Friday, May 29, 2009

New River Day 3: Sugar Creek

West Virginia is a place of history, myths and legends. The past rolls off the hills like the West Virginia fog. The fog and rain rolled in overnight and greets us early on Wednesday morning. As we pile into the bus and head up the narrow mountain road to Sugar Creek Ridge I can hear the strains of John Denver singing in my brain…

"Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…

…life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze,

Country roads, take me home…"

Well, today they are taking me through mist and clouds up to a place where the warblers dwell.

Birding in West Virginia is all about the warblers for me. Though I have loved birds all my life and watched them from my yard, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that I started going out for a walk just to see birds. Until then, I only counted birds that came to my feeders, or the large shore birds I saw at the ocean. If the birds didn’t come to me, I figured I would never see them. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count changed all of that for me and now here I am on in the hills of West Virginia chasing warblers.

Our guides today are Geoff Heeter and Wil Hershberger. Geoff is the owner of Opossum Creek Retreat where most of us are staying for the New River Birding Festival. Wil is a quiet man with ears like a bat in his ability to hear sounds. As we pile out of the bus in the mist on the narrow mountain road Wil starts to call like a barred owl to flush the birds. Apparently if the little birds think a barred owl is around they will hurry in and try to mob it and chase it away. Having just recently heard a barred owl at Nina’s house in Ohio, I was amazed at how authentic he sounded. And soon the warblers came in.

We saw a hooded warbler, a black-throated green, cerulean warbler and a yellow-throated warbler. Wil called in an American Redstart as well, but my favorite and the only one I got a halfway decent picture of is the Worm-eating warbler. While its name is not so attractive, I think it is a marvelous bird with its striped ochre head. Sometimes I really like the subtle colors of the woodland birds over the flashy colors of the others. This little warbler sat up on a branch and sang its song in the constant drizzle for us. You can see the drops of water hanging on the branches here.

The Sugar Creek Ridge Road is narrow and winding. Cut into the side of the mountain, it rises steeply on one side and drops precipitously on the other. While there are woods all around us, there is nowhere to sneak off safely and relieve your bladder, especially if you are a woman. And, as usual, we have men driving the bus and leading the trip. Men with bladders of steel and no mercy! Being able to use the restroom is one of the biggest challenges on these birding treks. I finally find a small dirt track that veers off in a somewhat level direction after another woman points it out to me. Fortunately, everyone else is enthralled with looking at the birds and the mist is as thick as ever.

We walk the dirt road for awhile but the rain starts to pick up and it soon drives us off the mountain. Geoff Heeter decides we should take a break in Anstead at the Blue Smoke Café. We are greeted by a gracious hostess and served delicious hot coffee. Here in this small town we also find flush toilets! Yay!

After our stop we travel down Rt. 60 to Hawk’s Nest State Park. Fog continues to roll off the mountainside lending an air of mystery to the day.

KatDoc lost deep in thought sitting under the pavilion where we eat our lunch.

Then, it’s down the hill and across the road for more bird watching. You can see how wet it is from Nina’s coat.

We form our own little Birder’s Parade as we cross RT. 60 to the Hawk’s Nest Overlook.

Birders bird watching…what do we see?
(A complete checklist is posted below.)

I wrote about this disaster in an earlier post. Here is the sign marking the location of the disaster.

And below us on the riverbank as if in homage to the dead workers a flock of Black Vultures lurks. (Click on photo to enlarge. You can see the black vultures on the rocks.)

"...dark and dusty, painted on the sky,
misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye... "

Hawk's Nest tunnel with water flowing through it. Watch a short historical video about the disaster here.

View from the Hawk's Nest overlook. We watched four cormorants fly by below us from this vantage point.

Yellow-throated warbler seen on the path from the overlook.

This beautiful stone building is actually the restroom at Hawk's Nest State park. It's the prettiest restroom we used on our trip.

Aall around the mountains are in bloom. I love the pink flowers of the Redbud trees...

...and the lovely white cross-shaped blossoms of dogwood. Yes, "take me home, country roads..."

...back to Burnwood where the day began. We eat breakfast here everyday now, gathered in the predawn darkness beneath this pavilion where hot coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and fried potatoes greet us every morning. Today's rain has driven us home early and so we decide to see what birds we can see here at Burnwood before heading back to the Farmhouse for the afternoon.
Wil Hershberger and Geoff Heeter @ Burnwood 4-29-09
Wil Hershbeger will be our speaker tonight when we gather at Smokey's on the Gorge for dinner. His presentation on bird calls will be one of the highlights of the week for me.

Nina and KatDoc scoping out the birds in the surrounding woods. Today was a day full of mist, rain, adventure and birds. Yes, we were wet, but we all had a great time and I would do it all again if given the chance.

Bird Seen Today:

Sugar Creek Ridge
  1. Red-tailed hawk
  2. Pileated woodpecker
  3. White-breasted nuthatch
  4. Carolina chickadee
  5. Tufted titmouse
  6. Yellow-throated vireo*
  7. Red-eyed vireo
  8. Blue-headed vireo
  9. Black and white warbler
  10. Hooded Warbler
  11. Black-throated green warbler
  12. Worm-easting warbler*
  13. Cerulean warbler*
  14. Yellow-throated Warbler*
  15. American Redstart
  16. Indigo bunting


  1. Chimney Swift
  2. Starling
  3. American Robin
  4. Common Grackle

Hawks Nest State Park

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Double-crested cormorant
  3. Black vulture
  4. turkey Vulture
  5. American crow
  6. Pileated woodpecker
  7. Eastern Phebe
  8. Robin
  9. Tufted titmouse
  10. Carolina chickadee
  11. Red-eyed vireo
  12. Ovenbird
  13. Blackbrunian warbler
  14. Yellow-throated warbler
  15. Northern cardinal
  16. Brown-headed cowbird

Burnwood Picnic Area, Fayetteville, WV
  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Crow
  3. Carolina chickadee
  4. Tufted Titmouse
  5. Robin
  6. Woodthrush
  7. Indigo bunting
  8. Eastern Towhee
  9. Chipping sparrow
  10. Northern Cardinal

*Life Birds

I submitted all of these bird counts to eBird and to my amazement, I am now one of the top 100 eBirders in Fayetteville, WV. How can this be? Well, the truth is, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology needs more eBirders. Just recently they started a blog of their own called Chip Notes-eBird Buzz. If you don't think you can actually make a difference, here is their first post explaining why they need more ebirders and yes, you can do it! (Click on the link to go to the original post.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Do you eBird?
Based on recent research we've learned that roughly 70,000 people use eBird more than 50 times a year to gather information on birds. Most surprising to us was the fact that just 10,000 people entered data into eBird at least once, and even more remarkable is that just 2500 people entered more than 50 eBird checklists last year. What this tells us is that there is a large community of people out there using eBird as an information source, but a relative few actually contribute data. We want to better understand what drives our users, and ultimately participation in eBird. Why people submit data, why they don't, what's good and bad about eBird? Helping us answer these questions will make eBird a better tool for birders, and ultimately put more data into the hands of scientists and conservationists. With that, we ask you, the eBird community how we can be better...
Posted by Brian Sullivan at 5:40 PM

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Blue Sunset

Blue Sunset on the New River Gorge 4-29-09 @ 5:13 PM

This photo was taken 7 minutes later than last week's Skywatch Friday photo.
Both were taken by Kathie with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.

(click to enlarge photo for the best view)

Shooting Data:
  • Focal Length: 70mm
  • Digital Vari-Program: Night Landscape
  • Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern
  • 1/15 sec - F/6.3

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New River Day 2: Cranberry Glades

Luna Moth 4-27-09 Fayetteville, WV

A day that starts out with a Luna moth can only get better and it did. Our early morning hot breakfast at the Burnwood picnic area had to hold us for several hours as we drove to Cranberry Glades in the Monongahela National Forest. We drive north under sunny skies gaining altitude as we travel until we reach an elevation of 3400 feet. Since I live out west at 3300 feet, this does not seem too high to me, but I can see the vegetation change the higher we go. When we finally get out of the bus at Cranberry Bog the trees are barely blushing with new buds compared to the tiny celery colored leaves back in Fayetteville.

Right off the bat our faithful guides Connie Toops, Geoff Heeter and Keith Richards find us some chestnut- sided warblers. While I have seen and photographed this bird in its winter plumage in Arizona, this is the first time I have seen it in its breeding plumage with the lovely chestnut streak running down its side. A pair of males are fighting over territory from opposite sides of the road, flying back and forth and singing their challenge songs of spring.

The day starts off cool as we meander down the ½ mile board walk but soon the brilliant sunlight warms the air around us. Everyone is mesmerized by what we are seeing. It’s hard to know where to look first with all the bird activity around us and new life bursting from every tree and branch.

A frog sits in a pool alongside the walkway watching us with wet dark eyes. Yellow-rumped warblers flit about the treetops gleaning insects and singing as the day goes by. A small olive green warbler, plain and tiny, perches atop a distant pine tree. We are only afforded a quick glance or two but the consensus is that we have seen a Mourning warbler, which is a Life Bird* for me.

Yellow-rumped Warbler 4-27-09 Cranberry Glades, WV

Blackburnian Warbler Cranberry Glades, WV 4-27-09

Farther down the trail a small black and white bird with a throat of flame flies high into the sky. It lands on an open branch revealing its flaming throat. Looking through my binoculars, I can’t believe that dazzling shade of apricot and fire. It is a Blackburnian Warbler, another life bird for me. I fumble between binoculars and camera. I cannot get enough of this bird. I photograph it, look through my bins and take my turn at the spotting scope. I have only seen this color in a flaming sunset before, and now I am seeing it on the throat of a bird. This vision will be emblazoned on my mind for the rest of my life I am sure. This is a magnificent bird and yet another Life Bird for me.

Golden-crowned Kinglet 4-27-09

As if my heart were not full already a sweet little Golden-crowned Kinglet flies down and sings briefly on an exposed branch.

We all watch in awe as bird after bird is revealed to us. Everywhere we turn there is something new to see. Flowers are blooming everywhere, yet on the rolling hills of West Virginia the deciduous trees are still bare at this elevation.

A ring of spruce and pine wraps around the open bog in a bright green circle. Above the sky is a pale blue dome. I can't help but wonder what it will all look like in a month when everything is green and lush and bursting.

Susan and Nina 4-27-09

I look to see Susan scanning the skies while Nina searches the ground below. Each has their own interest, their own view of this world we are walking through today. Each has her own story to tell of this wonderful experience.

The birds are everywhere, and I am doing my best to census them. Besides adding species to my list, I am trying my darndest to count how many birds I am seeing. Even a trip to the outhouse yields yet another bird as I wander up the path. First I hear a rustle in the leaf litter beside me, then I find a pair of dark-eyed juncos digging in the leaves. This is why I watch birds, because birds are everywhere.

After living in the desert for two years now, I am intrigued once again by the advance of spring in a deciduous forest. The bare-branched trees always look like hands raised to the open sky. Now with the new red, lemon and lime green buds on the tips of the twigs it makes a subtle pattern as the trees grow up the slope. Looking through my lens it all gets flattened into a textured painting in my mind. I wander back down the path to capture one more photo.

Close beside the boardwalk what appears to be a red and green bird growing out of the soil is actually the bud of a skunk cabbage. These plants covered the floor of the swampy woods I grew up in. I do not see them in Arizona. As memories flood my mind, I find myself wondering: How did I get here to this tundra-like world on the east coast? It is so like places I have been before and so unlike anything I have ever seen. It is a merging of habitats for me. I feel like I am in New England and the Rocky Mountains all at once. I am here, today, in this new place as well as in the past. I am a growing thing and this is a new spring time for me.

Cranberry Glades Bird List:

  1. Mallard
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Broad-winged hawk*
  4. Hairy woodpecker
  5. Northern flicker
  6. Blue-headed Vireo
  7. Blue jay
  8. Common Raven
  9. Black-Capped chickadee
  10. Red-breasted nuthatch
  11. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  12. American robin
  13. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  14. Yellow-rumped warbler
  15. Black-throated green warbler
  16. Blackburnian Warbler*
  17. Black and white Warbler
  18. Mourning Warbler*
  19. Eastern towhee
  20. Chipping sparrow
  21. Dark-eyed Junco
  22. American goldfinch
  23. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  24. Brown-headed cowbird
  25. Pine siskin

*Life Birds (A Life Bird is the first time a birder has seen a species and can add it to their Life List. A Life List is a list of all the bird species a birder has seen in their life. I like to include the dates and places I have seen birds. I keep my Life List in a book and eBird keeps track of it for me when I submit my bird counts.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

My World: New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge Bridge 4-29-09 by Kathie Brown

The New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia was the longest single span arch bridge in the world until 2004 when the Millau Viaduct opened in France. The bridge itself is 3030 feet long and the span of the arch is 1700 ft. Lying 876 ft above the New River it doesn't look like much when you drive across it but the real beauty is seen from the side and below. This shot was taken from a viewing platform at the visitor's center in Fayetteville, WV on my recent trip to the New River Birding and Nature Festival. While the first 2 days were sunny and bright, the rest of the week we were shrouded in clouds and showered with rain. Mist and fog rolled off the hills and mountainsides and I often felt like I was living in the clouds. This area is often called the Costa Rica of America and it certainly felt and looked like a Rain Forest to me!

Bridge Lattice 4-29-09 by Kathiesbirds

I was fascinated by the beauty of the structure and the latticework of steel that lends support to the bridge. It occurred to me that this is what the birds must see as they go flying by...

Tree lattice 4-29-09 by Kathiesbirds

...not unlike the latticework of branches as they sail through the trees! I saw or heard 106 species of birds while here and added 27 species to my Life List.

The New River Gorge is famous for BASE jumpers which gather here one day a year to jump from the steel span. Called The Bridge Day Festival, the bridge is entirely closed down as participants leap off the structure into the gorge below as well as engaging in other extreme sports. Click on the link to read the official Bridge Day History and Facts.

The New River Gorge is where you can find the Big Bend Tunnel, which is the reputed location of the legend of John Henry. A steel driver, John Henry and his partner were pitted by the railroad bosses in a contest between man and machine to see which could drill farther and faster. Reputedly John Henry and his "shaker" won, but he dies with his hammer in his hand from the exertion. (Click on the link to read the full story.)

It is also the location of the worst industrial disaster in American History when, in 1930, hundreds of workers were killed either by accident or by breathing the silica dust from the drilling the 3 mile long diversion tunnel for a Hydo-electric plant on the Kanawha River. Called The Hawks Nest Incident, the silica dust acted like ground glass in the worker's lungs causing difficulty breathing and ultimately death. Since this was not a coal mine it was not subject to the same regulations and safety precautions as coal mining was. Most of the workers were African Americans looking traveling the country looking for work during the depression. Unnamed and unknown, the companies involved denied the problems and pushed the men to keep on working. When anyone died they just replaced them with the steady stream of desperate workers. In the end it is estimated that between 700 to 2000 men died before the tunnel was completed with many more sick and disabled. (Source NPS website)

Friday, May 22, 2009

NRBNF Day 1: Birding by Butt

White-throated Sparrow getting ready to be banded by Bill Hilton 4-27-09

After meeting the Flock on Sunday night I roll out of bed early Monday morning. Today will be the first test of how we do at processing 8 women through two bathrooms in time to get us all out the door by 6 a.m. In our sleep-deprived state somehow we pull it off and met at the Opossum Creek lodge for breakfast. We fill our bellies with fresh hot coffee or tea and what will turn out to be the best breakfast of the whole week.

Outside the surrounding forest is alive with bird song. Bluebirds perch on the phone lines, gnatcatchers scold from the trees. A northern parula sings out is territorial song from a treetop, and from the forest edge the “wheezy, wheezy, wheezy” call of a Black and White Warbler is heard. Other birders rush to the edge to see if they can spot it. I have not seen this species yet. It will be a new Life Bird if I get to see it, but I am not successful.

Bird in the bag 4-27-09

Meanwhile, Bill Hilton, of the Hilton Pond Center in South Carolina has set up his mist nets in the grassy field beyond the trimmed yard. He has captured something special and we all gather around to see what he has. A tiny bird dangles inside a net bag. Another is flopping in a brown lunch bag held shut by a clothes pin. As Bill prepares to lift the little brown job from the safety of the mesh bag he tells us that this is a very special bird and that he has only banded this species 2 or 3 times before and he has never banded one at this site. Our excitement builds as he lifts it from the bag. He tells us not to shout out what species it is as he holds it up to view. How many people know what bird this is, he asks? I raise my hand with pride, because I do know this bird. I have seen it in my yard in Arizona and again at Sweetwater Wetlands. For those of us who do know, he asks us not to tell, and then he prompts the others to try to learn from the field marks readily available.

Lincoln's sparrow held by Bill Hilton 4-27-09

Sparrows are always a challenge to identify, but this Little Brown Job, or LBJ, does have some distinctive characteristics that make it a bit easier. The blush of buffy coloring that straddles the breast is one sure field mark. The fine streaking across this breast contrasting with a whitish throat and belly and a whiter eye ring are some other field marks. Bill tells us this little sparrow is a skulker and seldom seen. I did not know this since the one I saw just landed in my yard one day in plain view! After showing the bird and describing its field marks Bill ask me what species of sparrow it is. “A Lincoln’s sparrow” I say, with all the pride of a kindergartener on her first day of school.

Bill measures and weighs the tiny bird. He applies the band and records the necessary data. This bird was caught in net number 2 at 7:00 a.m. EDT in Fayetteville, WV. Its band number is 1561 13052. Then, he asks me to come up and release the bird!

First he shows me how to hold it safely.

Then, he places it in my hand.

I raise it high to the sky and just as the sun is peaking over the horizon…

…I set it free.

I feel trembling, feathered joy! This is going to be a good week! Before the morning is over, Bill will band a white-crowned sparrow, a feisty female Eastern towhee and a tiny female ruby-throated hummingbird. (Read his account here)

As the banding winds down a few of us gather for a nature walk down the long winding driveway and into the woods. Our guide for this little jaunt is a man named Jim McCormac. Jim is well known for his blog Ohio Birds and Biodiversity. While I have never met him or even heard of him before, it isn’t long before I realize that he has a child-like wonder and curiosity about nature. As we walk down the trail we are not only spotting birds, we are turning over stones looking for salamanders, or digging up terrestrial crayfish which he holds calmly in his hand. Every tree, flower and fern has meaning to him and he readily shares his knowledge with us. In the woods we cross a little brook. We find warblers high in the trees. And I quickly discover that most warbler photos will be from below looking up at their bellies where they are back lit by the cerulean West Virginia sky.

Ovenbird at Oppossum Creek Retreat 4-27-09

Warblers are a species of bird that has been sorely lacking on my life list. Until recently I barely knew what they were. I identified my first warblers in the early 2003 when a yellow-rumped warbler came to my suet feeder in Livermore Falls, Maine. Later that summer a pine warbler came, but most of the birds I knew where birds that came to my feeders, or could be seen at the shore line. Since moving back to Utah I learned a few more, such as the black-throated gray warbler, which showed up in my yard there. Now that I live in Arizona and participate in the Important Bird Area survey of Sabino Canyon I have learned to identify many more. But, western warblers are few and far between compared to the eastern ones and now they fly tantalizingly over my head and taunt me to try to identify them.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to work too hard at this. There are plenty of birders and birding experts here to call them out with their iPods and tell me what I am seeing. This is a different kind of birding for me. I am use to stalking the birds alone and trying to identify field marks. Normally I take notes and take pictures and get flustered and excited. Now I focus on these tiny feathered jewels high in the trees and listen while someone tells me what I am seeing.

I learn that the birds get agitated by the songs of their species being played within their territories. While it brings the birds close enough to view, it also riles them up and changes their behavior. In some areas the use of recorded calls is banned due to this fact and also to prevent other birders from thinking they hear the species and identifying the bird by sound only, a controversial practice in some circles but accepted by the American Birding Association.

Black and White Warbler 4-27-09

I finally see my little black and white warbler perched in a tree singing to me. For the rest of the week I will recognize his “wheezy, wheezy” call wherever I go. As the week goes on I will face a new dilemma for me: do I count birds that I have heard but not seen, or only birds I have seen. It has never been a question for me before, since I am only just learning to bird by ear and all the bird calls I know are of birds I have already seen.

Photographer's Note: Many thanks to Bird Girl, Barbara, From My Bird Tales for the photos of me holding the Lincoln's sparrow. All of the rest of the photos we taken by Kathiesbirds with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300mm lens.

These are the birds seen on my first day of the New River Birding and Nature Festival at the Opossum Creek Retreat and Nature Trail. Life Birds* are listed in red:
  1. Black Vulture
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Red-tailed hawk
  4. Ruby-throated hummingbird
  5. Pileated woodpecker
  6. Eastern Phoebe
  7. Blue-headed vireo*
  8. Red-eyed vireo
  9. Blue jay
  10. American Crow
  11. Carolina chickadee
  12. Tufted titmouse
  13. White-breasted nuthatch
  14. Carolina Wren
  15. Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  16. Hermit Thrush
  17. Wood Thrush
  18. Eastern Bluebird
  19. American robin
  20. Northern Parula*
  21. Black-throated blue warbler*
  22. Black and white warbler*
  23. Ovenbird
  24. Hooded warbler*
  25. Scarlet Tananger
  26. Eastern Towhee
  27. Field Sparrow
  28. Lincoln's sparrow
  29. White-throated sparrow
  30. Northern Cardinal
  31. Brown-headed cowbird
  32. American goldfinch

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Sunset on the New River Gorge

Sunset on the New River Gorge in West Virginia 4-29-09 @ 5:06 PM

Visit Skywatch Friday to see more amazing skies!

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cloudy Skies, Clear Thoughts: A Sycamore Canyon Update

Sycamore Canyon Sky 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I awake to cool gray skies and bolt out the door as soon as possible. It’s been days since I have had a moment to myself since my son broke his ankle last Thursday night and I have been watching my grandson. Yesterday he returned to his parents but Gus came down with a sore throat Monday and he has been home sick since yesterday. I know I have so much writing to do, but I need to see the Canyon. I need to see if the Purple Martins have returned.

Desert Willow Blossoms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

It is a short walk up to the top of the cul de sac. On my way I pass numerous desert willow trees, which are now in bloom. Their sweet blossoms fill the air with a tender fragrance. Their blossoms vary from pink, to red to lavender.

Saguaro Sentinals 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I enter the trail system on Saguaro Loop Trail. Here I stand on the precipice of the canyon and gaze off to the south, where the Santa Rita Mountains loom, and the west towards Green Valley and Sahuarita. A thick steel wool blanket of clouds covers the earth around me lending a coolness and softness to the day. Bird song fills my ears as I stand on what I call “Lookout Point.” Here the view is expansive and it fills my heart with joy. I glance immediately to the right where the Saguaro sentinels stand. Perched on the edge of the canyon, the vast desert spreads out below them in the wash and beyond. On the east side of the trail that passes by them the boundary of human habitation is demarcated by tan painted view fence which allows homeowners to see beyond their tiny yards to the desert beyond.

Purple Martin Pair 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

As I look towards the tops of the saguaros I see a purple martin pair. They are here! And my heart leaps with pleasure. One pair is perched in a nest of saguaro blossoms atop the tallest saguaro. A lone male circles the sky, then returns to a different saguaro. I don’t see any others and I am concerned. Two years ago when I moved here there were at least 4 pairs here. What has happened to my purple martins?

Saguaro Arms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I stand in one spot for 15 minutes or more and count the birds around me. Then, as I wander down the trail I can hear tiny bird cheeps coming from one of the holes in the saguaro. Could there be babies in there? I hope with all my heart there are. These saguaros are home to so many birds. Like a high-rise in the city, the many holes in these old sentinels are doors to different nests. The Gila woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers nest in the same saguaros as the purple martins. House sparrows will occupy empty nest holes also, but thankfully I do not see any of them going in or out of the holes.

As I wander down the trail watching birds I consider the plight of the birds here since human beings have moved into this fragile desert habitat. I have noticed the decline in insect eating birds since moving here two years ago and I am concerned it may be due to the use of pesticides by my neighbors. I can only assume that some people don’t think things through and they don’t realize that when you poison the insects, you can poison the birds and lizards that feed on them. The day before I left for the New River Birding and Nature festival I watched in horror as the Terminex man pulled up to a house across the street from me and commenced spraying the perimeter of the house. To make matters worse, I could see a bird bath and/or feeder up on the block wall. It was around 11 a.m. and I watched as mourning doves, finches and sparrows flew off as he walked around the house. He was protected by rubber boots and other gear. The poor birds had no such protection and once he left, they moved back into the poisoned area.

Saguaro Blossoms 5-20-09 by Kathie Brown

I do not want insects in my home either, but it seems there must be another way to deal with the problem. We have so many insect eating birds in this place, as well as lizards and bats. When we kill of the insects we remove a food source for these beneficial animals. When we poison the bugs, we poison the birds and other animals that make Sycamore Canyon a delight to live in. If the lizards get poisoned, then we poison the Road Runners that eat the lizards. If this continues to happen, we may not see these creatures here any longer.

Even the tiny hummingbirds are affected by the use of pesticides. Though a large part of their diet comes from nectar gathered from blooming flowers, they also eat tiny insects and spiders. When you poison the spiders, you are poisoning the hummingbirds that feed on them. While I like the birds that come to my bird feeders, I also enjoy the insect eating birds that I see around me in the desert.

So, this is a plea to my neighbors and others, no matter where you live, please consider carefully the use of pesticides in your yard. Consider spraying only inside your garage where the birds do not go, or using an environmentally safe product. I know there are companies out there that can help. I have a grandson and I don’t want him to be bitten by Black widow spiders or stung by a scorpion either.

Here is a list of some of the insect eating birds I have identified here in Sycamore Canyon. Many of them breed here and feed insects to their young. Lets help keep Sycamore Canyon Safe for the wildlife that most of us moved here to enjoy!
  1. Hummingbirds
  2. Nighthawks
  3. Flycatchers
  4. Wrens
  5. Vireos
  6. Road Runners
  7. Swallows
  8. Purple martins
  9. Verdin
  10. Gnatcatchers
  11. Warblers
On a hopeful note, on My 12 I counted my first Peregrine Falcon here in Sycamore Canyon as it flew over my yard on pointed wings and disappeared into the noontime sky. The Peregrine Falcon is a species brought back from the brink of extinction when the populations crashed in the 1950 and the 1960’s when the eggs of the falcon became too fragile for their young to hatch due to the use of the pesticide DDT. Used on a regular basis by farmers and homeowners alike, DDT moved through the food chain through insects and the animals that eat them until it reached perilous concentrations in these birds. DDT was banned in 1972 and the Peregrine Falcons rebounded allowing all of us to enjoy this magnificent raptor and the fastest animal on earth. This Peregrine Falcon sighting makes species number 77 on my Sycamore Canyon Bird List (see side bar)!

Birds Seen on my short .2 mile walk this morning:
  1. Gambel's Quail
  2. Mourning dove
  3. white-winged dove
  4. Costa's Hummingbird
  5. Gilded Flicker
  6. Gila Woodpecker
  7. Nighthawk species
  8. Verdin
  9. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  10. Cactus Wren
  11. Curve-billed thrasher
  12. Purple martin
  13. Rufous-winged sparrow
  14. House Finch
  15. House sparrow

I also saw 2 jack rabbits and 1 desert cottontail!

I love living with nature!

The adventures of the New River Birding Festival will continue tomorrow!

(All photos click to enlarge for the best view)