Friday, May 30, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Quail Sky

(Photo taken by Kathie on April 14, 2008 in Sycamore Canyon with a Nikon D80)

It’s that time of year when the Gambel’s Quail are up and about with their little families. I see the males almost every day perched on my fence or block wall. In the desert they often perch in a tree or a dead snag silhouetted against the sky.
(Photo taken by Kathie on April 14, 2008 in Sycamore Canyon with a Nikon D80)
They are the family lookout. While the father watches, the mother and babies feed, but if Dad starts to run, the babies quickly follow, leaving Mom in the dust!
(Photo taken by Kathie on May 16, 2008 with a Nikon D80 in my yard)

I have seen coveys of quail come to the feeder and still one male will perch on the fence while the rest of the flock feeds beneath. He forgoes his own nourishment for the protection of the flock.

(Photo by Kathie 2008 of quail on fence next to house. Taken with Nikon D80)

At his alarm the rest of the birds flee. Often he doesn’t make a sound but simply drops to the ground and everyone runs! If there is enough cover, they seem to simply melt away in the brush. If they feel danger approaching too quickly, then the birds take flight. I have seen them fly up to a neighbor’s rooftop to avoid danger. However, they seem to prefer to keep their feet on the ground. When photographing Gambel's Quail I have found it helps to have the light on their faces or else the eyes disappear into that black mask.
(Photo Taken by kathie @ Saguaro National Park East February 18, 2008 with the Nikon D80)

To view other Skywatch Photos please click on this Skywatch Friday link hosted by Wigger's World.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blogging Award from Texas Travelers

Troy from Ramblings Around Texas Gave me a "Blogs That Make My Day" Award last week. I am pleased and overwhelmed to say the least. Now it's my turn to pass on the honor to 5 of my favorite Blogs. The choice is not easy. There are so many good blogs out there and I enjoy visiting everyone, and some of my favorites have already received their awards from others.

The rules for this award are:

1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day.

2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver (Thank you Troy!)

3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

Here are my five choices:

1. The Brownstone Birding Blog. Larry was the first unknown person to come and comment on my Blog. Whether he knows it or not, he is a great encouragement to me and I have learned so much about blogging from him. He says he is not a great writer but he is better than he thinks. I don't know what his real life job is but I can tell he has an educators' heart. His blog is always so helpful and informative. Plus, he birds in many places that are familiar to me since I grew up in CT. His blog is my window on my homestate.

2. Doug Taron at Gossamer Tapestry has an informative and funny Blog. He has become my entomologist expert and is always so kind to help me identify the insects I am seeing. While I largely ignored or complained about the 6 legged creatures before, I now look at them with interest. One of his funniest post is the Dear John letter he wrote to his ailing lab equipment.
3. Mary's View for her open and kind heart, her friendship, and her great bird and pond photos. Plus, she always makes me laugh (or cry)!
4. Nature Remains for her wonderful photography and well written observations of nature that hover between prose and poetry.
5. From Patrice/Pappy's Balderdash Okay, I'm cheating here, but there is a reason. From Patrice is one of my favorite blogs. I visit all the time but she has shut off her comments so I can no longer communicate with her since I don't know her email address. I love her poetry and I miss her as a friend. I think I found Texican through her and he is connected because he writes awesome poetry also which I love to read. So, Kudos to Patrice and the Texican for my daily poetry fix! (Patrice, I can only hope you still visit here. If you do, please turn your comments back on, I miss you!)
Fenlandwalker, Maine Nature Photos, Island Rambles, Ramblings Around Texas, Out With Ari, and Aunt B's Backyard are just a few of my favorites that have already received this award from others.
Roy Norris from Fenlandwalker also nominated my Blog for this award. Thank you so much Roy! I always enjoy a walk in the fen! (Does this mean I get to pick 5 more?) Okay, here goes!
1. Beth's Stories for my peek at life in Maine.
2. Hasty Brook for her great nature shots, her sense of humor and her incredible courage in facing life with joy after great loss.
3. Twelve Acres for letting me see life on the farm again and for her love of trees!
4. Bookbabie because she inspires me to create.
5. Nature Tales and Camera Trails, a new blog I have just discovered that has awesome photography from New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Short (but true) Story

It’s a cool and cloudy day here in Sycamore Canyon. At 7 a.m. I awake to the sound of a dull buzz going off. I rollover in bed and tap Gus on the side. When he doesn’t respond I shake harder and say, “You need to shut your alarm clock off.” Now, it doesn’t make sense that his alarm clock would be on, since this is Saturday and his alarm doesn’t sound like that, but it is the only thing that makes sense to my groggy mind. Gus rises up on his elbow and looks at his alarm clock and says firmly, “It’s not my alarm clock.”

Well, since I am the investigator of all mysterious noises in this family, I jump out of bed and rush to the kitchen where the sound is louder. I hurry to the kitchen window which is over the sink and peer out. The sound is loudest here. I wonder, is someone working in the wash? No. Is my air conditioning unit trying to come on? How could it be; it’s turned off? Still, I run to check the control panel on the hall wall. Nope. It s off. I open the back door and go outside in my nightgown. The sound it duller out here. Back to the kitchen sink. What is it? Is my house about to blow up? I have a gas stove. I feel panic rising in my chest. My mind races. I’m dizzy from getting up so quickly. I want a drink and I need to pee, but WHAT IS IT!

I am standing next to the counter when I feel my cat, Sweet Bonnie Blue eyes, rub up against me. She is not supposed to be up here, but cats do what they want. I look at her and suddenly reason returns. I walk over and shut off the switch to the garbage disposal. How did it get turned on? Bonnie was up on the counter. She squeezed between the dish drainer and the wall to look out the open window at the birds flocking to my feeders this morning. She must have bumped up against it and flipped the switch. I shake my head and calm my heart. I get a drink of juice from the fridge, then hurry to the bathroom. Finally, I walk over and look out the den window at all the quail, doves and finches mobbing my feeders. Another quail family is feeding peacefully at the seed block with 6 little babies filling their bellies. Gus finally stumbles out of the bedroom to ask what was making the noise. I explain and he tumbles back into bed. I look out the back door at the thick blanket of clouds covering the morning sky. Monday and Tuesday we had highs over 100 degrees. Yesterday we had snow on Mt. Lemmon. This morning it is only 60 degrees here at my house, but this is just a brief reprieve before the triple digits return at the end of next week. I stand by the door looking at the new thistle seed feeder I bought yesterday. It is covered in Lesser Goldfinches. They are so thick on the sides that it looks like someone covered the feeder in Velcro and rolled it in birds! I crack up laughing at the sight. Another birdy morning has started here in Sycamore Canyon!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Skywatch: Ash-troated Flycatcher in Flight

(Photo taken by Kathie @ 9:30 a.m. MST on May 22, 2008 with a Nikon D80)

I took this photo of an Ash-throated flycatcher today right after it gobbled up a huge bug it had caught mid-air. The flycatcher landed in this nearby creosote bush to finish off the meal. I don't know what kinds of insect it was, but it was a mouthful. The bird tossed the bug around trying to reposition it until it got it just right, then GULP!, it was gone. Look below for the rest of the series. This photo fits between "What are you looking at?" and the burp!

Settling down after capturing the insect.

The toss to reposition (Look above the bird's beak between the twigs and you can see the bug mid-air.)

What are you looking at?

BURP! Now leave me alone and let me digest!

Ash-throated Flycatchers live here in the desert southwest and hunt from the mid to upper levels of the trees and scrub. They usually fly out to grab an insect mid-flight then return to a branch or twig to consume their meal. They also feed on berries.

To see other Skywatch Friday photos please visit our gracious host old Tom Wiggly at Wiggers World. To see my husband, Gus' Skywatch photos please visit his new Blog Gusto!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Birds At My Feeder

With migration and breeding in full swing I am getting so many birds at my feeder. On Friday alone these culprits showed up:

Papa Quail....

Mama Quail...

and babies!!!!!!!!!

I feel like the proud grandma!

Excuse me if I show off one more picture.

The gilded flickers come by almost everyday...

Thrashers are here in droves....

I keep looking for a Bendire's Thrasher with it's shorter, straighter bill, smaller triangular spots on its chest, pale base to its lower mandible and yellow eyes. Is this it? But then I read that juvenile Curve-billed thrashers are virtually identical to Bendire's Thrashers and since it is breeding and nesting season..., well, I just gave up on trying to find a Bendire's amongst my Curve-bills.

However, a beautiful Lark Sparrow was showing up for about 5 days last week. He was elusive at first, hiding in the wash and only hopping through the fence briefly, but finally he relaxed a bit and I was able to get this beautiful shot of his head.

Every few days a Canyon Towhee shows up. This one was here on Friday also.

I have discovered the Pyrrhuloxias love peanuts and I caught this one escaping from the feeder when I was busy photographing the baby quail. You can certainly see the short, stubby yellow beak that is so different from a Cardinal's. Plus, the Pyrrhuloxia does not have any black around its beak like a cardinal.

Can anyone say Kewpie Doll?

The White-winged doves are everywhere. They can be a nuisance and are the bullies of the feeders but I do love their beautiful faces.

At the end of the day as the sun was going down I glanced out the window to see this bird. I grabbed my camera, which, thank fully was within arm's reach, and snapped these photos of....

Do you know what this is?

Look at the red eye, the flat head, and the ruffed neck.

I saw my first one here last year on June 12, 2007. It's a Bronzed Cowbird!

Along with the regulars of Mourning Doves, Gila Woodpeckers, House Finches, House Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches, I also had a Pine Siskin visiting for a couple of days. Cowbirds stop by every now and then. Lesser Nighthawks fly in the evening and early morning. Saturday I saw a Say's Phoebe in the wash and Turkey Vultures are seen daily along with Ravens. A roadrunner crossed in front of our car on Sunday and today, May 20th, I finally saw Purple Martins flying in and out of the Sentinel Saguaros at the top of the cul de sac where they stand guard on the rim of the canyon. My first sighting of them last year was May 21st.


(I couldn't resist just one more photo of the baby Gambel's Quail!)
Note: All of today's photos were taken by Kathie on Friday, May 16, 2008 except for the Gilded Flicker photo which was taken earlier in the week. All photos were taken with the Nikon D80.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nighthawk Photo

When Gus read my post on Friday he said, with all the confidence of a husband and a male, "I'll get you a nighthawk photo honey." So, off we went to the park Saturday evening to get a photo of a nighthawk. It was awhile before they showed up. We watched the sunset, the shadows fade into twilight and then, here they came, swooping over the field. Gus tried all different settings, snapping away. This was the only shot that came out.

(Nighthawk photo by Gus 5-17-08)

Can you see the fluttery wings with white spots at the corner of the photo? The nighthawk swooped in front of one of those inflatable jumping things that parents rent for their kids. Someone had one set up at the edge of the park. This is the only shot that came out. We had at least 40 black voids on the digital when we got home. Still, I like the abstract quality of the shot and I certainly appreciate Gus' valiant effort. Apparently we are on a steep learning curve here. We'll try again. Meanwhile, I am throwing down the gauntlet. Can you capture a good photo of a nighthawk? Send me your link and I'll add it here!

Seabrooke sent this link to her photo of a Common Nighthawk.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Skywatch Friday: Nighthawk

(Photo taken May 6, 2008 at 6:45 p.m. MST by Kathie with a Nikon D80)


Nighthawk dipping in the evening sky
Night hawk flying with two white eyes
On the tips of your wings as you dart by
Night hawk winging through the sunset.

~Kathie Adams Brown (April 28, 2008)

Do I wish I had a picture of a Nighthawk? You bet. But have you ever tried to take one? They dart erratically in the low light of dusk chasing insects, so, a sunset is the best I can do for now. Believe it or not, this is part of the same sunset as last week's photo. It was a good night for Skywatch photos! To view other Skywatch Friday photos visit our host,Tom Wigley at Wiggers World.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother's Day at Las Cienegas NCA

(photo by Gus)

On Mother’s Day I get to choose what we do so I chose to avoid the crowds and get lost in nature instead. Gus and I drive east and then south on Highway 83 towards Sonoita through Davidson Canyon. Just south of mile marker 40 we turn east into Las Cienegas, a National Conservation Area. Here the terrain is so different from the Sonoran Desert that surrounds my house. We drive over a cattle guard into a vast grassland reminiscent of an African Savannah. Mesquite trees dot the rolling hillsides while wildflowers bloom along the edges. The frilly white blossoms of this wildflower greet us as soon as we entered Las Cienegas, a fitting start to Mother’s Day.

I have no idea what to expect from Las Cienegas. We have only been here one time before and that was late in the evening in the winter when raptors were the most common bird we saw. That day we only drove about 5 miles into the NCA before it got dark and we had to leave. We are here early enough today at 8:00 a.m., but already the sun is beating down and the temperature rising. At this time of year many of the birds settle down for the day by ten a.m., but we are going enjoy the drive whether we see any birds or not. With such an open area, Gus says he won’t get any good opportunities for photographs.

(Say's Phoebe: photo by Gus)

As soon as Gus pulls over to photograph the wildflowers we see our first bird. It is a Say’s phoebe, which surprises me since I haven’t seen them in over a month. Farther down the road a Cassin’s kingbird perches atop a sign before flying off to a nearby mesquite. The dirt road soon comes to a T and we turn left towards a creek area about 3 miles north. Here we pull into a parking lot beneath towering cottonwood trees. A large cottonwood trunk lies on the ground, its trunk naked and silver in the shade of its kin. The sounds of bird songs fill my ears as soon as I step from the car. My heat starts to beat like the wings of a nighthawk with fluttering anticipation. We head for the path at the far end of the parking area and enter another world.

The dirt trail winds through a bit of a meadow at first. Off to the right the cottonwood, willows and ash trees rim the small creek that flows. To the left mesquite and cottonwood trees grow on the edge of the meadow against steep caliche banks cracked by sun and water. Gus stops to photograph a butterfly feeding from a lavender thistle.

(Abert's towhee: photo by Gus)

I hear birds all around me, and we spot an Abert’s towhee hiding in the thick foliage. As the path winds closer to the creek we suddenly spy a bright orange dragonfly clinging to a grass stem. Gus captures these beautiful images of this jewel-like insect.

(Flame Skimmer Dragonfly Photo by Gus: Identification courtesy of Doug Taron at Gossemer Tapestry)

We drag ourselves away from the bug and enter the forest primeval, for that is what it feels like. We are here alone. All sights and sounds of civilization are gone. The tender new grasses and flower sprout beneath our feet. Duck weed floats in the slow moving creek. Lizards move through the grass and forest detritus and I startle easily after Saturday’s encounter with the rattlesnake. The dappled sunlight bathes the forest floor as we wander further down the path. Gus amazes me by spotting a summer tanager before I do. I have never seen one before and it is a life bird for me.

(Summer Tanager: Photo by Gus)

I marvel at the striking red of this bird set in the shadows of this dark grove. Soon the path narrows and hugs the giant roots of cottonwood trees on our left. To the right the bank has fallen away dropping 4 or more feet to the creek level. Gus and I both clamber over thick roots that hold the remaining soil together, but I can’t help thinking I wouldn’t want to be on this path during the coming monsoon!

(photo by Gus)

We finally reach an area that has flattened out and we stand beneath towering trees. It is so quiet, save for the bird songs and the gentle rustle of leaves overhead. In this thick forest there is not much undergrowth and I wonder if there are any birds here at all, but the forest is ready to surprise us as a vermillion flycatcher lands on the dead limb of a nearby tree. It is a little female, but soon a male flies into view.

(Vermillion Flycatcher: Photo by Gus)

The pair chase each other back and forth through the trees, then alight on a limb to mate. We linger in this area for quite awhile as more vermillion flycatchers and summer tanagers flit in and out of the trees. Suddenly I hear a loud ruckus in the trees above me. Gus and I tip our heads to see what is causing the commotion. We locate the sound just in time to see a smaller bird chasing a larger white bird from the treetops. A white-tailed kite! I have read about them on the way down here and now I am seeing one for the first time. I watch its white rump disappear over the forest edge and silence descends on the forest once again.

(photo by Gus)

We turn and head back to the parking area as my throat is getting quite dry. Once back on the other side of the giant tree roots we are closer to the water once again. Now I spot a yellow-breasted chat along the creek edge. Then I find another. Next, a song sparrow flies to a sapling and sings its melodious song, its head tipped back to let the notes roll from its tiny throat. Such a big song for such a small bird!

(Song Sparrow: photo by Gus)

I spot a flash of yellow and find a common yellow-throat. Maybe common for some, but this is also a life bird for me.

(Yellow-breasted chat: photo by Gus)

Gus is able to capture one image before the bird disappears into the greenery. Next we finally find the source of the constant tapping we have heard ever since entering this wood.

(Ladderback woodpecker: Photo by Gus)

Hanging upside down on a limb is a female ladder-back woodpecker. We find yet another yellow-breasted chat and then a small flock of white-crowned sparrows as they moves through the underbrush. I find a thrush in the shadows across the creek but it is too far away to photograph and it is only later that I discover there are 3 kinds of thrushes possible here. I should have paid more attention to field marks and taken better notes. Flycatchers abound in this wood, but I am woefully weak in identifying Empids, though the Ash-throated flycatchers are a bit easier.

(Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly Photo by Gus: Identification courtesy of Doug at Gossemer Tapestry)

As we step from the shade of the woods into the meadow again it is like stepping into an oven. The canopy of the trees kept us comfortably cool, but here in the desert southwest it’s all about radiant heat. The sun warmed air is hot and dry and we head for our car for much needed liquid refreshment. On the way across the meadow we find a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly sipping on thistle nectar.

(Photo by Kathie)

While Gus rests in the shade of the car, I wander around under the giant cottonwood grove. I see more summer tanagers, more vermillion flycatchers, ash-throated flycatchers, and, to my surprise, a nesting pair of white-breasted nuthatches going in and out of this hole in a tree limb with moths in their beaks to feed their young.

(White-breasted Nuthatches in nest hole: Photo by Kathie)

Then, as I am about to leave, I spot a small sparrow hopping and digging beneath one of the cottonwood trees. When I look with my binoculars I see a rusty cap, and a white malar stripe bordered by black. My heart starts to pound for I think this is a Rufous-crowned sparrow, an elusive sparrow that I have been on the search for ever since I learned about it. I keep hoping to see one in Sycamore Canyon, but so far have only found Rufous- winged sparrows and Chipping sparrows. This species is differentiated from the other two rusty capped sparrows by its conspicuous eye-ring, and only one dark whisker mark. The rufous-winged sparrow has two. The chipping sparrow has none. Since I have the camera with me I snap off 30 or more photos. Once at home I am able to confirm my suspicions. Yet another lifer for me today!

(Rufous-crowned sparrow: photo by Kathie)

We drive out of the parking lot and head south out of the Conservation area. While we could get back to highway 83 the way we came in, we decide to drive the 8 miles south to Sonoita and circle back around towards home. We follow the narrow dirt road though a mesquite Bosque up low hills and down into wide desert washes.

(Photo by Gus)

We find two more Cassin’s Kingbirds and then a pair of Black-throated sparrows alongside the road. Then I spot a sparrow with a very patterned face. We stop the car and as Gus tries to get a photograph it flies off to the safety of a mesquite bush. Still, he is able to get this photo of the beautiful face of a lark sparrow!

(Lark sparrow photo by Gus)

Just as Route 82 comes into view we come to a cattle guard and to my surprise I see a male and female lark bunting on the dirt road before us. The cows in the nearby corral quietly chew their cuds and stare at the crazy humans so enthralled with birds. Our final bird of the day we find accidently as we followed the flight of another kingbird right in front of our car. Gus stopped to get a photo but the bird flew off to more distant cover, but there on a small shrub right next to it this horned larked clung to the twigs with sunlight pouring down, it’s feathery horns raised in beautiful display. Since it was on my side of the car, Gus handed me the camera and I got this shot, the last of the day.

( Horned Lark: Photo by Kathie)

In the end, after all my fears of not seeing any birds and Gus’ fear that they would all be too far away for any good shots, I ended up recording 29 species of birds (and it would have been more if I could have indentified the flycatchers and the thrush) and Gus got more than enough opportunity to get some awesome photographs. His favorite is the dragonfly and this shot of last year’s yucca blooms against the desert sky.

To read about Doug Taron's interesting adventure at Las Cienegas click here.