Bird Lady Blog

March 13, 2017

What I Learned in Ireland About Northern Arizona Birding


Hooded Crow

Eight of us took a trip to Ireland in late May/early June to golf, see the country, and, of course for me, to informally bird watch. In the meantime, while I was abroad, I heard from three Munds Park residents who sent me their photos of two birds we have here:  Western Tanager and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

The Western Tanager is a brightly colored, red headed/yellow bodied/black-winged bird that appears in late spring. Western Tanagers are stocky song birds that inhabit coniferous environments, foraging though the upper parts of pine and juniper branches in a methodical manner.  They don’t frequent seed feeders but can be attracted with fresh or dried fruit.  I’ve read that their song is a hoarse, American Robin-type song, but I don’t think I’ve ever recognized it.  Note to self:  pay more attention to what bird songs you are hearing, especially right before dusk.  I need to make myself differentiate between the song of the Western Tanager and the Black-Headed Grosbeak.

The photo I received from a reader of the Yellow-Headed Blackbird was taken at Lake Odell. I saw these Blackbirds this year also at the pond on the Pinewood Country Club golf course between #1 and #10.  And, exciting news, the Ospreys are again nesting in the same tree as last year to the south of #13 on the golf course.  I haven’t been around enough to know how many birds are in the nest.  But it sure it fun to make the turn at 12 and look up to see the nest and know the birds still favor Munds Park.

As for Ireland, birding there was easier than in Africa, where we were last year.   Ireland has a human population of only four and a half million people, and the bird population parallels that statistic.  Ireland has a rather low number of bird species because of its isolation.  I bought a field guide, The Birds of Ireland by Jim Wilson, and packed my pair of binoculars along with its shoulder harness, and was able to see 35 new bird species without going off our travel itinerary.  Ireland has a Blackbird, which is the size and shape of our American Robin, and it I completely black except for a bright yellow beak.  Their Robin is red/orange from the beak to the breast, and when I spotted it, it flitted like a fly-catcher rather than moved like our Robin.  On the final afternoon we were in Dublin, I took a walk through a city park and saw three life-birds in the span of an hour:  Robin, Tufted Duck, and Grey Wagtail.  The Wagtails really do wag their tails, and I found two species, the Grey and the Pied.

Ireland’s one-and-only Swallow is very similar to our Barn Swallow, and the House Martin, which our group identified while we were in a golf course clubhouse sipping on pints of Guinness, is a lot like our Violet Green Swallow.

The Blue Tit and Great Tit resemble our Mountain Chickadees. I saw my first Ireland’s Hooded Crow in a little village we stopped at for ice cream (Irish people love their ice cream, and large ice cream cone statues in front of stores indicate that you can find some there).  Unlike our American Crow, which is all black, the Hooded Crow is part grey and part black, and therefore rather easy to contrast with another bird in Ireland, the Raven.

What was my favorite bird of Ireland? It had to be the Lapwing.  The Lapwing resembles a Killdeer, but it has a top-knot similar to our Gamble’s Quail, which is found only in our desert, not at higher elevations.  The Lapwing is featured in the logo for the Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin, so I just had to buy myself one of the golf shirts there to wear as a fond memory of our golf and birding.

Advertisements

Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival


Summer Tanager

Just like most hobbies, birding has an entire infrastructure around it that consists of things like magazines, discussion boards, social and scientific groups, conferences, and festivals. Birding festivals are a big deal in the U.S. – you can find them in most states and they are another source of tourist income for a town/city/county.  Location-specific festivals bring birders together for viewing, educational, and social purposes.  Last month my friend from Illinois and I attended the 16th annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, and it was an experience I would definitely recommend.

Exactly what happens at a birding festival? The biggest draw, as you might imagine, is to identify and watch birds and preferably find a “lifer” or two or more.  “Lifer” or “life bird” are terms used by birders for a bird seen (or sometimes heard) for the very first time in the wild. In my case, I had seven life birds during this festival, which was great considering I already spend so much time in Arizona either south or north of the festival area centered around Cottonwood and Prescott.  We went on four six-hour field trips, each starting at 7 a.m. in the morning, with each having a driver for transporting groups of about 15 people to and from the birding site.  Each group also had a guide, who typically was a very experienced amateur birder who helped us locate and identify the birds.  These field trips took us from the Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which was the central meeting and exhibit location, to Page Springs Fish Hatchery, the Rocking River Ranch outside of Camp Verde, Mingus Mountain, and on a canoe trip on the Verde River.  My canoe guide was a young woman who is a financial planner by day, outdoor enthusiast on weekends.

We also attended several afternoon lectures complete with PowerPoint slides: How to Identify Warblers, How to Identify Flycatchers, Birding by Ear, and Night Birds Workshop.  Early evening and into one of the nights we went trekking with flashlights to find owls and nighthawks and ended up at a nice restaurant for a group dinner and beverages in the heart of Cottonwood.  We did get some friendly stares from people watching 12 of us in hiking boots carrying tripods, spotting scopes, and binoculars as we walked through part of Cottonwood into a sports bar on a Saturday evening.

Who attends these festivals? Honestly, people from all over the country and sometimes from other countries.  For example, we met an avid woman birder from remote Alaska who chose this festival because it also got her a break from the cold weather.  We met a couple from Alabama who had never seen a Roadrunner before and were going to head to Tucson afterwards in search of desert birds.  Some of the guides were retired teachers, and others were in the bird “business” – one guide was starting up bird touring company out of Flagstaff that will focus on the Sedona tourist market.

My two favorite lifers were the Summer Tanager and the Lark Sparrow. The former because it is such a bright red and the latter because it is a distinctively marked sparrow we found while just sitting/resting at the bird feeders stationed around the Dead Horse Ranch festival area.  In Munds Park we have the Western Tanager (red/yellow/black).

The workshops and lectures were very helpful because they made me think about upping my game when I try to identify a bird by its call or song, or paying more attention to the bird’s structure and markings to make identification easier. The folks at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival were all volunteers. The festival ran like clock-work, and you could not find a nicer group of people to associate with.  If you have any interest in attending birding festivals but don’t know how to start, you can go online to www.birdwatcherdigest.com and use the festival search function.  My next stop is Ireland (golf and birding), and then I will be staying put in Munds Park for the summer.  I hope while I’m gone some of you will e-mail me and let me know what you are seeing here in our own back yards.

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.

 

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.

June 16, 2013

Spring Has Sprung


Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

May has been a month of transition for all of us:  spring cleaning, raking fallen pine needles, putting away our winter clothes and bringing out the summer wardrobe, and moving up to Munds Park if we were away for the fall and winter.  Our Munds Park birds are making similar transitions:  changing their drab winter feathers to bright colors so they can attract a satisfactory mate, building nests, and finding the best sources for food.  Two Munds Park birds that come to mind with striking colors are the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and the Lesser Goldfinches.  The males of these species are especially beautiful with their contrasting colors of orange or yellow against black and white.

So what should you be doing in preparation for migration and nesting?  First, if you have a nest box, open it up and clean it out.  Discard the old nesting material, shoo out the spiders that may have taken temporary residence, and wash or scrape out any residue.  Make sure your next box is still firmly secured to its post or tree.

Second, if you attracting birds by putting out feeders, make sure they also are cleaned.  You can wash them in a solution of water and a small amount of bleach – don’t forget to rinse them thoroughly.  The same goes for your bird baths.  Keep the water fresh.  If you hang a hummingbird feeder, remember the following:  the nectar should be made out of white granular sugar and water  – one part sugar to four parts water.  Do not use red food coloring.  The color of your feeder will be enough to attract the birds, and they will be back as long as you keep a fresh mixture.  If the mixture starts turning cloudy, discard it immediately and replace.

Lastly, start thinking about how you can protect your birds from window-kills – that is, preventing birds from flying into those wonderful windows we appreciate because of the forest and mountain views, but which can be deadly to our flying friends.  I will have more information about what you can do to prevent window crashes in a future article but would also like to hear what practical solutions are working for you.

For those of you who are relatively new to our Munds Park birds, here is a short list of the common birds you will see in our area:  Lesser Goldfinch, Mountain Chickadee, Acorn Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Western Bluebird, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Band-Tailed Pigeon, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, and Common Raven.  And some of the harder-to-find ones will be Summer Western Tanager, Painted Redstart, Red Crossbill, and House Wren.

June 1, 2011

Spring Catch-up and Western Tanager

Filed under: Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 9:47 pm
Tags:

This is a busy time for all of us – year-round residents tackling spring cleaning, summer residents hauling belongings back up to a welcoming Munds Park, all of us opening windows and letting the warmer breezes flow through the house, and yes, listening to the birds’ mating songs and watching them begin nest building and raising their broods.
So what else should we birders be doing this time of the year? For starters, clean out your bird feeders and birdbaths with a very mild solution of chlorine bleach and water. Rinse well and re-hang, and try to do this cleaning routine every couple of weeks. If you have a nest box, I hope you emptied and re-hung it last fall so it’s ready now. I built a couple of new nest boxes this winter and have given them away already, but I intend to bring up my clamping table and battery-powered hand tools and spend lazy afternoons building a few more. I find this activity very relaxing, and if my angles are not exactly squared or the wood screws not spaced perfectly, it doesn’t matter to the birds – so I don’t get stressed.
There are two types of nest boxes that best fit the needs of birds in Munds Park – one for our Western Bluebirds/Tree Swallows, and the other for Mountain Chickadees/Nuthatches/Brown Creepers. The former has an entry hole that is one-and-one-half inches in diameter, while the latter has an entry hole that is one-and-one-eighth inches in diameter. There are many on-line resources from which you can order a nest box or bird feeders. Start with the online site of Wild Birds Unlimited and then search the web for other on-line stores. You can also review my “Birding Technology and Us” article that includes a link to a free downloadable booklet with nest box and bird feeder plans at www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.
What birds should you be on the watch for right away? American Crow, Steller’s Jay, Lesser Goldfinch, American Robin, Western Bluebird, and Mountain Chickadee. And of course the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird, with its distinctive buzzing sound.
I received a report from Cindi S. and Kathy K. that early in May they saw a Western Tanager. That is a bird I had not written about yet, and it is a beauty. First recorded during the Lewis and Clark expeditions of 1803 to 1806, the Western Tanager is a medium-sized songbird with striking colors of red, yellow, and black. Of the Tanager family, it nests the furthest north. From March to August the breeding male has a bright red head; the female is mostly greenish-yellow with a dusky black back. According to ornithology research, the red pigment in the male’s face comes from the insects that it eats. The first time I saw a Western Tanager was in Durango, Colorado in 1990, and then another in Reno, Nevada, in 1998 on a business trip. I have yet to see one in Munds Park, but I know they are out there. This bird will come to a feeder that has fruit it in, but otherwise it is primarily an insect eater.
Stepping back into what happened over the winter, I have two note-worthy bird sightings to report. First was a Roseate Spoonbill I saw while golfing at Pebble Creek, in Goodyear, in December. Along with Jackie Riley, I was representing the Pinewood Women’s Golf Association in the State Medallion Tournament. The bird was hanging out with Great Egrets on one of the golf course ponds. And to think I made a trip all the way to Texas several years back to see that bird! Arizona is way out of the Roseate Spoonbill range – normally it is found on the southern coasts, and it is a wading bird. It is still being seen in western Maricopa County as I write this article. The second sighting worth mentioning was an adult Bald Eagle soaring over the ASU Karsten Golf Course in early May while I played in another tournament. How very cool was that? That was the only “eagle” I got that day – for those of you who golf, you understand what I mean!

Blog at WordPress.com.