Friday, April 27, 2007

Brown-headed Cowbird

There's a terrific new edition of This Week at Hilton Pond with information galore about the brown-headed cowbird. Check it out!

They Call it Dovey Love

Hey baby...
Turn down the lights...
put soft music on the stereo...
a little wine...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mr. and Mrs.

Many of my backyard birds are paired up including this sweet pair of juncos. On Monday there were easily 100 juncos feeding in my yard. Tuesday maybe 10. Today it's just this pair. They had better get going or all of the prime real estate up north will be taken.
The lovey doves have been plenty lovey. In the afternoon she snuggles into the sand while he stands watch. This pair is building a nest in a white pine outside my bedroom window.
The male red-winged blackbirds have been here singing their hearts out for over a week. The ladies just got in to town. They nest in a large wetland about a mile from here but they make loud group visits to my feeders. Yes, they are piggy but they are welcome here. I was watching a female this morning that had a lovely peach colored patch on her throat.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are living under the shed out back. They enjoy cleaning up the fallen seeds under the feeder. I know they are also munching on my flower beds at night and I will probably eventually curse them, but I really do enjoy watching them romp. Our dog Gidget is getting old and slow and shows no interest in them. Gidget is good buds with our pet bunny Buddy to so maybe she thinks all bunnies are off limits.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spring Always Comes

I took the afternoon off for me. The morning was filled with phone calls, making appointments, errands to the bank and post office and laundry. I put supper in the crock pot (you GOTTA love a crock pot!) grabbed my camera and bins and hit the road. I didn't have to go far, two parks both within five miles of home. At my first stop I was greeted by a pair of phoebes perched in some branches overhanging a quiet stream. They weren't shy about darting out for insects over the water, then shooting back to the branches to eat their snacks. This was the best look I'd ever gotten of phoebes. I was lucky to have nice bench nearby to watch the show. I took gobs of pictures of the phoebes but they were unfortunately all slightly out of focus.
I can't get enough of these song sparrows. They're singing their hearts in my yard right now- such a lovely song.
This one at the park was quite bold scratching the ground near my feet looking for a tasty morsel.
Up high in the tangle of branches, a flash of yellow- a Butterbutt! Sit still, there's another and another!! Yellow-rumped warblers are one of the few warblers I'm confident (sort of) to id. I am so excited to have gotten a picture of him. My first warbler photo! Well second I guess, I did get a few pictures of an ovenbird up at Hasty Brook last year.
I have found the best way for me to birdwatch is to find a spot and wait. I settled in on a bench at the second park and waited for the birds to show themselves. A group of twitchy tiny ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in the brush across the sidewalk. A flock of sparrows moved slowly through, pecking and scratching the ground as they went along. Song sparrows, chipping sparrows and in among the group, looks like a chipper but a bit larger, rusty cap, no black eye line, tree sparrow? No breast spot- it's a field sparrow!! That's a lifer for me!
After a bit I noticed little black berries dropping around me, on my head and even down the back of my shirt. I slowly looked up and in the trees barely three or four feet over my head were a half dozen cedar waxwings!! I could barely believe my eyes. It was a gift for me. I'm not ashamed to say tears were flowing. Birding feeds my soul.
Time to head home, a stop at the grocery store on the way. One more quick stop at a little wild spot behind a church near the store. I hopped out of the car, headed toward the pond and this fat woodchuck scooted past. I'm not sure who was more startled- him or me! He gave me the evil eye for a little while then made a soft barking sound and huffed away. Spring always comes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wickenburg, AZ

A day trip to out of Phoenix to Wickenburg was my favorite part of our vacation. I can't say much about the town except that we had a fabulous Mexican lunch at a little restaurant there. There were several interesting museums there that I'd love to go back and see but the highlight of that trip was a jeep tour out into the desert outside of Wickenburg. Another lifer on that day was a canyon wren. It's not a striking looking bird, but the song was beautiful. Check this link to hear the song.
The prettiest bird I saw out there was the vermilion flycatcher. At the end of our tour, on our way back in to Wickenburg we stopped alongside a horse pasture. From across the road these gorgeous red birds looked like flashing red lights perched on the barbed wire fence. There were four- two males and two females actively hunting insects in the pasture. They would dart out to catch an insect then fly back to the fence to eat. They were moving way too fast for me to get a picture but I was just enthralled just watching them.

This curve-billed thrasher doesn't seem to mind the spines of this saguaro cactus. They must have tough toes!
This phainopepla (not Pepcid AC Susan!) posed nicely. They are all inky black with a blazing red eye. Very cool bird!
The lighting in the desert in late afternoon is wonderful and there is no way to describe the smell of the air. I found myself taking in great lungs full of that air- unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. Fabulous!
The phainopeplas were striking beautiful poses all afternoon.
Our tour guide/jeep driver seemed to know a bit about everything- except birds. It got to the point where he's stop when ever he'd see a bird so I could look. He couldn't help with id's but was patient with me and let me look as long as I needed to. He called these berries "desert mistletoe" and said it was a major food source for the phainopepla (one of the few birds he could id).

Art and John had a different highlight of the trip. They spent one morning taking helicopter flight lessons! Here's John above hovering by himself. The flight instructor told Art that John's vast video game experience actually game him a leg up in eye hand coordination. John did really well in his lesson and was thrilled by the compliment. He has talked about wanting to be a helicopter pilot for a few years and now can't wait for the next lesson.
Art was a helicopter crew chief years ago in the Army and so has some prior experience. He accepted the offer to fly with the door off. Art and John took pictures of each other as I reigned in my protective instincts and did not go along to watch. I'm glad I didn't go. It's a guy thing that they have shared and now the memories are theirs.
Among my memories are these new life birds:
Inca Dove
White-winged Dove
Vermilion Flycatcher
Great-tailed Grackle
Harris's Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Black Phoebe
Gambel's Quail
Black-throated Sparrow
Curve-billed Thrasher
Abert's Towhee
Gila Woodpecker
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren

Sun City West

My in-laws home where we stayed is in Sun City West, a 55+ community outside of Phoenix. The neighborhood that they live in has a strong sense of community and caring for one another. The vast majority are retirees, many from cold climate winters, some of them seasonal visitors, others permanent. It's clean and quiet. There are shopping malls, golf courses and healthecare centers located every few miles- or at least it seemed that way. Being a ginormous senior city, there were no schools, no kids on bikes, no parks. Very strange feeling. Since we were there during spring break there were other visiting families with kids, but no neighborhood kids. Fun place to visit...
There were however lots of Gambel's quails pictured above. These are odd birds usually seen on the ground or on roofs. They can run like the dickens and seemed able to flip that little plume about at will. I was surprised to learn that they are native birds. This guy squawked on the brick wall right outside of our bedroom window EVERY morning at about 0530 AM! A life bird! Whoo-whoo! By 0530 on the second day I wanted them to dry up and blow away...

Another life bird in the in-laws' backyard, the white-winged dove. This species is non-native, introduced in the 50's when captive birds were released in Florida. This bird sings "who cooks for you" but in a dove voice.

Correction: White Winged Doves are NOT an introduced species. They are a native species and migrate south to Mexico during winter.

Can anyone out there id this cactus for me? I was told that the blossoms last only part of a day and that the entire blooming season is only a few days.
It was gorgeous- no scent that I could tell though.
Here's another lifer that I spied in their backyard- the Abert's towhee. He's not much to look at but every one of them that I saw was so dang secretive and hinky. I was thrilled to get this picture though I know it's not a great one.

Around home here the trees are really popping. Male red-winged blackbirds have been here for several days but thins morning the ladies arrived. Two days ago there were hundreds of juncos but today there are none. Happy trails juncos! This morning also brought the first white-crowned, white- throated and song sparrows. Meal worms and Zick-dough are going like hot-cakes. Cardinals, robins and chickadees are flying around with nesting materials. The wind is gusting from the south but we're expecting thunderstorms tonight. I heard that means we could have a good fall-out of spring migraters! Spring is vibrating here in Minnesota!!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bird Butts of Arizona- the Other Field Guide

Sometimes I just amaze myself with my photography skills.

Shall we play a game of "Name That Butt"?
Come on. Turn around a minute.
I was able to get several shots of this guy's butt before he turned around to smile for the camera.
Don't you love how I framed this shot? I always say- composition is everything.
Here's a very special picture of a life bird for me. No, not the mourning doves, the guy who jumped into the dog food dish a split second before I snapped this picture is an Inca Dove! Whooey! Life bird in a dog dish!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Critters and Hummers

I'm just coming off a string of night shifts so this post will be brief. More stuff from Arizona- this little ground squirrel followed our every move at an outdoor cafe. A real moocher as squirrels always are, this guy had this funny posture every time he found a morsel to eat.
We stopped at a rather depressing wildlife zoo in Glendale. All of the water was green and slimy and we saw several RATS strolling in and out of the pens/cages swiping animal food. Molly was disturbed by the living conditions and poor quality of life for many of the animals. She's very articulate and vocal about her feelings on this subject and she may find herself a vocation in animal rights. I'm so excited to see where her future takes her. She's really started to develop a view of the world outside her home in the last year.

We saw a wide array of lizards. Though they didn't have a lot of color, they were really strikingly beautiful.

This lizard was well camoflaged from a distanceand was quite willing to let me get a close look.

I saw two species of hummingbirds. This is a Black-chinned hummingbird. If you click to enlarge you can make out the beautiful violet blue gorget below its black chin. I also saw the
Costa's hummingbird but no picture for me. Two more lifers!!
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Friday, April 13, 2007

Desert Botanical Garden Part 2

There were two birds that I saw in the Desert Botanical Garden that I'm not totally sure about on my id. One is this guy. I think it's a mockingbird. I've never seen a mockingbird before (therefor a lifer!) and I couldn't find anyone in the garden to confirm my id. What do you all think?

Another beautiful cactus. It looked like the little flowers were poking through snow! The white was a fibrous material. I saw several birds including cactus wrens plucking this fluff presumably for nesting material.

All of the cactus blossoms were of hot, vibrant colors. No pastels to be found.

I don't know what these blooming trees are, but they seemed to be everywhere. I've got to get Pam to suggest a trees of AZ book before I go back there.

Another lifer- the verdin! This little gray bird with a lemony yellow head and rusty shoulder patch was gathering downy plant material to add to its nest. The verdin builds a spherical nest made of thorny twigs and lined with feathers, hair or fur. It has a side entrance with a spiky twig overhang- all designed to deter predators. I watched these little guys for a long time and noted all of the field marks to make a good id.

Here's another bird that I believe is a Curve-billed Thrasher. I'm hesitant on my id because the curve-billed thrasher appears more gray in the field guide. I saw quite a few of these birds on our trip. They seemed quite comfortable around people. I got a great chance to watch them when we played a long game of mini-golf. A pair was nesting in a tangled cactus in the middle of the course.

Another view of the curve-billed thrasher, though not a great picture. I tried desperately to get a clear picture, and finally as I was headed back to the car there was a pair on the sidewalk only three feet away. And Art had the camera- on the other side of the lot.

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