Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bulletin #146 - Southeast Arizona#2 - hummers and sparrows

I spent a 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 last common North American hummingbird that I had not yet photographed. Melody took me to an arboretum with lots of flowers. She always found the bird here and we were not disappointed. The male Costa's Hummingbird (Calypte costae) is a real stunner with purple crown and throat extending onto the breast. He is a magnificent bird.

Costa's Hummingbird - male
The long extensions of the purple gorget are just long feathers as they stick out when the bird changes positions as can be seen in this male, while grooming.
Costa's Hummingbird
The female has a clean white throat, but grayish cheeks. Notice she has some yellow pollen on her bill.

Costa's Hummingbird - female
The juvenile male is starting to get some throat feathers. He also has pollen on his bell.

Costa's Hummingbird - juvenile male
As you all know, the beautiful gorget feathers of a male hummingbird appear gray or black until they catch the sunlight and then the color flashes. I assumed that when I started to photograph them, that using a flash would cause the gorget to show its color. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually happen. In most photos, the gorget appears dark, unless it is flashing when the photo is taken. This makes hummingbird photography even more challenging. Here is the male in shade with flash. the gorget just appears black.

Costa's Hummingbird - male
I took some photos of other hummers that we found. Here is a male Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris). This bird is IDed by blue throast, green back and breast and red bill.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - male
The Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) is the only North American hummer with a red crown. This juvenile male has a start on his red throat and crown.

Anna's Hummingbird - juvenile male
Another target bird was the Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii). This genus of sparrows all are distinguished by having flat heads and being very secretive and hard to see. The Baird's Sparrow nests in the southern prairie provinces of Canada as well as Montana and the Dakotas. It winters in west central Mexicao as well as the borders area from Big Bend in Texas to Arizona. This was a lifer for me as I had missed it on my Big Bend trip 2 years ago. It is IDed by the flat head, a necklace of black streaks that has a horizontal lower border - doesn't extend down onto the breast and some tan coloration under the streaks. I would have had a tough time figuring out this bird without Melody finding it for me.

Baird's Sparrow
Now, compare that bird to this Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) that was seen in the same location. This very common sparrow can be very darkly streaked on the breast to fairly lightly streaked as this one is. It appears quite similar to the sparrow above, but the streaks extend onto the central breast and it lacks the tan color under the streaks. The head is more rounded as well.

Savannah Sparrow
The Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri) at 5.5" in length is the smallest North American sparrow. This drab bird of the southwest is difficult to ID except by voice. Both times I have seen it was with a guide.

Brewer's Sparrow
From the smallest, hard to ID sparrow to one of the larger (7") easy ID sparrows, the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). This is an easy ID with large size, black and white striped crown, pink bill, and plain gray underparts.

White-crowned Sparrow
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2011 David McDonald
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