Monday, March 30, 2009

My World: Birds Are Busting Out All Over!

It's a cool morning in My World on Tuesday, March 24 when I step out the front door to take a walk. A strong breeze ruffles my hair as well as the dog's as we walk up the street. It is so nice out here, I think to myself, I should go for a walk. But you have work to do inside, I remind myself, as we saunter down the street. By the time I return to the house I have persuaded myself into thinking that I will only take a 20 minute walk out in the Canyon. Jean, a volunteer naturalist at Sabino Canyon, has reported seeing migrants up there. I really want to see who is here, for no one is showing up in my yard!

It's still early in the morning for once--only 8:30 a.m. I grab my gear and bolt out the front door. In 30 seconds I am in the Big Wash, which is the main drainage for Sycamore Canyon. Already I am seeing birds fluttering into the scrub. Ahead of me a gilded flicker is silhouetted against the recently risen sun. I pass through the opening in the fence and peer at the paths before me. I can head south up the canyon floor, or north down toward the park. I can hike west across the wash and emerge on the west rim. Which way should I go? Where will I see the most birds in the shortest amount of time?

Arizona Powdered Skipper systasea zampa
(Thanks Kayleen, Doug and Diane!)

I head west across the rim and follow the voice of a male Gambel's Quail calling from his perch in a mesquite tree. While Gambel's Quail are mostly know for their "chi-GA-go" calls, I have learned they have many voices. The gentle "whoop, whoop" when they are coming to feed, and this single note the males emit when while perched on a lookout spot. I watch while he throws his head back, his plume bobbing in the wind, his beak pointed towards the sky. "Auk!" He cries. "Auk!" again, in a steady rhythm that means, what? I do not know if he is calling for his covey or proclaiming his territory. I only know I have seen the males do this several times. I try to get his picture with his beak raised to the sky, but he is thick in cover and I only catch him with his beak closed.

However, on the brittle bush beside the path a butterfly alights. It's dusty, blurry pattern is strange and new to me, and I wonder what species it is. I am at a loss when it comes to identifying butterflies. Perhaps it is a moth!

I am at the western edge of the wash now but all seem silent up there. I decide to head back into the wash where I follow the sounds of bird song down hill to the north.

Though I see lesser Goldfinches in my yard all the time, it's always nice to find them in the wild. This lone male is perched on a dead snag singing his springtime song.

But I am distracted by the scolding of a wren. When I look to see who is scolding me I find this vireo in the same tree. It's bright white spectacles and the yellow wash on its sides confirms it as a Cassin's vireo, which is similar to the Plumbeous vireo, which lacks the yellow wash.

We quietly inspect each other, it from it's twig and I from the gravel bottom of the wash. Vireos are such fun to watch as they hop from branch to branch searching for insects. Until a couple of years ago I only had one vireo on my life list. I considered them an almost impossible bird to see, since they don't come to my feeders, but since living here and getting out into all the natural areas available I have added at least 5 species of vireo to my life list!

Farther down the wash I find a male Costa's Hummingbird high on the tallest twig of a mesquite tree. I am happy to see him because only the females seem to be visiting the feeders in my yard right now. By the time my walk is over, I will have counted 3 separate males out here in the desert.

Ahead of me the red gravel cliffs rise as the bottom of the wash bends and curves with the land.

A closer look reveals a female flicker excavating her nesting hole. She works away busily as little black particles of the interior saguaro fly in the wind.

I have been seeing turkey vultures since the beginning of March, but have failed to capture one in flight. Now the large vulture soars and tilts above me in the rising thermals and I can see his bald red head clearly.

Spring is creeping over the desert in a fine green film. It contrasts with the dusty green-gray of cactus and the dry brown grasses and spent foliage of last year. Beyond the desert the Santa Rita mountains rise in a soft blue-green haze. They are a temperate backdrop to the dryness of the desert.

I turn to scramble up the bank of the wash towards home. My twenty minute walk has turned into a two hour ramble. I have counted 19 species of birds in the wash today with the addition of this ash-throated flycatcher flitting through the brush as I walk home.

Birds Seen in the Sycamore Canyon Wash 3-24-09:
  1. Turkey vulture
  2. Gambel's quail
  3. Costa's hummingbird
  4. Mourning dove
  5. Gilded Flicker
  6. Gila woodpecker
  7. Cactus Wren
  8. House Wren
  9. Ladder-backed woodpecker
  10. Cassin's Vireo
  11. Verdin
  12. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  13. Curve-billed thrasher
  14. Common raven
  15. Rufous-winged sparrow
  16. Canyon towhee
  17. Pyrrhuloxia
  18. House finch
  19. Lesser Goldfinch

Photographer's Note: All of today's photography is by Kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens set in sports mode for bird shots.

Addendum 4-1-09: I've corrected all the misspellings today. I've been busy with my grandson for 2 days and was barely able to finish this post just after he arrived. I appreciate everyone who stops by and Thank You So Much Doug, Kayleen, and Diane for identifying the butterfly for me! I thought it was a butterfly but then when I started to write this post I doubted myself because the insect's wings were spread and it looked so fuzzy and blurry.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Come to New River Come!

Come to New River come
Bring your camera, your bins and your buns
To go Birding by Butt,
by boat, or by what—
ever is going to be fun!

Well, it's official. I've bought my plane ticket and paid for my trip. I am actually going to the New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville West Virginia at the end of April. I have never been to a bird festival before in my life, so this will be a new experience for me. I am joining seven other bird bloggers whom I have yet to meet but I feel like most of them are friends already! We'll be birding and blogging away each day and laughing our butts off at night. It's not too late to join the flock. Just click on the link for information and I'll see you there!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mirgration Begins

White-winged Dove 3-28-09 by Kathiesbirds

It's been so quiet around here with only the usual suspects at the feeders. I know It's coming. I can feel it in my bones. But when will It begin? So far the only retuning birds I have seen are Turkey Vultures. Then, on Monday I got an email from a Jean, who leads our IBA Survey in Sabino Canyon. She reported seeing Bell's Vireos, and Orange-crowned and Lucy's Warblers in Sabino Canyon. I had to know if any birds were arriving here. So on Tuesday I took a walk in the wash and discovered the birds are coming! On Wednesday I visited a friend's house where Harris Hawks are nesting in her yard. On Thursday I returned to Sabino Canyon for another IBA Survey. Then, last night I saw my first White-winged Dove of the year here in Sycamore Canyon. This morning they were back again and I cracked up when I saw one perched on top of this small window feeder. Amazingly the feeder held up under the bird's weight but there was no way it could get at the seed. I wanted to capture a photo of it, but the camera was on the desk, and though I moved slowly towards it, it was too close for comfort for the dove on the den window feeder.

Bullock's Oriole as seen through my back window 3-25-09

I saw my first Bullock's Oriole on Wednesday and new birds are arriving daily. Spring Migration has begun, and Birds Are Busting out all over. I'll be posting about them all week long. I have numerous photos to show and many stories to tell!

It's sunny and warm today, though the morning started out cool at 43 degrees Fahrenheit. It has since warmed up to 70 and a light breeze is playing with the flag. I just saw a pigeon outside my window on the ground beneath my feeders. It didn't stay long but if it returns and brings its friends I will pull my feeders down. I do not want pigeons here!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Ocotillo Sky

Ccactus Wren on Ocotillo 3-20-09 Sycamore Canyon

Brewer's sparrow-A thorny perch 11-30-08

Ocotillos en masse in Sycamore Canyon 3-19-08

Ocotillo on the rim of Sycamore Canyon 3-24-09

Ocotillo Buds 3-29-08 Saguaro NP

Ocotillo blossoms-Fire in the Sky! 4-24-08

Bullock's Oriole and Ocotillo Blossoms 4-27-08
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Ocotillo Sunset in Sycamore Canyon 8-10-08

Ocotillo has to be one of the most interesting plants I have become aquainted with since moving to Arizona. They always remind me of an inverted jelly fish with rigamortis! Ocotillo are drought deciduous, which means they loose their leaves during drought and grow them back during the rainy season. The tiny leaves slowy turn yellow before dropping like coins to the ground. In spite of the fact that there is no main trunk, ocatillo are still considered to have branches. The dried branches have been used for centuries as fencing. They are also used by many species of birds for perching on and some even eat the blossoms. Hummingbirds use the nectar for food, as well as numerous butterflies and some nectar feeding bats. All these photos have been taken since we moved here with our Nikon D80 and some were taken by Gus while others were taken by me. As you scan down the photos you might wonder why anyone would want one of these in their yard, but as you get near the bottom you can see why. When they are in bloom they are spectacular!

Visit more amazing skys at Skywatch Friday!

Thanks Skywatch Team!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Clearing My Head

California Brittle bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

As the slow gray dawn blushes pink in the east my feet hit the floor as my mind races. For the first night in over a month I have made it through the night without the pain killers I have been taking to alleviate the jaw pain from a dental procedure gone awry. I had feared this day would never come, yet here it was. I hate to take medication of any kind but the pain and swelling were unendurable. Yet, I could feel my creativity slow with every pill I took. Now I feel the weight of my own body as I walk out the front door. I have been inside for too long. I crave nature like a drug. I need to be outside and away from these walls and this ceiling. I want to shed these human trappings and fly free like a bird…

Globe Mallow 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

…however, it is Friday before I finally take that walk and after doing all my morning chores it is late by the time I get out the door at 9:30 a.m. The workers have already been busy on the house across the way for three hours or more. An overcast sky greets me today. The great blue yonder is lost in a veil of thin gray clouds that shield the sun’s rays, but I feel the humidity in the air. The day feels muggy to me.

Fairy duster blossoms a.k.a. False mesquite 3-20-09

Wild flowers are blossoming everywhere and with blooms come the bees. I can barely look at a flower without finding a bee crawling greedily over it. They seem frantic in their search for pollen and not one iota interested in me. I am glad to see and hear the bees, even though I know most of these are probably Africanized. I keep my distance as I walk along with the hum of their spring song in my ears.

Wolf Berries 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Brittlebush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Vesper Sparrow on Mesquite with Creosote bush 3-20-09

Down the street I cut the corner on the Saguaro Loop trail. This little patch of desert is often ripe with bird life, and this morning is no different as the songs of sparrows, curved-billed thrashers, and the cackle of cactus wrens greets me.

Cactus Wren 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

Update 3-28-09: Mormon Tea identified by Diane. Thanks Diane!

I wander slowly down the winding trail past plants I know and some I don’t. So many things are in bloom right now, and the wolf berries are already fruiting! I find one strange plant with tube-like stems and buds emerging like grains of wheat!

Its overall size is about 2 feet high and scraggly. I marvel at the shape and texture of the buds and wonder what it’s called.

I follow the gravel path onward and emerge on the pavement again. Car after car passes by in the time it takes me to reach the road and cross to where I disappear into the desert on the Barrel Cactus Loop Trail.

These trails are marked and maintained by the HOA for use by residence and others.

From here I can see the new Fire Station with its silver roof blending into the soft gray sky. It’s not the prettiest place in town, but I am glad that they have done the whole building with solar power.
I am taking this trail because it follows the wash behind my friend Sherri’s house. Whenever I visit her I see and hear so many birds in the open space beyond her fence. Today I want to see what I can see and hear for myself, alone and uninterrupted by conversation or the need to socialize. I need to be alone in nature. I need to feel like I am someplace wild. I have been seeing thrashers everywhere and now is no exception. They perch aloft on ocotillo and mesquite and fly to the ground to skulk beneath the scrub. I am searching everywhere for something new, but I am seeing all the usual suspects. Verdin call with their “tu-tu-tu” from the tree tops. Sparrows scatter like dust in the wind. I hear the “chi-CA-go” call of Gambel’s quail farther out in the desert while all around me the backs of houses loom like manmade cliffs.

Thrasher Sky 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

The width of this open space varies as it runs between the neighborhoods. The trail meanders down into gullies, then brings me close to backyards. I do not like being close to the backyards. This is not quite the nature fix I wanted, but I am amazed at all the birds I am seeing. How is it that they have been able to make peace with the human presence? They seem to feel safe in this desert scrub as they dive for cover when they hear my approaching footsteps. Though I try ever so hard to tread lightly, my footsteps on gravel sound like magnified crunching even to my ears.

New Growth on a Prickly Pear 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I find a little wooden bench behind someone’s house. It looks so inviting in the shade of some bushes. I consider sitting for a few moments to see if the birds will relax and come to me, but I can hear them calling father down the path and I walk on.

Desert Hackberry Bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

The sounds of sparrows singing has risen to a cacophony right behind Sherrie’s house. I stand here and try to figure out why this place? What is so inviting to the birds right here. The presence of Hackberry bushes is one clue, as well as numerous varieties of cacti. I see Palo Verde Trees and mesquite along with creosote bush and other scrub I don’t know the names of yet. The homes above me on the west end at their rail fenced yards where the gravelly earth slops down to the wash. This is one of the widest points between the two neighborhoods and for some reason, the birds love it.

Canyon towhees in Hackberry bush 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I can identify white-crowned sparrows, brewer’s sparrows, house finches, house sparrows and rufous-winged sparrows here. I find one lone pine siskin in a nearby bush, and then a pair of Canyon towhees flies into the hackberry bush before me like desert dust with feathers and wings. They watch me warily before diving for cover again.

Desert cottontail 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

I feel like I am walking down the bunny trail when a little Desert Cottontail comes hopping along. It doesn’t see me at first, but stops dead in its tracks when it does. It pauses on the path and we stare at each other for a few seconds before it hops off into the surrounding scrub. I am about to continue down the trail when three more little bunnies come racing towards me. They spot me even sooner and veer off sharply not knowing that I would never hurt them.

Lesser Goldfinch 3-20-09 by Kathiesbirds

A few steps farther down the path I hear the twitter of a lone Lesser Goldfinch atop an ocotillo. She grasps her thorny perch and sings her spring song to a pale sky before flying off. A male Pyrrhuloxia flies to the top of a tree to sing, and then I spot his female staying low in the brush. Eventually she joins him briefly before melting quietly into the shadows and thickets once again.

I must have stood here for over a half an hour trying to figure out all the birds I am seeing, but the heat of the day urges me onwards and I finally continue down the path. Suddenly the scrub grows silent and I wonder why. They say the birds are down by ten, and it must be after that time. Did they all simultaneously decide to sleep? I spot a male cardinal fighting with a thrasher in a tree a few paces on. I pause to try to coax it up by “pishing.” As I purse my lips and force the air between them the birds actually dive for cover and then a Cooper’s hawk rises slow and irritated from a nearby tree. Of course! I should know by now. If all the birds become suddenly silent, a hawk is usually lurking somewhere nearby. If I had just looked a little farther down the path I might have seen it sitting on its lookout perch.

I can feel the heat on my back now and I fear I am starting to burn. I quicken my pace as I finish the trail and emerge on the street once again. In the last few paces of the desert wash another thrasher waits atop a saguaro, a Gila woodpecker laughs at me and three mourning doves fly up on whistling wings from beneath the shelter of a creosote bush beside the path I walk on. Though this trail wasn’t as remote as I wanted, still, the sights and sounds of the desert soothed my soul. I feel more peaceful now. I walk home in the heat of a midday sun with a happy feeling of fatigue. It’s a satisfied tiredness. I think it is time for a nap!

In all I saw 23 species of birds today, March 20, 2009. Here is the list:
  1. Gambel's Quail
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Cooper's hawk
  4. Costa's Hummingbird
  5. Mourning dove
  6. Pigeon
  7. Gilded Flicker
  8. Gila woodpecker
  9. Curve-billed thrasher
  10. Cactus Wren
  11. Verdin
  12. Raven
  13. Canyon towhee
  14. Brewer's sparrow
  15. White-crowned sparrow
  16. Rufous-winged sparrow
  17. Northern Cardinal
  18. Pyrrhuloxia
  19. Pine siskin
  20. Lesser Goldfinch
  21. House finch
  22. House sparrow
  23. Vesper sparrow

Note: All of today's photos were taken by Kathie on March 20, 2009 with the Nikon D80.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My World: For the Birds and Butterflies

Mourning dove and mesquite 3-19-09 by Kathie w/Nikon D80

My World is a world of birds and backyard landscaping. We started buying plants last weekend. We planted late in the evening on Sunday. It was dark by the time we finished and we fell into bed exhausted, but by 4 a.m. Monday morning we were wide awake waiting for the sun to rise so we could see out new plants. All week long we continued to plant and this weekend we added some more. Once again it is late in the afternoon on Sunday before we return from the nursery and get started on planting once again. Once again it is dark by the time we finish, and we will have to wait for dawn.

Morning haze on Mt. Fagan 3-23-09 by Kathie w/Nikon D80

This morning we are awakened by the sounds of construction across the wash. A cool breeze wafts through the open door along with the noise. I roll my stiff body out of bed and pad over to close the door against them both. The outdoor thermometer registers 46 degrees. The temperature has dropped significantly from the high of 86 yesterday. I glance through the curtains at all my happy plants out in the yard. I need to dress and go outside and welcome them to their new home.

A white haze sends diffuse light across the slopes of Mt. Fagan. In the mesquite trees the birds are singing amidst the lime-colored and feathery new leaves. The new leaves will darken to a soft green-gray as they mature providing shade and shelter to the many birds that visit my yard.

One Favorite View 3-19-09 by Kathie w/Nikon D80

In the corner under the mesquite tree we have planted a Cherri Berri Pyracantha to provide food and shelter for the birds as well as winter interest for us. Right now the small viny shrub is putting out clusters of tiny white blossoms. After pollination they will develop bright red berries loved by birds. If the birds don't eat them all, we will have clusters of the bright red berries set against the evergreen leaves deep in the heart of winter, when the mesquite tree is naked and scratching the winter sky with its thorny branches. It will be a restful place for my eyes when all else is brown.

Orange blossoms by Kathiesbirds 3-19-09

Of course, I have yet to learn what will be in bloom or not in winter with all these new plants. The orange tree is still perfuming my yard with its blossoms, and I see some tiny green swellings in the middle of the petals. Are these the baby oranges? I think so!

Dark Blue Plumbago by Kathiesbirds 3-19-09

We have filled the planting beds with flowers to brighten out day and attract butterflies. Blue Plumbago is planted in the corner of the hill to climb the wall and cascade down the slope behind the Palo Verde tree.

Mr. Quail keeps watch from the fence on a daily basis.

In the backyard the Lady Banks roses climb the wall. We've bought and installed trellises since this photo was taken.

Our newest addition is a pomegranate tree. We've planted it in the corner by the gate. As it grows it will drape over the wall and provide beauty, privacy and fruit.

Already the tips of its branches are reaching for the sky. How long will it take for it to grow and fill this space?

We've also planted asclepia curassavica to attract the butterflies. We only bought one of these plants, but as I look at it in the light of day, I am liking it so much I think I will buy another. The plant, commonly called butterfly weed, will provide food and shelter for butterfly eggs and caterpillars and nectar for adult butterflies.

I always think that plants are happy to get their "feet" in the ground. To me, mine seem to be positively beaming, while across the wash the construction continues to eat away at my view. Well, we are solving that problem by creating a new view right here in our own backyard, A view for the Birds, the Butterflies and us.

Mesquite Tree and Blanket Flowers 3-23-09 by Kathiesbirds

What we have planted in this past week:
  1. Butterfly Weed Asclepia curassavica
  2. Blanket Flower gaillardia x graniflora 'Arizona Sun'
  3. Purezza Lady Banks Rose "The Pearl"
  4. Blue Bouquet Passion flower (vine)
  5. Purple leaf Japanese Honeysuckle lonicera japonica 'pupurea' (vine)
  6. Pink Jasmine jasminum polyathum (vine)
  7. Bougainvilla (vine)
  8. Cherri Berri Pyracantha (vine)
  9. Heavenly Bamboo nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream'
  10. Dark Blue Plumbago
  11. Lavender Spice poliomintha maderensis
  12. Sago Palm cycas revoluta
  13. Cape Honeysuckle tecomaria capensis
  14. Pomegrante Tree 'wonderful'
  15. Butterfly iris, aka Fortnight Lilly dietes bicolor
  16. Pincusion flower scabiosa columbaria
  17. Tangerine ice plant lampranthus ambiguous 'orange'
  18. Dew drop ice plant
  19. Butterfly iris morea
  20. Blue Lily of the Nile agapanthus orientalis
  21. Whirling Butterflies or Wand Flower guara lindheimeri 'white'
  22. Salvia greggii 'lipstick'
  23. Dwarf Valencia Orange Tree (planted March 7, 2009)
  24. Desert Museum Palo Verde (April 2008)
  25. Velvet Mesquite Tree (May 2007)

Photographer's Note: All of today's photos were taken by Kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 over the course of the past week.

Please click on the button at the top or this link to see more views of MY WORLD Tuesday.

Thanks My World Team!

Addendum: It's 2:00 P.M. MST time with temperature 62 degree F under hazy skies with light wind. I saw my first butterfly in the yard when I went outside for lunch. I didn't have my camera with me and I don't know what kind is was, Doug, but I'll try to get a photo if it comes back!