Friday, August 23, 2013

Birds - NOT in their Sunday finest!

Last Sunday I headed to one of my old standby spots which I usually select when I really need to get some good exercise, Pima Canyon Wash, South Mountain Park.  Of course birding and any other nature related sighting is always welcome.  This is August in the desert of Arizona and what I found was a lot of birds NOT dressed in their Sunday finest!  Lots of molting and lots of juveniles make many of the birds look 'unkempt' and not well groomed.  But here again, this is more educating myself on what to expect at different seasons when birding.

The first photo is one of a very common bird that can be found in this location, but certainly does not look like what we normally see.  This bird is a juvenile, or this year hatch bird and has not yet obtained its adult plumage When I first started birding seriously here in Arizona, I ran across a couple of these birds and really had a hard time figuring what species it was.  It was obviously a sparrow, but really had me confused.  But an expert birder that I know quickly helped me identify them and I have remembered it ever since.  This is a Black-throated Sparrow and I am including a photo of an adult taken in the past.  One can clearly see how handsome this youngster will be in the future.

Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile

Black-throated Sparrow, adult

The next bird appears to be an adult based on the size and curvature of it bill.  However, it is in the middle of a summer molt with many missing feathers and new ones coming in.  This is a Curve-billed Thrasher and since I am offering comparisons, one in its finest plumage would also be apropos.  Once again, the difference in appearance is astounding.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Curve-billed Thrasher 

The third bird is one of the coolest birds in the desert, the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  This is a bird that I have photographed probably more than any other.  Number one they can be a challenge to capture photos as they are small, very active, and like to forage for small insects within the various bushes.  My first photo is what I believe to be a juvenile, this year hatch bird, although it is possibly a female as well.  This bird reacted quite readily to my pishing which makes me think it might be a juvenile.  Sometimes they are a bit less wary than the adults.  Then I found a male that is already starting to molt out of its breeding plumage and is losing its black cap.  And finally the third photo is a male in breeding plumage.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, juvenile

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, molting adult male

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, adult male, breeding plumage

As far a non-avian creature, I stumbled upon a Zebra-tailed Lizard.  This is a gravid female, meaning she is carrying eggs to be laid.  They will lay clutches of 1 to 15 eggs in the summer.  Note how fat she is around the belly area.

Zebra-tailed Lizard, female

Obviously a spot that I explore very frequently, and once again I found something new about the life forms that inhabit this dry arid canyon.  I never get bored with this spot, but it did take me a while to figure out the best trails to follow to get the most out of this place. 


  1. Personally, I think there ought to be a Bird Law to allow each species to have only ONE kind of plumage and only ONE kind of song! This many-variations stuff makes it hard on us less-experienced birders. ;-)

  2. This is very cool...not something I would have even thought about! Thanks for sharing and comparing!

  3. SO many birds are going through their molts right now! Crazy time of year. Molting adults and juveniles. Gotta love it all:)

  4. Very neat comps, Gordon. Those little Gnats are a bitch to capture, no matter what the season! Lovely post.

  5. Gordon, I love how you did these comparisons!

  6. Ha! Awesome post Gordon.

    You'll have to show those photos to these birds when they graduate high school!