Bird Lady Blog

September 19, 2014

Harder to Find Birds


western tanager 2There are many common birds here – including the two species of Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, American Robins, Steller’s Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, Band-Tailed Pigeons, Lesser Goldfinch, and Pine Siskins. But some species are harder to spot, and four of those are the subject of this article.

The Brown Creeper was one of the first birds I saw when we were house hunting in Munds Park. That is rather surprising, because since then I’ve only seen a Brown Creeper once or twice each year.  It is like a Nuthatch in that it clings to and climbs on trees searching for insects, larvae, nuts, and seeds, but there are some major differences.  First, the Brown Creeper has drab, streaky brown upperparts and is rather slender.  It’s a very quiet bird and solitary – contrast that to the noisy little Pygmy Nuthatches that arrive in a group at our feeders.  The biggest difference in my opinion is that it creeps up a tree – almost always up.

A second hard-to-see bird is the Red Crossbill. The first time I saw this one was at Kathy and Cindi’s house on Turkey Trail a couple of summers ago.  This last month when I was driving on the cart path on hole 18 at Pinewood Country Club on a Friday, I saw a reddish bird in the path in front of me.  It flew up into a pine tree, and I got my binoculars on it and confirmed – a Red Crossbill.  Red Crossbills are a medium-sized finch with a red-orange body, bright red rump, and dark brown wings.  But what is really distinct are their bills, which are crossed at the tip, enabling them to pry seeds from the cones of junipers and spruces.

The third species was reported to me by Lu on Lake Odell, who sent in a photo, and Martha on Reindeer, who saw it at her birdbath. It is the Western Tanager, a bird with a brilliant red head, bright yellow body, and black back, wings and tail.  When this bird appears, you utter a “wow” because it is so striking.  It is found only in the Western parts of the continent and migrates all the way to Central America.  This species was first recorded on the Lewis and Clark expedition from 1803 to 1806.

The last species as part of this article is the White-Faced Ibis. It is a medium-sized wading bird that occasionally shows up at the ponds on the Pinewood Country Club golf course or in the marshy area near the Pinewood Sanitary District.  Carol A. told me she saw one while golfing in July, and I had the pleasure of seeing one in about the same spot a few years ago.  The white face is only a thin band of white feathers around its bare, red face.  The rest of its body is a dark brown with a sheen or gloss that shows up in the right light as bronze or green. It hunts for invertebrates like insects, worms, snails, and also frogs and small fish.  The White-Faced Ibis nests in colonies, so usually you will find more than one at a time.

One thing in common about all these species is that they are monogamous. How do we know that?  Well, for me, I just read the research papers and believe the ornithologists who figure that all out.  But I did learn that there are at least two types of “monogamous” when it comes to birds:  mating for life (e.g., Canada Geese who may not even migrate if their mate has died), and serial monogamy (when a bird mates with another for one season but finds a new mate the next season).  I hope you learned something new with this article, and as for me, I always find a tidbit or two that keeps me on my toes when it comes to the birds in Munds Park.

 

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August 6, 2012

Munds Park Bird Walk


Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre; Immature Pied-Billed Greve

Our Munds Park Bird Walk on Sunday, July 15th, was held after a day and night of heavy rain.  However, a morning sun and blue sky greeted the dozen birders who met up in the Pinewood Country Club parking lot at 7 a.m.  We Munds Parkers were joined by two gentlemen from Mesa and one from Flagstaff, all of whom helped make our bird walk a very pleasant and informative session.

Our first stop was at the Pinewood Country Club golf course.  Because of the heavy rain the night before, golf was delayed for an hour, so we could bird to our heart’s content without interfering with any golfers.  We spent about 45 minutes at the pond between holes 1 and 18, and immediately we were rewarded with sightings of several Yellow-Headed Blackbirds.  We believe they have nested here this year because we spotted a couple of juveniles in the group. The Red-Winged Blackbirds, Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Violet-Green Swallows were abundant, as were the American Coots.  We were treated to great looks at three recently-hatched Pied-Billed Grebes following a parent and begging for food.  A surprise was a young Red-Naped Sapsucker that was spotted by Gordon Karre, one of the men from Mesa, who had along his camera and recorded many of our sightings.

Next we moved on to Lake Odell.  We spotted the Osprey nest pretty easily, with no Ospreys in sight, but an unexpected find was a Great Blue Heron nest, again on the opposite side from where we were.  Through the spotting scope we were able to see at least one youngster in the nest, and later that week I received reports from two different Munds Parkers that they had seen the nest as well, occupied with more than one juvenile bird.  At the lake we saw Canada Geese, Mallards, Great Blue Herons, a male Ruddy Duck, Eurasian-Collared Dove, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Our last stop was at two friends’ front yard on Turkey Trail.  We birders sat on deck chairs graciously provided by our hostesses and saw the following birds come to feeders and bird baths:  House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Mountain Chickadee.  We were hoping for the Red Crossbills to show, but alas and alack, we were not that lucky that morning.  We have since heard they still show up almost daily, with a youngster in tow.

Shortly after 9 a.m. we called it a successful birding walk, and some of us went to the Pinewood Country Club as planned and had breakfast.  There we did a recap of our sightings and just visited with our new birding friends.  Zack Zdinak is the president of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society in Flagstaff and was a great help in finding and quickly identifying some of the birds we saw.  Gordon Karre, who came up to Munds Park for the cooler weather and birding, was our surprise photographer.  He has a blog with photos of many of the birds we saw.  Check it out at http://desertwing.blogspot.com/2012/07/munds-park-az.html.  This wonderful photo of a juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe is courtesy of Gordon.

For those of you who want to venture out of Munds Park for a day and participate in a bird festival, check out the first Hummingbird Festival in Sedona August 3rd through 5th.  You can find more information at http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/index.php.  For hummingbird lovers here, remember that you do not need to and should not add red food coloring to your feeder sugar water.  Just one part of white sugar to four parts of water is sufficient.  The red feeder will attract the hummers, without the food color additives.

July 29, 2012

Uncommon Birds


Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

In early July I saw two species of birds I had never seen before:  Red Crossbill and Cassin’s Finch.  Both of these birds are found in Munds Park, but they are not as prevalent or as easily seen as others I’ve written about.  And a third uncommon species, the Yellow-Headed Blackbird, has reappeared on the pond between the 1st and 18th hole of Pinewood Country Club’s golf course after having not been seen for a couple of seasons.

Thanks to the observations and wonderful bird-friendly Turkey Trail front yard of two friends, I was able to see the Red Crossbill and Cassin’s Finch.  On July 2nd we just sat on their front porch chairs and watched the activity around their bird feeders and baths.  About 10:30 a.m. male and female Red Crossbills showed up at the feeders.  Red Crossbills are peculiar birds because of their beaks:  the upper and lower bills are very obviously crossed.  These birds are dependent on conifer cones, and their bills are adapted specifically for extracting seeds from the cones.  They are part of the finch family, a bit on the large side, and the males are mostly a dull red, while the females are a greenish-yellow.  Their distinguishing feature is the crossed bill, and they appear often in small flocks when there is an abundance of seed cones.

A second surprise that morning was a Cassin’s Finch.  Recently I wrote about the House Finch, which appears in many locales, including Phoenix, but the Cassin’s Finch is found in the West’s mountains.  The male is rosy pink on the head and chest, but its distinguishing characteristic is a bright red “crown” on its head.  The crown is the brightest part of the bird in this species and also contrasts with the brown back of the neck.  A narrow, whitish eye ring may be visible at close range, and that is another of the ways we were able to identify the Cassin’s Finch we saw on Turkey Trail.

Yellow-Headed Blackbirds are exciting to find – the males have bright golden-yellow heads that contrast with their otherwise black bodies.  The males do have white wing bars that are easy to see in flight.  Yellow-Headed Blackbirds nest in the tall reeds of a pond or wetland, sharing space with Red-Winged Blackbirds, but using the deeper parts of the wetland or body of water.  Females are considerably smaller than males and have unstreaked, brownish-black bodies, no wing-bars, and yellowish-brown heads.  These birds prefer larger, deeper wetlands, so the only place we have seen them in Munds Park is on the Golf Course pond to the left of the green on Hole #1.

A number of people have told me about nesting activity, baby birds fledging from their nests, and parent birds feeding young ones.  We have had reports of nesting House Wrens, again on Turkey Trail, and I saw two House Wrens duck into a cypress tree, again on the Golf Course.  Diane on Zia Place has Violet-Green Swallows nesting in one of her nest boxes, Pat and Roy H., and Carol D., have nesting Tree Swallows in their nest boxes near Lake Odell.  And I saw four juvenile Steller’s Jays that must have just fledged from their nest – all sitting in a row on a log below our deck.  The parent bird came back now and then to feed them, and by dark they had moved to a hidden area.  But those four young birds looked as if they were in awe of the big world around them as they perched side by side, looking around and waiting for their parent to return and show them how to pick up seeds and insects from the forest floor.  I hope they are now surviving and thriving on their own.

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