Sunday, February 26, 2012

Phainopeplas on the Butcher Jones Tr., Superstition Mts, AZ

The beautiful scenery from the Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
Yesterday I posted about water birds that I observed from this gorgeous trail (Above) in the Superstition Mountains. Today I will feature land birds that I came across on the same hike. There was good variety of both water and land birds:
WATER: Great Blue Heron, Ring-billed Gulls, American Coots, Western Grebes (hundreds), Pied-billed Grebe, Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads, Greater Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks, and Gadwalls.
LAND: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Great-tailed Grackles, Yellow-rumped Audubon's Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Verdin, Black-throated Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, Curve-billed Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, European Starlings, American Robin (heard only), Gila Woodpecker, Northern Red-shafted Flicker, Gilded Flicker (?), and my favorite - Phainopeplas (Below).
A nice outline of a Phainopepla, Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
As I was rounding the bend of the trail on the lower shore of an inlet that was thickly shaded with willows, junipers, paloverde, mistletoe, and crucifixion thorn (I think - I do not know my Sonoran desert vegetation very well), I heard a bird song that I knew that I have heard before but was not immediately familiar with. It came from the top of a tree above me, but the vegetation was too dense to see through. I had to climb up a steep bank to get myself above the tree branches that lines the shore of the inlet of Suagaro Lake. I tried to pinpoint where the bird was that was making the sound. Then after a few minutes it showed itself, the dark sillhouette of a bird with a crest like that of a Cardinal - a Phainopepla (Above).
An up close Phainopepla peeking out over the brush, Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
I definately became excited because the previous few times I came across Phainopeplas were on very gray or high white days with poor light, which didn't make for very good photography of a very dark plumaged bird, as is the Phainopepla. Today was different - it was a perfectly clear sunny day with a beautiful blue sky - excellent for bird photography. The problem was as soon I discovered it, it craftily kept tree branches between it and me. I tried to explain to it that I only wanted a photo - no harm ... it didn't believe me and flew deeper into the brush. That meant I had to go into my patient mode - wait it out and hope that it pops out into the clear.  After several minutes it flew out of the thicker brush and alit very near me - not more than 15-20 feet - but stll kept mostly hidden except for a the feint vision of its parts poking through the flora. I would see a tail stick out. Then it would turn around and I would see its head, then disappear again... then a tail... then a head... etc...  Finally it hopped up one branch higher and I could see the entire top half of its body, crystal clear and in perfect light. I snapped away and it stayed put for several more minutes - often looking at me as if wondering why I wasn't moving along (Below).
The Phainopepla looking at me and asking, "Why are you still here pointing that big black barrel at me? Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
It was good five to ten minutes more of the Phainopepla changing its position - back to me - full front - both profiles, but it would not move to a branch that would give me a whole body shot. At the time I had my 1.4 extender on with my 500mm Sigma zoom lens. I knew I did not need the extender as I was so close to it, but I also knew that my autofocus will not work while the extender was attached. I wanted to be ready to autofocus with the burst mode if and when it decided to to fly out. I would have loved to get a BIF of a Phainopepla, especially in such good light.  So with this Phainopepla seemingly to stay put in the same spot for so long, I gambled and decided to take off the extender. That meant several seconds of lowering the camera, releasing the extender from both the Rebel T1i and the Zoom, then making sure I tucked it away safely, and replacing the Zoom back onto the camera body and switching to autofocus and lifting the viewfinder back up to my face. It probably took me 20 seconds to get this done without moving too fast. Within those 20 seconds, the Phainopepla emerged from the branch and landed on a branch just as close to me but perfectly in the open - full body - perfect light. Just as I lifted the the camera to my eye to refocus, it flew off. I lost the gamble.
A backlit Phainopepla, Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
It flew to quite a distance down the slope nearer to the shoreline. I had to scramble down from my perch, hike through the dense treelined trail and come out the other side to look for it again. By the time I located it, it was in full open view, but now it was backlit and very far away (Above).  After a few more shots, it finally flew off out of sight. Later on my return trip, I saw it (or another) again but was never in good position for a picture, and I didn't want to leave the trail and bushwhack.  Still in the end, the close ups of the top half of this Phainopepla was far better than any of the previous pictures I had of this species. All in all I probably spent 30-40 minutes stalking this guy.
Another nice close up of the Pahinopepla peeking out over the brush, Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
Phainopeplas, which I like to refer to as the "black cardinals," like mistletoe berries and are common year round residents in oak foothills and mesquite lowlands of Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, stretching even further south into the Baja Peninsula and other parts of Mexico. They will migrate a bit further north into Cental CA and Northern AZ in the summer but mainly will stay put in the extreme Southwest.
Next weekend I will feature other photos of land birds from my hike on the Butcher Jones Trail.

1 comment:

~Val said...

So THAT'S where you were! Love the olive-green tones in the feathers on the first photo, and that shot looking right at you is priceless.