Bird Lady Blog

May 26, 2015

What I Learned in Africa About Munds Park Birding


African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle

This past January we took a three-week trip to southern Africa to golf and go on safaris.  I of course also planned to do some semi-serious birding.  Semi-serious in that I made no changes to our itinerary to see specific birds, but I did take with me a field guide of the most common 500 birds of southern Africa and my lightweight Leopold binoculars.  I learned several things on this trip.

  1. There are many families of birds in southern Africa (in our case Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa) that are similar to birds here in Munds Park and were easy for me to identify. For example, we have the Pied Grebe species here, seen regularly in Lake Odell or the Pinewood Country Club’s ponds.   The Little Grebe species of southern Africa is similar but even smaller.  We were golfing, and there it was in a pond near the 1st tee box.  It is so small that at first I thought it was a baby or juvenile.  Another example is the African Fish-Eagle.  It has a white head and dark body and you would think “Bald Eagle” when you first spot it.  We see an occasional Bald Eagle in Munds Park soaring in the sky or perched high in a tree limb. We also get Canada Geese in Munds Park, and in Africa they get the Egyptian Goose.  Both species are often considered pests at parks and golf courses because they are so common and so messy.  One of the smaller, similar birds I identified was a Barn Swallow – almost exactly like the ones we have in Munds Park.  And we have our Band-Tailed Pigeon, which is unique to the western United States.  In Botswana I saw the Speckled Pigeon and the African Green Pigeon species.
  2. Another thing I learned is that there are many families of birds in Munds Park that have no connection to any in southern Africa, at least in my non-scientific opinion. I didn’t see nuthatches (we have White-Breasted, Pygmy, and Red-Breasted), or hummingbirds (we have Anna’s and Rufous) or anything similar to our Munds Park’s Black-Headed Grosbeak or Western Bluebird.
  3. There were a lot of bird families I had to become familiar with, and I was helped greatly because we had very knowledgeable safari guides with us. Bee-eaters, Barbets, Bulbuls, Hornbills, and Weavers were just some of the new bird families I saw, and within those families there were different unique species.  The feather colors and sizes and shapes of their bills or head feathers always made for challenging and fun bird watching by all of us on the trip.
  4. Speaking of all of us on the trip, there were 12 of us, and everyone became a mini-birder during those three weeks. Everyone commented that seeing all the birds in between Lion or Hippo watching, for example, made the trip much more interesting.  All in all I was able to identify 125 new bird species – without trying very hard.
  5. The last thing I learned is to be prepared. I took one pair of binoculars – I should have taken at least a second pair.  I could have used stronger binoculars (such as a 10×50) for longer distances, plus others on the trip could have used my spare when I wasn’t.  Having the field guide in advance was a real advantage.  To translate that to Munds Park, I would suggest you have a field guide of US Western Birds, at minimum, handy in your house and invest in a decent pair of binoculars.  I have used Eagle Optics and Amazon when ordering online, and you can find a satisfactory pair for under $200.

July 26, 2014

Who’s in the Bath? Sadly, It’s Not Martha


Bird Bath Dripping

 

I wrote a few years ago that one of the least expensive ways to attract birds to your property was with water, and preferably running water.  Well, I had a lot of time the last couple weeks to prove that fact again to myself because I’ve spent many hours in front of a window that looks out at my dripping bird bath.  I had much client work to accomplish in June and therefore was spending more time than normal in the office, which faces the bird bath in our front yard. 

As you can see from the photo, I have a pretty simple set-up.  I have a large plastic garden pot tray as the bath with a rock or two to keep it steady.  I placed the tray on a cement block left over from construction.  Last year I kept the bath nearer to the ground, but a birding friend told me the higher placement makes the birds feel safer from potential predators.  Finally, the key is that I bought a water dripper from Wild Birds Unlimited and keep it slowly dripping during daylight hours.  The result?  Lots of bird visitors.

American Robins come regularly and take hearty baths, splashing water everywhere.  Another bathing bird was an Acorn Woodpecker, and that was the first time I ever saw any kind of woodpecker in a bird bath.  This one was a female.  I paid attention to its head – there was a black band on its forehead between the red crown and white face, indicating it as a female.  Black-Headed Grosbeaks also visit, and Lesser Goldfinches, Mountain Chickadees, and both types of Nuthatches even perch at times on the dripper itself to get a drop of water before it hits the tray. 

The bird that surprised me to taking a full body bath was a Band-Tailed Pigeon.  You probably have seen these around Munds Park, and if you have a feeder that a large bird can perch on, then most likely you have seen Band-Tailed Pigeons.  I recently read a blog by Sophie Webb that called this Pigeon an “under-appreciated species”, and I agree with her.  Do not get our Munds Park’s Band-Tailed Pigeons mixed up with Rock Doves (commonly called “Pigeons” or “Flying Rats” throughout most of the U.S.).  The Band-Tailed Pigeon is the only common forest pigeon in the country, and it is thought to be the closest relative to the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon.  For those of you who are interested in a little sad history, the last known Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died in a Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.  I remember as a little girl reading about this extinct species and thinking how sad it was that humans solely caused its extermination through over-hunting.  For those of you who want to know more, just do an internet search and you will learn about Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon (now stuffed and mounted in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History) and her extinct species.  A couple of centuries ago there used to be so many Passenger Pigeons that the sky was darkened by the large flocks blocking the sun.  Knowing that we will never see another living Passenger Pigeon again makes me appreciate the native Band-Tailed Pigeon species we have here in our forest.

 

June 16, 2013

Spring Has Sprung


Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

May has been a month of transition for all of us:  spring cleaning, raking fallen pine needles, putting away our winter clothes and bringing out the summer wardrobe, and moving up to Munds Park if we were away for the fall and winter.  Our Munds Park birds are making similar transitions:  changing their drab winter feathers to bright colors so they can attract a satisfactory mate, building nests, and finding the best sources for food.  Two Munds Park birds that come to mind with striking colors are the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and the Lesser Goldfinches.  The males of these species are especially beautiful with their contrasting colors of orange or yellow against black and white.

So what should you be doing in preparation for migration and nesting?  First, if you have a nest box, open it up and clean it out.  Discard the old nesting material, shoo out the spiders that may have taken temporary residence, and wash or scrape out any residue.  Make sure your next box is still firmly secured to its post or tree.

Second, if you attracting birds by putting out feeders, make sure they also are cleaned.  You can wash them in a solution of water and a small amount of bleach – don’t forget to rinse them thoroughly.  The same goes for your bird baths.  Keep the water fresh.  If you hang a hummingbird feeder, remember the following:  the nectar should be made out of white granular sugar and water  – one part sugar to four parts water.  Do not use red food coloring.  The color of your feeder will be enough to attract the birds, and they will be back as long as you keep a fresh mixture.  If the mixture starts turning cloudy, discard it immediately and replace.

Lastly, start thinking about how you can protect your birds from window-kills – that is, preventing birds from flying into those wonderful windows we appreciate because of the forest and mountain views, but which can be deadly to our flying friends.  I will have more information about what you can do to prevent window crashes in a future article but would also like to hear what practical solutions are working for you.

For those of you who are relatively new to our Munds Park birds, here is a short list of the common birds you will see in our area:  Lesser Goldfinch, Mountain Chickadee, Acorn Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Western Bluebird, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Band-Tailed Pigeon, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, and Common Raven.  And some of the harder-to-find ones will be Summer Western Tanager, Painted Redstart, Red Crossbill, and House Wren.

May 19, 2012

Doves and Pigeons


I can always tell when the hot weather is about to hit Phoenix.  The White-Winged Doves migrate back and are constantly cooing from tree to tree, cactus to cactus, roof top to everywhere:  “Who Cooks For You?”, “Who, Who, Who?”.  That is what it sounds like, and after a while the phrase does seem to get stuck in your head.  The White-Winged Dove is found in the southwest, prevalent in the desert, and its call was highlighted in Stevie Nicks’ song, “On the Edge of Seventeen”.  If you are not an avid Stevie Nicks fan (she is an Arizona native) and don’t know the song I’m talking about, go to YouTube and search for “White Winged Dove Stevie Nicks” and you can listen to the song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn8-4tjPxD8

We do not have White-Winged Doves in Munds Park because we don’t have cacti or experience 110 degree temperatures.  While this species of dove thrives in three-digit temperatures, the rest of us enjoy Munds Park’s much cooler temperature as well as two other species from the dove/pigeon families:  Mourning Dove and the Band-Tailed Pigeon.

Mourning Doves can be found everywhere in the continental U.S. except in the deep woods.  You will hear or see them in Munds Park, but they are not nearly as prevalent as they are in the large urban areas in Arizona.  They are the most hunted bird in the U.S., in part because they are so widespread, but also because they are challenging as a game bird.  They have a very fast flight, making sudden up and downs while racing and dodging through the air.  You can see them on the ground or telephone wires. You can hear their mournful call, but you can also hear their flight, a sharp whistling or whinnying sound when they take off.  We will often have more than 50 mourning doves picking at grass seed on the golf course and driving range in Phoenix, and when they take off en masse, the sound is unmistakable.

The Band Tailed Pigeon, larger than the Mourning Dove, looks a lot like the common Rock Pigeon/Dove you think of a New Yorker tossing stale bread and popcorn to birds in Central Park or birds lined up on the top of billboards along I-17.  Unlike the Rock Pigeon, the Band-Tailed Pigeon is native to the U.S. and is found only in the West.  It has a white collar on its neck and a white band at the base of its tail.  It will definitely come to your feeder, and a few of them at a time will wipe out your bird seed in a morning.  I had to change one of our seed feeders by taking off the round bottom tray because the Band-Tailed Pigeons would monopolize it, tip it sideways with their weight, and prevent any other birds from landing.  I have since installed a second feeder, a square tray, and the Band-Tailed Pigeons now use that one, sharing with an occasional squirrel.

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