Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bulletin #67 – SE Arizona #1 – Short-tailed Hawk and woodpeckers

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
February 20, 2009

Bulletin #67 – SE Arizona #1 – Short-tailed Hawk and woodpeckers

Hello friends,

(Note - Please click on the photo to see a full screen enlargement. You can also search for images in the box at top left)

I had a meeting in Phoenix AZ at the end of January on a Friday. Afterwards, I drove down to Tucson for the weekend to find more of the specialty birds that occur there.

With the help of a wonderful guide (Melody Kehl), I found 9 life birds and photographed a total of 13 new species. Her web site is -

The Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) is a small hawk (16”) that is perhaps the most difficult of all the North American hawks to find. It is a tropical species that occurs regularly only in Florida. There are sporadic sightings in south Texas and Arizona. I have looked for it in Florida without luck. In the Florida guide, they are listed as being difficult to see perched, as they sit quietly high in the canopy of trees and seldom on telephone poles or wires like other hawks. As soon as the air heats up in the morning, they ride thermals to great heights and can be seen as a speck in the sky.

As do other hawks, they have 2 color morphs, light and dark with the dark predominating (75%). The dark morph is all black, the light morph Pranty describes in the Florida guide as a ‘spectacular bird’. It has a black back and head, pure white underparts and rufous patch on the neck.

Well luck was with me on this trip. There had been 3 pairs breeding in 2008 in southeast Arizona in the mountains. One bird, instead of migrating back to Mexico for the winter, moved into a neighborhood in Tucson where it took up residence in a sycamore tree in a person’s yard. Sometimes he would fly and land on top of a cypress tree in the wide open.

The guide took me to the area in the late afternoon. We drove around several times until we spotted the bird in the sycamore tree. It was a light morph form and a lifer for me.

Here he is when we first found him in the sycamore tree.

He flew from there to the top of the cypress and sat in the wide open. The tree was perhaps 50’ tall, so I put a 2x extender on the lens to bring the bird in closer.

Here are a couple of photos, with the second one clearly showing the rufous neck patch. The late afternoon sun gives the breast a warm yellowish cast. I don’t think one could get better looks at this species!

The Arizona Woodpecker (Picoides arizonae) is the only brown-backed woodpecker in the USA. We found this male in Madera Canyon southeast of Tucson. The male has the red occipital patch. The female would not have the red patch. This was a lifer.

Here are 2 photos of the same bird.

Also at the same place was this female Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). The black and white face with black back is distinctive for this species.

Also in Madera Canyon were 2 species of sapsuckers. The first was a lifer for me, the Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis). This bird is a recent split from the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in eastern North America. This female has a red crown patch, red throat and red patch on the nape of the neck.

The other was a female Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus). She looks markedly different from the male who has a solid black back and black and white striped head. I photographed him in northern California last summer.

If you want to see the male for comparison, here is the link to his photo from Bulletin #43

The Gilded Flicker (Colaptes chrysoides) is an Arizona specialty bird, as it nests in the giant Saguaro Cactus. It is smaller (11”) than the Northern Flicker in the rest of North America. It drill out holes in the cactus and is the only creature to do so, but others use the abandoned holes for shelter and nesting. Some of the cacti we saw looked like Swiss cheese with a large number of cavities.

Here are the male and female on a telephone pole. The male has a red malar stripe and both have warm brown colored top of heads.

Here is a starling using an abandoned nest hole.

Lastly, here is a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), on the ground in Madera Canyon, for comparison. The top of head is gray behind the eye. This is actually an interesting bird in that he has the red patch on the back of the neck like a yellow-shafted form and the red malar stripe of the red-shafted form. These 2 forms of the Northern Flicker interbreed where their ranges overlap. This is not strictly a hybrid as they are 2 different forms of the same species. For this, the term used is intergrade. So this is an intergrade male Northern Flicker. The bicolored bill with a black tip is also interesting.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography

David McDonald

photos copyright 2009 David McDonald

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1 comment:


Love to view your bird pictures through your emails - I'm so glad you added this blog and I hope you will update it often. This post was very informative! Glad to have another South Central Texas nature blogger! Welcome!