Friday, February 28, 2014

Have a Little OJ With Your Fruit Flies

He looked innocent enough, just chillin' among the oranges, having deep woodpecker thoughts...

In fact I first saw him sitting atop the bird feeder that I had hung on the orange tree's lower branches.

Hmmm... he sure is interested in those oranges.  Are they over-ripe and being eaten by ants and fruit flies?  Is my wonderous woodpecker helping control pests in my yard by dining on these pesky little creatures?  What a guy!

I don't think ants or fruit flies can bore perfect little holes like this...

When we picked the punctured citrus, loads of little fruit flies came out through the bore hole.

No wonder he looked so blissful!  He was having one heck of a buggy breakfast topped off with fresh OJ!

So, will I try to deter the woodpeckers from eating the oranges?  Probably not.  I'll follow the sage advice of Lee Singh at Singh Farms - "just plant more, some for us humans, and some for the birds".

Photos by Peggy Thomas

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Photos by Peggy Thomas

Spring is just around the corner, don't forget to plant a pollinator garden for our birds AND bees!  Hit the Spring Plant Sales at Desert Botanical Garden March 14th-16th and at Boyce Thompson Arboretum March 7th - 23rd.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Sticky Day at Coon Bluff

Its an odd February this year, unusually warm and in stark contrast to last year's record freeze. Many birds are making their appearance early, as if its spring.  Yet when we go to photograph these lovely gems, they are perched in a menacing tangle of twigs.  Its too early and the trees have yet to bloom.

So instead of capturing the birds out in the open as they nibble on fresh green foliage, we must fight our way through the terrible "stick people" who try to block every shot, no matter what the angle. A group of gorgeous Western Bluebirds stayed constantly out of range and only revealed their magnificent blue feathers during quick bursts of flight in and out of the twisted twiggy mesquite trees.

This beautiful male Northern Cardinal took pity on me and stepped out in the open just long enough for me to get a halfway clear shot before retreating back into obscurity.

The Phainopepla continuously mocked me by perching alluringly out in the open, yet so high up as to thwart off any closeup shots.  Are they tired of the parade of bird paparazzis who track them down at every turn and rudely point big black lenses at them?

This Black Phoebe (cleverly disguised as a Northern Rough-winged Swallow ;-) see comments) brazenly sat out in the open, taking a rest from a busy morning of dipping and diving along the river's edge, too tired to care about the paparazzi below.

Finally the resident pair of Bald Eagles at Coon Bluff stopped by and chatted away atop the cliff.  A nice ending to a rather "sticky" day at the Salt River.

Photos (mediocre at best) by Peggy Thomas

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

They Called Him Flicker, Flicker, Faster than Lightning...

A male Gilded Flicker swoops in to meet his "Red Shafted" Northern
Flicker mate, both flashing their differing colors. 
Taken November 13th at Papago Park ponds, Tempe, AZ, by Peggy Thomas

...under the trees, cavorting with Red and Yellow-shafted Flickers and producing hybrids just to make it even harder for us birders to tell all the Flickers apart!

Male Gilded Flicker, Papago Park, Nov. 2014
On a trip to Papago Park this fall, I noticed the above pair of Flickers frolicking high in the palm trees near the middle pond. At the time I thought it was a pair of Gilded Flickers.  Then I got home and started pouring over my photos and noticed the Red-shafted Flicker (Northern Flicker).  So I posted the photo online for others to comment on.  Here's what two of our local birding pro's, Gordon Karre and Pete Moulton, had to say:

Gordon - "Last winter I discovered a 'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker in South Mountain park that was hanging around with a Gilded Flicker and it pretty much spent the winter there. But have not seen it since, but there are several Gilded Flickers still in that same location. I was kind of watching for some hybridization, but did not find any."
Female "Red-shafted" Northern Flicker,
Papago Park, Nov. 2014.
Pete - "Could be a mated pair anyway, Peggy. Once upon a time (in 1973) the AOU merged the Yellow-shafted, Red-shafted, and Gilded Flickers into a single species, based on evidence of widespread interbreeding. I can vouch for the degree of interbreeding between Red and Yellow-shafteds in Colorado, and Gordon could say the same for Nebraska; but the AOU separated the Gilded back out some years ago, partly because the amount of interbreeding with Red-shafteds was less than supposed."

My photos were taken in November, not exactly breeding time for Gilded or Northern Flickers.  So it will be interesting to see in the coming months if these two are still at Papago Park and actually mate and produce hybrids.

Thank you Gordon Karre and Pete Moulton for your input :-).

Photos by Peggy Thomas

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Friday, February 7, 2014

White-crowned Sparrow Sub-species

The less common White-crowned Sparrow sub-species "oriantha"
("Interior West" subspecies in Sibley guidebook)
at Gilbert Water Ranch on Nov.17th, 2013.  Photo by Peggy Thomas

The next time you're out observing our cute little harbingers of winter, the White-crowned Sparrow, take a closer look.  You might be seeing the rare subspecies "oriantha"!

When I posted these photos on a Wordless Wednesday,  two of the Valley's most experienced birders, Pete Moulton and Diana Herron, quickly pointed out that I had captured close-ups of a sub-species of White-crowned Sparrows.  According to Diana -
"The White-crowned Sparrow shown above is not the usual White-crowned Sparrow that we see here in the southwest in the winter. It is the subspecies "oriantha" which breeds at high elevations in the interior mountain west. In Arizona they breed in the San Francisco Mountains near Flagstaff and winter to the south (in Mexico and Central America I think). Our common wintering White-crowned Sparrow is the subspecies "gambelii" which breeds in Alaska in the summer. This is a great shot of an unusual bird."

The less common White-crowned Sparrow sub-species "oriantha"
at Gilbert Water Ranch on Nov.17th, 2013.  Photo by Peggy Thomas

The more common White-crowned Sparrow sub-species "gambelii"
at Desert Botanical Garden on Nov.18th, 2013.  Photo by Peggy Thomas

The difference between the two sub-species is mainly the beak and the lores.  The less common "oriantha" has dark lores and a pinkish beak, whereas the more common "gambelii" has grey lores and a yellow beak.

Thank you Pete Moulton and Diana Herron for helping me become a better birder!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

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