Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bulletin #145 - Southeast Arizona - raptors and rare birds.

I spent last weekend in the Tucson, Arizona area with guide Melody Kehl. I was attempting to finish photographing the local birds, that I had missed on 3 previous visits.

One of my target birds was the Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus). I had seen this bird only once before and that was soaring overhead. Melody was able to find about 10 of these birds, most of which were on telephone poles. Like most raptors, they spook easily and thus it is hard to get a good close-up photo. These birds are the same size as the Peregrine Falcon (16"), but they are brown overall, have a thin brown mustache, and the wing tips don't project to the tip of the tail as seen in the second photo.

Prairie Falcon - adult
Prairie Falcon - adult

In flight, this falcon has black axillae and underwings, which are diagnostic.

Prairie Falcon
Here is the similar sized Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). The adults are gray backed with creamy underparts, streaked with black. In the second photo, one can see that the wings almost reach the tip of the tail. The mustache is very wide, not just a streak as in the bird above. What a majestic bird this is!  

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
2 weeks before I went to Arizona I finally got some good photos of the small (10") falcon, the Merlin (Falco columbarius). The color morph was the light prairie form. As usual with birding, once you finally find a bird, they seem to be everywhere. Here is the darker morph called the taiga race that we found in Arizona.

Merlin - taiga
The Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) is our largest buteo at 23" in length.  90% of the birds are the light phase with white chest, rufous belly and legs,  and rufous back with heavy black streaking.

Ferruginous Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) comes in all colors form almost white to almost black. Here is what Sibley calls the intermediate form or other authors call the rufous morph. The chest and belly are red-brown.  

Red-tailed Hawk - rufous morph
The dark morph appears black, but you can see a reddish wash on the tail.   

Red-tailed Hawk - dark morph
The first of the rarities for the trip was a Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus). This rare visitor to the USA from Mexico is similar to the common American Robin, but the back and shoulders are reddish as well. This was a life bird for me. It was in view for only about 90 seconds, so I was lucky to get a good picture.  

Rufous-backed Robin - Patagonia AZ
The other rarity was the Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti). This small (6.75") dove is a sporadic visitor from Mexico to Arizona, New Mexico,  and Texas. It has a gray head and reddish brown body with dark streaks on the wings.  Here is a photo of 2 birds on a fence. The bird with less coloration may be a juvenile.   

Ruddy Ground-Dove - pair
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald
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