Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Surprising Bit of Birding at Grenada Park

When I went to Grenada Park this week, which is by all accounts a pretty non-descript, unremarkable piece of land, I was not expecting much in way of birding. I should have remembered our experience on Camelback Mountain, but at least this time around I had the camera handy. Grenada Park has two small ponds, so I was expecting the usual suspects of geese and mallards. I was quickly surprised to see a Lesser Scaup (*misidentified at the time) among the crowd (well before the Fall) as well as a handsome Double-Crested Cormorant and a stately Coot.
I then heard the familiar screeching of the Rosy-Faced Lovebirds, who seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see them. The fun continued as I proceeded towards the uphill pond, and passed a lone Killdeer sentry at a safe distance along the way.
An odd bulk in an otherwise ordinary
conifer tree caught my attention, and further examination revealed a finely decorated Green Heron failing in his camouflage, but also not seeming to mind the attention too much. I served as this Heron's paparazzi for a while, and even managed to get a couple good in-flight photos, as well as some interesting close-ups of his funny heron feet, which I had never been able or bothered to observe before. I don't know that Grenada Park will hold much more until the weather relaxes a bit, but it provided yet another nice birding jaunt that far exceeded expectations.

Green Heron

I had a great bit of luck photographing this little heron in Arizona, and in August no less! I first noticed him perched rather curiously in a pine tree, but when he decided I was not threatening he soon returned to the water's edge, which provided me with much better lighting for some detail photography. In addition to the welcome shots of his lovely green and brown iridescence, I was very surprised to see how offset the Heron's rear toe was relative to the rest of his foot and to his leg.
Even though I couldn't get him to extend his neck or raise his crest, I consider this and the Red-Tailed Hawk some of the best photographical moments I've yet had, and am glad to be able to find such cooperative waders in the middle of the Summer.

American Coot

If a chicken, a small heron, a duck, and a piece of charcoal were combined in some sort of government funded science experiment, it would likely create the American Coot.
At first glance, these birds don't have a lot going on. Their interesting lobed feet are seldom visible, since they're usually swimming, and their entire body is a slate-gray to black. They usually keep to themselves, and are content to let the ducks have first pick of the bread bits tossed their way.
However, their forehead shields do make for a bit of a statement and while I have no idea what they are actually for, they do serve to instantly identify the Coot from Moorhens, Gallinules, or Rails.
When reviewing these otherwise simple photos though, I was struck by the calmness, pleasantly, and what I could only describe as the bird version of femininity visible with the Coot's face.

You can see how, unlike on Grebes or Cormorants, the Coot's oily feathers a pretty waterproof. 

This Coot was at Encanto Park and provided me with a nice opportunity to photograph these funny birds out of water. The Coot's oversized feet have lobed toes which seem to serve as compromises between the fully palmated feet found on ducks and normal, non-palmated anisodactylic feet found on most birds. They seem to work pretty well for swimming, but they might've gotten short-changed on their terrestrial application. However Coot's don't spend much time ashore apart from nesting, so they seem to get along well enough.

Here are some more recent Coot-out-of-water photos.

Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is one of the larger and more common woodpeckers in North America. There are two subspecies: Yellow-Shafted and Red-Shafted, and then the separately categorized Gilded. All provide plenty to appreciate.

In the West we see the Gilded and Red-Shafted Flicker. At first I assumed the name had something to do with the birds' mustaches, since the males have red and the females have the same mustard color seen on their heads. I figured the sexes looked alike and so red-mustache = Red-Shafted and mustard mustache = Gilded. The name actually refers to the rachis, or stem portion of the feathers, which are normally a lightish yellow (on the Gilded) but are a bright red on the Red-Shafted. The mustaches and the heavily speckled breast contribute a very nice, nuanced beauty to this large bird, and I always enjoy seeing them.

This female red-shafted flicker is engaging in typical flicker behavior. Flickers often dig into the ground, under or around rocks and roots in search of ants, beetles, or grubs. It must be easier then pecking wood.
                                                                I love the polka-dots


These noisy plovers are often heard before they are seen, and in my experiences they usually flee once they're noticed. They're pretty shorebirds that are most often found on farm country and moist fields across North America.

They nest on the open ground and have precocious chicks, which are as cute and cuddly as they are lacking in good judgment.

When predators are near a Killdeer nest, the parents will often feign injury and try to draw them away. This bit of guile does not work on humans so well, but luckily we're seldom looking to harvest Killdeer eggs.

They'll lay low to the ground and spread out their wings and/or tail, appearing to have a broken bone.

Once the predator takes the bit and moves toward the adult, it will magically recover just enough to run a few more feet away, while still appearing injured.

When the danger has been drawn sufficiently away from the nest or young...exit stage right for the Killdeer. Hopefully the predator doesn't remember his original plan.

Harris's Hawk

Although they don't often stray outside of Southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the Harris's Hawk is still a common and pleasing sighting in the area. Their darker coloration, dark eyes, and rusty shoulders make them immediately recognizable, as does their proportionately longer beak. They can be seen hunting and socializing in small groups (I've seen 3 together at times), and have a very raspy, drawn out call which they seem to vocalize more often than other raptors.
The Harris's Hawk is a buteo (contrast with an accipiter like the Cooper's), which means it has longer and broader wings relative to its body size that help it glide with minimal exertion.

 It's hard to catch the brown eye with all the dark of the head.

Would that we all could scratch our backs so easily.
I love the eyebrows here, and the slight sense of indignation at having someone taking pictures of his undersides.

This Harris's Hawk Was a good 80 feet away, at the top of a very tall palm tree. It was exceedingly bright out as well, but even without the ideal conditions this was still a neat experience. It was very windy and you can see him catching the thermals to rise up without even beating his wings.
 Here you can see the whites on the tail, both at the base and the tip. With the yellows legs and beak, rusty shoulders and thighs, and dark wings, the Harris' Hawk has got to be one of the more intricately colored raptors in North America.

Inca Dove

With a relatively small range (for a dove) that does not much exceed the Southern parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, the Inca Dove has much less of an empire than its now-extinct namesake. However, they did outlast the Incas, and they have no dearth of competition from larger doves or grackles either. Their feathers have a scaled look to them that encompasses their entire body, unlike other semi-scaled birds such as the California Quail, and their soft call combined with mild manners makes them a pleasant addition to the typical batch of Southwestern birds one might see making a ruckus about the feeders.

I like their eyes. Unlike other, larger doves who seem to always have a blank stare, the Inca Dove eyes seem to have a slight glimmer of kindness and gentleness behind them. These are grandma birds if there is such a thing.

For a size comparison, here is an 8 inch Inca Dove in front of a 10 inch Mourning Dove