Madera Canyon Painted Redstart

This gorgeous and brilliantly colored Painted Redstart was another life-lister we saw in Madera Canyon, Arizona. Once again, we found the bird exactly where my son told us he would be, but I must say I was surprised to see a redstart at a hummingbird feeder!

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website, the Painted Redstart is 'a warbler of surpassing beauty . . . a specialty of the borderlands of the American Southwest.

My husband, Tom, captured these images of the Painted Redstart peeking at us from the trees above.  It is impossible not to comment on how adorable this little bird is, although such sentimental lanquage seriously damages any credibility I may have had as a serious birder.  On the other hand, who could resist such a sweet looking little face? 

We were extremely lucky to see this little guy in the winter months.  We were very lucky to see him at all, actually!

According to Cornell Labs, Painted Redstarts do drink sugar water from hummingbird feeders in the winter.  They also eat at suet feeders, evidently.
Madera Canyon was a wonderland of spectacular birds, and this Painted Redstart was one of many life-listers we saw that day.  If you ever get a chance to visit the Tucson area, don't miss Madera Canyon!


Elegant Trogon! The Rarest Bird in America?

I tend to exaggerate, BUT . . . there are reason to at least consider that this might be one of the rarest bird species in Arizona - in December, anyway.  These stunning birds are tropical, for one thing,  Some 50 plus spend summers in Arizona, but they winter south of the U.S.  Except for one or two that stick around, feeding on insects and fruit. Occasionally you can find one that winters in Madera Canyon, AZ - and we did!

We were on a quest to find the Elegant Trogon, but neither Tom or I believed we'd see him.  We never get that lucky.  But with the aid of yet another of my son's detailed maps, we were willing to give it a try.
We followed the map to the most beautiful canyon on earth, and immediately saw a plethora of new and marvelous species.  (More on those birds in a later post; I can't possibly refrain from finally showing off my Trogon!)  Pete's instructions said to 'turn completely around and search the trees for the Elegant Trogon.  If you are patient and willing to sit still for an hour or so, you might just see him.'

So I dutifully turned around - and there he was!  Posing as if he wanted to be featured in a New Englander's Bird Blog.  Tom and I both got excellent views of this spectacular tropical species in all his colorful glory.  We both managed a few good shots, as well!


Peregrine Falcon in Tucson Park!

Look at this beauty!  Tom captured this gorgeous Peregrine Falcon at Christopher Columbus Park in Tucson, Arizona. 

Isn't he spectacular!  This park is close to Sweetwater Wetlands, deep in the heart of Tucson.  We saw this rare specimen on the same day as the Snow Goose and our first Shovelers!

We also got some up-close-and-personal shots of this Great Egret.  Unfortunately, the reason he was so tame was a little unsettling to me.  It turns out the local fishermen around the pond were feeding this fellow, so he had no fear of humans!

They tossed him this fish and he caught it in mid-air!

Then everyone watched him struggle to get that big fish down that long, skinny throat.  He managed just fine - eventually!

I think this Great Blue Heron was tame for the same reason: easy pickings!


Warblers and Woodpeckers Out West

Life-lister!  Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, Arizona added more than a few new species to my life list.  This was my very first Ladderbacked Woodpecker, for instance. 

This shot of the Ladderbacked is admittedly a bit fuzzy, but is is a good depiction of the bird's unique markings.   You can see why I didn't need any help with identifying this species!

I'm notoriously weak at identifying warblers, but my son tells me this is an Orange-crowned Warbler.  The orange crown is rarely ever seen in real life, of course.  This is one of many avian species named after generally invisible features, which adds to one's frustration when trying to establish a species ID.

This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler, or so I'm told.  If it looks a bit different than the Yellow-rumped Warblers you are used to seeing in the Northeast, it is because there are two distinct subspecies of this bird (another cosmic joke intended to confuse novice birders!)  This is an Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler as opposed to a Myrtle's Yellow-rumped Warbler.  The chin and throat of the Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler is much yellower than the chin of the Myrtle's Yellow-rumped Warbler. 

This is probably an Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler, too.  It looks different than the one above because it is displaying it's "mostly concealed and sometimes lacking" crown patch (description from Peterson's A Field Guide to Warblers of North America).  Does anyone else find all this a bit confusing?  The worst part is that these are supposedly easy-to-identify warblers.  There were probably a bunch of other warblers at Sweetwater Wetlands, but all I know is that we saw a lot of little birds bopping around the place!

Here's a more familiar bird to someone from the Northeast - except maybe not so familiar?  It looks almost like the Northern Flickers I've seen, but where is the red patch on the nape of his neck?  And shouldn't this guy have a black mustache instead of a red one?  The reason this bird looks a bit different than the Flickers I'm used to seeing in Massachusetts is because this is a Red-shafted Northern Flicker instead of a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker.  When he is flying, you can see that the underside of this bird's wings and tail are red rather than yellow. 

This Flicker doesn't look exactly right to me, and I think there is just the slimmest of chances that this could be a different species altogether.  The Gilded Flicker has more of a cinnamon crown, and maybe that's why this bird looks slightly different.  I'm not sure I know what kind of Flicker we have here! Any ideas?

I'm also not sure what kind of hawk this is!  I think my brain is overloaded with the huge variety of new species I saw on this trip west - and by the unexpected fact that some familiar species look a lot different out there than they do here.  Some Red-tailed Hawks in Arizona and California have much darker faces than I'm used to, for instance.  So feel free to let me know what species of hawk we have here - because I give up!


Sweet Sweetwater Waterfowl

Sweetwater Wetlands is a marvelous birding hotspot that is right in the city of Tucson itself.  In addition to hundreds of Northern Shovelers, we saw Pintails, Mallards, Wigeons, and plenty of other waterfowl.  I thought that Tom got a great shot of the handsome Green-winged Teal shown above.

Of course, there were plenty of American Coots in residence.  This is a rather funny shot of a coot that just crash landed in the water.

There were also a few Common Moorhen mixed in with the coots.  I first saw a Common Moorhen in California a few months back, but since I never added it to my lifelist, seeing this one sort of counts as adding a lifelister!

The diminutive Ruddy Duck will always be one of my personal favorites.

We also saw Gadwalls and we even saw (but I failed to photograph) a Cinnamon Teal.

We were especially lucky to see a rare winter visitor to Sweetwater: a juvenile Snow Goose!  We were on the lookout for the Snow Goose because my son told me it had been seen in the area, but I doubt I would have located him had I not seen him coming in for a landing.  He settled into one of the rear ponds, so we couldn't get close enough for a very good shot.  I got a good enough look to positively ID the little guy, but he wasn't in the mood to pose for pictures!


Sweetwater Shovelers

One of birds I most wanted to see in Arizona was a Northern Shoveler. I've been looking for a Northern Shoveler for years. That's not an exaggeration, either. I just had to see one, and I was thrilled to learn that Shovelers are among the most common ducks in southeast Arizona.  We got up bright and early on our first full day in  in Tucson, and headed out to Sweetwater where my son had assured me I would get my fill of Shovelers.

Minutes after our arrival I was jumping up and down with excitement. There they were! Northern Shovelers! Lots of them! Tom and I were clicking away like crazy, and we got some damn good pictures.

The Shoveler’s incredibly long bill was as fantastic as I had imagined. These ducks look nothing like any other species I've come across. I was surprised by how tiny they were, though. They're much smaller than mallards, for instance.

Other than size, and if you exclude that great big black bill, there are a lot of similarities between Mallards and Northern Shovelers.  Perhaps too many similarities!

It didn't take long for me to notice that there were more hybrids paddling around than any one single species.  It was patently obvious that Mallards, Wigeons, Shovelers, and God knows what else were interbreeding like crazy.  The family group pictured above is a good example of what I'm talking about!

In all honesty, my love affair with shovelers was somewhat short-lived.  Not that I dislike them, mind you. I'm just not head over heels any longer.  Who could resist a photo op like this one. though?


Arizona Sonoran Desert Flora and Fauna

Our first day in Arizona made us fall in love with the whole state.  The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum makes it impossible not to fall in love with the place!

This is a female Phainopepla, a species that mostly survives on the desert mistletoe plant.  It eats the mistletoe berries, and the seeds are spread throughout the desert in the birds droppings as a result.  The Phainopepla provides the food for future generations of it's species!

The museum also has wild animal exhibits, such as the pair of Mountain Lions in the picture above.  These guys are very large and some kind of scary, let me tell you!

The Black Bear (which sometimes looks brown!)  is not very cuddly looking, either!

This is an endangered Mexican wolf , a species who once inhabited mountainous areas, woodlands, and riparian habitats of the southwestern United States

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Never before have I seen the 'Purple Mountain's Majesty' seem so gloriously majestic!


Curve-billed Thrashers in Arizona

Before we even left the parking lot at the Arizona-Sonora Museum, we saw yet another new bird; the Curve-billed Thrasher.  We would end up seeing quite a few of these odd looking birds before we left for home, but the first one was really a thrill since I had always wanted to see one.

My husband, Tom, captured this guy about 10 miles east of Tucson, but you can find Curved-billed Thrashers throughout the Sonora Desert region.  Interestingly, these thrashers are related to our Northern Mockingbirds - and I can see a definite familial resemblance!

This Curved-billed Thrasher was right in a city park in Tuscon.  Pretty much wherever you find cholla cacti (including landscaped areas of the city) you will find a Curved-billed Thrasher or two.

As you can see, they are not a bit shy, and they have made themselves right at home among human populations.


Arizona's Heavenly Gila Woodpecker

We saw50 new species of birds during our two week trip to Arizona and California. Amazingly, we saw the first eight new species within three hours of arriving in Tucson!  .One truly enchanting bird species we discovered was the Gila (Pronounced 'heela') Woodpecker shown above.

According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum factsheet, Gila Woodpeckers are permanent Sonoran Desert dwellers and are found in all of its habitats.  This woodpecker can be found in southeast California, southwest Nevada, southern Arizona, southwest New Mexico and south into central Mexico.

Woodpeckers nest in cavities that they excavate with their long beak. In the Sonoran Desert they often make these cavities in saguaro cactus. The inside of a cactus provides a safe, cool place for the woodpeckers to raise their young. The excavated cavity is called a "boot".

Both male and female Gila woodpeckers have a brown face, black and white zebra striped back, and white wing patches that are visible during flight. Adult males have a red cap of feathers on the top of their head. They look a bit like Flickers, actually.