with EF 17-40 mm f/4L with polarizing filter.
The two images below were captured in the middle of the creek plain looking south, just before noon. I set up on a dry patch of sand.
On a another day I went birding (see Sabino Canyon, Part I) walking east of the parking lot, then north toward the dam. On the way back I discovered the view below facing south with the Santa Rita Mountains in the distance. This panorama is created from 4 images, using the Photo Merge/Panorama feature in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
For the photo geeks: for a successful panorama keep the camera level from shot to shot, and calculate the exposure once, keeping it constant from shot to shot in manual mode. If left on automatic exposure mode, the camera will recalculate the exposure for each frame, trying to create the "perfect sky" for each picture. When you merge them, there will be a vertical line in the sky where the two images merge.
For more on Sabino Canyon see my posting from December 2015.
So, get out your walking shoes and poles, grab that camera or paintbrush, and head to the canyon!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Raptor Free flight has begun this week at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I went by for the morning show on Tuesday the 24th along with several dozen of my newest BFF's. Three birds flew, a Great Horned Owl, a Chihuahuan Raven, and the newest addition to the roster, a juvenile Crested Caracara. Let's take them in reverse order.
The Crested Caracara is a tropical vulture in the falcon family, with year round distribution from South and Central America into Mexico, coming as far north as Arizona, Texas, and Florida. This bird is one of two born in captivity last spring at the Desert Museum. Unfortunately his training for raptor free-flight was interrupted when he tried snacking on a scorpion and was bitten. Fortunately anti-venom and a lot of care pulled him through, and he is back on the line up. As one might expect of a rookie, on Tuesday there was more trotting and hopping than flying.
The Crested Caracara eats insects, fish, birds, and small mammals as well as carrion (dead stuff). Note the lack of feathers on the face, similar to other vultures. Above and below are views as he perched on a snag. Note that this is a juvenile, for beautiful images of adults see Tom Grey's website.
Below, he is taking off. For more about how birds learn to fly see this link.
Raptor free flight runs until spring of 2018. It will be fun to see him grow during the season.
The Corvid family includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. In SE Arizona we see two species of raven, and no crows. The more common raven around Tucson is, the Common Raven (how about that!), but we can also see the Chihuahuan Raven. For more on Ravens and Corvids in general, see the entry for Common Raven in the Birds folder on this site.
This year the Desert Museum has a Chihuahuan Raven as part of the raptor free flight, and he was on deck on Tuesday. This is a great chance to see these birds. The look much like the Common Raven, but are smaller. The size difference is clear if one is lucky enough to see them side by side.
Above the bird is in flight. Below we see images of a volunteer handler catching and releasing the bird as part of the free flight circuit. The last shot shows the wing span in comparison to the handler.
As of this writing (Sunday, October 29th) the eBird App on my iPhone tells me that most of the recent sightings of Chihuahuan Ravens are from Sahuarita and south toward Green Valley. For more on eBird see this link.
Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl is a regular for raptor free flight. See this link for my posting from the fall of 2015. They are great to see sitting up close on a snag, or perfectly quiet in flight.
Image above, owl launches into flight from a snag. Below, resting on snag.
Above, carefully examining his tidbit of raw meat. I like the raised talons on the left foot.
Below, landing with the sun to the left, lighting up flight feathers. The handler is ducking, always a good idea when close to these birds!
That's all for now!
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About