April 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: A Backyard Afternoon

"I was this close..."

"Was it over here?"

**editor's note**
I am not implying through this post that we condone letting house cats roam around outside without a leash. The events pictured here represent a very rare, well-supervised and controlled outside experience for our cat in an enclosed backyard. In fact, I believe all domestic pets should be kept leashed or under strict voice command (that they actually respond to) at all times while outside. Remember, save the birds: keep your cat inside!

Anyway...yeah, that's all I wanted to say. Carry on.

April 27, 2008

Forced to Bird

So, last Monday I was scheduled to depart for a week-long training in Denver late in the afternoon. I figured it was the perfect chance to buzz down to one of Southeast Arizona's birding hotspots to see some cool birds since I had a couple hours to kill. Wouldn't anyone get up at 3:30am, drive 300 out-of-the-way miles to spend two hours looking for one of these?

Ok, maybe not, but it was so worth it. Not only did I finally get to share a shady patch of forest with an Elegant Trogon, I was able to add an additional six species to my ABA life list. The day didn't start out very well, however, when, after having already reached Phoenix, that sinking feeling of disappointment began to overcome me. I reached over to the camera sitting beside me in the passenger seat and deftly clicked open the battery compartment. Sticking my finger into the empty compartment confirmed what I already knew. I had left my camera battery plugged into the recharger back at home.

I made a quick and desperate stop at a 24-hour Wal-Mart hoping they might carry an extra one that I could use for my birding trip, but to no avail. Oh well. I'd have to do without my camera for this trip. It was a big bummer, too, considering all the cool species I anticipated seeing. I was finally able to bum a battery off of a stranger for a few minutes, enabling me to get a couple quick shots of one of the more exciting lifers I encountered, a Northern Pygmy Owl eating a lizard:

I like this shot, even though it's a bit out of focus, because you can see the "eye patches" on the back of its head. I showed up just a few minutes too late to see the owl copulating with its mate, though. That would've been fun to watch!

Anyway, the experience taught me a good lesson, and forced me to just enjoy the experience of birding, rather than focusing on trying to capture the "perfect shot". I discovered that when I take my camera out to go birding, I spend all my time concentrating on developing my photography skills, and often forget to simply enjoy the birds I'm seeing. Not to say photography isn't enjoyable, but it's nice to be reminded why I started birding in the first place.

That said, it would have been really, really, REALLY nice to have my camera with me when the Elegant Trogon perched beautifully on a branch no more than 15 feet from me. Oh well...

Anyway, here are the other exciting lifers I saw that morning:

Northern Pygmy Owl
Chihuahuan Raven
Flame-colored Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Plumbeous Vireo
Yellow-eyed Junco

April 12, 2008

Birdcam Antics: Hummers, Orioles and Woodpeckers

I figured it was time for me to put my Wingscapes Birdcam to good use again. And with the arrival of some of our exciting and colorful summer residents, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see just who visits our hummingbird feeders while we're not at home.

I tried two seperate locations to play around with lighting and angles. This first movie, compiled from clips spanning from 6:18am to around 4:15pm yesterday, was at the feeders' normal location, hanging from the eaves of the house near our dining room window:

For this second movie, compiled from today's clips, I moved the most popular feeder to the clothesline in our backyard to try to take advantage of the more direct sunlight. I'd never keep the feeder out there during the height of summer, so this was my opportunity during the cooler spring to try it out. It took much longer for the birds to find it, with the first hummer not arriving until 7:08am. Eventually, everyone did find it, but considerably less activity. Yesterday the cam captured 505 10-second clips while today's location only captured 137.

I particularly liked the unexpected visitor at 0:22, and the look on the Black-chinned Hummingbird's face when he looks back at the camera at the one-minute mark. Priceless!

April 10, 2008

Signs of Summer

Although my relatives in Minnesota would never know it (they're expecting another 8-10" of snow tonight), summer is just around the corner. And with his arrival at our hummingbird feeder this morning, this Hooded Oriole is a herald of the hot days to come. While I'm certainly not looking forward to four months of 95-110 degree weather, the presence of birds like this in our backyard sort of make it bearable. Almost.

April 06, 2008

Sunday Morning Birding

For the first time in a long while I got up early to do some birding this morning. I hadn't done much birding at all over the last couple months. I guess I was just getting a little tired of seeing the same winter residents every time I went out. But with spring in full bloom, the new migrants are adding splashes of brilliant color to the vibrant greens of the new leaves.

Probably the most vivid of all our summer birds is the Vermilion Flycatcher. Even though we've got a pair who nest only 100 yards from our front door it still took Sonja half the summer last year to finally see one of these. As brilliant as they sometimes are, sometimes even the most conspicuous of birds can be rather inconspicuous.

Another recent arrival is the Bullock's Oriole. We actually have three oriole species that nest in the park, but I have yet to see the other two this season (Scott's and Hooded Orioles).

I spent the better part of two hours in the picnic area just down the road from our house. There was definitely plenty of activity there to keep me busy the whole time. Once I got home I was still so jazzed that I convinced Sonja to drive to the Page Springs Fish Hatchery to try to find a Zone-tailed Hawk that was spotted there yesterday.

No luck on the zone-tail, but this Common Blackhawk made an appearance.

And then promptly disappeared, again.

Even though Yellow-rumped Warblers stick around for most of the winter, they're still a fun bird to watch.

One of the highlights was seeing our first copulating pinacate beetles of the season. In the next couple of weeks pairs of these large black beetles will be piggy-backing all over the roads and sidewalks.

And the whiptails have finally emerged from their hibernation, too. The tree lizards have been out for a few weeks, but today marks the first time we've spotted the whiptails in any numbers.

So, I've had requests to post more pictures from the Renslow's trip down here, as well as some of the special evening program we had at Montezuma Castle. I'll get to that eventually.