Monday, January 19, 2009

My World: Birds Small and Large


Plumbeous Vireo 1-14-09 by Kathie Brown


My World is a world of birds and birding. In quest of Big January I have gone birding almost every day this month. Last Wednesday I decided to visit Sweetwater Wetlands where I hoped to pickup some new species of birds. Sweetwater is undergoing some maintenance right now, so the main parking lot and front ponds are closed, but the County has set up temporary parking down the street with an alternative access to the back ponds. Most people come to Sweetwater to see ducks and the resident family of Harris Hawks, but many smaller species live in the cattails, rushes and willows. When I arrived the heavy machinery was right near the road and I had to walk past it to access the trails. I wondered how there could be any bird here, but I was pleasantly surprised. The ponds are full of hundreds of Northern Shovlers as well as Wigeons, Mallards, Ruddy Ducks and Coots. Around the edges of the ponds today a display is set up with a group of school children learning about the wetlands and how they work. I walk the perimeter quietly and wait for the silence to come. Soon the school children leave and most of the early birders. I am almost alone here now and the birds emerge from their hiding places to feed in safety once again.

It is now that I find this Plumbeous Vireo flitting about in the branches of a willow. While photos of ducks are much easier to capture, finding and getting close to these smaller birds is the real challenge. Vireos are very active insect eating birds closely related to shrikes. Their thick bills are hooked at the ends and this Plumbeous Vireo has white "spectacles" and wing bars.


I was delighted to catch this small song bird in the act of feeding. I watched from below as it captured...



...and gobbled up an insect. It ripped the legs off to swallow first...




..then repositioned the bug...





...and gobbled it up!




Like any well mannered bird, it cleaned its beak on a limb...





...before continuing the hunt once again. You can see the white spectacles and double wingbars in this photo as well as the hooked beak.



And while I am watching the Plumbeous vireo, this little yellow-rumped warbler is watching me. Yellow-rumped warblers come in two varieties: Audubon's with the yellow throat, and the more eastern Myrtle with a white throat. Once considered separate species,the two were combined into one currently called Yellow-rumped for the bright yellow rump they both sport. Many birders call them "butter butts" which is an easy distinguishing field mark.




Most of the ducks are napping at this time of day with their beaks tucked into their downy feathers. A few float serenely on the pond, but they keep their distance. However, when this female Ruddy Duck came close, I couldn't resist snapping her photo. Ruddy ducks are small diving ducks and the males are quite colorful and clownish looking when they are in breeding plumage.



Here is what winter looks like in Arizona. It is 71 degrees today and I am in a T-shirt and Capri's. The warm sun beats down on me, and I am thankful for the shady paths in Sweetwater Wetlands.



Apparently this Ruby-crowned Kinglet likes them as well as it creeps along a willow twig looking for lunch. To me it looks like a birdy bouncing ball along a willow musical staff with green-leafed notes hanging down in some woodsy song. Do you know the melody perhaps?



I have seen the resident family of Harris Hawks hunting over my head since I arrived. One has finally landed close enough for me to get a shot with my Nikon D80 and 300mm lens. I zoom in as it looks over its red shoulder with the sun glinting in its dark eye.





These tall eucalyptus trees along the Roger Road Waste Treatment Plant are their favorite lookouts. The family of five nests in one of them. Harris Hawks are unique in that they hunt cooperatively as a family. I have seen at least 3 of them today with one carrying a twisted stick into the tree to replenish the nest.


But this one has had enough of me photographing it and takes off. This photo shows the best field marks with the dark body, red shoulders, white base to the tail and the white terminal band. You can also see the formidable talons used to capture prey. I saw 33 species of birds at Sweetwater and added 7 new species to my Big January Count. I thought I was done for the day, but then I decided to stop at Lakeside Park.



Lakeside Park is located off Golf Links Road on 8299 East Stella Road between Kolb and Sarnoff. It is a lovely small park with picnic areas, ball fields and a man made lake. While ducks, grackles and blackbirds frequent this body of water, I know it is also a reliable place to see Spotted Sandpipers.



And sure enough I find on in winter plumage on the far shore. I have to hike all the way around to get close enough for a picture, but it is well worth it. There are always fishermen here trying their luck in the well stocked pond. But as I walk the edge of the lake counting mallards and wigeons I round the curve of the shoreline to discover a fisherman I never expected to find here.

This large bird silhouetted on the rusting sign warning people not to swim is unmistakeably a Brown Pelican! But what is it doing here?


I snap a few shots, then walk farther down the shore to get the bird in better light. The bird doesn't seem to care at all as it sits atop its chosen perch and preens away in the sunlight.



I finally sit myself down on the curbing and snap to my heart's content. The sight of this bird is a gift in more ways than one. I smile at its comical appearance and enjoy this special moment. I wonder if anyone else knows about this bird and when I am home once again I find it has already been reported on the Southeast Arizona Rare Bird Alert.


I am birding at breakneck speed and spend the weekend couting birds. Now, on Monday morning it was 59 degrees at 6:00 a.m. In the past 50 minutes it has dropped to 56, but as soon as the sun rises the temperature will soar rapidly and by this afternoon it will be in the mid 70's once again in My World. I am going back to Madera Canyon today to meet a fellow blogger named Kathy from Kentucky. Perhaps we will spot that Black-throated Green Warbler again today and one of us will capture its picture! Her blog is Life, Birding, Photos and Everything and she and her husband are out here for the Wings Over Wilcox Festival. She has a really beautiful blog and her photography is excellent. She also visited Sweetwater Wetlands recently as well as The Sonoran Desert Museum where she witnessed Raptor Free Flight. If you have the time, take a look.


For now, here is my Big January Update:

75. Cinnamon Teal; Sweetwater Wetlands 1-14-09
76. Harris Hawk; Sweetwater Wetlands 1-14-09
77. Yellow-headed blackbird
78. Marsh wren
79. Common Moorhen
80. Sora
81. Great Blue Heron
82. Spotted Sandpiper; Lakeside park 1-14-09
83. Brown Pelican; Lakeside Park 1-14-09 (New Arizona Life List)


24 comments:

bobbie said...

Wonderful post as always, Kathie. The hawk pictures are fabulous!

Celeste said...

What a wonderful birding trip Kathie. I am so impressed that you managed to get such a fabulous series of the Plumbeous Vireo and the shot of the Harris Hawk taking off is stunning too. What a surprise seeing the Pelican there, you must have been thrilled. Pelicans are my favorite bird.

dAwN said...

I probably say this allot when I comment on your blog..but i will continue...I LOVE BIRDING SOUTHERN ARIZONA...We have been to sweetwater...have seen the Harris hawks and the beautiful plumbious...amazing photos by the way..
This winter our wheels are parked in different parts of Florida...
right now titusville for the Spacecoast bird and wildlife festival.
Thanks for bringing me back to Arizona...our wheels should be there next winter.

Lynne said...

Kathie- I think this is your best post ever. The photos are magnificent and your writing just carries me away.

KatNell said...

Kathie, what stunning pictures! Loved the writing as well. Wish I were there. Beautiful day this morning, bright sunshine, blue skies, and 12 degrees at 9am. Brrr.

Deborah Godin said...

Extraordinary shots and list of birds! I love the Harris Hawk taking off - perhaps not the most flattering pose, but a great capture!

Arija said...

Kathie, I so love to go along on your birding expeditions. Your writing style and photos are a sheer delight! Thanks

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

Kathie your pictures amaze me.If I had to choose a favorite it most certainly would be the Hawk on take-off.What a blessing to see a rare bird and then to be able to photograph it is awesome.WOW!
Blessings,Ruth

Natural Moments said...

There is so much to comment on. Love the pelican photos. The light is perfect. And the Harris Hawk springing from the limb. Beautiful. I love your passion for birding and for Nature.

Shellmo said...

Great post! Your vireo has such nice table manners! And the photo of the Harris Hawk getting ready to take off was amazing!!

Louise said...

Your January list is incredible!

Love your bird photos--always so clear. My favorite is the hawk with its wings up. Great post!

Janie said...

Wow, your bird photos are amazing. I, too, love the one of the hawk taking off. Great timing!

Larry said...

My birding has been limited to weekends but I do pick up a species or two in my travels.I may be able to give you some competition on your species total for January but when it comes to photography-a Kathiebirds I am not.-Great photos!

fishing guy said...

Kathie: That is a truly wonderful trip through your wetland. I loved the hawk the best.

Gaelyn said...

A marvelous tour and excellent images. What a surprise to see a pelican. Hope you had a great day at the canyon and look forward to reading about it.

Holz said...

Great shots! The pelicans are my favorite.

SandyCarlson said...

You are so generous with your images and your insights. That first bird stole my heart. You are amazing.

Kathiesbirds said...

Hello everyone! I am birding at breakneck speed and so have not been able to comment as much as I would like. I just want to say Hello to all of you and thank you for your comments. I will come around and visit your blogs instead of resonding to each of you here. Inbetween birdwatching and blogging I am also trying to clean house and take down the last of my Christmas decorations! The tree is down but the little Christmas village is still up!

Susan Gets Native said...

Kathie:
Oh, thank you for the delicious Harris'.
I'm all fuzzy. Did you SEE THE THIGHS on that bird???? Raptor-licious!

Zhakee said...

That hawk image with its wings straight up is rather interesting. Funny angle to the wings. Something we see only with a camera freezing the moment.

Vickie said...

Terrific post with lots of great finds and photos. Enjoyed the intimate vireo series.

Lee Ann said...

Great blog, Kathie! Did you ever find that Blue-winged Teal you were in search of at Sweetwater last week? Your photos are wonderful. I wish mine were half as good. Charlie and I hope to run into you again on the trail. We're enjoying our birding time in your state--added another few lifers this week.
Lee Ann

Kathiesbirds said...

Lee Ann, so glad you stopped by! I hope to see you again too. No, I did not get to see the blue-winged teal but I was happy I found the moorhen! Don't you have a blog? Your profile doesn't lead to it.

Lee Ann said...

My blog, BotanizePA, is somewhat stalled at the moment. I haven't had time to post to it in over a month. Here's the link:
http://botanizepa.blogspot.com/
If I'm able to, I'll be posting sometime soon about some of the Arizona plants I learned about on the Tuscon Audubon trip into Pima Canyon yesterday.