Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Verdins have a family all to themselves. Small and active, they inhabit the southwestern U.S. Verdin's heads are a strong yellow, and while the breast and back is a uniform whitish-grey to brown, they have unique red shoulder patches that require more than a passing observation. Some books show there to be a slight dark streak across the eye as well, and this seems to vary on an individual basis.
Living in Arizona, Verdins were one of the first birds I observed that helped me appreciate the beauty and detail in many birds I otherwise wouldn't have given a second look. Their yellow and red really isn't very visible unless they're very close, and it really impressed upon me how much detail the casual observer can miss if a bird seems pretty bland from far away.

I recently got to capture a fun series of shots of a Verdin eating lantana berries for dinner. They were quite a mouthful, but she was determined. (Click on images for larger view).
The setting sun always lends a wonderful glow to pictures that makes up for its fading light.
With the sun going down, Ms. Verdin decides it's chow-time.
I've been told it is not polite to watch someone eat...something about it being undignified.
One of the last ripe berries. You can see how the clusters have been selectively cleared out.
Her beak has to open pretty wide to swallow this berry, but she doesn't seem too worried about it. I was very glad Ms. Verdin let me join her for dinner.

These are some of my earlier Verdin photos. All of my Verdin pictures have been taken at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-Crowned Sparrow has a striped cap that stands in sharp contrast to the normal, mottled browns and grays that cover most of the sparrow's body. The cap also accentuates the sparrow's unusually yellow beak.
Since seeing them briefly in California, I've now seen many of these regal Sparrows at the Water Ranch in Gilbert. With their pretty caps and pretty songs, I prefer them to the House Sparrows any day.

They descend on Arizona and many other warmer states en masse as the autumn turns to winter, and then they head up north with as it turns to spring.


Acorn Woodpecker

The acorn woodpecker is a common woodpecker with some uncommon characteristics. It is one of the few uniformly black-backed woodpeckers, and also has a unique facial mask going from the top of its breast up to the forehead. Additionally, it has a yellow eye, and I'm not aware of any other woodpecker than the much larger (and most awesome) Pileated Woodpecker and the (much extinct) Ivory-Billed Woodpecker that also has the yellow eye.

I normally like to provide a close-up photo of the bird if the picture is of the appropriate quality. However, here I found the background to actually be as attractive as the bird. The afternoon foggy lighting and the well-weathered wood were a beautiful combination. 

American Crow

Lots of people assume Crows are these disgusting, Machiavellian scavengers. They may have a point, but sometimes they can look decent if they're up in a tree.

Western Scrub-Jay/Pacific Coast

The Scrub has several North American manifestations. The Pacific Coast Jay has a much darker hue of blue compared to the interior Scrub Jay, and the Florida Scrub Jay is almost white on the back, with its wings and tail whiter as well. These Pacific Scrub Jays were fantastic models in the Big Sur afternoon lighting:

Steller's Jay

The Steller's Jay is the darkest jay, but still has a lot of variation within the blue on its wings and tail. It additionally has some very interesting coloration of its forehead--I guess I'd call them thunderbolts. This setting in Big Sur California made for pretty great photography.

Brown Pelican

The Beach Patrol! Flying in formation, these Brown Pelicans keep an eye out for any misdemeanors or fish. They also don't mind being photographed out of focus. I asked them.

Dark-Eyed Junco/Oregon-Race

There are fives subspecies comprising the junco hyemalis group. The Oregon-Race is the most widespread in the West, and sports a dark hood with its buffy back, yellow beak, white-streaked tail, and dark eye. Slate colored juncos are uniformly darker while the pink-sided juncos have a rosy tint to their sides. These Oregon-Race juncos prefer the undergrowth, and are very charming companions on a woodland walk.

California Gull

A normal-looking gull in most respects, the California Gull is set apart by its red eye, which the Glaucous-Winged Gull lacks, and its black wingtips, which the Herring Gull lacks. I have no idea what other Gull chicks look like, but apparently the California Gulls favor a leopard-like disguise for their young.


Wilson's Warbler

I've had repeated run-ins with this Warbler now in Arizona as well as California. I still have been unable to get a better picture, even though this bird is common during migratory periods and is not overly shy. For the moment, the Wilson's Warbler is my official nemesis. Every Ahab needs his White Whale (or little yellow bird).

This is the closest I've come. I actually had the bird in focus, but of course there's a heavy shadow obscuring the face.

House Wren

Wrens are tidy little birds, and always seem to have some great task at hand. The House wren is the most widespread, but is still an uncooperative subject for the greenhorn photographer (myself).

California Quail

Quail, Maria's favorite, are just really great birds. They have beautiful plumage, little Renaissance caps, are the cutest chicks, insist on running when flying would be far better, and are delicious. The California species are more scaled than their cousins, but have a very similar and very ornate face.

Oak Titmouse

The Oak Titmouse is, like, totally, only in California, bro. Apart from its white eye-ring and semi-pointed tuft, it's fairly non-descript. They can be found, predictably enough, hanging around in oak trees. They lack the black forehead and rusty/rosy sides of the tufted titmouse, and instead have a lighter gray mask.

Western Bluebird

Although it closely resembles the better known Eastern Bluebird, the Western Bluebird has a comparatively smaller range, but does sport a little more blue on the chin. The rufus belly extends up to the bottom of the beak on the Eastern variety. They're a funny bird in that they seem to have very inconsistent behavior by region. When I saw them in San Jose, CA, they were very tame and stayed very low to the ground (unfortunately those were the pre-camera days). Now when I see them in Arizona they prefer the highest canopies of the cottonwood and willow woodlands along the Arizona rivers. Very rarely they'll come down, still keeping a safe distance, and allow for some brief photography.

House Finch

House Finches are everywhere all year round, but with their red rumps, ruddy faces, and cheerful behavior, they're some of the more welcome of the family extremely common. They pose well too.

Black Phoebe

The only black-breasted flycatcher in North America, the black phoebe is perhaps the most conspicuous of the larger flycatchers (although it is not itself very large). Their range is restricted to the American southwest, California, and Mexico, though they inhabit this area year-round. They tend to hang out near water and are not averse to man-made environments, but in my experiences they're still pretty shy. 

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Nuttall's Woodpeckers are some of the smaller members of the Picidae Family, and their range is limited exclusively to California. They have the sort of black and white zebra striping all over their back and wings, and are the only such woodpeckers to be found West of the Sierra Nevadas. Some bird books show the red spot located towards the back of the head, but other pictures confirm it to be on the forehead, as was my observation here: