Last weekend was a long 3 day holiday weekend and not wanting to lose out on any birding opportunities but still stay close to home, I headed out to one of my regular spots, Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park. I needed a good hike instead of the treadmill at home and the nights have been cooling off ever so slightly and hiking at dawn before the sun rises is definitely doable.
One of the first birds that I heard and then spied was a Loggerhead Shrike and this was right at sun rise with the full yellow morning glow shining on it. The photo definitely does not show off its normal colors of black, white and gray, but that black mask is unmistakable. At one time these birds were nicknamed 'butcher birds', which I think is a bit harsh of a name for them. True, they can be quite aggressive in searching for and capturing their prey, but lots of other birds do the same thing. These birds, in spite of their smaller size will take on small rodents and small birds and lizards if they can capture them. However, their mainstay diet is insects, large and small.
Anna's Hummingbirds seemed to be more abundant than ever on this trip. Trying to capture them in a photo with their full gorget in bright iridescent color is usually quite tough, so I settled for just partial color in this photo. This bird is quite common at my feeders in my yard, but I usually avoid taking their photos near feeders if I can. I really prefer to capture them in a more natural setting like this.
Anna's Hummingbird, male
Another little bird that made a very brief appearance was a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher. It landed on a branch with its back to me and I was able to only snap a couple of shots and then it was gone and I could not relocate it. It is one of those birds that belong to a family of nearly identical looking birds, the Empidonax Flycatchers, and can be very difficult to identify. Many times they can only be identified by their call, but when they are silent, (which is quite frequently) then it gets tougher. This one was a little easier once I could look at the photo. It has an eye ring, (which most have), but this eye ring is slightly elongated in the rear, which is usually indicative of one of the western flycatchers, the Pacific-sloped or the Cordilleran. It also has an all orangish colored lower mandible which sets it apart from the others Both of these birds are almost identical in appearance, but the key to help with the ID on these two is habitat. Pacific-sloped are found in Arizona only during migration as they breed on the west coast, plus they inhabit lower elevations. The Cordilleran actually breeds in higher elevations in Arizona and when they migrate they are very rarely found in lower elevations. So with the lower elevation of this bird, it is a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher.
The stars this day though, were the warblers. Warblers are not usually found in this location, except during migration as this is not normal warbler breeding habitat. I was lucky enough to find a pair of Black-throated Gray Warblers on this trip. I have seen a single bird twice before but at quite a distance. This time I had to scramble up a couple of rocks and was able to come away with a couple of photos even though I had to try to focus between some sticks and twigs in the foreground and even found it feasting on an insect.
Black-throated Gray Warbler, with insect
Black-throated Gray Warbler, with insect
The next warbler that I happened to find was a Hermit Warbler. This is is a bird I would not normally expect to see at this low elevation and I have only seen this species in Maricopa County on Mt Ord. I have also seen it in the Pinal Mountains and the Huachuca Mountains. But this is the first time I have seen one in Pima Canyon Wash, so it was a very pleasant surprise.
All of these photos so far were taken on Saturday August 31st. Felt so good to see these cool birds, I decided to return on Sunday morning, September 1st. And it is quite amazing how different the two days turn out.
On Sunday, I arrived before the sun even rose and was hiking with a flashlight (have to take heed as those rattlesnakes are a bit harder to see when it is dark). Shortly into the wash area, I heard a Great Horned Owl calling. It was too dark to try to locate so decided to check the old owl roosting area in the rock when I returned. In the meantime, I continued up the wash and this time, I saw no warblers, but much of the regulars, including a couple of juveniles. Couple of the photos that I liked best were the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher juvenile and a Black-throated Sparrow juvenile.
Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile
On the return, I did find a Lesser Nighthawk, but alas it did not land for me to capture photos, but it was another nice find as I had not seen this bird in this location before. Also was able to capture a photo of a Zebra-tailed Lizard and a couple of Rock Squirrels that were climbing in the rocky areas.
Finally on my return, I made a special point to search for the Great Horned Owl that I had heard when I started my hike. Sure enough it was perched where I had seen them about a year ago. It was great to see one has returned. Not sure if it was one of the originals or maybe one of the offspring that they successfully raised one of those years, but I hope it finds enough prey so that it stays around.
Great Horned Owl
This just goes to show how exciting it is to go bird watching. Birds, with their ability to fly, can move around a lot and consequently can show up in different places from time to time. Already looking forward to the places I will visit this next weekend.