Monday, November 21, 2011

Close Encantos of the Bird Kind

I managed to squeeze in some early morning birding at Encanto Park on Sunday. Since I had been thinking I wouldn't be able to go birding at all this weekend, everything I saw and photographed was already a bonus. The first bird of the morning was a handsome White-Crowned Sparrow. This was a peculiar sighting in that there were maybe a dozen White-Crowned sparrows in this little area, but only two of them had their full adult plumage. I have never seen such a high ratio of juveniles to adults.
They all kept pretty low to the ground, so when this adult flew up into the light for 5 minute's peace, I quickly snapped the picture and carried on my way. 

It's been bugging me a little bit that I did not yet have good Grackle pictures. You can find the birds just about anywhere, but it can be hard to find good specimens for photography. You don't want any of the mangy birds that are usually missing feathers or hanging out in dirty/unphotogenic places. You also want to get the light at the right angle so you can showcase the Grackle's impressive iridescence. This bold contender was occupying a little rock in one of the golf course ponds. Although the yellow of the eye is a bit blown by the excessive light, I'm keeping the photo as it marks an important milestone. This is my first action shot of a defecating bird!

A nearby female provided another photo-op. She was more composed, or at least more polite in front of the camera. However, a few theatrics wouldn't have hurt. The female Grackle is perhaps one of the most dull birds you'll see. To be fair, she has a bit of the iridescent green on her shoulders and back, but it's hard for me to get past the monochromatic brown. I imagine part of my hang-up is that I usually see Grackles in dirty places, which makes the darker colors seem all the more corrupted, and it's hard to shake that stigma. Of course, there's more to a bird than its color, and I was glad to finally have a pair of Great-Tailed Grackles added to my photographic collection.   

Seeing this male Anna's Hummingbird in all of his scintillating glory was definitely the highlight of the day. I spotted the flash of red atop a bottle tree and snapped. This first picture was taken probably 15 feet from the base of the trunk, with the treetop being another 20 feet high (my mathematical wife tells me that means it was around 25 feet away). I'm including this initial picture just to give an idea of how incredibly eye-catching his ruby helmet was in the morning light, even from a distance. 

This precocious Anna's started to fly rounds between a couple of the nearby trees and bushes, stopping briefly to sound his trilling call, take a breath, and then quickly move on to his next checkpoint. I was very fortunate to have him stop close by and give me a great look at his broadside. It's amazing to me, given the previous coloration, the total lack of visible red when he was perpendicular to the sun. Looking at this picture alone, I'd never otherwise assume this Hummer had anything but dark grayish/greenish feathers on his face.

I was unlucky that he did not turn fully into the sun (just as well, it probably would have been blinding). Even this slight turn of his head, maybe 20 degrees, filled his face with color. I love that even the little side patch behind the eye lights up. The scaly green back and fluffy leggings alone would make this a beautiful bird, but with that scarlet headgear it's almost an overload!

I was leaving the park feeling pretty great. From no birding at all to a pooping Grackle and a super cool Hummingbird, it was already a great Sunday. So it was icing on the cake when this Harris's Hawk landed on the divider for the adjacent golf course driving range. He let out his recognizable, hoarse "scrawwww" and declared this telephone pole to be solely his property. I see Harris's hawks a lot on the east side of town, but this was my first ever in west Phoenix.