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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wanted Not Dead But Alive: Costa's Hummingbird

I had high hopes of locating and photographing at least one male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, Arizona last week. They were being reported in areas near my daughter's home in Gilbert so I was confident I'd find at least one during our five-day visit. I spent my first morning of birding at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. I saw lots of hummingbirds, but they mostly Anna's and a couple of Black-chinned Hummingbirds. I went to Veteran's Oasis Park on my second morning in Gilbert. I spoke to a local birder who got my hopes up when she said she thought she saw a Costa's Hummingbird on "the other end of the park". I looked in that area and failed again to see one. Two strikes in two days got my determination level to rise. I was not going to go a full five days in Gilbert without seeing what was supposed to be a relatively easy bird to find.

I skipped birding Sunday morning to attend church with family, but I took my three-year-old grandson, Graham, with me for my second visit to Veteran's Oasis Park. We walked along a trail for about five minutes and followed a "bunny rabbit" that caught Graham's attention. After looking at the rabbit I noticed something odd on a nearby cactus. A double take made me realize it was a hummingbird, but there was something really odd about how the hummingbird was on the cactus. It was impaled and deceased. It was a male Costa's Hummingbird and that was NOT how I wanted to see my first one. I wondered if a Loggerhead Shrike was the perpetrator because impaling prey on sharp objects is a behavior associated with Shrikes. The truth is I'll never know what really happened to that unfortunate bird.

Deceased Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
Deceased Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
We had just gotten to the other side of the park when Graham declared, "I'm done with the park, Papa Jeff!" It was time to head back to the car. I did not want the only male Costa's Hummingbird I photographed on the trip to be a dead one. I couldn't change the fact that it was the first one, but I was determined to do all I could to find one flying and perching during my last two days in Gilbert.

I noticed one last hummingbird just as we arrived back at the car. I almost ignored it, but decided to take a look through the binoculars. Lucky for me it was a male Costa's Hummingbird. It was a bit high in the tree and didn't allow the perspective I would have preferred, but with the luck I'd experienced to that point I was happy to see one from any angle.

The sun was directly overhead and sending harsh light on the bird, washing out the shiny green feathers on the upper side of the bird. No matter which way I tried I either ended up seeing the face with no light reflecting off the iridescent gorget or I got part of the gorget to shine purple while having a hard time seeing the eyes of the bird. I had to settle for these images with a determination to try again during my next visit to Gilbert.

Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ
Male Costa's Hummingbird in Gilbert, AZ

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Two Flavors of Love Birds: Peach-faced and Inca Doves

The weather was beautiful last week in Gilbert, Arizona. Song birds were singing and nests were being prepared for another season of breeding. Bird love was in the air and I happened upon a pair of Inca Doves while strolling through the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.  The dove below is one of the two as they were feeding along a gravel path.

Inca Dove Gilbert, AZ
For many bird species the male tends to have more color so it is easy to distinguish between male and female. This is not the case for Inca Doves. Inca Doves also tend to associate in small groups so I'm not positive about this next statement, but I would imagine these two birds were a breeding pair based on the time of year and the number of singing Incas I heard while in the park. Inca Doves appear nearly half the size of the typical Mourning Dove. They are dainty, about eight inches long. They have red eyes and red primary and under-wing feathers. Many of their body feathers have a slightly dark outer edge which gives them a scaly look compared to other doves.

Inca Doves in Gilbert, AZ
Inca Doves in Gilbert, AZ
As I was leaving the park that day I received a visit from a true lovebird, a Peach-faced Lovebird--sometimes called Rosy-faced Lovebird. These parrots are not native to the United States. They are from arid regions of southwestern Africa. They were originally imported to the US as pets. Some of the escaped birds took well to the Phoenix area and have established feral populations.

Peach-faced Lovebird in Gilbert, AZ

Friday, March 14, 2014

Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler in Gilbert, AZ

Black-and-white Warblers are seen in the US states east of the Rocky Mountains and throughout much of Canada during spring, summer, and fall. Once in a great while someone will see one on the western side of the Rockies in Utah, as it migrates to or from nesting territories in Canada.

While birding with my three-year-old grandson at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, AZ earlier this week I discovered a vagrant Black-and-white Warbler that was foraging up and down the main trunk and large branches of a Cottonwood tree. It's foraging behavior was much like a Nuthatch--it would fly to a thick branch and work its way up or down the branch picking small insects from the bark. I was able to capture a few images of the bird as it moved around under the canopy of the Cottonwood. I reported the bird to a local birder so he could share it with the broader birding community in the area since it is considered a rare sighting in Arizona. Apparently there have been a few observed in the area recently.

Here are a few images from the side, bottom, and top to show how the bird is essentially black and white, long-billed, striped on the head and body, and spotted under the tail. A similar-looking, but more likely, bird to see in Arizona and Utah is the Black-throated Gray Warbler. It would have a shorter bill, yellow lores (between the eye and bill), and lack the black spotting under the tail. The Black-and-white also shows white feathers mixed in with its black throat where the Black-throated Gray would show a black throat for a male or more of a white throat for a female.

Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler Gilbert, AZ
Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler Gilbert, AZ
Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler Gilbert, AZ
I'll share a poor but recognizable Black-throated Gray image so you can see the differences in the appearance of the head between the two species. The solid black throat and tiny dot of yellow in the lore can be seen. The black stripe on the side of the head is more of a thick swoop narrowing toward the tip for the Black-throated Gray.

I was excited when I first saw this bird. The striking black and white pattern was clearly different from the Black-throated Gray Warblers I'd observed. This was my second-ever Black-and-white Warbler sighting. My first was back in Kentucky while visiting with family.

Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler Gilbert, AZ
Vagrant Black-and-white Warbler Gilbert, AZ
Spring migration is just around the corner so our trees here in Utah County will start buzzing with songs and calls from the typical warblers and vireos. Maybe I'll find my first Utah Black-and-white Warbler or some other rarity in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Orange Crown of an Orange-Crowned Warbler

I can't count the number of Orange-crowned Warblers I've seen in the past few years since I started birding. I can, however, tell you that I've never really seen the orange crown of an Orange-crowned Warbler until this past week while birding at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona.

My wife and I were in Gilbert visiting our daughter and her family and I had gone out for a couple hours of early morning birding while others were sleeping and getting a slow start to their day. I noticed a pair of Orange-crowned Warblers foraging in small trees along one of the many ponds in the Preserve. They were low and close so I began to capture some images.

Pacific Orange-crowned Warbler Showing the Rarely Seen Orange Crown in Gilbert, AZ
Pacific Orange-crowned Warbler Showing the Rarely Seen Orange Crown in Gilbert, AZ
Many bird species are named for obvious markings (e.g. Red-headed Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee), but some, such as the Orange-crowned Warbler, were named for marks that were initially observed on "birds in the hand", the very old way of studying birds.

Orange-crowned Warblers show several plumage variations (populations) in the western states. Pacific birds are more brightly colored and are probably what I photographed in Gilbert. Taiga birds show more gray. Both show the somewhat dark line that runs through the eye from the bill to just past the eye. This line breaks their faint white eye ring. Here's an image showing what I believe is a Taiga Orange-crowned Warbler.

Taiga Orange-crowned Warbler in Utah County, UT
I've read in my Sibley Guide to Birds that an intergrade population of Orange-crowned Warblers also exists in the western US states, but it's difficult to completely distinguish this group from the other two. A fourth population exists in the Channel Islands off the coast of California.

Along with Yellow-rumped and Yellow, Orange-crowned Warblers are among the most commonly seen warblers in the western United States. They are on the move and will be showing up in greater numbers in the more northern western US states soon. See if you can catch a glimpse of their orange crown.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oddly Plumaged Olympic Gull

I try to cultivate a genuine interest in gulls each winter, but I struggle to maintain that interest once I begin to be stumped by the vast array of plumages presented by the non-adult birds. I have no problem with identifying the adults and some younger birds for our common Utah gulls and I have been able to identify the adults for some of our less common winter gulls. However, identifying young gulls of the less common species can be tough for me. Throw in some young hybrid species and I really get stumped.

I found myself and another local birder stumped this morning when I stopped by Lee Kay Ponds (5600 W and California Avenue) after spending a few hours catching up on work assignments in my Salt Lake City office. The gull was associating with some young Herring Gulls. This gull's primaries were noticeably paler than those of the Herring Gulls and the head, mantle, chest and sides were showing more of a solid gray rather than brownish checkered pattern. I checked the only field guide I had with me and could not find a young gull to match what I was seeing. I didn't have much time so I decided to capture some images with the idea of referring to them later and sharing them with others to confirm the identity. It was identified as an Olympic Gull (Western x Glaucus-winged hybrid) that had been seen previously at the same location. The name Olympic, by the way, comes from the area in Washington where the breeding ranges for Western and Glaucus-winged Gulls overlap. I decided to share the images with an experienced Washington state birder who confirmed that the bill and wings were a match for Glaucus-winged Gull, but he found the grey color on the head, mantle, chest, and sides to be a bit odd for the gull. I suppose that's what you get when you start mixing species.

Here are images I captured today. A young Herring Gull dropped in on the hybrid as I was capturing the images. The gulls separated after a brief skirmish. The hybrid flew across the water and out of sight.

I'm ready to invest in my first guide to gulls so I'm open to recommendations if you have one. Feel free to share your recommendations and any comments you have on the plumage and identity of this oddly adorned Olympic Gull.