Friday, March 16, 2018

Northern Flicker (red-shafted, Western)

The Northern Flicker's true colors mainly shine in flight.

This large woodpecker with its distinctive plumage is seen all over the United States.

In the East, the yellow-shafted variation is common.  In the West, the red-shafted dominate as pictured here.

The Western male has a red mustache, while the male in the Eastern half has a black mustache. You may find one high in a tree, but more likely on the ground searching for ants, a favorite food.

They'll see you approaching first and flush. Then the red or yellow flight feather coloring will be visible.

You won't miss the white rump flying away either... shared by both sexes.

There is a third species of this beautiful woodpecker called the Gilded Flicker, but they're only seen in Southern Arizona, California, and the Baja peninsula of Mexico.

The breast markings of the Northern Flicker are distinct, too. They range from multiple black dots to Valentine-shaped hearts.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

I caught this one in a blink. Its eye was either closed or the transparent nictitating membrane that protects and lubricates the eye was shut. It's also called a 'third eyelid'.

He could have been dreaming, but he wasn't asleep.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Northern Parula

A female Northern Parula bounces between branches searching for food.

(pronounced: par-OOH-la)

The leaves in southern Arizona are just emerging, but the aphids have already discovered them.

It takes a lot of aphids to satisfy a warbler's appetite. (notice the aphid in bill) The energy expended gathering a full meal of aphids must be enormous. Parulas flit constantly.

Could aphids be that caloric?

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

It also takes dexterity and determination to find this teensy-weensy prey.

Aphids live in inaccessible places.

It's likely this Northern Parula is migrating through. Her stop here in the Sweetwater Wetlands of Tucson will be brief.
Sightings of Northern Parulas are considered rare for Arizona.

She'll probably build her nest far away... alone... in a suspended clump of moss-like vegetation. The entire eastern half of the United States and southeastern Canada is a good bet for her seasonal brood.

Oddly though, a few states will lose out. Northern Parulas typically avoid Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

Clearcutting and the draining of bogs may be the reason for the Northern Parulas' decline in these States.*

You'll have a good chance of seeing a Northern Parula when you go birding. They are a bird of Low Concern* as to their species' population.

They are migrating north now. Expect them soon in your state, especially if you live east of the Mississippi River.


*Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Green Herons Battle

Dropping sharply from the air, an adult Green Heron attacks a juvenile. The juvenile showed mild concern toward the approaching adult, until it suddenly turned to panic.

The attack seemed unprovoked from my point of reference standing on the edge of this slowly draining water hole. Both birds had appeared to be tending to Green Heron business on opposite sides of the pond in mutual harmony.

A platform overlooks this area known as Sweetwater Wetlands. The pond is being drained for a controlled burn to remove excessive vegetation. Still, it seems large enough for all to coexist peacefully. A Great Egret and a Snowy Egret showed no animosity towards each other and foraged peacefully.

Unfortunately, somehow, something provoked the adult into attacking the juvenile.

It's likely the Green Heron's actions raised the pond inhabitants' anxiety level a few notches with their displays of aggression and posturing.

The adult on the left was upset at the juvenile on the right, possibly for the younger's mere presence at the pond.

That's only my observation, but Green Heron the Younger seems to be receiving a little foot action to deliver that message.

He retreats only to land across the pond at the exact spot where the adult left to initiate his attack.

Now the adult Green Heron gets to claim this lovely new section of mudflats.

I wonder how he feels about that?


Credits: Sibley's Guide to Birds

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cooper's Hawk

Surprise is a predator's most worthy asset.

Being one with your environment helps make predation happen. Resting motionless on a monochrome backdrop, a Cooper's Hawk watches for a dining opportunity.

Soaring quietly overhead is another stealthy approach to finding a meal.

The Cooper's Hawk is mainly a bird hunter. Typical prey includes doves, pigeons and starlings, but robins, jays and even chickens are also targets.

Though mostly in the West, small mammals like bats, chipmunks, squirrels and hares round out the Cooper's Hawks' diet.

This juvenile Cooper's Hawk looks healthy and well-fed, still, he concentrates on something of interest in the Sonoran Desert behind our home in Tucson, AZ.

Rainfall is rare in the desert, yet it happens.

Coping with the indignities of a wet feather coat once in a while comes with the territory.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

This juvenile Cooper's Hawk is a frequent visitor on our patio.

Surprisingly, as I write this a Cooper's Hawk startled the birds on our platform feeder into panic flight. I looked up quickly enough only to see a Cooper's Hawk dart through the scattering birds. I missed the capture, but watched as a cascade of dove feathers floated back to earth.

The hawk had a meal.

It was the cycle of life playing out once again on a sunny Sunday morning.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds

Monday, February 26, 2018


A Sora emerges from back stage to put on a performance for us. Being a secretive bird that's easily startled, a Sora rarely ventures far from the edge of the cattail marsh. You may hear one singing in the tall grasses yet never see it.

The sure-footed Soras are most comfortable in freshwater mudflats. That said, the slightest disturbance will send them running for cover and you'll have to wait for them to come out again.

That was the case for a half dozen birders watching two adult Soras at the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, Arizona.

The two Sora would appear then vanish suddenly when instinct told them to hide.

Fine soft feathers cover this
chubby chicken-sized bird with two oversized feet and a turned-up tail.

Birding is like 'Theater in the Wild' with birds the actors and birders the audience.

It's impromptu and educational... Showings Seven Days A Week.

Aquatic seeds make up the Sora's diet with the balance mainly flies, snails and beetles.

This morning's performance... tail-bobbing up... foraging head-down... was beautiful. Well choreographed and lasting as long as the principles cared to entertain. Somewhat too short for the audience though. The price of admission was free, so no one complained.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cactus Wren

From San Diego, CA to San Antonio, TX,
the Cactus Wren is at home in the southwestern deserts. Blazing hot days or freezing cold nights don't faze this
over-sized wren.

Listed as a Common Bird In Steep Decline* the Cactus Wren is a familiar feature of harsh environments.

Crisp white feathers mimic and complement the sharp white spines of the cholla cactus. At a distance the whites merge into "Nothing Special To Look At Here, Keep Moving."

Conversely, brown tones blend and conceal as light conditions change. The desert habitat is typically shades of olive and dun. Blending into those surroundings is critical to a small bird, even if one is the largest wren.

A ground-foraging, insect-eating Cactus Wren patrols the desert floor to score a meal. He checks under rocks and leaf litter for insects and arthropods. These creatures sustain him so well that he rarely ever drinks. He fulfills his daily moisture needs from the insects he eats. That's a remarkable evolutionary adaptation for this ol'desert bird.

Dangers abound in the desert and the Cactus Wren is not immune to predation from fox, coyote, bobcat, hawks and feral cats. Being able to navigate and nest in these prickly places works to its advantage.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
*North America Breeding Bird Survey

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Elegant Trogon & Madera Canyon Birds

"You can't always get what you want." (Rolling Stones, 1964).

The lyric line clearly sums up two unsuccessful daylong attempts at finding an Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona.

It was a test of patience.

I finally found him on a third day of searching when he looked at me with profound indifference, as if to say "WHAT?"

Gracious though, he stuck around for several OK,  albeit similar, portraits.

In the end,
"You get what you need."

Other birds, like this Red-naped Sapsucker, were more gracious. They cooperated by showing up. It was a secondary reward for sure but validation for thirty hours spent searching for an Elegant Trogon.

The racket of this Red-naped Sapsucker's hammering head attracted me to him. There was no real bird benefit in making noise, it's just the consequence of drilling hundreds of holes in a favorite tree.

These wounds eventually ooze sap which the Red-naped Sapsucker laps up with a brush-like tongue. The sticky sap also traps insects for consumption later. 

A Hermit Thrush sings a sweet song between bites of last year's berries.

Spring arrives early in the desert southwest and this may be a tweet or retweet of a mating message.

Hermit Thrushes are medium sized birds, somewhat colorless, yet boldly marked with a reddish tail and white eye ring. 

A Bridled Titmouse plucks a berry he'll place between his feet to eat.

Rarely seen in the USA but
wide-ranging in Mexico, the Bridled Titmouse is in the same family as the more common chickadees.

His name comes from the 'bridled' face pattern on the Bridled Titmouse's head.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

A Painted Redstart presents as I wait for the Elegant Trogon to show up.

He was gleaning insects through the olive-colored leaves with only the briefest of stops on a log... quick picture.

Painted Redstarts flash their white tail and wing patches to startle insects into revealing themselves.

The Elegant Trogon is a migrant into the USA, barely crossing the southern border from an extensive home range in Mexico. They prefer mountain canyons, building their nests among sycamores, pines and oaks.

Most certainly he doesn't comprehend the fascination he holds among people who love birds. His quizzical stare reenforces that belief.

Rarity surely enhances his popularity with size, colors, posture and perhaps attitude contributing more. The dozens of other 'birders' searching Madera Canyon for this uncommon sighting confirmed that.

Not a bird nor a common sight either, a group of White-nosed Coatis rummaging the valley floor looking for insects, invertebrates, carrion, fruits, snakes and eggs was a pleasant surprise. They are in the raccoon family, but where raccoons are nocturnal, coatis are out in the daytime. They're not shy, but will retreat if approached. They sleep in the trees at night and forage as this band of seven did, aware of me, but only mildly concerned.

"... if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need."

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley Guide to Birds