Sunday, March 27, 2016

Madera Whiskers: An 8 o'clock Shadow

Two blog posts in the same month? It does feel a bit excessive, a bit overkilled. Was there really an age when these came out every week? Anyhow, with no school/work this past Friday there was some extra time even if it came with extra commitments as well. A proper day's hiking and birding is still hard to come by but in a capricious and volatile landscape one must be like the Mexican Jay: adaptable and slate-blue.

Madera Canyon has not a few virtues, and in addition to those relating to is avifauna its relative proximity to Phoenix is high on the list. Considering that most of the premium Maricopa County birding spots are still 45+ minutes, two hours to Madera is quite reasonable.
Butler's Birds headed down with some associates around 12pm and arrived with plenty of daylight left for a hike and merry-making.
Groups of people often make groups of birds uncomfortable, but groups of Titmice are equal to the task. The bird below, with the unintentionally affected lighting, looks like a miniature Blue Jay.

One of the additional attractions to Madera Canyon is the night-scene, which definitely cannot be said of the Green Valley area at large. Mexican Whips had not arrived yet nor any errant Buff-collared Nightjars, but the Whiskered Screech-Owls were in fine form after sundown.
It took a little while, between when the birds started calling around the Bog Springs campground at 7:30 to 8:00pm, but the WHSOs, much like WESOs, were eventually very curious and accommodating. 

Night birding really is a pleasure. The species list will rarely break double digits, of course, but being surrounded by invisible calling owls, only catching the faintest glimpses of movement against a starlit backdrop, establishes that oneness feeling, that warm enveloping with nature that birders and naturalist so often seek.
It's also a pleasure because you do not have to get up super early or supersede other early day activities to do it, and you don't have to worry about back-lighting or white-washing.

Not only were the WHSOs accommodating, they actually were responsive to my impersonation calls. I will be quick to go on record in saying that neither my WESO nor WHSO calls are particularly good (nor any others), but these owls were good sports, coming low in their oaken milieus for some encouraging face-to-face conversations. Maybe they just wanted to check out whatever ungainly and awkward owl would be making such rude noises.

Friday, March 18, 2016

It Just Won't Die

Lazarus has nothing on Butler's Birds when it comes to resurrections. A month since the last post, we are at it again, but not in the normal diurnal pursuit of birds that culminates in a pleasant morning's jaunt. With work and other obligations seeming to multiply during the day, this week B's Bs drug its zombie bones back from the dusty crypt of inactive blogs and out into preternaturally warm March ebon along the Salt River. Here one finds the seemingly oxymoronic combination of lush desert vegetation, of riparian growth amid an arid landscape.

This is prime location for breeding Elf Owls later in the spring and summer, but even before their coming it is a great spot for lycanthropic prowls, with the removal from city lights and sandy mesquite washes providing nocturnal birding via residential and early-arriving species that perpetuate their cacophonous societies only after sundown. Here is the Phoenix nightlife.   
Near the Salt River shoreline, the constant caterwauling of leopard frogs (maybe some other species) is occasionally perforated by the plaintive intonations of Common Poorwills. When the moon is out in reflective force they forage well into the night, flying with the sporadic bursts of an insect and yet with decided purpose. They hunt prodigiously both from low perches and from the ground.

Some of the other fauna, like the Arizona Toad, come directly out of the ground after long periods of inactivity--Butler's Birds can relate to this very much.


Prior to Elf Owl arrival (and probably even after) Western Screech-Owls have the most widespread and vocal presence along the Salt River. In more favorable mesquite groves it's not uncommon to find three or more Owls counter-calling, ordinarily hidden within the brushy foliage but exposed in their silhouettes by the pervasive moonlight.
Although they're 60% larger than Elf Owls, the WESOs can still be tricky to pick out of a mesquite thicket, even when vocalizing. Once spotted, they are often cooperative.

Western Screech-Owls pale in comparison to their tufted cousin, the Great Horned, relative to size and ferocity, but as they hunt reptiles, mammals, insects, fledgling birds, and even fish, they are in a way one of the most encompassing and successful predators in the area, and more of the Sonoran fauna have reason to fear the WESO silent wing beats and eternal watch than they do the Great Horns, Coyotes, and Bobcats. Butler's Birds does not fear though, because Butler's Birds is, obviously, undead.