Thursday, February 26, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Sunrise and Silhouette

Sunrise as seen from my backyard 2-26-09 at 6:44 a.m. MST by Kathiesbirds

Silhouette of a Say's Phoebe on my neighbor's rooftop 6:45 a.m. MST

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click on any photo to enlarge for the best view.

Sunny and 58 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:15 a.m.

I've been up since 2:30 a.m and unable to go back to sleep. Outside the night skies were charcoal black and peppered with pinpricks of starlight. Now the sun is up and a cool breeze is blowing through my window here in the den and with it the merry chirping of birds is mixed with the inquisitive sound of Gambel's quail talking to each other as they search for food. The seed block has long since been devoured and it's my task today to head off to the stores and purchase some seed to feed these ravenous winged creatures! I haven't seen any new species of birds in my yard since the pyrrhuloxia I spotted on the 17th, but spring migration is about to begin and life will get exciting here once again!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My World: Redhead or Canvasback?

Redhead and Canvasback at Reid Park in Tucson 1-5-09 by Kathiesbirds

My World is a world where shapes and silhouettes matter. When I am trying to identify a bird one of the first things I look at is the size and shape. Each species has its own unique profile as well as a different beak for a different purpose. I took this photo of a Redhead and Canvasback male ducks back in January. It wasn't until I was home that I realized what a perfect opportunity it is to show the difference and similarities between the two species. We see most of our ducks here in the wintertime at local lakes, ponds, reservoirs and Sewage Treatment Plants. We often get both of these species of duck. This photo shows the male of each species. The Redhead (average length 19") has a more rounded head, a gray back, and a gray bill with a black tip. Note the yellow eye also. However, the larger Canvasback (average length 21") has a more whitish body with a redhead that fades into black near the face. The canvasback also has a red eye. What is most distinctive, however,is the shape of that bill and forehead. Both species of duck are classified as diving ducks, but the redhead is known to dabble in the shallows at times.

Soon the spring migration will start and these two species will be flying north to their nesting grounds on wetlands and prairie potholes, but for now I get to enjoy them right here in the desert of Southeast Arizona where it is 85 degrees and breezy today. I have my windows open wide and I can hear the birds singing like crazy under slightly overcast skies. I think the refrain they are singing is, "Spring is coming, Spring is coming! and it's starting right here!"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Downward to Darkness

Sycamore Canyon Sunset June, 2008 by Gus or Kathie

Deer Walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness on extended wings.

From Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens stanza VIII, Lines 114 -120

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Gambel's Quail in Sycamore Canyon 2008 by Kathie

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My World is a World of Wonder

Gambel's Quail 2-16-09 Corona de Tucson by Kathiesbirds

My World is a world of wonder. A world where birds greet me with merry chirps in the morning and sweet twitterings drift through my open window letting me know that I am alive and life is good. I smile to see the quail at the seed block, jockeying for position in their own version of King of the Mountain.

My World is a world of color where red Cardinals...

...and yellow Lesser Goldfinches come to the feeders,

...and where pink apple blossoms open with the promise of spring.

In My World of Wonder a Red-tailed hawk soars over the Santa Rita Mountains scooping my spirit up in its wings and carrying it high into the steel blue sky.

In My World of Wonder the amazing thing is when wonder creeps up on you unexpectedly, like it did on Saturday in Rio Rico where Gus and I scoured the countryside counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. On the slopes of the San Cayentano Mountains, at a place we call Hawk Hill, the only birds we counted were two ravens and a Red-tailed Hawk. Every time we come here it seems there is one sitting on the utility pole, which is why I call this place Hawk Hill. It is late in the day as we arrive and we watch as the shadows deepen and fall across the valley only to swallow the hillside in darkness around us. We drive into town for a restroom break, and then, we return to watch the city lights from the mountainside as darkness descends.

As we drive up the dirt road in twilight our headlights illuminate the gravel road before us. I am still looking out the windows for birds when I see a thick shape at the top of a utility pole. I tell Gus to stop the car, because I think there is a Great Horned Owl up there, but at first he doesn’t believe me. He thinks it is the hawk. He stops the car so I can look through the binoculars at the large mass of feathers perched above us. Its thick head and neck with ear tufts reveals it to be just what I thought it was, a Great-horned Owl. I pass the binoculars to Gus so he can have a look, and as we are both watching through the windshield of the car the owl raises her hind end as if to vent when suddenly like a ghost another owl appears out of the dusk. Its wings form a massive canopy over the female as he lands on top of her fluttering. I think he is trying to get a foothold on the same pole as her before it dawns on me that I am witnessing the mating of two Great Horned owls! It is all over in less than 20 seconds and he is gone like the wind in the night. The female lowers her rump to the pole and assumes her upright perched position again. Gus and I sit there in wonder as we realize what we have just seen.

Though we try to get a photo of the owl on the pole, by now the darkness has deepened and she is too high up for even the flash to register her shape. We put the car in gear and continue up the mountainside to our favorite lookout spot. High on the side of the mountain the Rio Rico valley sparkles below us. We can see the lights all the way to Nogales and I must say the city lights have never twinkled so brightly. No wonder those owls had romance on their minds!

On Sunday I count birds in Corona de Tucson. I count birds at the schoolyard where I find a flock of Lark sparrows and one sweet-faced bird hops up for a look. Across the street I hear Killdeer call and then watch in awe as four white-bellied birds fly overhead, but it is the memory of the owls that lingers in my mind. So, I drive up the road to a steep dirt bank where I find another Great Horned Owl in a little cave.

Last year she nested here and raised a brood of 4 little owlets. Can she be sitting on eggs again already? What a Wonder that would be! I will check back on her again in a week or two, but as I drive away I am recalling the events of the night before and the wonder I felt as the phantom of the night flew in on silent wings to woo his mate.

GBBC Update: All of today's photos we taken during the GBBC and were birds that I counted and submitted on checklists. I missed counting most of Friday due to Doctor's appointments and other errands, but I counted Birds all day long on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. In the end I submitted 1 checklist for Tucson, 1 for Sahuarita, 8 for Rio Rico and 18 for Corona de Tucson. Last I checked I had submitted the only count of a Fox Sparrow in the whole state which I found scratching in the leaves under a tree near the Rio Rico ponds. I didn't get a photo because Gus had the camera and was photographing the ducks in the pond. It was a red variety and the first Fox sparrow I have seen in Arizona so it went on my Arizona Life list!

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm Out Counting Birds!

Lark Sparrow, Corona de Tucson 2-15-09 by Kathiesbirds

The laundry is waiting to be folded. The sink is full of dishes, and the mail is waiting to be sorted, but I am out counting birds on this last day of the GBBC. I've been all over Corona de Tucson and Rio Rico counting birds. If you go to the GBBC website and click on Explore the Results you can check on results from all over the USA, including AZ and Corona de Tucson. Last I checked I was the only one counting in my area so all the birds listed are the ones I have counted!

Gotta go! I'll be around to see you all soon!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Snow Day!

On Monday the High Country sparkles with the promise of impending snow...

Sycamore Canyon Neighborhood 7:03 AM

...which fell soft and silent in the wee hours of Tuesday morning...

Birds at feeder 7:12 AM

...bringing dozens of feathered pilgrims to the bird seed cafe...

Cooper's hawk 7:30 AM

...until this phantom appeared, dropping like a bullet from the misty sky, a ghost with talons looking for prey...

...but dinner was not served for him at the bird seed cafe...

Goldfinches 12:22 PM

...and as the morning sun grew stonger and the sounds of dripping filled the air the birds returned to feeding...

Birds at feeder 3:20 PM

...and all memory of the hunter melted with the snow.

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(click on any image to enlarge for the best view)

Photography courtesty of Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

MY WORLD Tuesday: Snow!

My Patio at 4 a.m. MST by Kathiesbirds

This is My World at 4 a.m. this morning. The promised snow has arrived. You can bet there will be more photos later. My satellite is not coming in due to the weather so what is there to do but blog? Scroll down to see My original MY World Post.

(Now I just have to wait for the birds to start arriving!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

My World: Patagonia Lake State Park

Patogonia Lake State Park January 31, 2009 by Gusto!

In MY World today the air is chill and damp with the moisture from yesterday’s rain. A cold wind blows with the promise of snow in the desert later tonight and tomorrow. I fill my bird feeders in preparation for the promised snow which brings my first Pine Siskin of the year to my yard. What a change this is from last week when we had two days of temps in the 80’s. It was a week of warmth that started on January 31st when we were at Patagonia Lake State Park in search of the Elegant Trogon. There we saw the first blush of spring as new leaves burst forth from the swelling buds of a cottonwood tree.

Patagonia Lake State Park lies in the southeast corner of the Arizona just east of Rio Rico. The 265 acre manmade lake was formed by damming Sonoita Creek as it flows through Patagonia southward to join the Santa Cruz River. With camping, swimming, hiking, boating, bird watching, horseback riding, and fishing allowed the park can become crowded in the summer months, but at this time of year it is more peaceful as we pull up to the visitor center and park.

Gus climbs the high arched bridge that crosses the channel from the boat landing to the lake. The view from above is worth the steep climb.

A sailboat floats gently by in the calm blue water.

A female Ruddy duck paddles calmly in water that looks like burnished gold from the reflected winter-dried reeds. A pied-billed grebe dives into depths of blue, resurfacing again not far away. Coots cackle and squawk in the reeds and a moorhen crosses the channel below, only to turn and head back to the original side a few minutes later. Out on the water people are enjoying this sunny day in canoes and kayaks and low wake motorboats.

We return to our vehicle and drive to the east end of the lake where the birding trail begins. After parking the car we head down the well worn path. I am alert at all times for birds. We hike along the high rim overlooking the lake, then descend through the barbed wire gate to the bosque below. The trail wanders past the marshy east end of the lake. Coots call from the rushes and cattail. A black phoebe chirps from a twig.

Cow pies litter the ground, evidence of the bovine creatures that we later find wandering the trails. They look at us benignly and continue on their way.

Most of the trees are still naked, with the faintest blush of green just beginning on some. I feel the barrenness of promise in their stark naked limbs.

A few ground plants are ahead of the game with foliage already a foot or two high and yellow blossoms already attracting butterflies and other winged life.

While there is no sign of the Trogon, a bird I have yet to see, the bridled titmice and plumbeous vireos flutter about the treetops and hop from limb to limb. Ruby-crowned kinglets are numerous and busy gleaning insects from the twigs and in the calm waters of the east end of the lake a flock of 30 mallards naps lazily in the sun.

Our time is growing short. We do not stay very long. I only count 24 species of birds today. Last year when I was here in March with my friend Kathryn we counted over 50 species of birds in one day at this State Park. Though the park rangers told me the Trogon was spotted here just yesterday, we have not seen beak nor feather of it. As we head out of the birding trail. Gus encounters two men who tell him they spent 4 hours searching for the bird earlier this morning. They took a break for the afternoon, and are now on their way to try to find it once again. My search will have to wait until another day, but one day soon I hope to find one and capture my own picture of the Elegant Trogon.

I hoped you enjoyed a walk in MY World. Good-bye!

Today's Photography courtesty of Gusto!

Click on any photo to enlarge for the very best view.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wild Dogs

Coyote eating rat by Gusto! 7-20-08

Come out to the desert you domestic dogs and,
See where wild creatures live,
Wander the cactus and creosote trail,
Find my den
And I will devour you.
You leave your scat trail along paved paths
A perimeter of domesticity,
But I howl a challenge in the night
Where my band of brothers runs by moonlight
In the untamed places
Where your man masters seldom tread,
In the quiet places
That so many humans dread
Come out to the desert you domestic dogs
And see what there is to find
Where the danger is as real as the beauty
On these unpaved paths of mine.

~Kathie Brown (1-21-09)

Coyote eating rat July 20, 2008 by Gusto!

Poet's Note: I wrote this poem recently after walking my dog in the morning and seeing all the dog scat alongside the sidewalk. It made me wonder what the coyotes think of this feeble attempt by the domestic dogs to mark their territory and suddenly these words came spilling into my head. I hurried home to write them down before they slipped away again. ~Kathie

Street Pigeons

Pigeons in Reid Park 1-5-09 by Kathie Brown

A hundred pigeons fly
A winged cloud rushing by
I stand here like a tree
As feathers fly by me
I could put out my hands
And snag them from the sky
But why?
I want them to fly.

~Kathie Brown (1-6-09)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


House Finches 2-6-09 by Kathiesbirds

I have a question to ask of you, my fellow bloggers and I would really like some input. I have been reading a lot about some online programs like Copyscape and What I want to know is, are these programs necessary? Do I need to register my copyright for all these blog pages I have published? I thought blogger did this for us?

Do I need to publish a copyright notice on my blog?

Tell me what you think! Please!

*February Yard Bird Update: 10. Gilded Flicker

Friday, February 6, 2009

Can You Count Birds?

Female House Finch in Mesquite Tree in my Backyard 2-6-09

All right already. I know I should stop, but I can't. I was already planning on participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count next weekend, but now I found out that the Northwest Nature Nut is challenging other birders and bloggers and nature lovers in general to count the species of birds seen in and from their own yards during the month of February. The only restriction is that the bird has to be seen, not heard, and it has to be seen from your own yard. It can be flying over or in your neighbor's yard, but you must be able to see it from your own yard. Many other birders have already signed up. Read more about it here.

So, join in, have fun, and if you want your count to count, consider eBirding and/or joining the GBBC next weekend where you can enter your counts into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's data base and watch the dots grow as counts are entered from across the United States.

Try eBirding here.

If you are a teacher or homeschool your kids they even have extra info to help get you students involved. It makes a great science project and it's a wonderful way to get kids involved with birding and nature.

Male House Finch 2-6-09 Kathiesbirds' backyard.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Egg Case

Preying Mantis Egg Case 1-29-09 by Kathie Brown

Last Thursday I took a walk with some new birding friends in Sycamore Canyon where we found several of these preying mantis egg cases suspended like a promise from numerous twigs. The early morning sun made them shine like gold and I love the way it looks against the bright blue sky. For more sky views click on the button below.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Big January: Two "Common" Birds

Pushme-Pullyou Coot at Patagonia Lake State park 1-31-09

As many of you know, I have been competing in a Big January Bird Count with other Bird bloggers this month. Big January is when you count as many species of birds as you can see in your own state for the month of January. I participated last year after Larry of the Brownstone Birding Blog challenged me and other birders to a contest. I joined the game a bit late last year, but this year I hit the ground running on January first. This year I also know my state better and I knew where to look to find various species.

At the beginning of the month adding new birds to your count is always easier as even the familiar backyard birds are your first time for this year, but as the days and weeks pass the same species start showing up on your bird counts and the challenge becomes finding species that you haven’t already counted. I went at breakneck speed towards the beginning, but I have to confess, I sort of petered out near the end.

The weekend of January 24th and 25th I only went to Saguaro National Park West on Sunday. Though I counted birds there, they were all species I had already counted someplace else. I didn’t count any new birds the rest of the last week until Saturday, January 31st when Gus and I headed out for One Last Hurrah. I read on the Southeast Arizona Rare Bird Alert that the Elegant Trogon has been hanging out at Patagonia Lake State Park. I have never seen the Trogon, and so it would be a triumph to add it to my Life List as well as my Big January Count. We packed up our gear and headed down there to try to find the bird. What a great way to end the game, I thought, if only I could find it. Well, we not only did not find the trogon, but I did not count any new species of birds on the Birding Trail at the east end of the lake. However, just before we left, I asked Gus to stop at the beach area. I wanted to see if there was anything new or different there.

As I stood on the grassy beach with the blue lake reflecting sunlight like fractured glass a flock of Common Mergansers flew past in a line. There were 12 of them heading towards the west end of the lake. Then, two more flew back to the east. They were quite far out for a photo, but I attempted one anyway. Then, a lone duck came flying low and slow. This time I was ready with my camera. I focused and panned as it flew by. When it landed in the water I peered through my bins at a black and white duck with that unmistakable white cheek patch of a Common Golden Eye.

So, the Common Merganser and the Common Golden Eye make 108 and 109, Right? Not so fast she says.

First of all, when I counted the Pyrrhuloxia as number 107 the other day I was wrong. I kept wondering why it was not recording on my eBird list at the end when I lined up the data according to the dates. So, yesterday I arranged the data alphabetically and found out I HAD recorded this species of bird at the beginning of the month in Arivaca. So, that makes the count 108.

Now, for another adjustment: In recording the Black-throated Green Warbler I saw at Madera Canyon I have been corresponding with Rich Hoyer from eBird. Because this is my first sighting and because I don’t have any photos and I did not see the markings on its back and because a Hermit Warbler was also seen in the area around the same time, my Black-throated Green sighting is noted but not validated. Therefore I am removing it from my Big January list and putting it as unconfirmed on my life list. This is okay. I do not want to count a species of bird that I have not positively identified. I am sure I will get my chance again one day. As for eBird, they have to do this to maintain their quality of information. It is not a slight towards me or any other birder. In fact, it can make you feel more confident in the data they release.

So, with these two adjustments and the two new species my Big January count stands at 107 species!

Bridled Titmouse at Patogonia Lake State park 1-31-09 by Kathiesbirds

Now, I have two weeks to rest up before the Great Backyard Bird Count starts on Presidents Day weekend, February 13 through the 16th.

Big January Bloggers Final count:

Larry, Brownstone Birding Blog: 100*

Ruth, Body, Soul and Spirit: 61*

Mike, 10,000 Birds: 55*

Mary, Mary's View: 30ish* (she thinks) :)

The Strobels, Bird Couple: 87*

KAllen305, Kitchen Window Birder: 37*

Anyone Else? Let me know and I will add you to the list!

*Congratulations Everyone!