Thursday, May 5, 2016

Grace's Warbler: Right Time, Right Place, and Lots of Luck

Little is known about Grace's Warbler other than it was first reported by Elliott Coues' in 1864. Elliott Coues was a well known naturalist and ornithologist who the small subspecies of White Tailed Deer, the Coues Deer is named after. Coues asked that the bird be named after his sister, Grace.

The summer breeding range of Grace's Warbler is mainly Arizona and Central Mexico, although it doesn't pay much attention to state borders so can sometimes be found in the extreme southern parts of Nevada, Utah, southwest Colorado, and western New Mexico where the elevation is 7000 feet and there are pine trees. It winters in Central America.

Even though its territorial requirements are very precise, little is known of the Grace's Warbler due to the fact that it stays atop 130 foot Ponderosa Pine trees. It's diet is presumed to be insects like other warblers, gleaning from branches and pine clusters.

Since it stays above 7000 feet it is restricted to the Catalina, Huachuca, Chiricahua, and Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona. I have found Grace's along the Carrie Nation Trail in the Santa Ritas, Huachuca Canyon in the Huachucas, and Incinerator Ridge on Mount Lemmon in the Catalinas. I have also seen it in the picnic areas at Middle Bear and Hitchcock in the Catalinas.

That brings me to yesterday's birding trip up Mount Lemmon. My photographs of Grace's at Middle Bear picnic area have never been great because I'm always standing 100 feet below them. Those photos are mostly "belly shots." But at Incinerator Ridge, you can be eye level to mid or top portions of the Ponderosa Pines. And such was the case. Right time, right place, and as luck would have it, a Grace's Warbler landed and perched no more than 15 feet from me (for about 5 seconds) before flying away. But those 5 seconds gave me an opportunity for a photo. And I was pleased with the result (you can see the Ponderosa Pine needles in the background of the photo):

Grace's Warbler

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Agua Caliente: Lucy's and MacGillivray's Warblers and More

Quick trip on Monday to Agua Caliente Regional Park. While the main attraction is the spring fed pond, don't overlook the mesquite bosque between ponds one and two. It can be very birdie with the mesquite trees and grasses.

Here are a few of the photos from Monday:

Ash Throated Flycatcher

Double Crested Cormorant

Green Tailed Towhee

Lucy's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

Phainopepla Female

Red Winged Blackbird

Vermillion Flycatcher Male

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tanque Verde Wash: Western Tanager and Black Headed Grosbeak

Another trip over to Tanque Verde Wash looking for the Prothonotary Warbler provided nice photos of male Western Tanagers and Black Headed Grosbeaks:

Black Headed Grosbeak

Western Tanager

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Prothonotary Warbler

Yesterday at 11:00 am I read the ABA Birding News and noticed that a Prothonotary Warbler was seen in Tanque Verde Wash at 8:00 am. 

Prothonotary Warblers are typically found only in the Eastern United States, breeding mostly in the Southeast.

Their preferred habitat is wooded swamps. They breed in flooded river bottom hardwoods such as black willow, ash, buttonbush, sweetgum, red maple, hackberry, river birch, and elm; or wetlands with bay trees surrounded by cypress swamp. It winters in the tropics (Central America) in lowland woods and mangrove swamps.

Males arrive on nesting grounds in early April, about a week before females. Males establish territories by singing, vigorous displays, chases, and fighting. Males place small amounts of moss into the nest cavity, building dummy nests, but only female builds real nest. Male displays intensively to the female during courtship by fluffing plumage, and spreading wings and tail. Nest site usually 5-10' up (sometimes 3-30' up), above standing water in hole in tree or stump. Cavities are often old Downy Woodpecker nests. Sometimes excavates its own hole in very rotten stumps. Female fills nest cavity nearly to the entrance hole with moss, dry leaves, twigs and bark; then lines it with rootlets and bark strips.

Breeding populations of these warblers are highly localized because of the extreme habitat specificity required. This makes Prothonotary Warblers vulnerable to habitat destruction. 

Their population has declined by over 40% in the last 50 years because of the clearing of southern swamp forests. It is on the State of the Birds Watch List as a bird species that is at risk.  

Given their habitat, one might well ask why is a single male hanging around in old cottonwood trees in the sonoran desert of Southern Arizona. A good question without a good answer. Yet, every couple of years a single (usually male) finds its way here.

Since it is very rare to Southern Arizona -- and I live only three miles from Tanque Verde Wash, I dropped what I was doing to see if I could find him.

It didn't take too long, about an hour and a half. He landed on a branch about 8 feet off the ground and about 15 feet from me. So I was able to get a nice photo.

Prothonotary Warblers typically feed on butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, mayflies, and spiders. In swamp environments it eats mollusks and isopods. It supplements its diet with seeds, fruit, or nectar. You can see mulberry stains on his head and breast in the photo:

Prothonotary Warbler

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Back Yard Birding: A Hooded Oriole Family

Yesterday while sitting in my office working, Christine came over to say there was a large yellow bird in the oasis. (Large I took to mean larger than the many Lesser Goldfinches we have).

So I grabbed my camera and went into the oasis for a look. He had been in one of our mesquite trees but now nowhere to be found. Yet, a few minutes later one of our guests spotted him over by our fan palms. 

I could see right away that it was an immature oriole; maybe Bullocks, maybe Hooded. As I checked Sibley's I found the following statement for the Hooded Oriole: "uncommon in open wooded or brushy habitats, often near fan palms..."

I have photos of about a dozen different Hooded Orioles -- and none on or even near fan palms. Now, here was this oriole in our backyard hanging out on and near fan palms. I figured I had my answer.

An hour or so later I spotted both the adult male and female -- though didn't have my camera with me. 

Here are some of the photos of the young male Hooded Oriole: 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Birds with Fish: Osprey

Since I recently finished a series on Birds with Bugs, I thought a series on Birds with Fish was in order. This topic, however, has become a little more challenging since moving to the Arizona desert in 2002. 

Nonetheless, we start today with the Osprey. 

Osprey distribution is worldwide except for Antarctica. In the western hemisphere they winter in South America and Summer in the Northwest United States and most of Canada. They breed during the summer months throughout their summer range. Obviously, they can be found between these two zones during migration. 

Their diet is almost entirely fish. In fact, it is the only bird of prey that feeds exclusively on fish.

Therefore, ospreys are found near water, either fresh or salt, where large numbers of fish are present. They are commonly found around major coastal estuaries and salt marshes, but also regular around large lakes, reservoirs, rivers. Hence a smaller population in Arizona. Migrating Ospreys are sometimes seen far from water, even over the desert.

They fly slowly over water, pausing to hover when fish are spotted below; if  a fish is close enough to surface, the Osprey plunges feet-first, grasping prey in its talons.

They carry their catch parallel to their own body and head first to keep it aerodynamic (as seen in the first photo).

Their outer toe is reversible so it can grasp with three toes forward and one toe backward or with two toes forward and two toes backward (giving them a more stable grip in flight).

Ospreys typically lay 2 to 4 eggs. Their eggs don't all hatch at once however. It is usually five days between the first and last hatchling. Females stay with the chicks most of the time. The male is responsible for finding food and bringing it to the nest. Ospreys often use the same nest for years. Nests are usually near water where food is present.

Osprey with Trout above Ernst Lake, British Columbia

Osprey Eating Fish at Agua Caliente, Arizona

Osprey with Trout at Lake Chopaka, Washington

Osprey with Fish at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Incinerator Ridge, Mount Lemmon

Since Mount Lemmon is right out our back door, it is where I go when I don't have a lot of time. So yesterday, I made a quick trip up to Incinerator Ridge wondering what I might find this early in the season.  It was a bit windy and cold (49 degrees). No real flocks of birds yet, but with a little patience a few nice birds did present themselves:

American Robin

Hermit Thrush

Red Faced Warbler


Spotted Towhee

Stellar Jay

Western Bluebird