Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

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.




  1. Nice Gordon! I was out there last weekend and those caterpillars were everywhere too! I didn't get any good shots, but like you said the birding was pretty good, pretty active.

    Well done!

  2. I was amazed at the difference from 2 weeks ago. Had seen a Nashville Warbler back then, but alas no photos (I am sure you know how that goes!), but this time they cooperated. The place had many more birds than normal. I best I saw at least a dozen Mockingbirds, usually only 2 or 3.
    Thanks for the comments.

  3. I sure wish I could spot all the birds you see and could get this close. as you can tell from my last warbler they are not so cooperative for me