Saturday, March 31, 2012

Egret Weekend! Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

The Great Egrets show off why they are called "Great" next to the smaller Snowy Egret, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2012.
I saw 75% of the North American Egret species in one spot last December. The only one missing was the Reddish Egret. The three I saw were Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets (Above) and Cattle Egrets (Below).
Cattle Egrets foraging in a grassy field of the Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2012.
For the past few weekends, I have been extolling the merits of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ.  Bird lovers must visit this preserve as it includes ponds, wetlands, mud flats, marshes, chaparral, wooded areas, flower gardens and much more that would attract birds in the middle of the Arizona desert.
A pair of Snowy Egrets resting, but keeping watch for a meal opportunity next to a pond, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2012.
I spotted the Snowy (Above) and Great Egrets first,  as both species were hanging around a deep pond. The Snowys stayed in the same area, but the Great Egrets (Below) were spread out in many different areas of the Preserve.
A Great Egret strutting its stuff, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2012.

Great Egrets are the largest of the three at 39" long with a wingspan of over 4 feet. In the summer months, I often see Great Egrets up north in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin where I do most of my birding.
A Cattle Egret, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2012.
Later I spotted a small stampede of about 6-7 Cattle Egrets (Above) foraging in the tall grass of an open field next to a mud flat. The first time I saw a Cattle Egret was 4 summers ago while visiting Hawaii. They will venture into southern and central Illinois, but I have not seen them in the Northern part of Illinois. But there are pockets in northeastern Wisconsin and North Dakota where they are commonly seen. cattle Egrets are the smallest of the North American Egrets growing to 20" n length with a 3 foot wingspan.
A Great Egret searching for its next meal, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2012.
Tomorrow I will feature a series of photos of a Snowy Egret catching a fish.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Great Blue Herons at the Riparian preserve

This Great Blue Heron is enjoying its meal; Riparian preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Wherever there is water and fish to be found, you can be sure to find a Great Blue Heron. Likewise I saw a few at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, last December.

He is looking pretty satisfied after gulping down its midday meal.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is it Wild or Domestic? Chinese White Geese & ABA Rules

We birders (which I guess I now must consider myself one - since I have started to keep a list of the birds I have seen - although novice as I am) pride ourselves in three main talents in varying degrees: 1.) How many different species of birds we have been able to observe in the wild and identify them.  2.) Being able to identify a wild bird by its sound (song, call, etc.), 3.) Being able to identify a wild bird by its appearance and/or habits. My interest in birds evolved from my love of nature and nature photography. Being a birder at first was secondary to getting a good photograph, and getting a good photograph is indeed a challenge. Then seeking a good photograph of a bird has lead me to want to get as many photographs of differerent species as possible which in turn has led me to want to travel to areas where I might be able to see a bird I have not seen or photographed.  Hence, I became a birder.
Getting a Magnificent Frigatebird in flight displaying its inflated red gular pouch is a an example of a good photograph
Then there are those hard core birders (Of which I am not one ... yet) who not only keep lists of how many different species of wild birds they have seen, but keep different lists of when and where they have seen a wild bird: a.) in a year, b.) in a month, c.) in a day, d.) in a particular region: continent, country, state, county, park, yard, feeding station etc. (Um... I guess I keep track of some of those).  Regardless of when and where, there is a common term involved, and that term is "wild." There certainly wouldn't be much of a challenge to see or photograph birds that are held in captivity such as raised on farms, or kept in zoos (Below). The thrill of the chase, the discovery, and the patience (and luck) that is involved in getting a good photograph is what makes it satisfying. I myself am happy to be able to see a new species of bird that I have not seen before, but getting a good photograph of it is what makes it a fantastic experience for me (Above).
This Wattled Crane was a captive at the interantional Crane Institute, but would be considered wild in Africa. Baraboo, WI; 7/31/10.

This trio of Chinese White Geese appeared at the Riparian Preserve. Are these wild? Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
This raises the question about what makes a bird wild. When a bird is not in captivity and is not owned by anyone is it wild?  We would assume so. Ah ... but not so fast. What if it was in captivity at one time and escaped and lived the remainder of its life "free." Is this bird considered wild? If I saw a bird such as this, could I count it on my list of wild birds I have seen? What if the bird is an offspring of a bird that was once held in captivity, but has subsequently escaped, and was conceived and hatched and raised in the wild? This bird IS obviously wild, but is it considered as species of a wild bird? While I was photgraphing birds in the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert Arizona, I saw up to 40 differet species of birds. But one species was the Chinese White Geese (Above). They were obviously living and thriving in the wild and were not the subject of anyone's ownership. These birds are considered domestic fowl (raised on farms in Russia and China) and are not included in any Bird Guide that I own (I own six different bird guide books) as a wild species. According to the ABA (American Birding Association) Chinese White Geese are not on their list of birds that birders are allowed to count as a wild species.
To be wild or not to be wild - that is the question. Is this "Wild Jungle Fowl," which is listed in many Hawaiian Bird Guides as a bird in Hawaii, accepted on the ABA list of wild birds? It seems that it would be considered wild because of Rule #3iii (below). But "wild" jungle fowl is not listed, whereas "Red" Jungle Fowl is. But the bird (Above) is more likely to be a hybrid offspring of an escaped domestic chicken with a Red Jungle Fowl. These offspring are called "Wld" Jungle Fowl. Is it then not considered wild because of Rule#3iv?  ; Oahu, June, 2008.
The ABA  developed  a code for "birding" thirty years ago and has been amended as recent as 1999.
Members who submit lifelist and annual list totals to the ABA for publication in their annual List Report must observe the ABA Recording Rules. A bird included in totals submitted for ABA lists must have been encountered in accordance with the following 5 rules:

(1) The bird must have been within the prescribed area and time-period when encountered.
(2) The bird must have been a species currently accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its area, or by the A.O.U. Checklist for lists outside the ABA area and within the A.O.U. area, or by Clements for all other areas.
(3) The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered. ***
(4) Diagnostic field-marks for the bird, sufficient to identify to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter.
(5) The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.

Okay, so I put an asterick (or two or three) next to #3 above.  Below is the ABA's definition of what is considered "wild" bird:

“Wild” means that the bird’s occurrence at the time and place of observation is not because it, or its recent ancestors, has ever been transported or otherwise assisted by man.
(i) An otherwise wild bird that voluntarily uses or is attracted to a feeder, nest box, tape recorder, ship at sea, or other nonnatural device without being captured is still considered to be wild. Physical contact between an observer and a bird does not automatically preclude a bird from being counted, as there are
situations where wild birds have learned to eat from outstretched hands, or have used people as temporary perches.
(ii) A species observed far from its normal range may be counted if in the observer’s best judgment and knowledge it arrived there unassisted by man. A wild bird following or riding a ship at sea,
without being captured, is considered to be traveling unassisted by man.
(iii) Birds descendant from escapes or released birds are considered “wild” when they are part of a population which meets the ABA definition of an established introduced population (see the Hawaiian Wild Jungle Fowl Above).
(iv) A bird that is not wild and which later moves unassisted to a new location or undergoes a natural migration is still not wild.
“Unrestrained” means not held captive in a cage, trap, mistnet, hand, or by any other means and not under the influence of such captivity. A bird is considered under the influence of captivity after its release until it regains the activities and movements of a bird which has not been captured.
(i) A bird is under the influence of captivity during its initial flight away from its release point and during subsequent activity reasonably influenced by the captivity, such as initial perching and preening or early sleeping or roosting near the release point.
(ii) A nocturnal species released during daylight which goes to roost near the point of release is considered under the influence of captivity until the next nightfall, when it has left its roost and
begun normal nocturnal activities.

FYI, there are 13 species of geese accepted by the ABA. They are listed below (The * notes which geese I have seen and photographed):

Taiga Bean-Goose
Tundra Bean-Goose
Pink-footed Goose
Greater White-fronted Goose *
Lesser White-fronted Goose
Graylag Goose
Emperor Goose
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose *
Barnacle Goose *
Cackling Goose *
Canada Goose *

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Northern Shovelers

A male Northern Shoveler, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
A couple of pairs of Northern Shovelers were present at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ. The colorful male (Above) sports rufous flanks offset with a white breast and undertail. Its back is comprised of darker blackish / bluish feathers streaked with white edges. The Shoveler's dark green head and piercing yellow eyes holds its trademark very large black bill.

A female Northern Shoveler, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
The female (Above) is less colorful, mostly mottled with varigated colors of brown, but its bill is no less striking than its male counterpart. The female's bill is orange with a gray upper mandible.
A Northern Shovelr with a muddy bill from its searching the shallow pond for plankton, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Shovelers are named for the way they use their bill. They swim with their heads stretched out in front of them scooping up plankton off the surface of a pond. Their large spoon-shaped bills have comblike projections along its edges which allow the water and mud to filter out leaving the food inside. The photo (Above) shows the muddy bill of a female after it has completed her shovelling up food from the muddy marsh.
Another colorful male Northern Shoveler, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Summers will find the Northern Shovelers in the north western quadrant of North America (Alaska, Western half of Canada, and the North midwestern and western states of the U.S. In winter they will migrate to the southern third of the U.S. and into Mexico.
I always enjoy photographing Northern Shovelers as they always make for good bird photography with their unique pofile and their colorful plumage.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Green-winged Teals


Green-winged Teals on the move, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.

A pair of Green-winged Teals, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
What better day is there to talk about Green-winged Teals than on St. Patrick's Day? During my two visits last December to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ, I was happy to see a large number of Green-winged Teals (Above) because all of the previous times I have seen them, they have either been very far in the distance or on days with poor lighting conditions.
A nice look at a male Green-winged Teal, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Despite their grayish and brownish coloring, these ducks are very pretty with a bright green swoop of color extending from behind their eyes stretching toward their nape set on a complimentary rufous head.  On the other end they have a buffy coloring under their tails (Above).
A good look at a Green-winged Teal's wings while in flight, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Of course, their namesake is because of the patch of green on their wings that is offset by a band of whitish and buffy bars. These colors are prominent when in flight, although the green patch looks  more blue in this pic (Above). The green patch on their wings is more obvious when the sunlight hits it at a good angle (Below).

The bright green wing patch is evident on the Teal in the left of the photo, Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
Green-winged Teals will spend the winter in the southern half of the U.S. and into Mexico from coast to coast. In the Summer months they will migrate to more northern territory flocking in small groups looking for shallow marshes or mudflats. They are more common in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, spreading west to the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and throughout all of Canada and Alaska.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Northern Pintails at the Riparian preserve, Gilbert, AZ

Northern Pintails, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
The Riparian Preserve at water Ranch in Gilbert were abound with Northern Pintails (Above) during my only two visits which were only two days apart. The first time I identified a Northern Pintail was last Fall at the Lincoln Park ponds in Chicago, IL. But the pair of Pintails I saw were hidden in the brush and were napping so I didn't get clear photos of them. So I was quite pleased to see hundreds of these beautiful ducks scattered throughout several ponds at the Riparian Preserve.
This female Northern Pintail was feeding off the surface of the lake which precedes the entrance of the Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, AZ; 12/24/2011.
This pair of of male Northern Pintails and a female enjoy the freshwater ponds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ; 12/26/2011.
They were easy to pick out among the hundreds of waterfowl, with their long slender necks with the white throats and dark brown heads. Also at 21" long, they were one of the larger birds mixed in with the smaller Green-winged Teals (14") and American Coots (15 1/2"). Northern Pintails are common in freshwater ponds and marshes throughout much of the North America. Summers in the northern Midwest and Western states and all of Canada. Winters they can be found in nearly the complete southern half of the U.S. amd most of Mexico.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Do not feed the ducks! Ring-necked Ducks

A flock of Ring-necked Ducks, Riparian Preserve at water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/11.
In yesterday's post, I extolled about the fantastic bird habitat at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch and promised that in the next several weekends of posts I will feature bird photos from this Desert Oasis.  Before the actual entrance into the Preserve, there is a medium sized Lake that one must cross to reach the entrance. As we crossed this floating bridge over the lake, there was a good-sized flock of Ring-necked Ducks (Above) mixed in with Northern Pintails, Mallards, and American Coots congregating near the bridge. My first thought was,
"How considerate of these ducks to give us close up photo ops." I soon realized why the these birds were eager to be so close to people. They were looking for handouts from people throwing in bread for them to eat. Not more than 10 feet away was clearly marked sign, "Do not feed the wildlife." Yet there was a Dad telling his kids it was okay because they were feeding them "healthy whole wheat bread."  I know I should have said something to them about bread (of any kind) is not good for ducks, but I remained silent and decided to  mind my own business.  I felt guilty later that I didn't use my knowledge to enlighten others but to avoid confrontation I didn't say anything. I could preach here about why it is not healthy for wildlife to eat bread  (and other food for human consumption), but instead below is a link to an article form that explains the dangers of bread to ducks and other wildlife. It is well written and puts the dangerous act of feeding wildlife in clear concise terms.
A Ring-necked Duck,  Riparian Preserve at water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/11.
Ring-necked Ducks were far the majority in this lake. So I was abe to get a few good pictures of them. I don't see this species of duck up in Northern Illinois except during the Fall and Spring migrations. They are pretty much a northern duck found mostly throughout Canada, but also in the Northern Midwestern and Northeastern states as well as in the cooler mountain lakes of the Rockies. In winter they will settle in most of the southern half of the U.S. and into Mexico.  I've always thought these guys should be called "Ring-billed Ducks" because of their very prominent ring around the base of their bill and near the tip. But they possess a feint lighter ring around their lower neck, but it not always obvious.
Tomorrow I will feature photos of the Northern Pintail, which were plentiful at the Riparian Preserve.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Good Birding at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ

The welcome sign on the gates of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Look - there are birds on the sign! Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
For all the times I have visited the Phoenix, AZ area in the past 10 years, and especially since I've become more interested in bird photography in the last 2-3 years, I can't explain why I have not heard of this wonderful bird paradise before this past winter. My girlfriend and I were at her Step-Father's new digs, and one day we were discussing what to do with our time, when she picked up a 'things to do in the Phoenix area" brochure. She started listing all the placed we have already visited during our almost annual winter visit, when she said, "Hey, Jon, have you ever heard of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch?"
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's a preserve for wildlife in particular, birds. It's just in Gilbert (which we had spent some time there with friends just two days before)."
Birds? My interest was peaked... birds?... what better place could there be than a place with birds?
Val's Step-Father chimed in,
"I've been there. It's not very interesting. It had a few ponds and was bored after a half hour."
Birds? (I thought)... how can anyone be bored when there are birds!
"Let's Go!" There needn't be much arm twisting here. We only had a few hours before we had to be somewhere, but Gilbert was not a long drive away. it is basically a suburb of Phoenix.
What could be better than a place that has a silhouette of a Great Blue Heron on its entrance gates? Even though it's missing a foot, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
So we went. Val's Step-Dad was not interested. He thinks I am a kook, anyway - the way I "obsess" (his words) about birds... I do not apologize. Yes I like the challenge of bird photography - and the challenge of trying to add to my Life List of seeing as many different species as I can. However, I do not drop everything at the drop of a hat ("bird fallout"?) to chase a bird. Unless I am already there. I may plan a trip to someplace interesting that may happen have a reputation for having bird species that do not generally appear where I live (Northern Illinois) such as my trip to Massachusetts last October (but Val had relatives who lived there that she doesn't get to see very often, so even though the trip was primarily made for me to see if I could see some East Coast birds, but it also served a dual purpose - visiting relatives). I am not in the league of the lead characters from the recent movie, THE BIG YEAR.  They were slightly obsessed - running up inordinate amount of travel expenses for one reason only - to see a bird. I am not that obsessed ...................... yet.
Egrets, Cormorants, Shovelers, Teals, Coots, Stilts, Grebes, Mallards and Sandpipers all in one pond. A typical scene at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Okay... back to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. This place s amazing. It is a 110 acre Preserve smack dab within the city of Gilbert, a Phoenix suburb.  Once you enter its gates and venture into the gardens and trails that meander around seven good-sized ponds, you'd never guess you were in the midst of one of the country's busiest metropolises. Over half of the 110 acres are seven ponds that has attacted over 150 species of birds looking for water and sustenance in the middle of the Southwestern desert. Below is a link that describes how the water basins are filled with reclaimed water. It is a fascinating story that has come about from the vision of people who were interested in creating an oasis for vegetation, insects, reptiles, birds, amphibians, mammals, and did I mention ... birds?
Also a link to its home page:

A flurry of American Coots, Green-winged Teals, and Northern Pintails being flushed from the side of a pond, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Upon entering and crossing a floating bridge over the lake, I immediately saw seven different types of Ducks in the water and counted a half dozen different land birds in the brush along the shoreline. By the time I reached the first pond, I easily counted another dozen different species. Val and I spent about two hours at this Preserve and didn't even cover half of the acreage. We needed to go to get ready for an upcoming commitment and we had her Step-Father's car. In short, I didn't want to leave. I loved this place. It was literally and oasis in the desert filled with birds - water fowl, shore birds, land birds, raptors, etc... I told Val that she could leave, get ready, help her Step-Dad with errands, and then come back in a couple of hours to pick me up ... No deal. I knew we had to leave. I was like a little kid in a toy store when it was time to go. I tried my best persuasions. I used my best logic. I used my power of reason. I appealed to her emotions. I appealed to her altruistic character (being a Theatre, Speech and English Major in College had its benefits). I pled. I threw a tantrum (No, I really didn't throw a tantrum).  But, Val ... she stood steadfast and we left. I vowed that "I shall return!" and I waved goodbye to Paradise in Arizona.
Gila Woodpecker, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
On the plus side, in our short two-hour visit, I tallied 40 different species, such as the Gila Woodpecker (Above) and the Inca Dove (Below):
Inca Dove, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
The following is a list of the 40 bird species from my 12/24/2011 visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch:
LAND BIRDS: Common Ravens, European Starlings, Great-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbird (female only), White-crowned Sparrows, House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, House Finches, Verdins, Lesser Goldfinches, Rock Doves, Mourning Doves, Inca Doves, Black Phoebe, Says Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbirds, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, Gila Woodpecker, and lots of Anna's Hummingbirds.
WATER & SHORE BIRDS: Ring-necked Ducks, Amer. Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, Killdeers, Long-billed Dowitchers (*), Least Sandpipers (*), Black-necked Stilts, 3 types of Egrets (Snowy, Great & Cattle), Black-crowned Night Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, and three White domestic looking geese (probably White Chinese Geese).
(*): represents birds I added to my Life List.
Female House Finch, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Two days later, the day after Christmas, I was able to return and spend a couple more hours here. I was able to get to all seven water basins. Some were just mud flats, others were deep ponds and others were shallow marshes. In addition to the water habitat there was open grassland, hedgerows, small stands of trees, and flower gardens to attract a multiple of species of birds. On my second trip, I saw mostly the same birds as listed above but also added 6 more species (for a total of 46 species in 2 hours) and two more to add to my Life List:
12/26/11 BIRDS: Neotropic Cormorants, American Avocets(*), Yellow-rumped Audubon's Warbler, Vermillion Flycatcher (*), Cinnamon Teals, and Great Blue Herons.

More photos below:
Killdeer, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.
Mallard Duck, with the right light to show its irridescent purple  head instead of its usual green head, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Great-tailed Grackle, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Verdin, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/24/2011.
Curiously with the hundreds (if not thousands) of birds at this Riparian habitat, there were no Canada Geese nor American Robins. This weekend and the next several weekends, I will feature more bird photography from this most excellent place. If you like birds and you find yourself near the Phoenix area, this is a must visit. One final photo below of some non-bird residents:
Turtles, Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, AZ, 12/26/2011.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Neotropic Cormorants, Grebes and other Water Birds on the Tempe Canal, AZ

Bridge over Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
I took a short walk along the Tempe Canal (Above), also known as Tempe Town Lake, near the Tempe Center for the Arts. There was some water bird activity, especially lots of Cormorants, both Double-crested and Neotropics, along with  a smattering of Grebes (Pied-billed and Horned), Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, American Coots, Mallards, and a lone Snowy Egret. Along the shore there were lots of Great-tailed Grackles and some House Sparrows.
A flotilla of Neotropic Cormorants under a bridge, looking up like they are watching fireworks or some such air spectacle, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Even though I wasn't expecting anything new, I was able to add a new bird to my Life List, during my short walk. With all the cormorants that were flying back and forth along the Canal as if it was a super highway, I was able to pick out two different species: the usual very common Double-crested Cormorants and a new species for me, the less common Neotropic Cormorants (Above and Below). At first glance they look very similar, but the Neotropics are smaller (about 2' long with a 40" wingspan)and have less yellowish/orange on their chins which are bordered by a thin white v-shaped outline.
Neotropic Cormorants; one small flock of the many that were zooming along the water's surface, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Neotropic Cormorants are less common than the Double-crested, but can be found in a very limited range, most commonly in southern Texas and along the both Mexican shorelines of the Pacific and the Gulf. They make spotty appearances in lakes and rivers of New Mexico and Arizona. So I was lucky to have found quite a large group of them here near Phoenix.
Another fly-by group of Neotropics, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
A more common, Double-crested Cormorant, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
The Double-crested Cormorants' (one Above) range pretty much spread out over the entire North American Continent, depending on the season. Summers they can be found from coast to coast well into Canada and much of the northern half of the U.S. In winter they will congregate along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as the Gulf and the entire southeastern quadrant of the U.S.  They are larger (almost 3' long with a 52" wingspan).
A Horned Grebe, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Another nice find was a pair of Horned Grebes (Above) swimming very close to shore. Last spring in Rockford, IL (my hometown) was the first time I saw an Horned Grebe, which was in its breeding plumage. Now I feel fortunate to see one in its non-breeding plumage. At first it was difficult to distinguish between a Horned with an Eared Grebe in its non-breeding plumage. I vascillated back and forth with my ID choice until I finally decided that this guy was a Horned. My initial thought was an Eared because it had less white on its cheek and neck. But with closer analysis, I felt it was a first-fall Horned for two reasons: Horned Grebes have white lores whereas the Eared 's are dark. These Grebes (Above & Below) have that small white patch. Also the final distinguishing field mark was the the tiny white spot (more visible on the pic Below) at the tip of the bills which are present on the Horneds, but not on the Eareds.
Another look at the Horned Grebe in its non-breeding plumage, Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
Horned Grebes can be found from coast to coast in the U.S. during the migration seasons, but during the summer will stay up north in Canada from western Ontario stretching all the way to Alaska. Winter months will find these Grebes along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and throughout much of the southeastern quadrant of the U.S. and in isolated pockets of New Mexico and Arizona. So where I saw these Grebes is far less common than their usual winter digs.
Another Grebe, the Pied-billed Grebe, was also present on the Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
There were also a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (Above) searching the Tempe Canal for its meal, which succeeded. I saw both types of Grebes with fish in their bills after coming up from a dive. Sorry that my pics of these didn't turn out very well. pied-billed Grebes are much more visible throughout the entire U.S.
A Snowy Egret searching for its next meal along the waterways of Tempe Canal, AZ; 12/24/2011.
A lone Snowy Egret constantly cruised back and forth along the Tempe Canal looking for prey. During the entire hour of my walk, this Snowy Egret never landed, but kept circling over the Canal.

Next weekend I will feature birds from a fantastic Nature Preserve that I didn't know existed, until my last two days of this trip.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What kind of Flicker is that? Land birds from the Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Mts.

A view of an inlet of Saguaro Lake from the Butcher Jones Trail in the Superstition Mts, near Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
As I promised, last weekend, on this post I will feature more land birds that I came across on my Dec. 23, 2011, hike on the Butcher Jones Trail (Above).
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 Phainopeplas (see my post from last weekend on 2/26/2012).
I also saw many WATER BIRDS (see my 2/25/12 post for these): 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.
I had a good view of this Gila Woodpecker sitting on a dumpster in the parking lot of the Butcher Jones Trailhead, Superstition Mts, near Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
Similar to the Gila Woodpecker (Above), I also heard the piercing cries of both the Northen (Red-shafted) Flicker and the Gilded Flicker. But when I finally saw one of them sitting atop a Suagaro cactus (Below), I wasn't sure which kind it was.
Which Flicker is this? a Gilded or a Northern?
I am leaning towards this being a Gilded Flickr because the tannish cap seemed to stretch further down its nape as it does for the Gilded. The Northern's nape is more gray. The photo is not altogether conclusive, however. I was waiting for it to take flight so I could get a glimpse of its underwing. The Gilded's underwing would be yellow, while the Northern's (in the West) would be more reddish. In the West the Northern Flicker is known as the Red-shafted Flicker. (In the East the Northern Flicker is the "Yellow-Shafted" Flicker and would have the same underwing color as the Gilded. But AZ is too far west for the yellow-shafteds to be present). Somehow, I don't remember why, but I missed it when it flew off, so I didn't get the positive field mark I was hoping for. (Below) are two photos(one of each species) that I had taken on previous trips out West.
A photo of a Gilded Flicker, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/2009.
My only photo of a GIlded Flicker (Above) was while I was hiking in the Sonoran Desert, near the Museum, west of Tucson in the winter of 2009. As one can see in the photo (Above) the reddish tan crown stretches well down the nape .
A Northern "Red-Shafted" Flicker, Silverthorne Bike Trail, Colorado; 7/4/2010.
The photo of the Northern "Red-Shafted" Flicker (Above) shows the clean gray of the nape. Otherwise it had all same field markings of a Gilded Flicker: red malar, black breast band, spotted breast, brown and black barred back and wings. I knew this was a Red-Shafted Flicker because I saw it fly to the ground from high up in a nearby lodgepole pine, showing its reddish underwings and tail. Red-Shafted Flickers have a far more reaching range than the Gilded Flickers. Red Shafteds are found west of the Great Plains covering all the states from north to south. In the summers they migrate throughout Canada and into Alaska. Gilded Flickers are common, but have a much smaller range - found only in the southern half of arizona and into Mexico.

A Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Butcher Jones Trail, Superstition Widerness, AZ; 2/23/2011.
Well, enough about Flickers. I did see other birds on this hike, as the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Above), and others (Below)...
A Cactus Wren, Butcher Jones Trail in the Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.

A Curve-billed Thrasher, Butcher Jones Trail in the Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
A Verdin, Butcher Jones Trail in the Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.
A Yellow-rumped "Audubon's" Warbler, Butcher Jones Trail in the Superstition Mts, Phoenix, AZ; 12/23/2011.