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.

Bullock’s Oriole


Bullock’s Oriole

Back in May, 2014, I wrote about a Bullock’s Oriole sighting by a reader who lives on Reindeer. This year, two readers approached me with their photos when I was at the all-member meeting at Pinewood Country Club.  They had captured on their cell phones very nice photos of a beautiful male Bullock’s Oriole from earlier in the month.  One of their photos had the Oriole on a hummingbird feeder.  I went to the iBird Plus on my phone and we compared their photos to the ones in the ap and made positive identification.  The two ladies are to be commended for keeping bird-friendly yards – nectar feeders, water treatment/bubblers, and seed feeders – and for documenting their sightings with their cameras.

Bullock’s Orioles prefer cottonwoods and streams and are the western version of the Baltimore Oriole. I don’t think this one is a resident – it was most likely passing through during migration.  But what a stunning bird with its yellow-orange and black and white!  Our male Black-Headed Grosbeaks have similar coloring but have a different beak because they are primarily seed eaters.  The Oriole feeds on insects, nectar, and fruit and the beak is much more pointed and slender than a Grosbeak’s.

What birds did I see in Munds Park in mid-May during a short weekend? Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, Western Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, Canada Geese, Great-Tailed Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, Mallards, one Dark-Eyed Junco, one Chipping Sparrow, a Pygmy Nuthatch, Common Ravens, Turkey Vultures, House Finch (heard only), possible Great-Horned Owl (heard only), Osprey, Red-Tailed Hawk, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, American Robin, possible Common Black Hawk, one Yellow-Headed Blackbird, and Purple Martins.  I saw the Purple Martins on Stallion Drive during a walk just before dusk.  They were loud, as Purple Martins are, and perched high in trees on the Munds Canyon side of Stallion.  I know I’ve heard them in seasons before, but because of the classes I took during the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, I concentrated on their profile:  forked tail, wings that reach almost past their tail feathers, and their size.

The Chipping Sparrow is one I haven’t written about – don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It is a medium-sized sparrow with a rufous cap and black eye stripe.  Its song – a trill on a fixed note – is similar to that of a Dark-Eyed Junco.  As I was getting a refill on my water after the front nine, I first heard the Chipping Sparrow and then saw it, perched on the wooden fencing near the putting green at Pinewood Country Club.  It prefers woodland edges, gardens, parks, and grassy clearings.  It is a bird you will possibly find while sitting around the Pine Cone Café or around semi-open areas, especially if near homes and gardens.

May 19, 2014

Getting the Season Started


Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

Another spring is upon us, and the birds have been busy.  Their main goals right now are to find a mate and successfully reproduce to carry on the species.  Let’s start with the cavity-nesting birds – meaning those that will nest in a bird house or nest box, a hole in a tree, or even a cavity in a stump, fence post, or flower pot.  

The common cavity-nesters in Munds Park are Mountain Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Tree Swallows.  There are House Wrens around as well – very small and busy brown birds that may also use your nest box.  From a human’s viewpoint, these birds have the most obvious nest sites because if we put up a bird house, you know darn well that we are watching to see if it will be used.  And when that does happen, it is exciting and entertaining to watch the parent birds fly back and forth first bringing in nesting material and later feeding their young.  If we are around to see the birds fledge out of the nest box, then we are proudly sharing the experience with our grandkids or spouse or neighbors.  We get satisfaction knowing that the nest box we built or bought, secured to the tree, cleaned out season after season, and diligently watched actually produced a new generation of birds.

Other birds’ nests are much less obvious.  We know that Ospreys have nested high in the trees on the east side of Lake O’Dell.  That nest can be spotted with a good pair of binoculars or scope.  Turkey Vultures, which soar regularly in groups over the golf course, I-17, and the western Pinewood Boulevard area, most likely have their nests very far from the heart of Munds Park.  They prefer to nest away from civilization, and the sites are typically cooler than the surrounding area.  Turkey Vultures nest on rock crevices, ledges, fallen trees, and abandoned hawk or heron nests.  

Another large bird, the American Crow, hides its nests in a large crotch of a tree and prefers evergreen trees like our Ponderosa Pines.  Both the male and female contribute to nest building, and the nest is made of medium size twigs and lined with pine needles, weeds, and a variety of other soft material.  Part of the success of raising a brood is having a nesting site that is safe from predators and weather disturbances, so expect to look hard and be very observant to identify a nesting site other than a nest box.

 Let me end with the sighting of the month:  Dan and Laurie reported a Yellow-Headed Blackbird at their bird feeder on April 26th – when Munds Park had a spring storm that dumped a few inches of snow on the ground.  Usually we only see these birds mid-summer and around the ponds at the Pinewood Country Club golf course, so this one was probably passing through and got way-laid with the bad weather.  But as I always say, you never know what bird you might find at a moment you least expect it.

 

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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