Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wood Duck: In the Woods on Wood, Of Course

A male Wood Duck is not the first one to come to my mind when I think of colorful birds perched in trees. In fact, I don't think I've ever associated the act of "perching" with any duck. I've always considered "standing" to be an appropriate action for a duck when not flying, swimming, or simply resting. That all changed this morning as I was driving through a heavily wooded area at the west end of the Provo airport dike road. I thought I had finished birding for the morning and was about to head home when I had the fortune of spotting a colorful male Wood Duck standing...excuse me..."perched" on a branch above the road. It's the first time I've seen a Wood Duck along that road, but it really is suitable habitat for them since they prefer water sheltered by trees. That particular area is where the Provo River completes its nearly-70 mile journey from high in the Uintah Mountains when it flows into Utah Lake. The area is surrounded by mature cottonwood trees.

Male Wood Duck in Provo, UT
Male Wood Duck in Provo, UT
Male Wood Duck in Provo, UT
A female Wood Duck made its presence known when she flew from one branch to another and caught my attention. She explored and nibbled at a spot on a tree where a thick branch appeared to have been cut from the tree and was now partially engulfed by the growth of the main trunk. I'm not sure if she found something to eat or was simply curious.

Female Wood Duck in Provo, UT
Female Wood Duck in Provo, UT
Unlike other ducks, Wood Ducks prefer to nest in trees.  They will also nest in man-made boxes when placed in an appropriate location near water.

This morning's pair of ducks briefly perched on a shared branch. These two lovely Wood Ducks will probably be making tiny Wood Ducks before we know it. I'm hoping that is the case anyway.

Breeding Pair of Wood Duck in Provo, UT
I was granted once last glance over the shoulder by the male from about 30 feet above before he and his lady friend left me standing alone in the woods surrounded by the drumming of a Downy Woodpecker and the song of a male Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Male Wood Duck Provo, UT
Here's a couple of images captured in better lighting from previous encounters with these uniquely patterned ducks.

Male Wood Duck in Breeding Plumage
Male Wood Duck in Breeding Plumage

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sunshine's Got Me Humming for Hummers!

I love this time of year. Spring is beautiful. After months of winter and overcast skies the sunny blue sky decorated with fluffy white clouds is priceless. Pink, white, yellow, and blue flowers are decorating trees, shrubs, lawns, fields, and meadows. The excitement for spring prompted me to pull out my hummingbird feeders, fill, and hang them this afternoon. I am humming for hummingbirds.

This is the view through my home office window now that I've hung my front porch feeder. I love our Utah mountains and canyons. I would love for the pink ornamental peach blossoms to hang around longer than the next strong spring wind.

The first hummingbirds to show up in my yard here in Utah County are usually Black-chinned, but I sometimes hear the trilling of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds before I see my first hummingbird of the spring.

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird at Feeder in Pleasant Grove, UT
Female (possibly young male) Black-chinned Hummingbird at Yard Feeder in Pleasant Grove, UT
Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird in American Fork Canyon Utah County, UT
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird in American Fork Canyon Utah County, UT
The Black-chinned are seen throughout the summer and early fall, but the Broad-tailed tend to make their way up to higher elevations after a brief spring visit. I see them in my yard again a little later in the summer after they finish breeding and are making their way south again.

Fall Migration for hummingbirds actually starts during the month of August here in northern Utah. That's when I get the chance to see Rufous Hummingbirds. They tend to move north along the west coast in the spring migration and down the Rocky Mountain Range during fall migration. They are the feistiest hummingbirds when they make a temporary claim on my feeders during their fall migration southward. They will chase off all other hummingbirds that try to get some sweet water at the feeders.

Male Rufous Hummingbird Duchesne (Doo-shane) County, UT
Immature Male Rufous Hummingbird in Duchesne County, UT
Female Rufous Hummingbird in Pleasant Grove, UT
If you get too used to seeing the typical hummingbirds in northern Utah you may actually be sleeping at the hummingbird wheel when an uncommon species pays a visit. Last season I had several Calliope Hummingbirds visit my feeder. They are typically seen in our mountains. The males are obvious with they long, streaky-looking gorget feathers.

Calliope Hummingbird in Duchesne County, UT
Male Calliope Hummingbird in Duchesne County, UT
The female Calliopes might be passed off for a more common hummingbird without careful attention to their short tails. Their wing tips reach just beyond the tail tip. They look slightly hunchbacked when perched and they have a thin white line of feathers from the top base of the bill to the eye. They also have a buffy color on the belly and sides.

Another easily overlooked variation of a common Utah Hummingbird is the green-backed Rufous. Probably 95% of Rufous Hummingbirds have a rufous back (see the image of the male about six images above). I had a green-backed Rufous claim my backyard feeder last fall for a week or so. These look much like an Allen's Hummingbird (common along the California coast), but the tail feathers just on each side of the central feathers is often the distinguishing factor between the two.

Male Rufous Hummingbird (green-backed variation) in Pleasant Grove, UT
Male Rufous Hummingbird (green-backed variation) in Pleasant Grove, UT
The image below shows the notch in the two feathers on either side of the central tail feathers that is typical for Rufous Hummingbird. Allen's Hummingbirds do not show this notch and otherwise look very similar to a green-backed Rufous Hummingbird.

I am so ready for some hummingbirds to visit my yard! Hang a feeder and watch for some visitors.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Early Bird Gets The Nest: Great Horned Owls

Preface to this post: This is my first post with new camera equipment. My best gear, along with my wallet, and laptop were stolen two weeks ago today. In an instant I was a photographer and blogger without a single lens. It was quite the setback that left me with a real pit in my stomach. I did all I could to report and track my equipment and I prayed for a change of heart for the person who took my things as well as a change in my own heart to allow me to appreciate what I have rather than fret over what I lost. I was still a husband, a father, grandfather, and friend. I still had beautiful relationships and they matter most. Last week I discovered that I was fortunate to have a homeowners insurance policy that covered all my losses minus the deductible. I'm excited to be up and running again. I thank my friends and fellow photographers who provided some consolation and offers to use their equipment when they learned of my loss. God bless each of you to recognize His tender mercies in good times and bad.

Now the post: 
Great Horned Owls don't build their own nests, but they are early breeders so they have many established nests from which to choose. They begin courting and mating as early as January and February so they are able to take advantage of the nests built by hawks, ravens, and herons. They may also take advantage of squirrel nests, structures, and large cavities suitable to their needs. I can only imagine that hawks and other birds are a bit put out when they return in spring to find someone squatting on their property.

I made mental notes of all the large nests I observed in barren deciduous trees during the recent winter months. I was looking for possible Cooper's Hawk and Great Horned Owl nests. These nests are easily observed when the deciduous trees are barren of leaves. I make note of possible Cooper's Hawk nests so I can check on them after leaves are on the trees and the Cooper's Hawks are breeding. When I look at possible Great Horned Owl nests I pay particular attention to whether or not the large ear tufts of the Great Horned Owls are sticking up from the top of the nest.

I was delighted Sunday morning when I double checked what I thought would be a likely Hawk nest in a very tall Sycamore tree and discovered a female Great Horned Owl perched right next to it. I immediately focused on the nest and saw the round fuzzy heads of her chicks. They appeared to be about five or six weeks old--maybe a week or two away from "branching" out of the nest and onto nearby branches where they will continue to be fed and weaned by the parents for a couple of weeks. I could not believe I had missed discovering this active nest earlier since it was just minutes from my home.

Female Great Horned Owl and Chick at Nest Site in American Fork, UT
Below is my initial view as I drove toward the tree and noticed the adult owl perched to the right of the nest. The blob at the top left is an active Black-billed Magpie nest. Like most Magpie nests it has a dome on the top. The owl nest is about 40 feet above the road that passes below. My wife often asks with amazement, "How the heck did you see that?" I guess when you start paying attention and seeking certain things you will find them. Most people aren't looking into trees ahead while they are driving either. A close look will show the back light shining through the fine downy feathers on the heads of the chicks in the nest.

Sycamore Tree Containing Magpie Nest (upper left) and Great Horned Owl Nest (upper right) American Fork, UT
Female Owl to Right of Nest, Three Chicks in Nest
I have not seen the male yet, but I suspect he is roosting in a nearby evergreen during the daylight hours. I noticed that "mama" has more color than I've seen on most Great Horned Owls here in Utah. This seems to match the coloring of Pacific Great Horned Owls.

Female Great Horned Owl American Fork, UT
Female Great Horned Owl American Fork, UT
When I first stopped to observe the chicks it appeared there were only two. I saw two from the east view and two from the west view. However, as I looked up and walked from one side to the other I noticed there were actually three chicks.

Great Horned Owl Chicks in Nest in American Fork, UT
These three growing chicks were quite curious about what I as doing as I passed below them. I love their focused yellow eyes looking down from nearly forty feet above.

Great Horned Owl Chicks in Nest in American Fork, UT
A sure sign of an owl roost or, in this case, a nest is lots of waste. Chicks aim away from the nest when they defecate. The large gray item in the bottom, right-hand corner is a Eurasian Collared-Dove wing. I don't know if one of the parent owls took it from an evening roost or if one of the local Cooper's Hawks made a meal of it. I've nicknamed this very short strip of road "Death Row" because there seems to be at least one or two massacred doves along the road each time I pass through.

The Evidence of a Great Horned Owl Nest in the Tree Above
I saw this Cooper's Hawk in the same area last week right after it took out a Collared-Dove and began to eat it while perched on a branch in a shady group of trees. The look on her face seems to say, "I'm eating here. Do you mind?"

Female Cooper's Hawk With Dove in American Fork, UT
I'll leave the harsh reality of life for the birds of prey and finish with a few more settling images of the Great Horned Owls temporarily inhabiting the Sycamore Tree. The round seed pods of this tree almost seem like decorations.

Great Horned Owl on Nest in Sycamore Tree in American Fork, UT
Great Horned Owl Chick on Nest (Sycamore Tree) in American Fork, UT
Great Horned Owl Chick in Nest (Sycamore Tree) in American Fork, UT
Great Horned Owl Adult and Chick at Nest in Sycamore Tree in American Fork, UT

Friday, March 21, 2014

Take "Power" to Birds: A Potpourri of Gilbert Birds

Power Road in Gilbert, Arizona is just blocks from my daughter's home. On my second morning of birding during a recent trip to Gilbert it dawned on me that I could take Power Road north to Guadalupe for the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch or take Power Road south to Chandler Heights for Veteran's Oasis Park. In other words, I could "take Power" to some great birding spots. Following Power Road farther north leads to Bush Highway and some of my other favorite birding locations along the Salt River. Going to the green space park in my daughter's neighborhood also produced a few nice bird encounters.

You can read about and see the images of Black-and-white Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Costa's Hummingbird, Peach-faced Lovebirds, and Inca Doves in the posts preceding this one. I'll wrap up the posts covering my recent trip to Gilbert with this one. Here's a potpourri of birds I didn't share in my previous posts.

From the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch...

Female Ring-necked Duck Gilbert, AZ
Male Verdin Gilbert, AZ
Snowy Egret Gilbert, AZ
Black-crowned Night Heron Gilbert, AZ
Least Sandpiper Gilbert, AZ
Long-billed Dowitcher Gilbert, AZ
This pair of Black-necked Stilts was doing their courting dance when I captured this image.

Breeding Black-necked Stilt Gilbert, AZ
Black-necked Stilt Gilbert, AZ
Curve-billed Thrasher Gilbert, AZ
A close look at the eye of this ordinary Curve-billed Thrasher reveals a few interesting details, including a look at all three eyelids--the upper and lower eyelids along with the horizontally-oriented nictitating membrane that is partially covering the eye. Its the transparent lid that cleans and protects the eye. The edge of the membrane is the dark horizontal line on the left side of the eye.

Curve-billed Thrasher Showing All Three Eyelids (upper, lower, and the horizontally-oriented nictitating membrane) Gilbert, AZ
Neotropic Cormorant Gilbert, AZ
Great Egret Gilbert, AZ
Northern Mockingbird Gilbert, AZ
Male Gila Woodpecker at Sunrise Gilbert, AZ

From the Park Near My Daughter's Home...

My three-year-old grandson, Graham, and I walked out the front door of his home one afternoon and flushed a Cooper's Hawk from the tree. It landed in a nearby tree so I went back into the house and retrieved my camera. I missed getting an image because it flew as soon as I lifted the lens. However, I soon heard a warbling song and looked in the tree above me to spot my first Townsend's Warbler of the new year.

Townsend's Warbler Gilbert, AZ
A Greater Roadrunner passed through the park as Graham and I were about to dig what he called "deep, dark holes" in the sandbox.

Greater Roadrunner Gilbert, AZ
Greater Roadrunner Gilbert, AZ
I tried and tried to get some images of the nice salmon color beneath the wings of a Northern Flicker in the park, but it was not cooperating. Sometimes hiding behind branches...

Norther Flicker (red-shafted) Gilbert, AZ
And sometimes...

Northern Flicker Gilbert, AZ
Female Gila Woodpecker Gilbert, AZ

From Veteran's Oasis Park...

Common Gallinule Gilbert, AZ
American Coot Gilbert, AZ
Anna's Hummingbird Gilbert, AZ
Red-winged Blackbird Gilbert, AZ
A Burrowing Owl in a burrow, of course. These guys are at their burrow nearly every time I visit Veteran's Oasis Park.

Burrowing Owl Gilbert, AZ
Great Egret Gilbert, AZ