View from Sunny Flat Campground looking south toward 42 Forest Road.
If you drive southwest past the visitor center on 42 Forest Road, you will pass South Fork Road on the left, where we spotted the birds seen in Part I of this series. If you stay on 42 Forest Road, the first right after the junction with South Fork will be Sunny Flat Campground. Sunny Flat is a large, flat, and sunny creekside campground that is a popular place for birders to stay in the spring. See the relief map below, from Google Maps.
In April almost all of the campsites had hummingbird feeders hanging from various hooks or branches. One camper was particularly friendly and invited us to stay at her campsite for birding as long as we wanted to as she headed out for a day of hiking. She had multiple nectar feeders hung out in bright sunlight. which made the hummingbird photos that follow possible. If she is reading this post, Thank You!
Hummingbirds at Sunny Flat: Blue-throated Mountain-gem
The Blue-throated Mountain-gem is considered a Mexican species that winters in the mountains of central and southern Mexico, and breeds in northern Mexico and just over the boarder into SE Arizona and western New Mexico as well as parts of western Texas. This species is the largest hummingbird to breed in the U.S., as we can guess from their size in relation to the feeder above, compared to other species in this post.
The male, seen in this sequence of photos, has a blue/sapphire gorget that lights up in good light. Both sexes have double white stripes on the face and gray underparts,
with white tips to the black tail feathers.
They favor cool mountain streams between 4,500 and 11,500 feet where they forage in the understory. Note that Portal is 4,760 feet above sea level, at the base of the canyon. Sunny Flat is about 5,000 feet, and the perfect place for this hummer.
In the two images shown above and the one below, we can see the white tips of the tail feathers and the gorget sparkling in direct light. My vantage point put the morning sun behind me, an advantage for all the shots in this section.
I have added three images, shown below, captured in Portal at the Southwestern Research Station of the American Museum of Natural History in May 2018. We can see the white tips of the tail feathers as well as the white eye stripes and sapphire gorget. When perched on a feeder, it is clear that these birds are large.
In contrast to the Mountain-gem, the Black-chinned Hummingbird is small. The species can be found from deserts to mountain forests ranging from winter grounds in central Mexico to breeding locations throughout the western U.S. and into Canada. Males have a green back, a black chin, with a lower boarder of iridescent purple, and white below. Here we see a male, hovering just off of one of the feeders.
The Broad-billed hummingbird lives year round in Mexico and breeds as far north as SE Arizona and western New Mexico. Males have a bright red bill tipped in black along with an emerald body and a sapphire throat. Females are golden-green above, gray below, with a white line behind the eye.
In the image above we see the emerald body and red bill with black tip. Below the bird has rotated facing the camera and the sun, showing off the iridescent feathers, in an almost blinding fashion.
The iridescence in hummingbirds is created by the chemical structure of their melanosomes that reflect incident light to create the bright colors. For some recent research on how the this all works, see EM Eliason et. al.
The Rivoli's Hummingbird, formerly known as the Magnificant, shares a range very similar to that of the Broad-billed Hummingbird; both are residents of Mexico with a breeding range that extends north into the SE Arizona and New Mexico. They are larger than most hummers that frequent our feeders, but smaller than the Blue-throated Mountain Gem we saw at the top of the line-up.
Adult males are dark below and green above with a dark tail. In bright light the crown flashes purple and the throat emerald green. These colors can change dramatically with only minimal change in position.
To show more detail, I have reached back into my archives and pulled out the two images below of a male Rivoli's creekside in Madera Canyon in March of 2018. The colors of the gorget and crown change with rotation of the head.
Whooa! A Cooper's Hawk? Yup. Cooper's Hawks are ubiquitous throughout North America and have adapted very well to urban settings as well as to their usual rural hangouts. After some time shooting images of the hummers at the feeders, we looked right into a stand of trees adjacent to the campsites, and there was a Cooper's sitting on a branch looking for lunch. She (or he) is sitting on a branch, and looks around, left, right, and above for any likely birds.
Males and females look alike, except females are larger. This bird looks big to my eye; I will call her a female. She may have a nest nearby with eggs or hatchlings and needs to feed them.
She walks along the branch, focused on something near us. Since we are adjacent to feeders, it is likely one or more birds. Her face is in the sun most of the time, making the images more interesting.
She extends her wings, as a stretch or perhaps getting ready to fly.
Then one more step to her right . . . .
A reasonable meal does not materialize, and she keeps looking . . . .
Shortly after this sequence, she was rousted off the branch by a mob of Steller's Jays, who clearly thought that the Cooper's was too close for comfort. Somewhere between 2 to 5 jays harassed the Cooper's, forcing her into the air and following her north for some distance to be sure she was well away from the campground. Unfortunately I was unable to catch the action with my camera.
Let's end our visit to Sunny Flat with this male Wilson's Warbler. The species winters in Mexico and breeds in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and Alaska. SE Arizona in in their migration territory, so it is likely that this male is following the trail of insects north.
The black cap on the male makes them easy to spot.
That is it for Sunny Flat! A beautiful spot in Cave Creek Canyon.
My thanks to Marty Herde for her help with hummingbird ID.
Part IV, the last of this series on the Chiricahuas, is coming soon.
If you live in Portal, Cave Creek Canyon is your backyard. Put out feeders and water, keep everything clean and stocked 7/24, and a wide range of species will appear. Any bird in the neighborhood who will come to a feeder will visit you. Birders like ourselves are lucky there are a number of private lodges and residences in Portal that open up their "feeder theaters" to us.
The Cave Creek Ranch, where we stayed, maintains stocked feeders from dawn to dusk, and is open to the public for a contribution to their seed and jelly fund. In addition, two private homes have opened their backyards to the public both with a seed and jelly kitty jar.
Bob Rodrigues lives off of Portal Road, at the site previously owned by the Jasper family. He continues to maintain the "Jasper Feeders." The link will take you to an eBird Hotspot page with directions and more details.
Dave Jasper now lives off of the south side of Portal Road, just west of Portal Peak Lodge, Store and Cafe. He has continued the feeder tradition at his new home. During our visit in April we spotted a number of species that, if not rare, are usual sightings for Cave Creek Canyon. For more on his site and birds seen here, see this eBird page. The next three species are in this OMG! category, a special sighting for Cave Creek Canyon. All of the images for these three were captured at Dave Jasper's backyard on Portal Road.
The Yellow-breasted Chat is a long-tailed tanager-like bird with a thick bill. Previously thought to be a warbler (family Parulidae, New World or Wood Warblers), in 2017 it was placed in its own family, Icteriidae. It sports a bright yellow throat and breast, with dull olive-green upper parts and white spectacles. The two sexes are similar in appearance.
Although its range is extensive throughout North America, it is often difficult to see, favoring dense thickets and shrubby areas, and therefore an uncommon sighting. It is also considered skulking and secretive in nature, making it more elusive. However, early in the breeding season the male's presence is easy to determine by his extensive vocal repertoire, composed of whistles, rattles, catcalls, and grunts. (References: Birds of the World, eBird). They eat insects, but also fruit, and may have been drawn to the orange halves and jelly jars.
Maybe it was a combination of the breeding season (April) and the dry winter of 2021 that brought this male to Dave Jasper's feeders and watering hole.
The Cassin's Finch is a rosy-tinged finch of the mountains of the western U.S. and Canada. The species lives year round in western Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Canada, with breeding further north in Canada. The birds that migrate will go as far south as central Mexico, always sticking to the mountains. Arizona is in their winter range, but they are not as common in our area as the House Finch. These birds we spotted at Dave Jaspers feeders are probably migrating north from Mexico.
The male is rosy red, with bright red crown feathers which we see raised up in the image above. The red is due to carotenoid pigments which come from their diet of foods like orange berries of firethorn plants.
The male Cassin's Finch can be distinguished from male House Finches by the brighter peaked crown, unstreaked underparts, and a rosy wash on the back which is visible in the image below.
The bird below is a female Cassin's Finch with crisp streaks on the underparts, in contrast to the softer appearance of the streaks in the female House Finch.
The male Lawrence's Goldfinch is a well dressed bird, soft gray overall offset by a black face, cap and throat, and yellow accents splashed on the breast, wings and rump. If GQ published an edition for birds, this bird would win best dressed. The species is in the family Fringillidae, along with the American and Lesser Goldfinch, the Cassin's Finch (which we just saw), the Pine Siskin, Crossbills, and the Pine and Evening Grosbeak, among others.
The Lawrence's Goldfinch lives year round on the southern California and Baja coasts, breeding further north on the California coast and valley areas, wintering in Arizona, New Mexico and Canada. It is a nomadic species, often migrating west to east rather than north to south, always seeking rainfall, seeding plants and drinking water. They have no loyality for their breeding areas, often present in large numbers one year, and absent the next.
For whatever reason, this male ended up in Cave Creek Canyon in April.
Lawrence's Goldfinch eat mostly plant seeds, plant buds, and some fruit, only rarely insects. The lemon yellow breeding plumage come not from a molt, but from wear, yellow emerging through the overlying gray of the feathers.
Below are two images of this male taking off from the feeders. I was fortunate that the bird stayed in the focal plane. We can see the notched tail with white streaks, yellow rump, yellow of the worn edges of the flight feathers, and coverts, as well as the head markings.
In the image below, the tail is moving slightly to the left for stabilization and steering. I hope birds enjoy flying, because it looks like fun!
For the photo geeks, the two images above were shot with a Canon R6, EF 100-400 IS II with 1.4 III extender at 540 mm, f 8.0, ISO 6400, 1/2000 second, mounted on a tripod with a Wimberley gimbal head. These started as RAW images with post production processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC and then export as JPGs for this site.
The Orioles Three . . . .
We got a chance to see three orioles at one sitting, Scott's, Bullock's and Hooded. Orioles are members of the blackbird family (Icteridae), along with meadowlarks and cowbirds. Birds in this family all have strong, long, and pointed bills, good for gathering food and building nests.
Scott's Orioles are residents of high deserts and adjacent mountain slopes, where they eat mostly insects, fruit and nectar. They are closely associated with yuccas throughout their range, looking for insects and nectar from the yucca flowers, and hanging their nests from live yucca leaves.
They live year round in southern Mexico and the tip of Baja and breed in northern Mexico and in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The males sport bright lemon yellow below, velvety black above with a black throat and chest. They have a yellow shoulder with white wingbars and a black and yellow tail.
In the images above and below we see a male going for an orange, and dipping into the jelly jar. Cave Creek Canyon is in their breeding range.
In the images above and below we see a female Scott's Oriole, with characteristic dull yellow below, olive-green above with faint wingbars and some stippling of the head. She may have a nest nearby.
In the sequence below we see a male taking off, showing markings on the wings and tail.
The male Bullock's Oriole is bright orange with a black line through the eye, black cap and throat and a white wing patch. They breed throughout the western U.S from Texas and Colorado to California and up into Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Cave Creek Canyon is in their breeding area. They winter in southern Mexico and central America.
The female, seen below, has a more muted appearance with a white wingbar, and gray on the abdomen.
The male Hooded Oriole has a black tail, throat, and wings with yellow to orange rump, hood, and belly. The black throat extends up the face creating a little mask around the eye and down the chest to make a bib. Adult males sport white wingbars. Females are olive-yellow overall with grayer backs and thin white wingbars.
Hooded Orioles eat a variety of insects as well as fruit and nectar from flowering plants, as well as nectar from hummingbird feeders. They breed in portions of northern Mexico, southern Arizona, New Mexico and California. In California they are often nick-named "palm-leaf orioles," for their propensity to build hanging nests on the undersides of palm fronds, using their sturdy bills to “sew” the nest to the frond. They have also been known to migrate into new communities in California to take advantage of newly planted palms. They winter in southern coastal Mexico.
In the sequence below we see a male taking off from the jelly feeder, very carefully staying in my plane for focus.
The breeding male Lazuli Bunting, a relative of the cardinal and grosbeak, is brilliant blue above, with a pumpkin-colored breast and pale belly. Lazuli Buntings eat a variety of insects as well as berries and seeds. They frequent feeders, especially those stocked with white proso millet.
The species breeds in the western U.S. from costal California east to Nevada, northern Arizona, and north to Utah and Colorado and up into Canada, wintering in SE Arizona and Mexico. This male is likely in migration north.
Each male Lazuli Bunting has his own unique "voice," a combination of notes developed in the first year on the breeding grounds. This unique song is based on the syllables and song fragments gleaned from other males, and becomes their song for life.
That's it for Part II. Stay tuned for more in the next few weeks.
Juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owl, South Fork of Cave Creek, April 23, 2021.
From April 22nd to the 26th, we headed back with some good friends to Cave Creek Ranch in Portal, Arizona, to expand birding beyond our local haunts now that the pandemic is showing signs of control in the U.S. and now that we are vaccinated. Yahoo!
For more on Portal and Cave Creek Canyon going back to our first visit in 2016, see this link to my prior posts. These posts include maps of the area, details about Cave Creek Ranch, as well as images of 39 species, including the Elegant Trogan and the Whiskered Screech-Owl.
This first post covers our first few days in the South Fork of Cave Creek, a fantastic birding area. Our first stop was at sunset on the 22nd, just beyond the berm on the south Fork, where a pair of Northern Saw-whet Owls had produced several fledglings.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small owl common to the forests of North America and the west, only rarely seen as far south as Cave Creek Canyon. This past spring a pair nested in a large Sycamore near the berm at the end of the South Fork Road, high in a cavity.
Late in the afternoon of April 22nd we were fortunate to see a fledgling sitting on a branch, not far from the nest. Juveniles have a cinnamon belly, unspotted brown back, and a white "V" between the eyes. Adults are small, robin-sized, mottled brown with a whitish facial disk and a rounded oversized white-spotted head. We saw only juvenile fledglings on this trip., so for images of the adult from the Cornell website, see this link.
The images above and below were shot in early evening as the sun was sinking below the Chiricahuas to the west. This fledging left his* nest to perch on a branch and take in his new world. Other birders reported two or three nestlings total, a good sized clutch for this species.
*It is not clear whether this is a male or female.
The following morning, we caught the same bird or his/her sibling sitting at the nest entrance, taking in his new world, see images below. To my eye this bird looks different from our subject of the prior evening; perhaps a bit younger with white flecks at the edges of the facial disk, that might be residual feather sheaths. They are cavity nesters, in this case a large hole in a Sycamore close to the berm.
Northern Saw-whet Owls breed in forests across southern Canada and the northern and western United States, extending south to central Mexico. They live year round in northern Arizona, but are uncommon in the Chiricahuas.
They are cavity nesters in a wild range of habitats, but seem to prefer mature forests with an open understory for foraging, deciduous trees for nesting (in this case a Sycamore), dense conifers for roosting, and riverside habitat nearby. They eat small mammals, especially mice and voles, as well as insects, and will feed on other birds during migration. Their flexibility when it comes to food probably helps explain their wide range.
Our subject here is taking in his late morning world, perhaps including the photographer, who was well below the nest and in the understory. It was a challenge to find a clear visual path to the nest opening.
In spite of our drought, there must have been enough food to feed the parents and the nestlings. Owls will sometimes abandon nests if they cannot find enough food for themselves and offspring.
A bit about the South Fork . . . .
The south Fork Road facing toward 42 Forest Road and Portal, with the creek to the left of the photo. A great riparian area for birds, with lots of bugs and understory, as well are large trees for cavity nesters.
If you are driving west out of Portal, the road bears left and becomes 42 Forest Road, heading to the visitor information center, Sunny Flat and the Southwestern Research Station. If you go to the right at this point, the road heads up to the town of Paradise, and eventually over to the western side of the mountain range, and back toward Tucson.
Off of the 42 Forest Road, before you get to Sunny Flat, you will find the South Fork Road on the left which heads southwest along the South Fork of Cave Creek. The road ends at a berm, where the dirt road has been turned into a trail. The whole area around the road and the creek is prime birding territory.
South Fork Road facing southwest in the direction of the berm and trailhead. This is a great place to pull over and look for birds.
Just before the road ends at the berm, it crosses the creek at this bridge, which is where the two birds below were spotted!
The Brown-crested Flycatcher lives in riparian woodlands of North, Central and South America, breeding as far north as Arizona, New Mexico, and portions of Texas, and wintering in southern Mexico, with large populations in Central and South America. They are cavity nesters, favoring large trees and cacti. They tend to be shy, favoring the upper canopy, except on breeding grounds, which likely brought this bird within the reach of my lens. (Reference: Birds of the World).
Let's finish with my best shot of this Arizona Woodpecker, also captured from the bridge over the creek. The Arizona Woodpecker is a year round resident of the mountains of Mexico, with their northern range extending just into SE Arizona, making Cave Creek a great place to spot them.
They forage for insects from tree bark, in a fashion similar to the Brown Creeper, starting at the bottom and working their way up. They also eat berries and Acorns, a dietary flexibility that likely allows them to winter in areas that strict insectivores would avoid.
For more images of the Arizona Woodpecker from prior posts, click this link.
That's all for now. More from Cave Creek soon!
June is on the cusp of summer, and in addition to the songbirds of May, we see hummingbirds in larger numbers, coming to nectar feeders as well as flowers in bloom. Broad-tailed and Rivoli’s are regulars on the mountain this month, and Rufous will make a stopover in August on their migration south. Here is a sampling of what we will see.
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds winter in pine-oak forests and tropical highlands of Mexico, and breed in high-elevation meadows near pine-oak and evergreen forests from Mexico north to Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, including Arizona. The birds we are seeing now are likely here to breed. They are iridescent green above with greenish or buffy flanks, with a white chest and white line down the belly. Adult males have a magenta gorget (throat). Females and juveniles have green spots on their throats and cheeks and a pale eye ring. They eat insects, nectar from flowers, and of course, sugar water from nectar feeders.
The images below were both shot in Summerhaven, the first a male Broad-tailed from May 10, 2020, the second a female feeding at flowers August 27, 2017.
Rivoli’s Hummingbirds were known as the Magnificent until 2017 when the one species was split into two, Rivoli’s in the north, and the Talamanca further south in the Costa Rica highlands and Western Panama. Rivoli’s are among the largest of Hummingbirds, evident if you see them on a feeder with other hummers. The males have a purple crown, emerald throat, and a green back, with a white dot behind the eye. In low light the birds look very dark. The females are green above and grayish below. They live year-round in pine oak forests of central and southern Mexico, breeding north in Mexico and just over the border into SE Arizona. They sip nectar from flowers and feeders and eat insects from plants or in mid-air. They nest at 5,000 to 9,000 feet along stream beds, making Summerhaven an ideal location. Nests are tough to see, typically on a horizontal branch over a stream, commonly at 20 feet or higher
The images below are of males in good light from Madera Canyon, March 2018. Madera Canyon, like Summerhaven, is a riperian area, favored by this species.
One of our more impressive and entertaining hummingbirds is the Rufous, a small and energetic winter resident of Mexico known for very long migrations (up to 4,000 miles) to breed in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska, going up the Pacific Coast in the spring, returning in summer and fall down the Rocky Mountains following wildflower blooms. Males commonly arrive at feeders here on their way south in late July and into August. Males in good light are bright orange on the back and belly with an iridescent red throat. Females are green above, with rufous flanks, rufous patches in the green tail, and often a spot of orange on the throat. Rufous hummingbirds are very aggressive at feeders, often staking out a feeder and chasing away all others. Only the Rivoli’s stays put, ignoring the frantic gyrations of the Rufous.
Image below is a male Rufous Hummingbird captured at Battiste Bed Breakfast and Birds in Hereford, Arizona, March 2018.
Below, two images of female Rufous Hummingbirds, captured in Summerhaven August 2018.
Mature Anna’s and Broad-billed’s can be seen at Molino Basin and the Hitchcock campground during the summer. Immature Anna’s will appear on the mountain in late summer after they have fledged in Tucson.
So fill your feeders with fresh nectar (sugar-water, no coloring), clean off your binoculars, and enjoy the hummers of summer!
On-line reference: The Cornell Lab All About Birds. And, many thanks to Marty Herde for sharing her observations as an ace birder and Summerhaven resident!
That's all for now! Stay tuned, more on the way from Portal AZ from April 2021.
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.
Henry Johnson, photographer and author of this site. For more detail, see About