Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

Birds and Butterflies

Filed under: Bald Eagles,Birding,Migration — Munds Park Birding @ 8:51 pm
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I have been to Munds Park only once since October, but friends informed me that birds are nesting (watch for activity of Mountain Chickadees and Steller’s Jays) and spring is moving forward and teaming with bird commotion. Here in Scottsdale I had an interesting winter – a female Northern Cardinal hung around for a few weeks, partaking of the black oil sunflower seeds, and a Coopers Hawk visited the back yard several times trying to snap up the feeding sparrows or doves for his/her next meal.  One morning we awoke to see the Cooper’s Hawk poised on our birdbath, and nary another bird in sight.  The White-Crowned Sparrows arrived in Scottsdale in early October, signaling the start of fall, and the Lesser Goldfinches were present all winter at my niger seed feeders.  I like to think these same ones are now on their way back to Munds Park.  Other birds of note were one Rufous-Sided Towhee and a Bewick’s Wren.

Some of you may have read in the Arizona Republic about the nesting Bald Eagles in North Scottsdale (on an un-named golf course to protect the birds from too much human activity). It’s really great to see that our Bald Eagle population continues to be on the rise, and certainly that is a species that tugs at the heart strings of all of us.  I am hopeful we will continue to see Bald Eagles occasionally again in Munds Park this year.

My new activity this fall and winter was putting in a butterfly garden. I became interested after reading articles written by Desert Botanical Garden staff stating, to put it very simply, that while we humans rip up native vegetation to build houses and “nice” landscaping, we fail to replace native plants.  Those native plants, especially varieties of milkweed, are critical to maintaining our butterfly population.  Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on.  So, in Scottsdale, we dug up the front lawn, which was our plan anyway, and put in Desert Milkweed, Wooly Butterfly Plant, Penstemon, Red Fairy Duster, and Desert Lavender.  I subsequently learned that Arizona Milkweed was preferred by butterflies for egg-laying in the desert, so I am growing some Arizona Milkweed from seed and will start incorporating that into our garden.

But what if you want to make a butterfly-friendly garden in Munds Park or the Northern Arizona surrounding area? First, we know that Monarch Butterflies and other species do pass through here, so planting a butterfly-friendly garden will eventually pay off.  I had a great conversation with Nigel of the Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed nursery while doing research.  This nursery sells milkweed varieties that grow in the northern elevations, and Nigel is very knowledgeable about what to plant and when.  In addition, your local landscape companies can assist with plants that attract butterflies once they “grow up” and are off the milkweed.

Next stop: A friend from Chicago-land and I are finally going to attend the full four days of the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival in late April.  I will report on that in my next article.

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.

May 19, 2012

Spring and the American Robin

Filed under: Migration,Robin Goldfinch Bluebird Chickadee — Munds Park Birding @ 1:11 pm
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Just as we are returning to Munds Park en masse, so are the birds, and “they’re here” with just as much as enthusiasm as we have, whether we are full-time Munds Park residents or summer happy-campers.  What was the first bird I saw after walking onto our deck on Friday, May 4th?  The American Robin, eye-level to me from our second-story deck and easily spotted in a tree that had yet to produce a full set of the season’s new leaves.

The American Robin is a very popular bird in the U.S., found in 49 of our 50 states.  It is a worm and grub-eating bird that you will see on front lawns, golf courses, and grassy areas in parks, and in general is found in woodlands as well as open farm areas and urban areas.  It is one of the first birds to breed in the spring and one of the first birds to sing at the break of dawn.  “The early bird catches the worm” does indeed seem to describe the American Robin, although my research shows that this saying was first recorded back in the 1600’s in a collection of English Proverbs.  The American Robin is a stately, upright bird with a red breast, gray-brown upper parts, and white lower-belly and undertail.  Do you know what three States have named the American Robin their official state bird?  The answer is Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

I spent most of the first weekend in May stocking the kitchen and freezer and golfing, but I did manage to see while on the Pinewood Country Club golf course quite a number of birds.  Here they are in alphabetic order:  American Coot, American Crow, American Raven, American Robin, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Barn Swallow, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Black Phoebe, Canada Goose, Common Grackle, Great Blue Heron, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch, Mallard, Mountain Chickadee, Osprey, Red Shafted Flicker, Red-Winged Blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, and Violet Green Swallow.

I did see House Finches building nests at the top of the roof overhang at Petsmart in Flagstaff, and I heard them singing in Munds Park.  Lu and Don Cross took a great photo of a House Finch at their deck feeder near Lake Odell and submitted it to The Arizona Republic.  Their photo of the male House Finch and a reference to the bird in Munds Park was printed in the newspaper last month.  This year they also put up a nest box in the hopes of attracting either Western Bluebirds or Tree Swallows.  We will keep you posted if they are successful in getting a nesting pair on their property.

By the time you read this I will have come and gone to Wisconsin to the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival over Mother’s Day weekend.  This will have been the first time I had gone to a formal birding festival, and we had signed up for two guided tours and also to attend some workshops.  I will report what new birds I’ve seen and which ones we also see here in Munds Park in the next article.

March 3, 2012

Migration – A Hazardous Journey


August and September begin the migration period for many of our Munds Park spring and summer birds.  It is a time when birders get excited about the chance to see new and unusual species moving south, yet it is a scary and dangerous time for the birds themselves.  Bad weather, predators, crashes into vehicles, lights, and skyscrapers, exhaustion, and most significantly, the lack of suitable habitat for rest periods, all add up to make the journey a treacherous one.

Birders across our state  – from Lake Havasu, Parker, Rio Rico, Tempe, Glendale and Phoenix – are all reporting sightings of migrating birds, including our summer species of  Black-Headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Lesser Goldfinch, and Red-Faced Warbler.

One of my favorite movies is Winged Migration.  This documentary was filmed over the course of four years on seven continents and provides amazing footage of birds migrating over land and sea.  The scenery is beautiful and expansive, but more importantly the movie provides real-life examples of birds, many of them waterfowl, flying thousands of miles, wing-beat after wing-beat, to their wintering home.  If you haven’t seen it, it is worth renting and watching, especially if you have school-age children or grandchildren to share it with.

So where do our birds go for the winter?  The American Robin may hang around up to the dead of winter as long as their primary winter food source of fruit remains abundant.  In the spring Robins switch to earthworms and insects as their primary food source.  When they do migrate from North America, American Robins move into Mexico and South America.  A close relative of the American Robin is the Rufous-Backed Robin, which rarely enters the U.S. from Mexico.  However, my mother and I spotted one during a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ, a couple of winters ago.  Being on the U of A’s BIRDGW05 Listserv was helpful, because I had received notices of the sighting from other birders.  We knew where to look as a start to finding the Rufous-Backed Robin, which was a lifer for me and her.

Western Bluebirds will also migrate, and sometimes not that far into lower elevations.  For example, for more than one winter in Phoenix we’ve had Western Bluebirds at the Arizona Country Club.  We have no way of knowing if they are Munds Park birds, but we can imagine that perhaps they are.

What about Turkey Vultures?  These are the large, black birds with a wing-span of five to six feet that you see soaring often just east of the intersection of Pinewood Boulevard and I-17.  On September 3rd, before writing this article and finishing up a round of golf, we saw more than a dozen Turkey Vultures circling unusually high in the air.  This flock of Vultures circling within a thermal is called a “kettle.” A kettle will ride the thermal high until it begins to falter, then they move on seeking the next thermal.  By using thermals and moving from one to the next, Turkey Vultures save energy and very rarely have to flap their wings, instead just gliding to cross vast distances.  In Phoenix, Turkey Vultures are typically spring, summer and early fall residents.  For the winter they have migrated even further south into Mexico, but in many of the Southern states, such as Florida, Turkey Vultures are year-round residents.

A wonderful place to view raptor migration is at the Grand Canyon during the months of September and October.  HawkWatch International used to have teams of scientific observers counting hawks, falcons, and eagles from two spots – Lipin Point and Yaki Point.  However, this non-profit has taken some funding hits in recent years and, as a result, has closed a couple of their fall migration projects.  The Grand Canyon project no longer is a HawkWatch International site, but of course birds are still migrating through.  A great day trip or overnight adventure is from Munds Park to the Grand Canyon to stake out one of these locations and watch the raptors soar across the Canyon as they migrate south.  I saw my first Peregrine Falcon at eye-level this way, and the whole experience is wonderful.  Try to pick a warm and not-too-windy fall day, pack a lunch, a folding chair, your binoculars, a field guide, and water, and enjoy the day seeing how many raptors you can identify.

Some of us humans are beginning the migration back to our winter homes.  We pack our cars, fill up with gas, settle into our comfortable leather seats, put on satellite radio, take along water and stop for a cup of coffee or shake or burger along the way.  Think of the birds:  tiny things beating their wings thousands of times, landing quite exhausted in your yard or a park or pond, and then having to seek water, food, and a safe place to sleep.  No Holiday Inn with complimentary continental breakfasts for them.  A hazardous journey indeed.

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