Bird Lady Blog

May 19, 2014

Getting the Season Started

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Another spring is upon us, and the birds have been busy.  Their main goals right now are to find a mate and successfully reproduce to carry on the species.  Let’s start with the cavity-nesting birds – meaning those that will nest in a bird house or nest box, a hole in a tree, or even a cavity in a stump, fence post, or flower pot.  

The common cavity-nesters in Munds Park are Mountain Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Tree Swallows.  There are House Wrens around as well – very small and busy brown birds that may also use your nest box.  From a human’s viewpoint, these birds have the most obvious nest sites because if we put up a bird house, you know darn well that we are watching to see if it will be used.  And when that does happen, it is exciting and entertaining to watch the parent birds fly back and forth first bringing in nesting material and later feeding their young.  If we are around to see the birds fledge out of the nest box, then we are proudly sharing the experience with our grandkids or spouse or neighbors.  We get satisfaction knowing that the nest box we built or bought, secured to the tree, cleaned out season after season, and diligently watched actually produced a new generation of birds.

Other birds’ nests are much less obvious.  We know that Ospreys have nested high in the trees on the east side of Lake O’Dell.  That nest can be spotted with a good pair of binoculars or scope.  Turkey Vultures, which soar regularly in groups over the golf course, I-17, and the western Pinewood Boulevard area, most likely have their nests very far from the heart of Munds Park.  They prefer to nest away from civilization, and the sites are typically cooler than the surrounding area.  Turkey Vultures nest on rock crevices, ledges, fallen trees, and abandoned hawk or heron nests.  

Another large bird, the American Crow, hides its nests in a large crotch of a tree and prefers evergreen trees like our Ponderosa Pines.  Both the male and female contribute to nest building, and the nest is made of medium size twigs and lined with pine needles, weeds, and a variety of other soft material.  Part of the success of raising a brood is having a nesting site that is safe from predators and weather disturbances, so expect to look hard and be very observant to identify a nesting site other than a nest box.

 Let me end with the sighting of the month:  Dan and Laurie reported a Yellow-Headed Blackbird at their bird feeder on April 26th – when Munds Park had a spring storm that dumped a few inches of snow on the ground.  Usually we only see these birds mid-summer and around the ponds at the Pinewood Country Club golf course, so this one was probably passing through and got way-laid with the bad weather.  But as I always say, you never know what bird you might find at a moment you least expect it.



Birds of Contrast

ImageDuring a mid-September hike up to Crystal Point I spotted a Hermit Thrush.  This is a secretive bird of the woodlands  in Arizona as well all other states except Hawaii.   You will not find a Hermit Thrush at your feeders – you are going to have to go partly into the forest and watch for them or maybe you will find them in on your property if it is rather secluded.  In my case, I was about one-third the way up the trail to Crystal Point from the entrance off of Pinewood Boulevard in mid-September when I spotted a Hermit Thrush on my right.  (By the way, a big thanks to Munds Park Trail Stewards for all they work they do in keeping our hiking trails cleared and in such good condition!) 

The Hermit Thrush is a medium-sized thrush with black-spots on its white under parts, red to brown upper parts, and a white eye ring.  This bird is known for its beautiful song.  If you have a birding application or access to the internet, search on the bird’s name and find a site that has the Hermit Thrush’s song and then listen to it.  Its song has been described as “sweet, clear, and musical”.  The Hermit Thrush is a state bird of Vermont, and its song is featured in a Nintendo Wii game as well as an altered version in the Hunger Games film.  

On the opposite spectrum is the Great-Tailed Grackle, which is a large, noisy, gregarious bird found near open spaces with water and lawns.  They are now found extensively in the Phoenix metro area, primarily because humans have changed the desert to expansive lawns, golf courses, and parks with plenty of irrigation systems and ponds.  I was surprised to find them at the ponds of Pinewood Country Club because generally they are not found this far north.  They have been expanding their range, however, based on the accessibility of water and food associated with human development, and they are now seen in Flagstaff.  

The non-birder will identify these birds as “blackbirds”, and indeed the males are exactly that:  glossy, iridescent black with a blue-violet sheen.  The females are brown underneath with dull, black under parts.   Both sexes have distinctive yellow eyes and a long, large tail which at times looks like it is built vertically rather than flat and horizontal.  Great-tailed Grackles are noisy, and I can remember when we lived in the Arcadia area of Phoenix, for several winters we had 200 or more of these birds gathering in the oleanders next to our house to roost for the night.  They were so noisy!  If you return to the Valley for the fall/winter, look for these birds in your neighborhood or golf course.  

May 2, 2014

Head South, Birds!

American Robin Courtesy of Gordon Karre

American Robin Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Have you noticed that we are not seeing any American Robins anymore?  And the Black-Headed Grosbeaks are gone, too.  They all are migrating south for the winter, and soon they will be followed by our Swallows:  Violet-Green, Barn, Tree, Northern Rough Winged, and Cliff.  It’s too bad the Robins left so soon – with all the storms and rain we had in late August and early September the earthworms were popping up everywhere, including on the greens at Pinewood Country Club.  I’m sure many a golfer moved more than one earthworm out of the way when lining up his or her putt.

We had a very unusual sighting in August in Munds Park this year – a Northern Bobwhite.  This bird is quail-like and found from the East Coast and to only as far west as Texas and Nebraska and north into southern Minnesota.  It is considered a threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Martha, who lives on Reindeer, took a photo of it in her back yard, and to confirm its identity, we sent the photo to Zack, the past president of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society.  He agreed it was a Northern Bobwhite, and we also agreed that it probably was an escaped or released bird from someone in Coconino County who is breeding them for hunting purposes.  Zack’s been told these birds are available for sale and some people raise them and exotic quail for training hunting dogs.

The plight of the Northern Bobwhite is really quite a sad story.  According to an article by Jack O’Connor, “The Bobwhite Blues”, the message is:  “if you care about birds or grasslands, you should care about the Bobwhite.”  Hunters and birders alike should unite to ensure prairie birds such as the Bobwhite, Prairie Chicken, and many other birds associated with grasslands become a conservation concern.  The American Bobwhite is not yet on the endangered species list, but if we do not reverse the trend, it will be.

Finally, about two days after writing the previous article, in which I complained that I had not seen a Brown Creeper in a couple of years, one appeared in our back yard, creeping up a Ponderosa Pine.  So, you never know what you are going to see – just keep your eyes and ears open and be surprised now and then.

Mish Mash

Red-Faced Warbler courtesy of Gordon Karre

Red-Faced Warbler courtesy of Gordon Karre

Usually I like to have a theme for these articles, but sometimes it’s good to try something different, so instead I’ll ramble a bit.

After the woodpecker article, I was contacted by Mel and Marsha who live on Caribou Road.  They reported that this winter, beginning February 16th to be exact, they had a “bully bird” at their feeder for two months.  They described it as a pretty bird, but it was so dominating that it kept other birds from coming to their feeders.  It had a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly, and yes, they identified it as a Lewis’ Woodpecker.  I really appreciated hearing from them because no one else to-date has reported seeing this woodpecker here in Munds Park.  For those of you who are year-round residents, this will be good bird to keep watch for during the winter.

A while back I wrote about Martha and the bird-friendly environment she has created in her front and back yards on Reindeer.  After seeing her water set-up, I went to Wild Birds Unlimited in Scottsdale and bought the same equipment.  It consists of a hose hook-up to our outside water spigot, quarter-inch tubing, a valve that controls the drip or spray of water into my birdbath, and brackets to position the drip or spray over the bath.  It really works well, and this last Sunday right before heading out the door for golf, I spotted the Red-Faced Warbler flitting in the trees near the bird bath drip.  That was my first spotting of the Red-Faced Warbler all year.  The previous time it was in the same area but I was running a hose sprinkler – so this bird is definitely attracted by running or dripping water.

The Red-Faced Warbler is a small, mostly-gray bird with a brilliant red head and neck that is only found in the high mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.  If you have seen this bird and have birder friends back East, you should definitely brag to them about the sighting because this bird is really quite rare.

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds have reappeared at the pond at Pinewood Country Club.  Also in the same pond we recently spotted a Great Blue Heron.  It is the largest and most widespread heron in the U.S., and you can find one pretty easily at Lake Odell, your local golf course, and urban ponds or fishing lakes in the rest of Arizona.  These herons migrate all the way into Mexico and Central America.

What I have not seen here in a number of years is a Brown Creeper.  They are small, brown, inconspicuous birds that “creep” up the largest trees they can find searching for insects.  On our second house-hunting trip here in Pinewood, I spotted a Brown Creeper in a tree on the property of the first house we ended up buying.  Can you imagine what Rosie our realtor was thinking?  “Yes, my client bought that house on Thunderbird because there was a bird she liked on the property”.  Well, if any of you see one around here, please let me know and I’ll make sure the rest of Munds Park gets the update.

Hairy and Downy and Acorn

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Downy Woodpecker Courtesy of Gordon Karre

One Friday night this summer I was sitting at a table in the Pinewood Country Club bar waiting for karaoke to begin and a member came up to me and said “Why don’t you write about the three woodpeckers we have here?  We see the Acorn, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers all the time on our property”.  So I thanked him for his interest and his suggestion, and that’s why we are going to discuss woodpeckers in Munds Park.  These three species have black/white/red coloring, but they are distinctly different in other ways.

The Acorn Woodpecker is most prevalent here.  This bird’s back is mostly black, but when it flies from tree to tree or across your property, you can see the white under parts of its wings and belly. Acorn Woodpeckers live in year-round social units and depend on groups to build up and defend their stored supplies of acorns and insects.  Their breeding behavior is quite unique – multiple males and females combine their efforts to raise young in a single nest.  The species has a clownish, comical face, with a bright red cap and a face that has a distinct white eye ring and black-white pattern.  These birds would be a real “find” for visitors from the Midwest or East because they only inhabit parts of the Southwest and California.

The second black and white bird with some red on its head is the Downy Woodpecker.  This little bird, about seven inches in length, is common throughout the United States and a welcome sight with its bright red cap on a wintry white day.  We don’t see them too often in Munds Park – but now and then I spot one on our property.  The Downy Woodpecker has a black back with a broad white patch down the center, a white checker-board pattern on its wings, a white belly, and a small red spot on its crown. Because it is so small and can forage in small spaces among trees and their limbs, it uses food sources in its natural habitat that larger woodpeckers do not.

In Munds Park I first saw a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers this spring off our back deck.  The two birds – probably male and female – quickly came and went.  Someone new to birding, and even old pros, find that it is hard to distinguish between a Hairy and a Downy.  They are very similar in appearance, but the Downy is much smaller – about seven inches long compared to the Hairy, which is about 10 inches long.  The Downy has a small, dainty bill, while the Hairy has a longer, chisel-like beak.  Both are found through the United States, while the Acorn Woodpecker is found in a very limited area.

Actually there is one other woodpecker we should be able to spot in Northern Arizona – the Lewis Woodpecker.  The only time I’ve seen it in up north has been on the NAU campus walking from the parking lot to a meeting on a cold winter day.  It has a greenish-black back and a pinkish-salmon colored belly – if you see one of those here in Munds Park, please let me know.

Finally, I have an “oops” to report.  Last month I stated that Bill and Corrine had a nest of Yellow-Eyed Juncos.  I got called out on that by an Audubon friend of mine from Flagstaff.  Our Juncos here up north are Dark-Eyed, not Yellow-Eyed.  I know, to the non-birder person, it doesn’t sound like a big deal – but it is!  It would be like calling a Jeep a Subaru.  I slipped up by not thoroughly looking through my field guide and not thinking through the Junco sub-species.  So please accept my apologies and enjoy the Dark-Eyed Junco next time you spot one in your binoculars.

A Special Sighting – Bullock’s Oriole

Filed under: Birding,Birdwatchers,Munds Park Birding,Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 3:35 pm
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Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Courtesy of Gordon Karre

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a very excited Munds Park resident about a new visitor to her bird bath.  Martha, who lives on Reindeer Drive, had a male Bullock’s Oriole visit her birdbath on July 11th.  Needless to say, she was thrilled because 1) it is such a striking, beautiful, brightly-colored bird, and 2) all the effort she has put into making her yard bird-friendly paid off for yet another species – and this one quite special indeed.

If you are from the Midwest, you may have heard of the Baltimore Oriole.  Actually if you are a professional baseball fan, then for sure you have heard of the “Baltimore Orioles” team out in Maryland.  But not too many people have heard of the Bullock’s Oriole (no pro-sports team named after it!), yet it is found throughout the western U.S. in habitats such as deciduous and riparian woodlands, parks, and towns.  I’m guessing ours was passing through because this is the first reported sighting I’ve heard of, and based on my research I think we are at too high of an elevation to have it as a regular.  I went into my “Birders Life List and Diary” where I record my sightings and saw that the first Bullock’s Oriole I ever noted was in 1990, in Cuyamaca, California.  I also have a sighting from the Salt River area in the Valley from 1998, and another in Escondido, California.

Just how did Martha get so lucky to have this bird in her yard?  Well, it’s is by no means only luck, because the “secret sauce” is comprised of her two bird baths, complete with drippers.  She reports that her bird-watching has improved dramatically since adding the drippers, which hook onto the side of her bird bath.  She purchased them through Wild Birds Unlimited in Scottsdale.  I live about one mile from that location and did not even know WBU had moved into the neighborhood!  Martha has a great bird-bath setup and in addition to the very special Bullock’s Oriole, she has many of our regular residents:  Western Tanagers, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinch, Nuthatches, American Robins, and on and on, all attracted by that dripping water.

I am happy to report that the male Ruddy Duck has been seen regularly this season at the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course pond between Hole 1 and 18.  There may be a female with it – we are not sure – but I can assure you that if we get ducklings, my golfer/birder friends will let me know in an instant!  We have not seen any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, probably because the habitat is not right this year.  And last but not least, the two hatched Yellow-Eyed Juncos reported by Bill and Corrine “flew the flower pot” so to speak and left the nest in it empty.  This was the nest that originally had four eggs, was raided by a Stellar’s Jay, and ended up with two baby birds that successfully fledged.

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