Saturday, July 31, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Ten

Staying with the Ground Birds:
White Winged Dove
The White Winged Dove is larger than the Mourning Dove. He is one of our migrants, arriving in May and departing in September. He can be found during the summer in the extreme southern parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. He winters in Mexico. In the photo above he is on top of a Saguaro that has recently flowered. The White Winged Dove is easily distinguished from the mourning dove by the white stripe on the edge of the folded wing and by the blue orbital ring and orange iris. The Mourning Dove has a pale bluish ring and black iris.

I like this photo because it is kind of whimsical. The cactus this Dove is sitting on has two new buds. And, the way the bird is sitting they almost look like feet.

Finally, here is a White Winged Dove in her nest (Palo Verde tree) with two chicks.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Nine

On to the Ground Birds of The Azure Gate, starting with the Mourning Dove.
Mourning Dove
The most abundant bird on our property is the Mourning Dove. I would guess 100 to 150 on any given day. They nest just about anywhere, like in this Saguaro above. But, they also nest in window sills, the eave of the ramada at our Catalina Guest House, the rafters of the main house, on a wall next to one of our gates ...

Here one has nested in a Chain Fruit (or Jumping) Cholla Cactus, which gives them some protection as you can see.
Here her egg has just hatched, the chick isn't much bigger than the egg. Mom has flown off, but returns moments later.

Here is a different Mourning Dove in a Palo Verde Tree with her young chick.

And finally, here is the young chick just after leaving the nest.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Eight

Next up: The Woodpeckers of The Azure Gate:

Gila Woodpecker
The Gila Woodpecker is the most common. It is easily found -- and heard -- every day of the year. It is only found in Arizona, and only in the Sonoran Desert. It's main attraction is the Saguaro. All the holes you find in a Saguaro were made by the Gila Woodpecker. (Unless you live by a golf course, in which case many are made by the little white ball). The Gila Woodpecker "drills" into the Saguaro about four or five inches and then down into the Saguaro about 10 inches. The Saguaro then secretes a substance to line this cavity so that it won't dry out and die. This substance hardens and when the Saguaro eventually dies (of old age or lightning) the "boot" that was created pops out. The Gila Woodpecker is a noisy bird. Sometimes sharpening his bill on the side of the house. He likes to drink from the Hummingbird feeders and will try to get into the Cardinal feeder as well. If you walk by, he flies to the nearest Saguaro and starts squawking because you have disturb it.

Gilded Flicker
The Gilded Flicker is larger and much heavier than the Gila Woodpecker. But, like the Gila Woodpecker is only found in the Sonoran Desert. The male, in the photo above, is easily distinguished by his red malar. In this photo, he is on a branch of a Century Plant. We see him much less frequently, only four or five times a year. We'll see both the male and female.

Ladder Backed Woodpecker
Still even less frequent is the Ladder Backed Woodpecker. We see him only a couple times a year. He's probably here more often when we don't see him, but still not common. When we do see him he is always with his mate. Again the male is easy to identify because of its red crown. The Ladder Backed Woodpecker has a wider range, pretty much throughout the Southwest.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Seven

On to the Phainopeplas:
Male Phainopepla

Female Phainopepla

The Phainopepla is similar in size and shape to the Cardinal and Pyrrhuloxia except much sleeker. It is a "silky flycatcher" who likes to perch in the tops of trees and fly out 10 to 15 feet, catch a fly, and then fly back to the same perch. The male is "jet black," and the female more of a "charcoal" color. They seem to like trees along roadsides. I suspect this is because the heat from the asphalt attracts flies. Just a theory. No proof. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Six

Continuing our "Bird Blog":

Male and Female Cardinal
After 18 years in the Northwest, it was a delight to come to Tucson to hear and see the Northern Cardinal. If you were to draw a north-south line starting on the eastern borders of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico you would have the dividing line of the range of the Cardinal -- with one exception. The Cardinal is also found in Southern Arizona. Go Figure! Skips right over New Mexico without a wink. We have breeding pairs of Cardinals here. It is always a delight when the male sits in the very top of our large, mostly dead, mesquite tree and sings his heart out. Once the chicks leave their nest they fly to a branch just above our feeder. The mother then takes a seed from the feeder and gives it to the chick. As I say, it is a delight to watch.

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Female Pyrrhuloxia
Pyrrhuloxias are in the Cardinal family but only found in the extreme Southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Southwest Texas. The female Pyrrhuloxia and female Cardinal are very similar in color and difficult to distinguish. The Pyrrhuloxia has a yellow bill while the Cardinal has an orange bill. Also the area around the eye (more noticeable) in the male, is red on the Pyrrhuloxia and black on the Cardinal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Five

Continuing with the birds of the Azure Gate:
The Verdin is a very sweet little bird the same length as a Goldfinch (4.5 inches) but with a shorter wingspan (6.5 inches). The Verdin like many birds is restricted to the extreme Southwestern US. Usually solitaire, unlike the Goldfinches. He looks for insects among the twigs and leaves of plants. At our place he is often seen trying to get at the Hummingbird nectar in our "hummingbird only" feeders. He exams every square inch top to bottom side to side, but to little avail. 

House Finch
Every once in a while I take a photo that looks more like a painting. This happens to be one of Christine's favorites. The House Finch is common to all lower 48 states and Mexico. Unlike the Eastern US, it is easy to distinguish from it's cousin the Purple Finch in the Southwest -- because we have no Purple Finches in the Southwest. Typically, you'll find at least 15 to 20 year round on our property at any given time.

Female Lesser Goldfinch

Male Lesser Goldfinch
The Lesser Goldfinch is a bit smaller than the American Goldfinch and is restricted to the Southwestern US, whereas the American Goldfinch is found throughout all of the continental US. The Lesser Goldfinch has a green back whereas the American Goldfinch has a yellow back. Also, the black on the head extends to the crown almost as if wearing a "cap." Goldfinches love our thistle feeders. It is not unusual to count 40 of them at any time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Four

I am off to Colorado. First stop Mount Evans to look for Mountain Goats and Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. Then up to Colorado State Forest in Northern Colorado looking for Black Bear and Moose. In the meantime, I'll leave you with more Birds of The Azure Gate. First the sparrows, which Christine refers to as LBBs (little brown birds):
White Crowned Sparrow

Rufus Crowned Sparrow

Rufus Winged Sparrow

Black Throated Sparrow

Young male House Sparrow waiting for food from mom

Female House Sparrow feeding baby

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Madera Canyon Picnic & Hike: Part II

Much of the year here in Arizona wildflowers, trees, cactus, agaves, alloes, or yuccas of some kind or another are blooming. Here are a couple of wildflower photos from yesterday that I particularly liked:
Velvetpod Mimosa
I thought that this would be easy to identify: pink and white "bottlebrush" flowers with fern like leaves. Finally, after looking in two wildflower books, and several internet sites, I found it online on the "Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and Plants of the Sonoran Desert" website. 
Soaptree Yucca

Friday, July 23, 2010

Madera Canyon Picnic & Hike

Yesterday, Christine and I went for a picnic and hike in Madera Canyon. We hiked along the canyon's creek that was filled with flowing water. Everything around it was green. Guess they have had several monsoon rains. (Still not much at our place, though). What I like about hiking is that there is almost always something to photograph. Although nothing rare, here are a few of the photos from yesterday:
Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys have been hanging around in Madera Canyon near the lodge for two years now. They stay close to the stream bed, but occasionally wander up the hill to the lodge.

Turkey Vulture
This is the season for Turkey Vultures. They are found throughout the US during the summer, although year round in the Southeast and Mexico. In my view, they are undeserving of their "less than wonderful reputation," because they are actually quite beautiful when seen up close; and the grace with which they soar and glide through the air is as beautiful as any bird. Even more so.

Mexican Jay
The Mexican Jay is found only in Arizona and Mexico. Like most Jays it is about 11.5 inches long, but with a little longer wingspan (19.5 inches).  A very noisy bird that travels in groups and loves picnic areas. I think as soon as I noisily opened the "potato chip bag" he was there. Of course he was gone after about two minutes when he realized I wasn't going to feed him.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Three

The Cactus Wren and the Curved Bill Thrasher are more commonly found here at the Azure Gate, although not abundant like the doves, quail, finches, and sparrows. I have put them together here because the best way to describe them is "saucy." In ways similar to the Gila Woodpecker. They are  into everything. Very curious and bold. And, if you disturb them, they fly off (the handle) into a nearby tree and just squawk and squawk and squawk. 
Cactus Wren
The Cactus Wren is found in the southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in open and arid brushland or desert. It is the largest of the wrens.

Curved Bill Thrasher
The Curved Bill Thrasher is found in Southern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and up into Southwestern Oklahoma. They too, like open and arid brushland and desert, although primarily thorny desert. It is hard to distinguish it from the Bendire's Thrasher which also appears at the Azure Gate, although less frequently.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate: Part Two

Here are a few more of the birds occasionally found at The Azure Gate.
Black Tail Gnatcatcher
The Black Tail Gnatcatcher is a small (4.5 inch) gnatcatcher found primarily in the lower desert brush of extreme Southeastern California, Southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Southwest Texas. He's probably around more often than we realize. He just doesn't come near our buildings much. Although, he did nest close to one of our guest houses this year.

Western Wood Pewee
The Western Wood Pewee breeds during the summer months in much of Western States. Then they migrate to South America at the end of summer. The female lays two or three eggs in an open cup nest on a horizontal tree branch or within a tree cavity. We don't see them often, yet obviously have tall enough trees to make them feel welcome. Both parents feed the young. They wait on a perch at a middle height in a tree and fly out to catch insects passing by. (This as opposed to the more common desert flycatcher the Pyrrhuloxia that seems to prefer the very top of a tree to perch).

Bronzed Cowbird
The red iris gives the Bronzed Cowbird away. It is found primarily in Southern Arizona, New Mexico,  Texas, and south through Central America to Panama. The Bronzed Cowbird is a "brood parasite" as it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds -- when those nests also have eggs.  In this way the "host" feeds both its own young, plus the young Cowbirds. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Birds of The Azure Gate

In additional to the occasional Brown Crested Flycatcher, here are a few other occasional visitors to The Azure Gate:
Black Headed Grosbeak
Typically found in hardwood forests, the Black Headed Grosbeak summers in the Western US and winters in Mexico. He was probably just passing through on his migration.

Hooded Oriole
The Hooded Oriole is another summer migrant only found in the extreme southern Arizona and California (and occasionally New Mexico and Texas).

Northern Mockingbird
The Northern Mocking bird is much more widespread found throughout the US except in the Northwest, Montana, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Like the Hooded Oriole often found in suburban neighborhoods. Unlike the Hooded Oriole is a year round resident. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Brown Crested Flycatcher

Well, the plea to the universe helped  ...  some. We had very hard monsoon rain yesterday (after the blog was posted) --- for about ten minutes. Still need more though, but thanks Seattle for sending us some. It's been a little "muggy" the last couple of days. Not unusual for monsoon days. With the humidity comes the bugs. And, with the bugs, come the flycatchers. We see the Brown Crested Flycatcher occasionally. He is found more typically in the riparian woods. And, only in Arizona and northern Mexico. But, since we have lots of mesquites, palo verdes, and creosotes he wanders our way. And, so he did today. This photo taken through my office window. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Who'll Start the Rain?

(Title Courtesy of Credence Clearwater Revival, well close enough to suit us)
We had wonderful rains in January and February. The result was a terrific wildflower and cactus blooming season. But no rain since. So all the cactus are "shriveled up," like someone sucked all the life out of them. It is monsoon season here in Tucson. For the past three weeks dark and ominous clouds rolled in and blanketed our sky for two hours late every afternoon. Other than three or four drops no rain here. The Catalinas got rain. The Rincons got rain. The Santa Ritas got rain. The Huachucas got rain. But not us. So, Christine suggested that today's blog be asking for rain. Maybe some of you folks in Seattle wouldn't mind letting us have some. So, here are a few photos from last year's monsoon:
From our rooftop looking East

From the office looking out into the flooded driveway

From the office looking out back through one wet trail

In the meantime, I'll have to be content photographing some amazing skies.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Patagonia Butterfly Garden

Okay, we are not talking about the Tucson Botanical Garden's Butterfly Magic. The little town of Patagonia has a small "patch" of flowering plants that attract butterflies. We're talking about the size of a postage stamp (or small bedroom). However, it does produce butterflies, such as these that we found two days ago:
West Coast Lady

Checkered White

Female (top) and Male (below) Gulf Fritillary

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Patton's in Patagonia

I went over to the office this morning about 4:30 to check and see what was happening at the British Open (golf). Couldn't get into the office at first. There were about ten or so javelinas in the way. Some were adults and some young ones. The young ones may have been the ones I photographed a month ago on the day they were born. But, that's another story (you can see the earlier blog).

Yesterday, Christine and I went to Patagonia. First stop was Patton's. Second, the "butterfly garden" in  town. Today's Blog: Patton's. 

We have several hummingbird feeders. And, so we have a fair number of  hummingbirds around. Common to our feeders are the Broad Tail and Anna's. Frequently, we have Costa's and Broad Billed. Occasionally, we have the Caliope. Beyond those five species, you have to go into the southern mountain ranges. The Black Chin and Broad Billed are usually found in all of the southern mountain ranges. But, interestingly, different sites have "specialties." Beatty's Orchard in Miller Canyon (Huachuca Mountains) is the most reliable spot for Magnificent, Blue Throat, Beryline, and White Eared. Ash Canyon (also in the Huachuca's) is the most reliable place for the Lucifer and maybe Plain Capped Starthroat. Patton's along the Patagonia Creek (adjacent to the Santa Rita Mountains) is the most reliable place for the Violet Crowned and Rufus, with the occasional Allen's. Even the extremely rare Cinnamon Hummingbird has been found there. Count 'em, that's 16 of the 19 hummingbird species. Only the Ruby Throat, found throughout the East, the Buff Bellied and Green Eared found it the Southernmost tip of Texas can't be found in Arizona. So far, I have, what I think are good photos of 12 of the Arizona Hummingbird species. Maybe by the end of the summer .... Anyway, here are a few from yesterday's trip to Patton's:
Broad Billed Hummingbird

Violet Crowned Hummingbird

White Eared Hummingbird

Female Black Chinned Hummingbird