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.

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January 1, 2016

Birds of Prey


Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk

The common names for birds of prey are eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, harriers, vultures, and owls.  In ornithology, “bird of prey” has a narrow meaning: those birds with very good eyesight for finding food, strong feet for holding food, and a strong curved beak for tearing flesh.  Most birds of prey also have strong curved talons for catching or killing.  So as I recently discovered, a sea gull, which forages for fish with its beak, would not fall into the bird of prey category, but an osprey, which catches fish with its talons and then rips it apart with a curved beak, would.

In and around Munds Park we have several birds of prey, and I recently spotted a new one while I was golfing (again) one afternoon.  A single bird of prey was soaring above us at the 8th hole of Pinewood County Club, and it got low and close enough for a real good look through my binoculars.  My first thought was that it looked different from our Turkey Vulture, but not that different.  When it got closer I could see a distinctive white band across its tail and broader wings without the distinctive coloration of a Turkey Vulture.  Plus, it was solitary – whereas most of the Turkey Vultures soaring above the Golf Course are in a group.

I pulled out my trusty iPhone and used the bird ap iBird Plus 7.2 and whittled it down to two species:  Common Black-Hawk or Zone-Tailed Hawk.  Both are black-ish, with the underside wing pattern a bit similar to that of a Turkey Vulture, but where they live is different.  The Common Black-Hawk is found primarily in southern Arizona; the Zone-Tailed Hawk, according to my bird aps and books, has a preferred habitat of deep, wooded canyons and mountainous, rugged areas, hunting in grasslands or sparse forests.  So even though I only got one good look at this bird (in between golf shots), I am going to say that it was a Zone-Tailed Hawk.  I can remember what hole I saw the hawk on, but for the life of me I cannot remember what my next golf shot was like.  I guess I have my priorities straight.

Other birds of prey we can see here are Bald Eagles (occasionally spotted soaring or perched on the limbs of a dead tree), Red-Tailed Hawk (the most common hawk in the U.S.), Northern Harrier (I saw one hunting just one time in my 15 years here), Peregrine Falcon (occasionally) and our resident Ospreys.  The Ospreys used to have a nest on the east side of Lake Odell, but for the last two or three years have now built their nest at the top of a tall dead tree to the south of Hole 13 at Pinewood Country Club.   We have seen as many as four Ospreys at a time – presumably the parents and two offspring.  Other golf courses in the area that also have resident Ospreys with nests are Forest Highlands Country Club and Pine Canyon Country Club.

The bird of preys I haven’t seen in Munds Park are any kind of owls.  No sightings, no hearing their hooting – nothing.  I suppose there may be owls here, but for the life of me I don’t know where.  If anyone thinks they have seen or heard an owl, I would be interested in hearing from you.

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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