Monday, October 31, 2016

Catching Up: Butterflies, Grasshoppers, and Spiders

Some health issues have kept me from getting out much the past three months. So, the series on "Birds on a Wire," was a way to stay in touch.

Now that the "Birds on a Wire" series is finished  I'll catch up on a few short trips I've taken over those three months. First up, Some Insects:

Giant Swallowtail
Differential Grasshopper
Banded Argiope
Queen Butterfly
Red Spinner Dragonfly
Pipevine Swallowtail: Female

Green Valley Grasshopper

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Western Meadowlark

The Western Meadowlark is very similar in plumage to the Eastern Meadowlark although has very different song patterns. Their ranges don't often overlap -- except in Southern Arizona where the occasional Eastern Meadowlark can be found.

It forages mostly on the ground looking for insects and seeds -- even digging in the ground with its bill.  Insects include beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, ants, bugs, and spiders. In the fall and winter it eats more seeds and grains.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Western Kingbird

The Western Kingbird range is mostly West of the Missouri River. It prefers open country and is often seen perched on roadside fences and wires where it can sally out to snatch up insects or to harass ravens, hawks, or other large birds.

It feeds mostly on insects like wasps, bees, beetles, and grasshoppers. But will also eat berries and fruits.

It is well adjusted to farmlands and ranches and can even be found in small towns on occasions. 

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Vesper Sparrow

The Vesper Sparrow population has been in decline in the Eastern U.S. due to habitat loss. It is still common in the West however.

It prefers meadows, prairies, and fields. It is most easily seen along dirt back country roads. 

The Vesper Sparrow forages on the ground looking for insects and seeds. It will eat beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars and moths. Seeds are of weeds and grasses. 

This photo was taken in San Rafael Valley east of Patagonia.

Vesper Sparrow

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Vermillion Flycatcher

The Vermillion Flycatcher is a stunningly beautiful bird. Although it's range is limited in the US to Southern Arizona and Southwest Texas, it is fairly easily seen due to its bright red color. 

It prefers streamsides in arid country, savanna, ranches and riparian areas. It usually perches on leafless tree branches over streams (like a Phoebe) or on wires/fences near open grassy areas where there would be plenty of beetles, flies, wasps, and grasshoppers.

In looking through my photos for this post, I realized that I didn't have a good photo of a male Vermillion Flycatcher on a Wire. So, I included a male which was perched on a rail.

Female Vermillion Flycatcher
Male Vermillion Flycatcher

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

Friday, October 21, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Tropical Kingbird

The Tropical Kingbird is widespread throughout the American Tropics rarely coming into the US and primarily Southern Arizona when it does so. Unlike the other Kingbirds (Western, Cassin's, Thick-Billed) they are generally solitary and avoid large flocks.

It usually perches on wires and fences sallying out to capture insects in flight. It will also hover and drop to the ground to pick up insects.

Tropical Kingbird

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Swainson's Hawk

The Swainson's Hawk is a Western United States raptor whose population unfortunately is in decline.  It can easily be mistaken for a Red Tailed Hawk, especially in its juvenile stages. Like the Red Tailed it uses telephone poles as perches, but unlike Red Tails, it prefers insects to rodents, snakes, and other birds (though it will occasionally take those animals, especially in the early summer). It hunts from its perch, by soaring over grasslands, and by running around on the ground.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Scissor Tailed Flycatcher

Many flycatchers like wires too. It provides them with visibility and a perch to "snatch" insects that fly by. They'll sit on telephone wires, but also fence posts and barbed wires.

The Scissor Tailed Flycatcher is no exception. The STF prefers open country such as ranches, farms, or desert grasslands with scattered trees. It's range is essentially Texas in the summer and the tropics in the winter with occasional reaches into Southern Arizona during those summer months. It can be more easily found along the road where there are telephone poles/lines and fences. 

Scissor Tailed Flycatcher on Fence Post

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Red Tailed Hawk

Raptors in particular love telephone poles. They provided great visibility, a perch for taking off after a  "meal," and a stand for creating a nest.

Southern Arizona has some great raptor corridors. Sulphur Springs Valley south of Willcox; along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac; and Santa Cruz Flats west of Picacho Peak are three major areas in Southern Arizona. It is not unusual to find over 100 raptors in any of these three locations at certain times of the year.

Red Tailed Hawks are the most common hawk throughout much of North America. I remember reading somewhere years ago that if you see a hawk, there is a 90% chance it is a Red Tailed Hawk. I don't know if that is statistically true, but certainly it is the most abundant raptor.

The Red Tailed Hawk is also the most variable in plumage. As such, you don't always recognize it immediately as a Red Tailed. The plumage is especially variable west of the Mississippi where it could be near black to nearly white -- and all shades in between. As an adult the distinguishing characteristic is the "red" -- more like "orange" tail. However, in juvenile stages the tail is much lighter complicating identification further.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Prairie Falcon

Another beautiful raptor is the Prairie Falcon.

Like the Peregrine Falcon the Prairie Falcon was also decimated by pesticides during the mid 1900's. Unlike the faster Peregrine Falcon, the Prairie Falcon pursues smaller prey by flying close to the ground. It likes small birds and mammals.  It's habitat preference is plains and flat scrub desert.

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon is a beautiful raptor built for speed. They catch medium sized birds, including waterfowl, in the air with swift, spectacular dives called stoops.

The population of Peregrine Falcons was significantly reduced by pesticides during the mid 1900's. After controls of pesticides were initiated, Peregrines were reintroduced in temperate areas throughout the United States with success. The result has been the recovery of Arctic nesting populations as well. 

Peregrine Falcon

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Mountain Bluebird

Next in the series of Birds on a Wire we come to the Mountain Bluebird. 

Mountain Bluebirds are fairly common in the Western United States. They can be found year round in Northern Arizona, with occasional winter sightings in Southern Arizona. Their preferred habits are prairies and sagebrush, as well as alpine tundra. They like wide open spaces where they hunt insects from perches. Thus wire provide the perfect "perch."

Mountain Bluebird

Friday, October 7, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Merlin

The Merlin is a small falcon about the size of the more abundant Kestrel. The Merlin winters in the Southwest and summers in Canada, while the Kestrel stays year round in the Southwest. The Merlin is most often seen (in Arizona) -- as the photo below suggests -- sitting on fence posts in desert grasslands. It feeds almost exclusively on small birds --- specifically the grassland sparrows.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Harris Hawk

The Harris Hawk (or Harris's Hawk) is a Southern Arizona raptor that is also found year round in Southern New Mexico and Western Texas as well as throughout Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.

It is one of the few "family-oriented" raptors, often hunting in family groups up to 8 or so.

It is also a raptor prized by "falconers" since it can be trained. I remember watching the Clive Owen film "King Arthur" where Tristan has a "falcon" that rides on his shoulder. Of course knowing Harris Hawks as I do, I recognized it immediately and thought, "Gee, they didn't have Harris Hawks in England -- and certainly not in the times of King Arthur." 

That reminds me of a Clint Eastwood western movie that begins with a Turkey Vulture soaring over the desert making loud rasping calls. I recognized the call to be that of a Harris Hawk. (Actually, Turkey Vultures have no vocal organs and make no sounds). The "more" to this story is that a frequent guest of ours (she has since passed), was a close friend to Clint Eastwood. I told her about the "error" in Clint's movie. The next time she came she said she asked Clint about it. And, Clint leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Darlin' nobody will know the difference."  I guess movie directors can take whatever liberties they want, right?

Here then a photo of a Harris Hawk that is sitting on a telephone pole with a small branch it had collected for it's nest:

Harris Hawk

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Northern Harrier

Harrier Hawks also like wide open fields -- including our desert grasslands. Harrier Hawks have a different face than other hawks. It is very "owl-like."  It feeds mainly on small mammals either from a perch (like a wire fence), a lone tree, or searching from the air relatively close to the ground.

It too, winters here in Southern Arizona.

And, here too, a photo from San Rafael Valley in Southern Arizona:

Harrier Hawk

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Birds on a Wire: Fox Sparrow

Desert grasslands are magnets for sparrows of all kinds. Las Cienegas just north of Sonoita is one outstanding desert grassland. But, San Rafael Valley (about 10 miles east of Patagonia) is also quite good. Today's "Bird on a Wire" comes from San Rafael Valley. 

The Fox Sparrow winters in Southern Arizona. It's diet is mostly seeds and insects. So it's winter habitat preference is ideally suited for our desert grasslands.

Fox Sparrow