Monday, February 28, 2011

woodpeckers: Part VII

Another Woodpecker we see occasionally here at The Azure Gate is the Ladderback Woodpecker. When they come around, they usually come in pairs. The Ladderback is fairly common in the Southwest Sonoran or Scrub Desert environments. Its range extends north to the extreme southern tip of Nevada as well as southwestern corner of Colorado. Its southern limit is Mexico and Central America as far as Nicaragua. Like most other woodpeckers in the southwest the Ladderback bores holes into tree trunks and saguaro cacti both to hunt for insects and to create a nest. And, like the other Arizona woodpeckers feeds on fruit produced by cacti. Below are photos of both the male (first) and female (second) taken here at The Azure Gate:

Male Ladderback Woodpecker in African Sumac

Female Ladderback Woodpecker in Mesquite Tree

Sunday, February 27, 2011

woodpeckers: Part VI

Today, the Gilded Flicker. The Gilded Flicker is a large flicker nearly identical to the Northern Flicker. The Gilded Flicker has yellowish underwings, while the Northern Flicker has reddish underwings. but, at rest this is not visible. But, unlike the Northern Flicker, the Gilded is found only in Southern Arizona, the northwest corner of Mexico, and Baja -- essentially the Sonoran Desert. The Gilded builds its nest in the Saguaro Cactus like the Gila Woodpecker. The Saguaro Cactus secrets a sap around the "drilled" hole, which hardens and then protects the Saguaro from loss of water. When the Saguaro dies (150 - 200 years) or by other means, out pops a "boot" of the harden shell. The Northern Flicker rarely nests in Saguaros, rather in Riparian Wood. Both photos today from The Azure Gate.

Gilded Flicker on stalk of Century Plant

Gilded Flicker on trunk of African Sumac

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Woodpeckers: Part V

Close to home the Gila Woodpecker. The Gila is found only in Southern Arizona (in the US) and Western Mexico. They exist almost entirely within the Sonoran Desert. He is here at The Azure Gate daily -- all day -- no possibility of not seeing -- or hearing  him. The male Gila Woodpecker has a red crown which is the best way to distinguish the sexes. They nest in Saguaro Cacti drilling a hole about four inches deep and then 10 or so inches down the saguaro. Once they "drill" the nest many other birds use the nest, including the rare "Elf Owl". But, we see various sparrows in the Saguaro holes all the time. There are various ways to describe its sounds. To me, the Gila Woodpecker sounds like a duck, quacking and quacking away. He loves to drink from our hummingbird feeders. If I walk toward a feeder the Gila is drinking from, he will fly away into the nearest saguaro and quack at me for a minute or more until I leave the area Occasionally, we wake up in the morning to the sound of the Gila Woodpecker pounding on the side of the house. Here are a few of the photos of this scrappy and noisy little guy.

Female Gila Woodpecker eating fruit from Indian Fig Prickly Pear Cactus

Male Gila Woodpecker eating fruit from Palm Tree

Male Gila Woodpecker in nest of Saguaro Cactus

Friday, February 25, 2011

Woodpeckers: Part III

The Hairy Woodpecker (mentioned yesterday) I found a little closer to home in Ramsey Canyon, Arizona. A little larger than the Downy, and whose range spreads down Eastern Arizona into Southeastern Arizona's coniferous forests. Ramsey Canyon is in the Coronado National Forest (Huachuca Mountain Range). It likes the more mature forests and rarely forages on wed stalks.

Hairy Woodpecker, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Woodpeckers: Part II

To continue Woodpeckers we will head up into the Coconino National Forest and the Area north of Flagstaff, Arizona called the San Francisco Peaks. The first is a female Downy Woodpecker. The range of the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers overlap, so identification is a little more difficult. They are much like the Sharp Shinned and Cooper's Hawks. Coloration is very similar, but like the Sharp Shinned, the Downy is small than it's cousin. The Downy has spotted on the tail feathers which lead me to believe this is a Downy.

Downy Woodpecker, Coconino Forest, Arizona

Then next the Three Toed Woodpecker. The Three Toed lacks inner rear toes and has barred flanks. His back is irregularly barred and white, similar to the Downy and Hairy. They forage on conifers looking for insects.

Three Toed Woodpecker, Coconino Forest, Arizona

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Woodpeckers: Part I

Woodpeckers are not my strong suit, although I have 10 species to show you over the next few days. Most woodpeckers are  not abundant. Those found in urban areas, obviously are a little easier to find and photograph. But, those that stick to the forests, are not only hard to find, but hard to photograph. They just don't seem to want to sit still for a photo.

First up today, the Acorn Woodpecker. These are colorful and "clownish" looking woodpeckers that frequent the higher mountain elevations in Arizona and the West Coast states. They are non-migratory, staying fairly close to their "storage" facilities at all times. The Acorn Woodpecker collects and stores food (mostly acorns from oak trees) in holes in trees, fence posts, or telephone poles. They will also eat insects and fruit (although won't store those food supplies). Unlike the Red-headed woodpecker it is very noisy and gregarious. They are relatively easy to find in all the Southern Arizona Mountain ranges.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ground Birds - X

The White Winged Dove extends from Southwest US through Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Although not part of their historic range, its range has been expanding into Kansas and Oklahoma (probably from Texas). At first glance they appear similar to the Mourning Dove. However, they are much larger, have a dominant white stripe easily seen along it's wing, have pinkish feet, and no blue ring around the eye. The White Winged Dove migrates, spending its winters in Mexico and Central America. It arrives -- in big numbers -- in Arizona in the April time frame and stays through September. We probably have a hundred or more here at The Azure Gate each Spring and Summer. The female nests here giving birth to two chicks. It is primarily and nectar and seed feeder, enjoying the Saguaro Cactus fruit.

Above two photos: White Winged Dove eating Saguaro Fruit

Above: White Winged Dove in African Sumac

Above: White Winged Dove with two chicks nesting in Palo Verde Tree.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Continuing with Ground Birds

Today, Mourning Doves. We have more than 100 Mourning Doves on our property at all times. They coo mostly during breeding which runs from February through August. Usually two chicks are produced. They nest just above anywhere, window sills, rafters, saguaros, mesquites, palo verdes, cholla, even in our ramada. They are found throughout the United States and Mexico. Although many migrate those here at the Azure Gate are year round residents. Population estimates are about 475 million birds throughout their range. I would guess that at least two, maybe three, are taking by Cooper's or Sharp Shinned Hawks each week here.  Almost entirely seed eaters, they also engulf find grains of sand that aid in digestion of the seed.

Above: Mourning Dove in Mesquite Tree

Above: Mourning Dove with young chick in Pine Tree nest

Above: Mourning Dove in nest in Saguaro

Friday, February 18, 2011

Back to Ground Birds

The Scaled Quail is a resident of Central Mexico, Southeastern Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, and north into Colorado, Kansas, and Western Oklahoma. They typically are found in arid, brushy grasslands. Although not quite as colorful as their cousins the California Quail and Gambel's Quail, they are intricately scaled -- hence the name. The female lays 9 to 16 speckled eggs. When in danger they prefer to run rather than fly, so they are sometimes taken by coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. They are most often taken by Harrier and Red Tail Hawks. The photos below were taken near Willcox, Arizona (Lake Cochise area):

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Business, the Cold, a Death, and New LIfe

My apologies for the absence of a post the past couple of days. This is our busiest time of the year and the record cold temps last week created some problems that I have had to attend to. Now that those problems are solved I will try to be a little more diligent about the posts. One of the sadder moments as a result of the cold was a tragic loss of one of our male Anna's Hummingbirds. I have him in our freezer until I can get him over to the Tucson International Wildlife Museum where they are asking for hummingbirds to set up a new display. Yet, yesterday I was pleased to see a new face --- at least this time of the year. It was a Broad Billed Hummingbird. The Broad Billed is a year round resident in Mexico's Sonoran desert. Its summer range extends up to the Huachuca, Santa Rita, and Baboquivari Mountains that are along the Mexican/US border. So, while they are not here in huge numbers, they are "relatively" easy to find in those mountains from April to September. The Broad Billed is a infrequent visiter to The Azure Gate during the summer months. We get a few and they seem to stick around for a couple of days at a time. But, here it is mid-February and this particular one was kind enough to stop here for a visit -- and let me take a photo. Maybe it is a sign that Spring is coming early. As you can see the Broad Billed is a quite beautiful bird:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Javelinas, you either love 'em or ...

On second thought, you either hate 'em or .... maybe there isn't a choice here. Last night 8 adult and two very small Javelinas got into our trash. As you might imagine, we generate a great deal of trash here at our Bed and Breakfast -- lots of recycling too. But, we were just two days from pick-up and one of our 96 gallon trash cans was full. I have not made it easy for them, I tie the two trash cans together with bungie cords. But, about 11:30 last night they were able to separate the two cans and knock the full one over. 96 gallons of garbage all over the yard. When I woke up this morning and headed out to the market (6:00 AM) there in my headlights were the 8 adult and two baby Javelinas. They had made a bed for themselves about 50 feet from the trash cans. They evidently slept here all night. After an hour of raking up garbage and scooping it back into the trash I devised a new system of strapping the trash cans together. Hope it works. Although I didn't get any new photos (it was still dark), here are a couple from before:

Here are seven Javelinas foraging around behind my office.

Here is a newborn piglet nursing.

And, here are two piglets with their mom. Notice the Cholla Bulb on the mother's backside.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Turkey Creek

Yesterday, Christine and I went for a nice hike in Turkey Creek -- East side of the Rincon Mountains here is Arizona. I have to start by saying that fate shows it's hand -- sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good, but at a time that although was not expected, maybe should have been. I remember looking for Moose in Alberta and not having any luck. I went to the Maligne Lake where I had usually been successful but nothing. At the end of Maligne Lake there is a little sign that says "Moose Lake Trailhead." So, I decided that I would give it a try. After all, it was Moose Lake. So, the short 1 1/2 mile hike lead me to Moose Lake where there was a Moose foraging along the lakeside. On another occasion, Christine and I were hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeast Arizona. To make a loop out of the hike you go out 1.9 miles on Echo Canyon Trail, and then back to the trailhead on Hailstone Trail (another 1.9 miles). Seriously folks, within 30 seconds of being on Hailstone Trail it started Hailing like we had never seen. Then, as not-so-good fate would have it, pouring rain the entire way back. By the time we reached the Jeep we were as wet as physically possible. So, yesterday as soon as we pulled in to the Turkey Creek Trailhead we were greeted by --- yes, five Wild Turkeys. Today, photos of the Turkeys, plus the Acorn Woodpeckers, and the Red Naped Sapsucker we came across on the hike:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ground Birds - VII

Ring-necked Pheasants. These multi-colored birds are not native to North America. Their native land is Russia and the northeast part of Europe (Caucasus). It has been widely introduced in other places as a game bird. It has become one of the world's most hunted birds. Ring-necked Pheasants are commonly bred and then released specifically for hunting. It is the state bird of South Dakota -- one of only three US state birds not native to the United States. Estimates are that farms in the US have nearly 10 million birds, 35 million in the UK. Most of these are released into the wild for hunting purposes, but many are also available for purchase through grocery and specialty stores for consumption. The majority of the "wild" or feral birds are in the plains states as well as the northwest and northeast states. 

Ridefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington.

Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

And a favorite of mine with an American Bittern
Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ground Birds - VI

On to Quails. First up, the Gambel's Quail. We have 50 to 100 around The Azure Gate all the time. Like the Roadrunner, you seldom see them fly. It is only if they can't run fast enough to get out of the way of a car or if they want to be on a tree branch of piece of cactus that they leave the ground. Gambel's Quail typically lay 10 - 15 eggs (on the ground) usually in the April, May, June timeframe. We often see the little ones starting in early May. I realized that in preparing for this blog I don't have any good "chick" photos, so I'll have to make it a point to get some this year. It is not easy to get photos of the chicks. Looking through a window you see them in a line with one parent in the front and one in the back, which is a photographic nightmare to capture. As soon as you open the door or approach they scatter and run away. The parents are very protective of their young. Parents will chase other adult quail away from their chicks if the adults get too close. Yet, adult quail we "team up" to chase Roadrunners or snakes away from their chicks. The first two photos today are the male, the last photo a female (all three taken here at The Azure Gate). 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ground Birds - V

Closer to home, the Roadrunner is a wonderfully personable ground bird. One or more come exploring our property every day or so. They take a few steps, stop, and then raise their crown and tail. Then a few more steps and ..... The other ground birds don't seem to mind the roadrunner until Spring. In Spring the Quail start laying eggs -- a nice delicacy for the Roadrunner. Quail often fuss with each other; i.e. they don't always get along, like to chase one another. But in the Spring it is different. Quail become "team mates" in the protection of their eggs and young chicks. If an injured bird is hobbling around, a Roadrunner will sooner or later find it, kill it -- usually by thrashing it on the ground, and then pluck and eat. The second and third photos are of a Roadrunner that has caught an injured Gila Woodpecker. Roadrunners also go after lizards with amazing speed and agility. Hard to believe the awkward looking Roadrunner could catch a lizard, but I have seen it. All photos today from The Azure Gate.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ground Birds - IV

Franklin's Spruce Grouse is a beautiful ground bird that lives in the coniferous forests of northern US and Canada. It is often called "Fools Hen" for not fleeing when approached by humans. While not on the Federal Endangered Species List, it is listed as endangered in New York and possibly other states. The New York population is estimated between 175 and 315. I suspect the populations in the other US states (Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) are equally low.  The likely cause is the ease in which they can be hunted. In the last photo or a male in display, you can see the yellow air sac on the neck with an extensive white-feathered border.

Little Pend Orielle National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Northern Idaho

Glacier National Park, Montana

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ground Birds - III

Back in 1995 as I was approaching Blue Lake about 30 Southeast of Kamloops I had a "blow-out". This was a little distressing since my spare was back at the cabin on Peterhope Lake. Okay, I deserved this, although there was a reason. My spare was mounted on an "after-market" bracket attached to the back of my Jeep. However, earlier in the trip the bracket broke -- presumably from all the bumping on the back roads. One of my old Xerox buddies (Frank), was with me at the time. We had no choice but to hike back 12 miles to the cabin. Although there was nobody at Blue Lake, there were several people at Peterhope. $20 got someone to drive us back up to where the car was. On the drive back up to Blue Lake we came across a Blue Grouse standing along side the road. The Guy driving us stopped his truck and grabbed his rifle while quickly asking us if it was okay? Well, since he was the one with the gun we decided "yes" was the best answer. Anyway, the Grouse was standing about 20 feet from us. Guy (I don't remember his real name) took three shots. Each time the grouse looked to the right and then to the left as if he didn't know what had just happened. After the third shot he decided to run across the road -- but, stopping on the other side. Then a fourth shot with the same result. A fifth shot caused the Grouse to jump up on a log -- yes, that's right. Now, the Grouse is sitting on a log --- like in one of those carnival booths where you get a stuffed animal for hitting seven or more out of ten. After the sixth shot missed, the Grouse jumped off the log and disappeared into the woods. I was at a loss for words. I mean, "nice shooting" came to mind; as did, "shoot much?" But, again, he had the gun so nothing was said until we reached Blue Lake when I thanked him. I, of course, got a photo (being happy with my photo and happy that the Grouse lived another day):

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ground Birds - II

Beatty's Orchard in Miller Canyon is a wonderful spot for hummingbirds and then further up the canyon a wonderful spot for Spotted Owls.  (excuse the pun). In the area around Beatty's Orchard there are usually five or six Helmeted Guineafowl. These turkey-like birds always squawking or making one sound or another. So, today a quick look at one:

Woodpeckers: Part IV

The Huachuca Mountains in Coronado National Forest have also provided me with a Strickland's Woodpecker, also referred to as the Arizona Woodpecker. The male as seen below has a red patch in the back of its head. Although, fairy common in its range, the range is quite narrow just barely extending into Southern Arizona from Mexico. It is found in pine and mixed oak forests between 4,500 and 7,000 feet, as was this one.

Strickland's Woodpecker, Coronado National Forest, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ground Birds

Yesterday, we drove down to Madera Canyon for a hike. But, as we started driving through Box Canyon on the way to Madera snow started falling. By the time we arrived in Madera Canyon snow covered the ground and our Jeep. Our son Josh was with us (here from Seattle for a week) and he did get to see a Wild Turkey which got me thinking to start a series on Ground Birds. First up, Wild Turkeys. In the first photo, you find two of three Wild Turkeys that came through our Bed and Breakfast four years ago. It was such a surprise, Christine said "there are some really large birds in the driveway." I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and took at look -- and then a photo.

Here is a Wild Turkey from Madera Canyon:

One from Ramsey Canyon:

And one from Zion National Park, Utah: