Bird Lady Blog

January 1, 2016

White-Faced Ibis, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo


White-Faced IbisA pair of White-Faced Ibises showed up at the pond at Hole 1 of Pinewood Country Club over Labor Day weekend.   Standing on sometimes only one leg in the fairway grass at the edge of the water, an ibis is hard to miss.  Its most distinguished feature is its long, down-curved beak.  It is a very dark bird, and in the right light you can see it is actually an iridescent brown-bronze color.  Without a pair of binoculars, it’s otherwise difficult to see the thin band of white feathers around its beak.  But those white feathers give the bird its name: “White-Faced” Ibis.  I have seen this species over the years infrequently in Munds Park, always around the golf course, and also at Kachina Wetlands.  I’ve seen their relatives, the White Ibis, in Florida and the Africa Sacred Ibis in Botswana.  For those of you who travel in the West, the White-Faced Ibis ranges from Oregon east to Minnesota and south to Texas.  Often you will find it wintering in Southern California, generally in preferred habitats of salt water or fresh water marshes.

Two much smaller birds are next on my list to tell you about.  One is relatively easy to spot, the other more difficult.  The easy one is the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, probably the most common warbler found on the entire North American continent.  It is medium-sized for a warbler, has dark-streaked blue-gray upperparts, and a yellow throat and white belly, but what makes it easy to identify is the patch of yellow on its rump when flying away.  That yellow rump is exactly what I saw on Hole 16 the first week of September.  This was the first time I saw a Yellow-Rumped Warbler in Munds Park, but I often see them on the golf course in central Phoenix during fall and winter, and all over the country when I travel.  The research says they breed in coniferous forests, so maybe they are here more than I’ve noticed.  If you leave Munds Park for the winter, look for the Yellow-Rumped Warbler in parks and golf courses – you may first notice the yellow spot on their rump as they fly from you into the trees.

The last bird I heard, but did not see.  However, I spent a lot of time trying to track down its distinctive call, which we golfers heard over and over this summer coming from the more open areas around the cattails and reeds.  I found a site on the Internet that provided bird calls based on the number of syllables – in this case, a “chee-ree” that was loud and always went from down to up in key and repeated usually three times in a row.  After going through about 140 different bird songs, I settled on Hutton’s Vireo.  Then I checked my two birding aps on my phone and a site or two on the Internet, listened to more song samples, and concluded that what we were hearing was indeed a Hutton’s Vireo.  This bird is a first for me, and hopefully next summer I can stalk out the areas (when not golfing) and actually see the bird.  It is mostly olive-green with some white, including a white eye-ring.  But for such a small little bird, it sure puts out a mighty song!

By the way, a Bald Eagle was spotted by some golfers in early and late September soaring over the PCC Golf Course and also perched on a dead tree limb over Lake Odell.  It made a special appearance for a special wedding held at Lake Odell the morning of September 20th.  Continue to watch the skies and tree tops for this species and other migrating raptors.

Finally, if you want to visit a cool birding site on the World Wide Web and even help report sightings, check out http://www.ebird.org.

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Reader Questions


Black-Headed Grosbeak

Black-Headed Grosbeak

It has been a busy two weeks with reader correspondence.  The most common question has been “where have all the birds gone?”  The answer, I think, is that they are migrating!  At least many of them are.  The Black-Headed Grosbeaks seem to leave in mid-August.  I haven’t seen an American Robin in a while.  But what about the Lesser Goldfinch?  They are still here in Munds Park but not that active at our feeders.  The theory:  they are spending more time on the wild flower seeds from all the vegetation that has bloomed and now is going to seed.  And the Western Bluebirds are abundant – one of the last to arrive in Munds Park and last to leave for fall migration.

On the other hand, the Canada Geese are sticking around and have been seen at the ponds of the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  Also at the ponds was a new hatch of American Coots – must be the second brood of the season.  At first the babies are black with red head feathers and a red beak – very cute!  Then they turn into a boring gray before the distinctive black body and white beak.

Second question:  What happened to the Osprey nest?  This question came from my women golfer friends, who exhibited much concern since the Osprey nest, often with one or two birds on it, has been part of the landscape on the back nine of the golf course this summer and last summer.  There were several theories:  1) the tree the nest was built on fell down of natural causes; 2) some terrible person cut down the tree because the Ospreys are loud, vocal birds and disturbed the human’s sleep; 3) the nest tumbled down on its own during the last very big storm, which seemed to be a micro-burst of rough weather.  My friends and I concluded that the most likely answer is #3, primarily because we see one of the Osprey perched on a tall tree that we think was the exact one that held the nest.  So the Ospreys are going back to a familiar place only to find that the house up and crashed, and they will have to build another next year.  We all hope it will be in the same place so we can keep an eye on it in between our golf club swings.

Third question:  Why don’t we have Magpies in Munds Park?  The Black-Billed Magpie is a very large, noisy, black and white member of the jay family.  I have seen them in Colorado when we visited Durango.  The only part of Arizona they inhabit is the northeast corner of Apache Country – almost into Colorado.  I did manage to find a scientific paper on Magpies in Arizona and concluded that probably temperature and humidity are the reasons they are not here.  Probably a good thing, because the American Crows are noisy enough and I’m not sure we need another bird species to compete with them!

Lastly, a reader did say that she switched to nyger seeds and safflower seeds and the Brown-Headed Cowbirds went away and the Lesser Goldfinches returned.  So that was a happy resolution to that dilemma.

Bird Quiz


It’s been a while since we’ve done a birding quiz.  Let’s see how you do!  Answers to these questions are found somewhere else in the Pinewood News.

  1. What birds have a large nest on the top of a dead pine tree near Lake Odell? Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American Kestral, Common Raven.  Hint:  They catch and eat fish.
  2. Which Goldfinch species is common in Munds Park? American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Coconino Goldfinch?
  3. When a group of Turkey Vultures are soaring in the sky, what do ornithologists call them? Cast, Committee, Meal, Vortex, or Wake.
  4. Which finch has not been sighted in Munds Park (at least to my knowledge?) Black Rosy-Finch, House Finch, Cassin’s Finch.
  5. When is the least favorable time to be bird watching? Morning, High Noon, Late Afternoon.
  6. Are Acorn Woodpeckers best described as being: Communal or Solitary?
  7. What blackbird is not common to Munds Park? Lone-Pine Blackbird, Red-Winged Blackbird, Yellow-Headed Blackbird?
  8. What bird is often thought to be a duck, but is not? Mallard, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal
  9. About how many times a minute does a hummingbird’s heart beat? 400, 600, 1200.
  10. What is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to attract birds to your property? Cracked corn, green ham and eggs, dripping water into a bird bath, rock music played over back-yard speakers.
  11. What are the primary colors of a male Western Tanager?  Gray and Black; Red and Black;  Red, Yellow, and Black; Brown and Blue
  12. Which grosbeak is found regularly in Munds Park? Black-Headed Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, or Steller’s Grosbeak?
  13. What would be a favorite food of a Pygmy Nuthatch? Unshelled peanuts; nyger seed; black-oil sunflower seeds.
  14. Where do Western Bluebirds nest? In a triangular configuration of branches in a Ponderosa Pine; On the ground near a source of water; In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box; Under the eaves above your deck.
  15. Which swallow species has a long forked tail? Purple Martin; Barn Swallow; Blue-Green Swallow; Tree Swallow.

Answers:

  1. Osprey
  2. Lesser Goldfinch
  3. All of the choices
  4. Black Rosy-Finch
  5. High Noon
  6. Communal
  7. Lone-Pine Blackbird (I made that name up)
  8. American Coot
  9. 1200
  10. Dripping water into a bird bath
  11. Red, Yellow, and Black
  12. Black-Headed Grosbeak
  13. Black-oil sunflower seeds
  14. In a cavity such as in a tree or nest box
  15. Barn Swallow

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.

 

Who Will be the First?


“Who will be the first?” That was my question when I drove up on April 30th to meet our Munds Park plumber and to accomplish two other things: bring up a couple cases of wine and some 30 pounds of bird seed. After all, I have to get my priorities straight. But my question was really meant for the birds: after I filled up our bird feeders, which bird species will be the first this season to come to one of our feeders? The answer surprised me.

As I was driving up I-17, I was thinking it would be the Lesser Goldfinches to come to the nyger seed feeder. Or perhaps the Pine Siskins. Then again, maybe it would be the Mountain Chickadees that frequent the black oil sunflower seeds, or possibly the Nuthatches – I thought if any Nuthatches showed up right away, it would be the Pygmy Nuthatches instead of the White Breasted Nuthatches.

The first thing I did was clean the bird feeders: some mild detergent, a stiff brush, and a good rinsing. Then I dragged the wine and bird seed out of the car and set to work putting in place the metal deck poles on which I hang the feeders. While I was still assembling the deck poles, a Dark-Eyed Junco landed on the railing, not too far from me, and called out with its “chip, chip, chip” for about a minute. I was surprised because normally Juncos are quite secretive and I don’t see them at the feeder too often. They like to stay on the ground searching for dropped seeds, not at 30 feet up. The Junco flew away. I proceeded to fill the feeders and then went inside to tend to indoor chores. While I watched through the window, the Junco came back right and landed on the tray feeder at the corner of the deck. That is where I had put the “premium song bird mixture” which consisted mostly of black sunflower seeds, millet, some peanuts, and small pieces of dried berries. So there was the answer to my question: the Dark-Eyed Junco was the first on our deck this season.

Since then, we have had the usual feathered-friend suspects mentioned above at our feeders, plus Black-Headed Grosbeaks. In fact, a female Grosbeak took a major bath in our deck birdbath and most exuberantly splashed its feathers 16 times in a row for a very thorough bath. At one time we had five Grosbeaks on the tray feeder.

It’s been a good start to the season, and I for one am happy to make the return to Munds Park. A good glass of wine, a few sociable birds, the usual May/June blowing winds, and dear friends and neighbors – we are very lucky indeed.

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