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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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

Swallows and Conflicts with Nature


Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!

 

June 14, 2012

Birding Heaven


I describe birdwatching in Munds Park as heavenly.  We sometimes spot the very rare Red-Faced Warbler, we enjoy the beautiful blue Steller’s Jay of the mountains at our feeders, and we can catch a view of a soaring Bald Eagle over Lake Odell while golfing.  That is exactly what Andy and Gary did during the Pinewood Country Club Stockholder Golf Tournament on May 20th as they were hitting their shots on Hole 12 – they spotted a Bald Eagle right here in Munds Park.

But I have to report that I encountered another birders’ heaven when I participated in the Horicon Bird Festival in Wisconsin over Mother’s Day weekend.  This was the first bird festival I have attended, and I was not disappointed.  That weekend I saw 26 species of birds I had never seen or heard before – “lifers” in birding terms.

The whole idea of attending the Festival originated with my sister Liz and sister-in-law Sally.  Sally and my brother live on 40 acres of farmland just 20 minutes from Horicon Marsh.  We women periodically take a ladies-only trip – like renting an RV and fly-fishing in Colorado or rafting down the Colorado River and hiking out of the Grand Canyon.  This year we chose Horicon Marsh in southern Wisconsin to focus on family and birding.  I flew to Chicago, picked up my mother and my high-school birding friend, Thelma, and off we drove to Wisconsin.

Liz, Sally, Thelma, and I signed up for two guided tours and left the rest of Saturday and Sunday open to attend workshops or presentations.  Saturday morning’s tour started at 6 a.m., meaning I had to rise at 4:45 a.m. (2:45 AZ time!).  We drove to the south visitor center for our first tour.  Thirty-five of us birders got on a school bus with two birding guides and headed to various stops to primarily find song-birds.  We hit the jackpot.   We saw and/or heard 97 species of birds in those six hours.  Highlights for me were Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Bobolink, Barred Owl, Magnolia Warbler, Northern Parula, and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird found regularly east of the Mississippi and one I had really wanted to finally see.   The Barred Owl was amazing – it flew right over us about 9 a.m. and then stayed and called to its mate for a few minutes.

After that tour, my brother and mother met us all for lunch at the visitor center, watching Purple Martins and American Robins and Barn Swallows.  Then we attended a humorous talk by Al Batt, who has many bird-related activities and honors, writes columns for Bird Watcher Digest, and has a radio show about birding.  After that we attended a presentation on how to select and get the most out of our binoculars and spotting scopes.  Then we headed back and took naps!  At dinner time on the farm, we could hear Sandhill Cranes, Pheasant, and Common Nighthawks.  To cap off the day, we all stayed up to 11 p.m. and watched “The Big Year”, a 2011 movie starring Steve Martin and Jack Black about a real-life contest among birders who can spot the most species of birds in North America during a single calendar year.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so after a lovely restaurant breakfast we headed to the Bird Festival again.  Then it was more exhibits and tours, joined again with many others from the age of 10 to people in their 80’s.  It was not crowded, the weather was perfect, the sky was clear blue, and not a mosquito or black fly was in sight.  We were very lucky to have such ideal conditions among the birds, family, and friends.

I have hired birding guides before but had never been to a bird festival.  Now I would like to attend at least one a year.  If you wish to learn more about Bird Festivals, go to www.birdwatchersdigest.com and click on the Festival Finder.  You will be amazed at how many heavenly birding festivals there are throughout the country and throughout the year.

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