Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekly Birding Intake

This Saturday was another trip between the Desert Botanical Gardens and the McCormick Ponds. The DBG had its usual residents on display, and I again saw the Vermillion Flycatchers and Sora at the Ponds. Though I did not actually get to add any new birds to my List, it was a very pleasant morning with 60 degree weather and some nice photographic opportunities, even if they were only the usual suspects.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were the first birds of the day. It's hard to encapsulate their cuteness in a far away photograph, but I'll have many more chances at the DBG.

This fall plumage Yellow Warbler, still identified by the white eye-ring with the faint black stripe and yellow supercillium (streak above the eye), was the first to greet me at the Desert Wildflower Garden, although for the most part I saw only Lesser Goldfinches today (several dozen too, they were swarming).

I had a great look at a female Red-Shafted Flicker in the Gardens as well, and in addition to getting a good look at her red undersides, I got to see my first ever Woodpecker tongue!

With the speed of a frog and the daintiness of a hummingbird, the Flicker's tongue quickly steals breakfast out of every nook and cranny.

I also got to see some more Lincoln's Sparrows at the McCormick Ponds. This specimen seemed to have unusually large feet.

I met up with Mr. and Mrs. Butler Sr. at the McCormick Ponds. In addition to the Vermillion Flycatchers, Sparrows, and other commonalities, Mrs. Butler saw an American Kestrel while Mr. Butler also spotted some Spotted Sandpipers and the always lovely Say's Phoebe. As we decided to retreat from the rising sun and heat, we had a parting look at a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. I only saw my first Cooper's Hawk maybe 10 days ago, so this is the third one I've seen now in two weeks. Location Location Location!

Some courteous Killdeer stood guard by the parking lot. This is maybe the closest Killdeer have ever let me get, so naturally it was at a very beautiful area...

It was a lovely day of birding, a restorative jaunt in the natural world to refuel me through to next weekend.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

A small and spunky bird found over much of the U.S., the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher has become a bit of a nemesis bird for me to photograph. Maria and I first saw the Blue-Gray at the top of Camelback Mountain. We came upon a very cute little couple going about their morning routine (preening, stretching, foraging, pooping) in the shade of a young palo verde tree. They were either very tame or very preoccupied, and we were able to get within a few feet of the charming birds, particularly the beautiful slate-blue male. Needless to say I did not have the camera with me at the time.
We have since returned to Camelback, camera-in-hand, but have been unable to recapture that great first experience (or see them there at all). I see the Blue-Grays around at the Desert Botanical Gardens a lot, but they fancy the larger, more dense trees there and also seem to prefer staying well behind the "Staff Only" gates. I guess we used up our quota of Gnatcatcher luck that wonderful day on the mountain, so for now I must be patient.
*Update* I got some good shots on 11/12/2011, which are posted below.

White feathers on the underside of the tale are diagnostic of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, even if the rest of the body seems just black (like the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher).

I absolutely love this chalky blue coloring. Its soft, a bit muted, and totally unique.

Early Gnatcatcher Photos

Red-Shafted Flicker

The Red-Shafted Flicker is the prominent western species of Northern Flicker. As with the Gilded and Yellow-Shafted, it can be hard to actually see the colored feathers on this bird's wings and tail until it is flying away from you. I was able to get a few pictures where you can see the red-colored rachis of the feathers, which is a helpful back-up to knowing your species of Flicker.

When you see the black and white speckling and the red lines coming around the tree, you know who to expect!

This female's red feathers were catching the early morning sun pretty well, and she was catching the early morning bugs even better.

I'd never seen a Flicker's tongue before. Their beaks are already long and formidable, but that tongue shoots out with speed and precision. No insect is safe.

Gilded Flicker

The Gilded Flicker is one of three Northern Flicker subspecies, and is found only in the southwest. It sports the red mustache of the Red-Shafted subspecies, but has the yellow rachi and feathers of the Yellow-Shafted.

The yellow rachis, which is sort of like the stem for the feathers, is visible when the Flicker is perched. Since you usually only see the yellow flash of the underside feathers (of the wing and tail) as the bird is flying, observing the rachis is the next best way to identify which species of Flicker you're observing.