Monday, July 2, 2012

Bulletin #158 - SE Arizona birds

Lisa and I went to Arizona to photo some of the remaining birds that I missed on 4 previous visits. There were 2 birds in particular that I was searching for, and of course any other that we could find and improve on. Once again I hired guide Melody Kehl in Tucson. Melody had located nests for both these birds and the first morning we nailed both of them!

The first is the only regular trogon in the USA, the Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans). If you have birded the tropics at all, you are familiar with this family of large (13") long-tailed slow moving birds. The males have green backs and red bellies. Also notice the gray wing patches. This was not a lifer as I had seen a female in Mexico in the 90's.
Elegant Trogon - male
The female is browner, with a white breast, coppery tail, and white line behind the eye. She also has a red belly, but it doesn't show in this photo.
Elegant Trogon - female
The second target bird was only about 50 yards away, also at a nest hole in a tree. This was the Northern Pygmy-Owl. Melody pointed out to us that their are 2 populations of this species that differ by voice. This bird was the Mountain Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma). It is listed as such in the National Geographic field guide. Sibley uses the Mexican race for this one. The ABA has not split this species yet, but the IOU already has in their 2012 list of world bird names. So I will conform to the IOU listing and call this a full species of Mountain Pygmy-Owl. So I now have to find the Northern Pygmy-Owl somewhere else! This is a diurnal owl that hunts small birds. Either one was a lifer.
We saw a male come to the nest and feed the female inside. The sexes are similar in this small (7"0 brown owl with spots on back and streaked breast.
Mountain Pygmy-Owl
Next he flew to a branch and perched for about 5 minutes before flying off to hunt.

Mountain Pygmy-Owl
A common bird but with an interesting story is the local race of Purple Martins (Progne subis). Everyone is familiar with our largest swallow. The male is dark purple and the female has a purplish back, but gray breast. In the eastern part of the country, they almost always nest in man-made martin houses. However, the Sonoran Desert race in southeast Arizona nest exclusively in Saguaro cacti. Here is the male.
Purple Martin - Sonoran race - male
The female is paler and has a prominent white forehead and nape of neck compared to the eastern birds that I am familiar with.
Purple Martin - Sonoran race - female
Here is a male at a nest hole in a Saguaro cactus.
Purple Martin - Sonoran race - male
Another bird that I managed to get improved photos was the male Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana). As you may remember from a bulletin last year, there was talk of moving the piranga genus of tanagers to the cardinal family of birds. So far, neither the ABA nor the IOU has done so. It is still a tanager. The breeding male has a yellow body, red head, black tail and wings with 2 wing bars - one yellow and one white. I caught this bird on a feeder in Madera Canyon. I had seen one of these birds at High Island during spring migration, where it is a real rarity, but didn't get a photo before it flew away.
Western Tanager - breeding male
He then flew to a branch and allowed me to photograph his other side.
Western Tanager - breeding male
On an evening trip to California Gulch along the Mexican brder, we found a family of Canyon Wrens (Catherpes mexicanus). At first we just saw 6 babies making their way across the rock face. No adults were to be seen.
Canyon Wrens - 6 babies
As they moved to the right, they came to a small hole in the rock and the parents were there calling to the little ones. Here is an adult with the brown belly and 2 babies. The opening is just above the blades of grass on the left of the photo. At dusk when we were there, the opening just looked black, but the flash illuminated the interior. The babies started going into the small cavity in the rock.

Canyon Wren adult and 2 babies beside nest cavity in rock face
Once the babies were all in, the parents also went in. Here is a photo showing an adult just above and several babies inside, their eyes bright from the flash. It was fascinating to see this whole scene. Nature is so interesting if one just takes the time to stop and watch life unfold before your eyes.

Canyon Wren nest cavity in rock with several babies seen inside
Lastly, I have a Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre). The Arizona race of this bird have very indistinct breast spots and a yellow eye. The south Texas birds in contrast have distinct spots and a red or orange eye.

Curve-billed Thrasher - Arizona
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

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