Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sycamore Canyon Birds: What I'm Seeing and What I'm Feeding

(Purple Martin on Ocatillo by Kathie 5-22-08 Nikon D80: Focal length 300mm; F/5.6-1/800 sec)

We are at the end of dry summer now with whispers of the Monsoon’s soon approach. Already the weather forecasters are tracking it, watching as the moisture inches ever closer up from the Gulf of Mexico. For now, the desert grasses have turned to gold, the ocatillo have dropped their leaves, while the prickly pear fruit is starting to ripen.

(House Finches in feeder June 12, 2008 3:15 p.m. MST Photo by Kathie)

Here in Sycamore Canyon the birds are most active morning and evening, but they still come to my feeders and bird bath pretty much all day. The air is so dry that I refill the bird bath twice a day since it evaporates so quickly. When I first moved here last year and set the thing up, I was surprised that the birds did not bath in it. I thought maybe they didn’t know how to bathe, since they are desert birds, but, when the Monsoon came and rain was a regular occurrence, they seemed to relish splashing in the water and drying in the sun afterwards.
(Bird Feeding area on north side of house: Photo by Kathie 6-12-08 3:15 p.m. MST)
This year I am noticing the same pattern. Right now, the birds don’t bathe. They drink thirstily from the bird bath and water dish I put out for them, but they don’t bathe in it. Could it be that they, too, realize they need to conserve every precious drop?

(Gilded Flicker Photo by Kathie June 8, 2008 Nikon D80; focal length 300mm; F/5.6-1/1000 sec)

Like everyone else, I have birds that I see on a regular basis around here, but the population is always in flux and flow. While House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches and Mourning Doves are year round visitors, the White-winged Doves are summer birds for me, though they do overwinter in other areas as close as Green Valley. I am definitely seeing more Curved-billed Thrashers and Gilded Flickers. It is not at all unusual to see 3 or 4 Gilded Flickers or Gila woodpeckers at my feeders at one time. If they see me looking at them they try to hide behind the feeder, and peek around the edges to see if I am gone.

(Pyrrhuloxia photo by Kathie 6-10-08 Nikon D80; Focal length 300; F/5.6-1/640 sec)

The flickers, Gila Woodpeckers, Curved-billed Thrashers, Pyrrhuloxias and even the Cactus Wrens all like the peanuts. Phyrrhuloxias and Gambel’s quail seem to like safflower seed. If I put out a suet cake, it is gone in less than 2 days. In May a black-headed grosbeak stopped by to feed on the suet cake in my yard, but he was only here for a day or two, before he moved on. Still, I was able to capture a couple of shots through the window before he left. Notice the large conical beak from which he derives his name "grosbeak."

(Black-headed Grosbeak by Kathie May 2008 Nikon D80 focal length 300 F/5.6-1/320 sec)

I feed Niger seed to attract the Lesser Goldfinches. Of course, the house finches like it also. Sometimes a stray siskin shows up at the Niger seed feeder along with the finches. I tried finch food with white proso millet last year thinking that, since I live in the desert, I wouldn't have to worry about it sprouting. Well, when the Monsoon rains came I had a lawn growing on the side of my house. I spent the next month or two plucking grass each time I went to fill the feeders. I never feed the cheaper "Wild Bird Seed" that is sold in almost every grocery store as most of it is wasted as the birds spill it on the ground searching for black oil sunflower seeds in the mix. It also tends to attract the more undesirable birds like pigeons and house sparrows. Plus, it also tends to sprout. I do feed black oil sunflower seeds now and again, but not often as I don't want to have to cleanup the hulls from beneath the feeders. Instead, I use sunflower seed hearts which the birds love but be careful to watch for mold if it gets wet.

(Bird feeders as seen from my den window 6-12-08 @3:15 p.m. MST)

While I do put out a quail block to attract the quail, they are more interested in whatever falls from the bird feeders. It is the house sparrows that seem to like the quail block the best. Quail babies show up almost every day now, sometimes even twice a day. They follow their parents everywhere and can now fly as well as the adults if they feel threatened. This morning I noticed that papa quail has gone from being the look-out for the family to teaching his youngsters about the pecking order. Today as the family fed beneath the feeder, papa chased the younger birds away, while allowing Momma bird to feed at will. I think soon these youngsters will be out on their own, fending for themselves. Perhaps Mama will soon be setting on another clutch of eggs and the cycle will repeat itself again.

(Gambel's Quail female and young: Photo by Kathie 6-8-08 Nikon D80 Focal Length 300 F/5.6-1/200 sec.)

The cactus wrens are also showing up more often.

(Cactus wren photo by Kathie June 9, 2008 Nikon D80 Focal length 300 mm F/5.6 -1/250 sec)

They hunt along the edges of my house and bushes looking for insects hiding in the foliage or in cracks and crevices of the block walls and foundation. But they are not above snatching a peanut or too if the opportunity presents itself.

(Purple Martin photo by Kathie 7:30 a.m. 6-12-08 Nikon D80 sports mode)

I took a very short walk on the desert’s edge this morning and it was enough to convince me I need to go back out into the wash once again. I could hear and see birds all around me, and the purple martins were gliding through such deep blue skies you could almost imagine them swimming in air! I was so concerned that they wouldn’t come back, but they are here, out in the wash, nesting in the tall saguaros once again.

(Purple Martins and saguaro taken by Kathie 6-12-08 @ 7:30 a.m. MST with Nikon D80 set in sports mode.)


Shelley said...

I loved the quail photo - it looked like they were all marching! And I like that feeder you have for the finches - is it a good deterrent against the squirrels?

Kathie Brown said...

shellmo, I don't have problems with squirrels here (so far) but it does keep the doves out, which is good. The white-winged doves are quite the bullies! It is suppose to keep squirrels out and I bought it at Target about 2 or 3 years ago. However, I see they are still selling it in their stores.

Pappy said...

I think I have a thing for Quail. Those Gambel's are some of the prettiest I've seen.

Texas Travelers said...

Whew! I am worn out after that long walk. It was great though. I can't begin to tell you what a tremendous job you do with the photos and write-ups. Wonderful job.

I really like the quail on the wall.

Thanks for the visit and kind words,
Troy and Martha

Susan Gets Native said...

Wow. Like, wow.

Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog. I totally need neighbors like you.
Your 'everyday' feeder birds would all be lifers for me except for the house finches. And I guess, being where you are, you have the 'original' population, while us here in Ohio have the descendants of the escapees.

You have Loxia's. I'm so damn jealous. I need to get around the country more.

Susan Gets Native said...

Oh! I forgot:
Those Gambrel's look like a conga line....

1, 2, cha cha cha.

mercè said...

Pretty series.
Seeing your blog is a gift for the senses.
Your birds have always a great beauty and at the same time a great tenderness, as that of the mother surrounded by its chicks that walks for an edge... Charming report.

bobbie said...

This is a fascinating post. I had to laugh at the bird hiding behind the feeder. It makes it look as if he is actually caged. Love the quails.

bobbie said...

This is a fascinating post. I had to laugh at the bird hiding behind the feeder. It makes it look as if he is actually caged. Love the quails.

Amila Salgado said...

Those Gambel's Quails have good looks & I kind of like their top knots. What sort of temperatures are you experiencing now ?
Over 38 C ?

Anonymous said...

Well, I always enjoy coming here but this time more so than ever. It was nice to see who and what you are feeding to whom. I like your feeders too.

I have not yet found a feeder for peanuts like you have. The ones I have seen or bought either allow the peanuts to fall out or the holes are too close together and they can't be pecked out. Help on a peanut feeder?

Suet in Ohio seems to dissolve before your eyes. I can't separate the starlings and grackles from everything else so somebody gets the suet and instead of woodpeckers it is almost always the starlings.

I can't remember birds around Tucson when I was a kid and wandering around the neighborhoods. I guess I had my mind on other things.

Doug Taron said...

This post really makes me want to get back into the desert. Fortunately, that's only about 6 weeks away. You have posted pictures of Pyrrhuloxias before, and I always really enjoy them. Their thick, almost prehensile parrot-like beaks are so cool.

Kathie Brown said...

Pappy, I have a thing for the quail too. They're just too darned cute!

Troy, you and Martha are 2 of my favorite people and I hope I get to meet you in person someday!

Susan, I am so glad to see you! I had no idea house finches had sub-species. I need to get into the science more! I vascillate between art and science all the time. It keeps me off balance but it makes life interesting!

Baba, what a thoughful comment! Thank you. I'm always so glad when someone enjoys my writing and photos.

Bobbie, I know, that flicker cracks me up!

Gallicissa, Yes, We are getting over 100F degrees now almost every day. On Tuesday it was 106F! By 8 a.m. it's too hot to be outside. And the Monsoon is getting closer everyday. The weather forcasters around here live for this time of year and hyperventilate over their reports, they get so excited!

Abe, I bought that peanut feeder at one of the Wild Bird Center stores in Utah but I also bought one just like it from a feed and grain store when I lived in Maine. It's made by Audubon and I like it because the squirrels can't chew through it.

Doug, the desert awaits you! And, the Monsoon is on our doorstep. I had several pictures of that pyrrhuloxia but I used that one precisely because it showed the bill so well. Glad you like it. they are such a cool bird and what a name to learn to spell!

Mary said...

Stunning. I'm jealous :o)

Kathie Brown said...

Mary, thanks!

Terry Suchma said...

Dear Kathie,
I have found you a second time and find that your journal and photo are wonderful as the first time I viewed them. I especially like your photos of Purple Martins as photos of martins in the Sonoran Desert are so very few. We would love to do an album of your Purple Martin photos on our website. Would you be interested in sharing them with our Purple Martin community online?
Terry Suchma
The Purple Martin Society, NA
Shorewood, IL