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.


Elizabeth said...

Hello! Just wanting to let you know that I am enjoying your blog and photos very much...I lived in Tucson for 40 years and then 5months ago moved to Mississippi to be near my husband's family. We have a beautiful home on an acre in the country which I enjoy very much...such different bird life than AZ!

However, when I feel the need to see my old, beloved Sonoran Desert, I find I can come to your site and travel with you down a wash, searching the area with camera in hand.

Tee-hee, I worked for Pima County for many years, in a job of enforcing the rules to protect the desert ecosystem. I am glad that as a "newbie" you are enjoying this beautiful place, that I hope will remain protected long into the future.

Happy Birding! (I've always been partial to a Vermillion Flycatcher, myself!)

Warren and Lisa Strobel said...

Now we are getting excited! Love, love, love spring! Our osprey have just shown up and now we await the Ruby Throated Hummers.

kayleen said...

Think your butterfly might be a Arizona powdered-skipper, perhaps someone will come along and verify that. Great series of photos as always.

Nebraska Birding

Anonymous said...

Very nice reporting. Your world is fascinating and thanks for continuously showing and sharing the beauty that is your world.

Louise said...

Now aren't you glad you took that walk? I certainly am!

Janie said...

You have an amazing eye for birds to see so many. I especially love that vulture in flight, and the flicker making a nest in the cactus.

sandy said...

Oh I'm enjoying your photos!!

Deborah Godin said...

I saw my first returned turkey vulture a few days ago, but none since, he must have been the front runner (flyer) of the group. Love the little butterfly, I don't think I've ever seen one with such pretty scalloped wings. Let us know if you find out that it is!

ninja said...

That's some walk! So many lovely creatures.

Diane AZ said...

I saw white-winged doves in my area today, but I haven't seen turkey vultures. I often forget to look up in the sky though because I'm fascinated by plants and bugs and lizards. I agree with Kayleen that your butterfly does look like an Arizona powdered-skipper.

Guy D said...

Outstanding bird shots as always!!!

Have a great week!
Regina In Pictures

Jane Hards Photography said...

I am constantly amazed at the difference or our birds. Your goldfinch and mine for instance the marking a world apart. Wonderful post, especially for those bird fans.

Arija said...

Kathie, I do sooo love your walks, your photos, your descriotive prose and most of all your gentle heart.

SandyCarlson said...

I did not know some birds nest in cacti. Thanks for learning me something and for bringing me up close to so many beauties.

Gaelyn said...

I'm sure whatever had to be done at home easily waited for this wonderful two hour ramble. I always feel like I've gone along with you Kathie. Excellent choice.

Its Time to Live said...

Just stopping by again to enjoy and see some dry ground and birds! Great shots, great trip.

Latane Barton said...

Thanks for taking me along on your walk. I enjoyed it.

Doug Taron said...

What an amazing series of bird (and butterfly) shots. Kalyeen nails the identification of the Arizona Powdered Skipper. Yay Kayleen! I hope my reply to your email came through- gmail was acting up yesterday.

Kyle said...

Wonderful shots of the beautiful world you live in, Kathie! I especially like those shots of the vireo. Although my favorite has to be the flicker, working hard on her spring saguaro condo. Great capture!!

A Scattering said...

The vireo shot is adorable.

The Good Life in Virginia said...

enjoyed your walk in the wash today...and of course enjoyed all the photos of the birds.
thanks for sharing with all.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I get alot of grief for it, but I really do believe that there is no bird more beautiful than a Turkey Vulture in flight.

Femin Susan said...

How beautiful Shots..... Thanks for sharing......

Celeste said...

I always enjoy your morning birding walks, especially having just having come back from the Anza Borrego desert where I actually saw some of the birds you mention. Great post, as always Kathie.