Costa's Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tres Rios Wetlands - 29 Sept 2012

With the Arizona temps finally starting to fall, decided it was time to start visiting some local spots in and around Phoenix.  Ellen once again joined me on this visit and we saw some great birds.  Tres Rios is not open to the public and one needs to obtain permission before entering this place.  That is probably one of the reasons that this place is a very special place to go birding as there are relatively few humans in and around the area.  We tallied 43 species of birds during our 3 hour visit.
One of the highlights of the trip was actually viewing and being able to photograph a Least Bittern. This is a water bird that likes to hide deep in the reeds near water. I had caught glimpses of them in the past and have heard them on just about every trip I had made to this location, but this time around, we found one that allowed us some proper time for observation. Check out that foothold this bird is showing. Once it got tired of watching us, it very quietly disappeared back into the reeds.

Least Bittern
Another bird that showed off very well despite being one that also likes to hide in the reeds was a Marsh Wren.  This bird is another one that is more often heard than seen.
Marsh Wren
The most numerous birds were Neo-tropic Cormorants and Yellow-headed Blackbirds; which must have numbered in the hundreds, flying over constantly in large flocks.  Another very common bird was the Song Sparrow and they too were in the vegetation in and around the water, but they were a bit more easy to view, often coming to the top of shrubs and reeds to check things out like the one below.
Song Sparrow
With many birds in flight through out the area, of course I had to attempt some in-flight shots.  The Osprey were the most numerous, we also saw a Red-tailed Hawk, a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron and a distant American White Pelican. 

Red-tailed Hawk

Black-crowned Night Heron-Juvenile

 American White Pelican
Also found many perching birds, including a Black Phoebe, a Turkey Vulture, a Belted Kingfisher, an Abert's Towhee (that really blends in with its background), and a White-crowned Sparrow peeking over the tops of some leaves.  We can expect to see these White-crowned Sparrows for the rest of the winter and into the spring when they will once again head north.

Black Phoebe
Turkey Vulture

Belted Kingfisher
 Abert's Towhee
White-crowned Sparrow

Also came across a Spotted Sandpiper which can be one of the easiest 'peeps' to identify by observing their behavior.  They are constantly dipping or bobbing their tail as they forage along the edges of ponds and lakes.  We also found an American Coot out of the water and walking on the trail, which seemed a bit unusual for them.  But it gave us a chance to observed its lobed toes. 

Spotted Sandpiper

American Coot

The last bird featured in photo is a Common Ground Dove.  (Not sure why it has a moniker with the word Common in it, as it is far from being common in central Arizona.)  Maybe it is common in places further south in Mexico.  But seeing it just reinforced the habit for a birder to study every bird you see as it would have been easy to pass this off as an Inca Dove.  When it first flew into out area, that was the first impression I got because of the red flight feathers under its wings, but once it landed and we took a look at it on the ground, we quickly realized that it was not an Inca Dove but a Common Ground Dove.  It has a distinct scaled appearance on the head and breast, a bill with a pink base, and a short tail.  
Common Ground Dove

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rock Wren

Had such a fun morning last Sunday on my hike in Pima Canyon Wash with the numerous Rock Wrens that I figured they needed their moment of glory in the avian world.  This is a probably the palest wren in the United States, but like all wrens, it is not a boring bird to hear and observe.  They are fond of arid and rocky canyons or anyplace where piles of rocks can be found.  They are a western bird, but many have found their way to the east coast of the US on occasions.  They breed as far north as parts of western Canada, but those that breed in the north do migrate south for the winter.  In Arizona, they are residents throughout the year.  When I first started hiking in Arizona it was a bird that was exciting to find as I had never seen one before.  Interestingly, when I made a trip to southwestern Nebraska in August, I was surprised to find one there, thinking they were strictly a desert species.  But it is experiences like this that gets me to read my guides a bit more in detail and I found out the do have a large range throughout the western United States. 
As with most wrens, they are very active and musical as well.  They can be seen ducking in and around rocks foraging for insects and probably spiders.  They will disappear down into a pile of rocks and if one has the patience, they will most generally pop up before too long to check out the area.  Many times I will hear them before I see them and for those that are interested, here is a link to hear their song.
This past Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing 8 of these birds and a couple of them were more than happy to oblige me and my camera with some really fun shots.  Hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did when shooting them. They may be pale in coloration, but they really make up for that in their behavior and song.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Pima Canyon Wash, South Mountain Park - 23 Sept 2012

After a day at the Agua Fria National Monument, I knew that I needed exercise on Sunday and the thought of the treadmill just did not excite me, so I opted for my favorite hiking spot, Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park.  I live almost right between this spot and the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve, so naturally those 2 places get visited most frequently.  Pima Canyon Wash is most generally pretty reliable for the same species on each trip and this one was only different by finding a House Wren on this trip.  Had never seen one here before, and am guessing it is only a passing migrant, but a good find anyway.  No photos, but that is not unusual for this little go-getter.  I was concerned though as only one of the Great-horned Owls was in the normal roosting spot, so am not sure if the other one was out on a distant foraging flight or if something may have happened to it.  I am going to think positive for now, but will have to check up on it on a future trip. 
Going to start off with unusual little bird of the American Southwest, the Verdin.  It belongs to the family Remizidae and is the only species of this family that is found in North America.  At one time it was classified with the chickadee family and some think it might be related to the gnatcatchers, but currently it is in a family all to itself.  It is a small bird about only 4½" in length and is an active little bird and is quite handsome in its own right.  They are a very common resident in Arizona and I have a special attraction to this bird as one of them let me capture a very nice photo about a year ago and that photo got selected to be in the Arizona Game & Fish 2012 Calendar last year.  This trip I had another one pose for me and allowed me to capture some decent photos.

Last week I had a Green-tailed Towhee that allowed me to capture a decent photo, but this week it was back to the normal 'get-what-you-can-while-you-have-the-chance' kind of day.  As mentioned in my last post, these birds are notorious in not allowing easy photos as you can see below.
Green-tailed Towhee
Also had a Canyon Towhee that was a bit camera shy.
Canyon Towhee
To round out my bird photos, here is a photo of a stern looking Curve-billed Thrasher with that gold eye glaring at me and also a not-so-great photo of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Curve-billed Thrasher

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

And then to mix in a 'herp' I found this lizard which I believe is a Common Lesser Earless Lizard.  Now I don't know why or how it got that long name, but it seems a bit redundant for a name and one that is easily forgotten by the time I see the next one.
Common Lesser Earless Lizard

I also had a great day with some Rock Wrens, but I am going to issue a separate post on that bird so it will have its moment of glory.  That will be forthcoming later in the week.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

Agua Fria National Monument, 22 Sept 2012

On Saturday, 22 September 2012, I joined the forces with another 14 members of the AZFO (Arizona Field Ornithologists) group to conduct a birding summary of the Agua Fria National Monument just a short distance north of Phoenix but in Yavapai County.  This is a place that does not get much attention from birders and we wanted to document what the bird diversity might be in this location.  There were 15 of us that showed up to partake in this adventure and we were led by Troy Corman.  We split up into 3 groups of 5 each and birded different areas.  The group as a whole did manage to find close to 70 species of birds altogether.  This area is a bit more difficult to bird.  One can get by with a smaller vehicle to the Horseshoe Ranch area, but beyond that a 4 wheel drive vehicle with a higher clearance is definitely recommended.  As this was more of an exploration excursion than a personal birding excursion, taking photos was not the most pressing issue.  However, we needed people with cameras to document anything unusual.  And my group did find an unusual bird and glad I was there to capture a couple of photos.  We came across an Eastern Phoebe.  This is a bird of Eastern United States and the Great Plains area and breeds as far north as the Northwest Territory in Canada.  As they migrate south for the winter, usually one or two show up in Arizona and are considered a rarity for AZ.  Along with this Phoebe, our groups also found Black Phoebes and Say's Phoebes to give us a 3 Phoebe day.

 Eastern Phoebe
 Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe with morsel
 Eastern Phoebe
Queen Butterflies were in abundance and of course I could not resist taking a shot of one while it was feasting on the nectar of the blossoms.

 Queen Butterfly
The river valley was full of Summer Tanagers and they won't be around much longer either.  I had never seen so many bright red males is such a small area before.  As is the case most often than not with this species, this bird is a bit camera shy and generally are tough to photograph.  This time I only had one female that gave me an ample shot.

 Summer Tanager-Female
The last photo is one of a Desert Grasslands Whiptail Lizard and to my knowledge the first one of this species that I have seen.  Unfortunately, I did not get the privilege of seeing the complete lizard.  It appears that a predator had tried to make this one its lunch earlier in the day and ended up with probably a small piece of a wriggling tail.  This is a defense mechanism for these lizards, as their tails will regenerate in time.  Many predators end up with a bit of tail only and not the whole lizard.

Desert Grasslands Whiptail Lizard

While this was my first venture into this wilderness area, I do plan on returning in the future.  I do think there is a lot of potential for sighting new birds and next time maybe I can try for a few more photos.  One has to get out and walk through the bush to find the wildlife; very few trails exist.  so it is also a great place to get in some good exercise.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pima Canyon Wash, South Mountain Park, 16 Sept 2012

After skipping a hike in Pima Canyon Wash for 2 weeks, Ellen once again joined me and this was her first time hiking up the canyon to see what was new.  What a difference 2 weeks makes in nature.  This time the canyon was crawling with all kinds of caterpillars, and the fresh small plants that had sprouted from the last trip were almost are barren of leaves.  The caterpillars had stripped almost all the leaves off most the plants.  But along with all the caterpillars, the bird life was abundant as we saw no less than 3 different species of birds that were feasting on caterpillars. 
Going to start off this post with a photo of a Green-tailed Towhee.  These are cool little birds that are very closely related to the sparrows.  It is always exciting to find one of these birds as they are most generally secretive and shy and spend most of their time foraging on the ground or in the lower parts of shrubs and bushes.  But when we found 4 of them all together in the same place, it was the largest concentration of these birds I had ever seen.  Never actually saw one of these birds feasting on the caterpillars, but it might be one of the reasons there were so many in one place.
 Green-tailed Towhee
Now, on to the caterpillar invasion.  I have been advised that these caterpillars appear to belong to the White-lined Sphinx Moth, (aka the Hummingbird Moth).  So it will be interesting to see how many survive all the predators and actually pupate into moths.  First photo is of a shrub that shows the density of caterpillars and the second photo is one of the caterpillars in a close up.

Curve-billed Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds were plentiful in the canyon and we witnessed several of these birds feeding on these caterpillars.  Bird must have thought they found a bonanza!
 Curve-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird

We also happened across a pair of Nashville Warblers and found them to also be feeding on worms, but a different species.  Many of the mesquites were covered in what looked like cotton, but upon closer inspection, it was small webbing with a small worm inside and these Nashville Warblers, were taking advantage of the plentiful food source to give them energy to continue their migration southward.  This is a bird I had seen 2 weeks ago, but was not able to capture a decent photo, but this time one of them came out into the open enough to allow me a photo or two.  This is a good example as to why it is sometimes a great idea to return to a place where you have been before.
Nashville Warbler

Other birds that I was able to capture on photos were a Cactus Wren, a House Finch, and the always handsome Black-throated Sparrow.
Cactus Wren

House Finch

Black-throated Sparrow

Photos of 2 more critters will finish off this post.  First a photo of a very colorful red and black beetle which I have been told is a Checkered Beetle and a photo of a Lizard, which I believe might be a Tiger Whiptail Lizard, although I am not real sure.  This was a bit bigger than most Tiger Whiptails that I have seen but maybe it too was feasting on the caterpillars!
 Checkered Beetle
Tiger Whiptail Lizard

It was amazing to see the difference of what had taken place in just 2 weeks at this location.  The monsoon rains definitely dictate the cycle of life in the desert.



Monday, September 17, 2012


What a unique and interesting bird and also very entertaining as well.  There are 3 species of Phalaropes found in North America and of these 3 species the Wilson's Phalarope is the most commonly seen.  What is interesting about these birds is the fact that their sexual roles are reversed; the females tend to be larger than males and are the more colorful of the species and once they lay the eggs, it is the male's responsibility to do the rest including incubation, hatching and care for the chicks.  Unlike sandpipers, Phalaropes have partially lobed feet which allows them to actually swim.  Their feeding behavior reminds a person of a spinning top.  They spin in circles stirring up food all the while snatching morsels while spinning.  They prey on very small insects, crustaceans, larvae, and small shrimps along with some marsh seeds.  They will also eat some flying insects as well.  When I was a Glendale Recharge Ponds on Saturday, the Wilson's Phalaropes were very abundant and unfortunately in Arizona we almost always only see them in their winter plumage, but what their winter plumage lacks in color, they most certainly make up for in the entertainment department.  We also had a few Red-necked Phalaropes on the ponds, but they were further out in the water, while the Wilson's did not seem to mind us standing close by and watching them feed. 
Below is a series of photos of some of the Wilson's in their feeding frenzy.  Obviously not as good as a video would have been, but the photos gives one an idea of their unique feeding style. 

Really need to learn how to use the video function on my camera so in the future I can get a video clip of these fascinating birds.