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.
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September 6, 2010

Hummingbirds

Filed under: Hummingbirds,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 6:03 am

To the best of my observation, we have three hummingbird species found regularly in Munds Park.  They are the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures.  I am reminded of my nephew, who at the age of five in Illinois saw his first hummingbird fly past and said to my sister in a frightened voice “Mommy, watch out for that big bee!”  He most likely saw the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the only hummer regularly found east of the Mississippi River, and he was right about the resemblance to a large bee.  In fact, there is a Bee Hummingbird that is only two inches long and the smallest bird in the world.  But it is found in Cuba, not Munds Park.  The largest of hummingbirds is the Giant Hummingbird, found in the Andes Mountain regions of Argentina and Chile.  It is eight inches long.  Hummingbirds across the world range from the smallest at two inches to the largest at eight inches, and here in Munds Park, our hummers are about right in the middle – at three to four inches.

 Here are some interesting facts about hummingbirds:

  • They beat their wings 18-20 times per second.
  • They are the only birds that can fly backwards.
  • They are partial to flower nectar that is at least 15% sugar.
  • For protein they eat small insects and spiders, especially when feeding their young.
  • They spend about 20% of their time eating and 80% resting and digesting.
  • Their heart rate can be as high as 1,280 beats per minute (yes, per minute, not hour).
  • Less than 25 species of hummingbirds have been recorded in the U.S.
  • Chile has recorded 162 different species of hummingbirds!

I am amazed that one country has 162 different species of hummingbirds, but I feel fortunate that here in Arizona we can find many more species than the rest of the country.  In Munds Park, the most common hummingbird is the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.  This bird thrives in pinyon/juniper and pine/oak areas.  The most distinctive feature is its distinct trilling sound as it flies, produced only by the male.  The male has a metallic green back and crown, white breast, rose gorget, and rounded tail.  This species goes into a torpor on cold nights – literally shutting down so that its body temperature is maintained at about 54 degrees when the temperature falls below 44 degrees outside.  An interesting fact about the Broad-tailed Hummingbird is that a banded female holds the North American age record for hummingbirds at 12 years old. 

 Another species I see at our feeder is the Black-chinned Hummingbird.  The male has an iridescent purple throat with a black chin and a white spot behind its eye.  These birds are quite widespread, found from deserts to mountain forests.  This bird will often feed and then return to a favorite perch on a high snag to survey its feeding territory.

The third species is a feisty hummingbird that I wrote about last year – the Rufous Hummingbird.  Of the three in this article, but Rufous is the most aggressive, often diving at competing birds at our feeders.  It is the smallest, at only about three inches, and if any bird has a “Napolean complex”, it would be the Rufous Hummingbird as it chases off other birds around a feeder.   Males are almost all orange or rusty except for their white breast and green wings.  If you see one sitting on your feeder in the bright sunlight, I think you would agree it is gorgeous.

Another important piece of information about hummingbirds:  if you have a feeder, use one part white sugar to four parts water and do not put red food coloring in the mixture.  Artificial coloring is not necessary – birds will find your bright red feeder.  In hot weather, change the sugar water every couple of days, especially if the feeder gets a lot of sun exposure.

I am not going to describe in this article the females of these species because without a lot of study they are difficult to identify.  But if you have more interest in hummingbirds, visit the web site of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, at www.sabo.org.  Located near the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, SABO holds hummingbird banding volunteer workshops.  If you go, you might even get to meet Sheri Williams, a co-founder of SABO and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds in North America.  Or catch the Hummingbird Festival next year at the Arboretum at Flagstaff.  I just visited the Arboretum on a rainy Saturday in August, and even then there was an abundance of hummingbirds in their garden and at their feeders.

You can reach me at margaretdyekman@cox.net, and you can read all the articles and leave your comments at www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.  It is always great to hear from other birders, and I welcome your questions and comments!

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