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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

American Kestrel

Kestrels are hard to get to know.

These beautiful small falcons with their bold splashy markings don't make friends easily.

You're lucky to get close to an American Kestrel and then, at most, a few seconds of time in their presence.

Often seen on utility poles and wires, these small, fast and agile predators watch for movements in the grass.

Voles, mice, lizards, snakes, and a variety of large insects make up the American Kestrel's diet.

Patience and good eyesight are a necessity for all raptors. The ability to hover in place gives the American Kestrel an advantage over most raptors.

Female American Kestrels are similarly sized yet more softly marked in tan and brown tones.

Juvenile males and females resemble respective adults.

Small in stature but widespread in range, the American Kestrel is willing to be seen in public albeit at a safe distance.


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

Monday, January 22, 2018


It's not all peace and love in this Arizona winter garden. The decreasing blossoms are coveted by a steadily increasing number of hungry hummingbirds.

The remaining flowers are violently fought over, all be it on a minute scale.

For such a tiny bird, hummingbirds have an oversized appetite for fighting.

They will even take on a bird a hundred times their size. This Cooper's Hawk gets an escort while only passing through this Anna's Hummingbird's territory.

There isn't a hint of hawk anxiety or thoughts of changing course. The hummingbird's nerve is commendable.

Confronting intruders with your head on fire is this Costa's preferred offense. Most times it works. They are colorful, quick and oh so agile.

If flowers are worth fighting over and that seems to be so, the hummingbirds have staked out their claim on this garden.

It likely to get harder and harder to defend though, as winter in Arizona marches on.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mexican Jay

A Mexican Jay is a familiar sight in the trees around the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, Arizona.

Mexican Jays are big, bold and colorful.
And quite accommodating to visitors, also.

They glide from tree to tree only to be rudely rousted for no apparent reason.

Squabbling between members of this social group of Mexican Jays seems to be the norm. Depending on the individual, one is either the aggressor or the frequently displaced.

Mexican Jays arrived and departed continually. I'm guessing there were fifteen birds at any one time around multiple feeding stations at the lodge.

The lodge owner sets out bird seed for the enjoyment of the gift shop guests.

Between visits to the feeders a Mexican Jay rests, perhaps a time to think.

The colorful blue birds are year round residents and so, brighten the January landscape of this mountain community.

For their part, they do a pretty good job of entertaining visitors while maintaining a watchfulness for their own sake.


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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Northern Cardinal (southwest)

Cloudy, gloomy, drizzly days are a rarity in Arizona, but today was one. I found some Northern Cardinals earlier this week when the skies were bluer and brighter. This Northern Cardinal (southwest) obliged me with a few good pictures opportunities.

A female Northern Cardinal (southwest) politely posed for me, too, as if she actually cared I was there.

The 'southwest' Northern Cardinal is not as colorful as the eastern variety, but still a stand-out in a multi-colored bird world.

A black mask and taller crest gives the Northern Cardinal (southwest) a dramatic look.

These two provided a much needed bright spot to a gloomy day. 


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

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Black-tailed & Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A Black-tailed Gnatcatcher snags an insect from a Palo Verde tree. These agile and active desert dwellers flit between branches in virtual non-stop motion.

Ants, caterpillars and spiders are a few of their diet preferences. They glean the thicket and tangles for most any insect their size.

A Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is only five inches long from tip to tail and weighs the equivalent of a nickel.

This one's in non-breeding winter plumage.

A close relative to the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. This Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is sporting his more colorful breeding plumage.

This photo is from my files. I found him in the Lion's Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, WI in May 2013.

Gnatcatchers are feisty little birds, aggressive enough to face-down birds twice their size.

Their nests can be parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds. But, if caught in the act, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher will run off the much larger cowbird.

It's all about food and where to find it.

If you have a bug in your bill already, you can afford to pause and look at someone taking your picture.

It will be over quickly.


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