Posts from the ‘Arizona’ Category

My Top Ten Bird Photos 2019

I’ve already posted my favorite “Bird-in-the-Landscape” photos, and Top Twelve Mammals of 2019, so now it is time for my Best Bird Portraits of the year. It is a fun exercise going through all the photos from the year and coming up with the best of the best…especially when you didn’t think you had such a great photographic year.

Gambel’s Quail (near Portal, Arizona)

I hadn’t been birding in Southeast Arizona for many years, so this June I headed down to reacquaint myself with birds of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert. Even the very common Gambel’s Quail was a treat to see after these many years. Their call (as this guy is performing) is memorable and distinctive.

Western Grebe (Lake Osakis, Minnesota)

What I really wanted this day was a photo of a mated pair of Western Grebes performing their courtship “run-across-the-water” dance performance. But the water was too choppy for that, but I did get a nice portrait of a spectacular bird.

Sandhill Crane adult and colt (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/320 second at f6.3; ISO 250; hand-held from window of car]

Any time I can get birds in a field of flowers it is almost surely going to make a pleasing image. This adult and colt was molting into their winter gray from their iron-stained summer plumage.

Forster’s Tern (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

A kayak provides an eye-level vantage for photographing hard-to-reach water birds …but it is also a difficult platform to work from since the kayak tends to spin once stopped. But I was able to get this shot of a Forster’s Tern on its nest with its reflection in the water.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona)

I like the leading line of the branch and how the hummingbird’s wing is almost an extension of the sweep of the branch. The Rivoli’s Hummingbird’s iridescent feathers show well in this image high up in the Arizona Mountains.

See more Arizona hummingbird photos here

House Finch on Ocatillo (southeast Arizona)

It is only a House Finch, but I like the shape of the Ocatillo’s stalks and how the red blossom stalks match the bird’s plumage. The blue sky doesn’t hurt either!

House Finches are native to the western U.S. but were introduced to the East Coast in the 1940s (?). The arrived in Minnesota by the late 1980s but are still not extremely common.

Greater Prairie Chickens (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1600 second at f5.6; ISO 640; tripod in blind]

Males battle on the dancing lek of the Greater Prairie Chickens. Battles are brief and often end in an aerial skirmish. I was in a blind from well before sun-up until all the males left at mid morning.

See more photos from my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Yellow Rail (McGregor Marsh, Aitkin County, Minnesota)
[Sony A6500 with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens (Metabones adapter); 1/60 second at f5/6; ISO 1600; flash; hand-held while holding flashlight]

Not much of a photo huh? No it’s not technically a good bird photo but I included it because it is one of North America’s most rarely seen bird, and taken at 11pm in complete darkness in a cattail/sedge marsh with about a million mosquitos around my head. Plus, I was holding a flashlight in one hand and my camera in the other!

Read more about this adventure here (and see the video).

Spotted Owl (Hunter Canyon, Arizona)

Talk about well camouflaged! I have other photos that are tighter and more portrait-like, but I like this photo because it shows how their spotted plumage hides them in the dappled sunlight.

See more Spotted Owl photos here

Gambel’s Quail family (Portal, Arizona)

How cute are these little guys? I like their tiny top knots. One of the fun things to do in Southeast Arizona is to sit at a feeding station and just wait and see what comes in. I probably saw 25 species of birds in a couple hours while sitting in a lawn chair.

Elegant Trogon (near Portal, Arizona)

Another Southeast Arizona bird I hadn’t seen in ages…the Elegant Trogon. I was tipped off to a nest location so I spent a fair amount of time watching mom and dad come and go. The nest cavity was hard to see and I only had one tiny opening to get a photo. This is about the only decent image I got, but I did get video as well.

See more photos from the Cave Creek/Portal area of Arizona here

Greater Prairie Chicken (Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 2000; tripod in blind]

Another image of a Prairie Chicken battle. I like the blurred wing and unusual pose of this male.

See the VIDEO of my morning at the Prairie Chicken lek here

Red-necked Grebe and babies (Upper Rice Lake, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held from kayak]

Too bad I wasn’t a bit closer when I took this photo. It is highly cropped. But I love the two baby Red-necked Grebes…especially the one peaking out from its mom’s wings.

Top Ten Birds-in-the-Landscape Photos 2019

More and more I like photos that show the bird and its habitat. One of my favorite artists, Robert Bateman, often placed the birds quite tiny in the surrounding landscape…so tiny sometimes that you really had to search!

These photos tell more of a story than close up bird portraits, they often have to be viewed in a larger format to fully appreciate them. So go ahead and click on each image to see them larger.

Snowy Owl on haybale in the Sax-Zim Bog (St. Louis County, Minnesota)

This very white mature male Snowy Owl hung around the Sax-Zim Bog all winter, and he spent most of his time in just two fields. This field had hay bales which made a convenient perch in which to scan and listen for voles.

Red-tailed Hawk (Carlton County, Minnesota)

I do love old fencelines with weathered and lichen-covered posts, and I scan for subjects perched on them. Fortunately this day I ran across a hunting Red-tailed Hawk that actually allowed me time to get my camera out the car window and snap a few shots. I think the falling snow adds a lot to this image, as does the red tail feathers which add a spot of color.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus WMA, Polk County, Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 100mm; 1/800 second at f4; +0.33ev; ISO 250; tripod]

Dawn in the aspen parkland of northwest Minnesota and a Greater Prairie Chicken booms on its lek. This spring courtship display is the essence of prairies on the Great Plains. About 18 other prairie chickens are just out of frame. I spent about 5 hours in a blind watching and filming their antics. No better way to spend a spring morning!

See the expanded blog post with many photos here

See the link to the Shooting with Sparky Greater Prairie Chickens video here

Mountain Bluebirds in snowstorm (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1250 second at f5.6; ISO 400; tripod]

Half way through our epic journey home from Yellowstone in a massive stalled out blizzard, Ryan and I stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a night. The early October storm caught many birds off guard and this flock of Mountain Bluebirds were feeding on the only snow-free spot available, the recently plowed road shoulder. But they would perch on this nearby barbed wire fence.

Greater White-fronted Geese in April (Western Minnesota)

I had never seen anything like the congregation of geese in western Minnesota this past April.  It was like stepping back in to an old-timer’s memory when they reminisce about “the skies filled with flock after flock of geese.” And there were literally flock after flock of geese filling the skies. (Where have I heard that before?). These Greater White-fronted Geese filled the frozen marsh.

Northern Saw-whet Owl in nest cavity (Superior National Forest, St. Louis County, Minnesota)

Abandoned Pileated Woodpecker cavities provide homes for many critters in the North Woods including Flying Squirrels, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Pine Marten, and owls such as this Northern Saw-whet Owl. I have scratched on 100s of trees with Pileated cavities over the years, but never found a Saw-whet, but this spring I got lucky. I wish I could have checked on the cavity more times, but other commitments got in the way. I hope she raised a brood of little Saw-whets.

Early-returning Trumpeter Swans on Stone Lake (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)

A classic northern Minnesota scene that we would not have seen 30 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of the Minnesota DNR, Carrol Henderson and many others, we now have a “bumper crop” of Trumpeter Swans each spring. They arrive at first ice-out to claim the best nesting territories.

Snow Geese on the Minnesota prairie in April (Western Minnesota)
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 113mm; 1/640 second at f5.6; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Like a Les Kouba painting from the 1970s, this scene includes a flock of geese and a weathered windmill in the farm country of western Minnesota.

Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior (Two Harbors, Minnesota)

I guess the icy landscape of Minnesota’s North Shore dominates the birds in this photo. But it is how you often see Long-tailed Ducks on Lake Superior; bobbing and diving in the icy waters of Lake Superior.

American Robin, Eastern Bluebird and Mountain Bluebirds (Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota)
[[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/5000 second at f5.6; ISO 1000; tripod]

Three species of thrushes wait out an early October snowstorm in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota: Eastern Bluebird, American Robain and Mountain Bluebirds.

Gambel’s Quail (Portal, Arizona)

A week in southeastern Arizona allowed me to finally thaw out from the long winter. And I got to see many desert and mountain specialty birds that I hadn’t seen in 20-plus years. This Gambel’s Quail is singing from about the best perch available in the Chihuahuan Desert…a huge stalk of a Yucca.

Snow Geese (Western Minnesota)
Trumpeter Swans (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota)
[DJI Phantom 4 Pro]

Winter was finally loosening its grip in mid April in northern Minnesota. Lakes were starting to open up and any patch of blue was occupied by early-returning Trumpeter Swans in order to claim the best nesting territories. A drone allowed me to get this shot. The swans never even looked up at the strange “whirring bird” over their heads.

Crazy Cacti: Saguaros & Sonoran Desert—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 6

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Who doesn’t love Saguaro Cactus? Saguaros (“suh-WHAR-oh”) look amazingly like their cartoon counterparts. They are tall and very impressive. And how about those showy white flowers that are several inches across? And to top it off, when their fruits ripen, they attract a host of bird species that feed on the red flesh.

Saguaro cactus forest
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus forest
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Gila Woodpecker at nest hole in Saguaro Cactus
[Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona]

Gila Woodpecker at nest hole in Saguaro Cactus. It is very common for this woodpecker (and several others including Gilded Flicker) to nest in these cacti.
[Sonoran Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

House Finch on Ocatillo stalk
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

House Finch on Ocatillo stalk
[Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona]

White-winged Dove feeding on Saguaro cactus fruits.
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

White-winged Dove feeding on Saguaro cactus fruits.
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]
Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Barrel Cactus and Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Cholla and Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]
Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus
[Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Brilliant Jumper (jumping spider) (Phidippus clarus) on Saguaro cactus

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus offering me a bouquet!
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus fruit [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus fruit has red flesh.
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Dancing Saguaro cactus
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Saguaro cactus blossoms [Tucson Mountain Park near Tucson, Arizona]

Saguaro cactus blossoms
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2.0 lens; hand-held]

Lizards, Tortoises & Snakes—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 7

Here are the seven species of herps I saw in southeast Arizona. Most were lifers for me. I get about as excited about new species of reptiles and amphibians as I do about new birds!

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Note the blue-tinted body and black bars on forelegs that help identify this Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) and separate it from the Desert Spiny Lizard below.
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

This male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) was very cooperative. He was displaying (and even doing a little “dance”). Maybe it was all for the benefit of the less-colorful female (pictured below).
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female (?) Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]
Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

I was thrilled to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum) on Foothills Road after dark near Portal, Arizona. I joined him on the road and got some decent photos considering it was quite dark out. I had to move slow or he would bolt. This was my third species of horned lizard for my life list.
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

What great camouflage!

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

This old guy was sauntering along a dirt road near Patagonia, Arizona…and I couldn’t resist making friends with him. What a magnificent creature!

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Selfie with Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Eye-level view of Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai). Sometimes you just have to lay in the dirt to get the shot!
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

See ya buddy! Live long and prosper.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

I saw this very long and thin snake curled up on a dirt road in the mountains near Sierra Vista, Arizona on my way to Hunter Canyon. But by the time I got the car stopped, it was already up a nearby tree. I was really hoping to get a very up close look at this guy, especially since it was a lifer.

I determined that it is a Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

EIGHT species of spectacular Hummingbirds —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 5

Rivoli’s Hummingbird

Minnesota has incredible birds. In fact, many birds on American birder’s “Most Wanted” list occur here: Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Connecticut Warbler, etc. And I love the fact that in a few hours drive or less from home I can bird THREE MAJOR BIOMES—Tallgrass Prairie, Eastern Deciduous Forest, and Boreal Forest.

BUT at home in Minnesota we only have ONE HUMMINGBIRD species! The lovely but lonely Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The fact that southeast Arizona hosts about a dozen species (some are migrants) makes it America’s hummer hotspot and a wonderful reason to head to the heat.

I saw seven of the eight species that could be expected in SE Arizona in July. I only missed Costa’s Hummingbird in the wild. (But I did see Costa’s and Rufous in the aviary in the Sonoran Desert Museum)

SEVEN species seen at feeders or while out hiking…

  • Lucifer Hummingbird (Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal; Also Foothills Road near Portal)
  • Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Also Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia)
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird (most widespread: Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia; Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary; etc)
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird (a high-elevation specialist: Palisade Ranger Staton on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson; Rustler Park at over 8,000 feet near Patagonia in the Chiricauhuas)
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird (only at Cave Creek Ranch near Patagonia)
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird (Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista; Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary)
  • Rivoli’s Hummingbird (formerly Magnificent Hummingbird) (Palisade Ranger Staton on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson; Beatty’s Miller Canyon Orchard & Apiary near Sierra Vista)

Two captive species

  • Costa’s Hummingbird (only in captivity at the Sonoran Desert Museum aviary near Tucson)
  • Rufous Hummingbird (only in captivity at the Sonoran Desert Museum aviary near Tucson)

You can see the restricted range for these hummingbirds from these MAPS from http://www.allaboutbirds.org. Most don’t get much farther north than southeast Arizona.

Range map of Violet-crowned Hummingbird (pink is breeding only)

LUCIFER HUMMINGBIRD

Male Lucifer Hummingbird! I’ve never had such a close look at this U.S. rarity. This male and the female below were coming to Dave Jasper’s yard just outside of Portal.
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
And here’s the female Lucifer. Note her LOOONG neck, curved bill.
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
I even found my own Lucifer “in the wild.” This female was feeding along Foothills Road just outside of Portal.

Some fun facts about Lucifer Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Lucifer Hummingbird belongs to a group of hummingbird species called “sheartails,” named for their deeply forked, narrow tail.
  • Mainly a bird of Mexico, the Lucifer is quite rare in the U.S so a real treat for us birders!
  • Unlike other hummingbirds, the male Lucifer Hummingbird performs its displays at the nest of a female.
  • Occasionally also seen in the Big Bend region of Texas.

BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

Blue-throated Hummingbird is the largest hummers in southeast Arizona. It was also the least common (next to the rare Lucifer). I onlysaw them in one spot…Cave Creek Ranch near Portal.

Some fun facts about Blue-throated Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • This Lampornis species is really a member of the Mountain-Gem genus, so they may be renamed to “Blue-throated Mountain-Gem” in the future.
  • Blue-throated are the largest hummingbird in North America, weighing 3x more than a Ruby-throated Hummer
  • Males do not have an aerial display like most hummingbirds. Instead they have several vocalizations that they use in courtship.
  • They will mob birds much larger than themselves…even Goshawks! Several may work together to drive them away.
  • Oldest recorded Blue-throated lived at least 7 years and 11 months.

VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD

Violet-crowned Hummingbird is easy to identify by its large size, thin neck, white throat and belly, and violet-blue crown. You can see in this photo how much larger it is than the hovering Broad-billed. [Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary & Orchard **RARE AT THIS LOCATION]
THE place to go to see Violet-crowned Hummingbirds is Paton’s Hummingbird Sanctuary in Patagonia, Arizona. This was the Paton’s private residence when I first stopped here in 1994. Wally and ?? faithfully filled their multiple feeders daily and allowed birders to come into their yard and watch. They even put up a canopy and folding chairs so we could watch in comfort. It was under this canopy in 1994 that I got my lifer Violet-crowned Hummer. After the Paton’s passed away, donations from and other birders and birding organization allowed Tucson Audubon to purchase the house and lot. They have built a new permanent canopy for hummer watching, put in an amazing array of flower gardens and water features, and even a trail system.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird [Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary & Orchard **RARE AT THIS LOCATION]

Some fun facts about Violet-crowned Hummingbirds from http://www.audubon.org…

  • This relative newcomer to the U.S. was only discovered nesting in 1959.
  • It is only found in lower canyons with large Arizona Sycamores and/or Cottonwoods, usually along streams with brushy understory.

RIVOLI’S HUMMINGBIRD (formerly MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD)

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (the hummer formerly known as Magnificent) is a large and brightly-colored hummer. I was split into two species in 2017 and unfortunately did not retain its former Magnificent Hummingbird name (insert sad face here!).
The magnificent Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson]
I knew this hummingbird as the Magnificent Hummingbird when I first added it to my life list in 1994. Its name was changed in 2017 to Rivoli’s Hummingbird in honor of the Duke of Rivoli, an amateur ornithologist (Anna’s Hummingbird is named after the Duke’s wife…the Duchess of Rivoli).
Magnificent was split into two species…Rivoli’s in the U.S. and Mexico…and Talamanca Hummingbird in Costa Rica
The magnificent Rivoli’s Hummingbird.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson]

Some fun facts about Rivoli’s Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Second largest Hummingbird in the U.S.
  • One of the highest heart-rates of any vertebrate…420 to 1200 beats per minute!
  • An 11-year old bird (!) was banded in Arizona
  • A hummingbird flower mite uses the Rivoli’s Hummingbird for transport: hiding in the birds’ nasal passages until they can jump off at a subsequent flower patch.
  • Known as Magnificent Hummingbird from the 1980s until 2017.
  • Named for the Duke of Rivoli who was an amateur ornithologist.

BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD

Though the Broad-billed Hummingbird is one of the most wide-spread hummers in SE Arizona, I also think it is one of themes stunning. Its body is covered in iridescent feathers and it has a bright red bill. From this photo angle you can really see why it is named “Broad-billed.”
[Dave Jasper’s yard in Portal, AZ]
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male
Broad-billed Hummingbird male

Some fun facts about Broad-billed Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • Broad-billed Hummingbirds that nest in Arizona are migratory; populations in Mexico are resident year-round in their breeding range.
  • The male Broad-billed Hummingbird performs a courtship display, starting by hovering about a foot from the female and then flying in repeated arcs, like a pendulum.Broad-billed Hummingbirds that nest in Arizona are migratory; populations in Mexico are resident year-round in their breeding range.

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD

Black-chinned Hummingbird male shows a relatively narrow band of iridescent purple above its throat.
In poor lighting or shade, the Black-chinned Hummingbird really appears to have a black chin.
Black-chinned Hummingbird male [Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia, Arizona]
Black-chinned Hummingbird male [Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia, Arizona]

Some fun facts about Black-chinned Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves; nectar moves through these via capillary action, and then the bird retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into the mouth. It extends the tongue through the nearly closed bill at a rate of about 13–17 licks per second
  • This is one of the most adaptable of all hummingbirds, often found in urban areas and recently disturbed habitat as well as pristine natural areas.
  • Along good stretches of some southern Arizona and southern New Mexico rivers, nests may be found every 100 meters or so

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Young male Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird spotlit by setting sun.
[Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon]
Female Broad-tailed checking out an arriving male. [Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon]
Broad-tailed Hummingbird females at feeders at Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird showing off its “zing-makers.” Air passing through the spread wing feathers make a high-pitched zzziiinngg. They are a hummer of higher elevations. This one was photographed at 8,000 feet at the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon.

Some fun facts about Broad-tailed Hummingbirds from http://www.allaboutbirds.org…

  • The longest-lived Broad-tailed Hummingbird was a female, and over 12 years, 2 months old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Colorado in 1987. She had been banded in the same state in 1976.
  • Male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds produce a loud metallic “zzzinnggg” trill with their wingtips as they fly, but over time the feathers that produce this sound wear down from use. By midwinter the trill is often inaudible.
  • They breed at elevations up to 10,500 feet (!!), where nighttime temperatures regularly plunge below freezing. To make it through a cold night, they slow their heart rate and drop their body temperature, entering a state of torpor.
  • Sometimes they use sap as a nectar substitute, visiting sapwells excavated by Red-naped Sapsuckers.

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD

Rufous Hummingbird male [Sonoran Desert Museum aviary]
Rufous Hummingbird male [Sonoran Desert Museum aviary]
I’ll end with an artsy “high-key” image of a foraging hummer at Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary near Patagonia

Sky Islands: Huge Pines, Mexican Chickadees, Spotted Owls, Juncos with yellow eyes —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 4

“Mexican” Spotted Owl high in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona.

June 6-12, 2019

We don’t really think of high elevation mountains right near the Mexican border in Arizona, but these “Sky Islands” rise to over 8,000 feet in elevation. And they host a completely different set of flora and fauna.

Here is a sampling of critters and flowers from two such Sky Islands—Rustler Park in the Chiricahua Mountains (outside of Portal, AZ) and Hunter Canyon in the Heuchuca Mountains near Sierra Vista, AZ.

Western Tiger Swallowtail pair on the road to Rustler Park [Coronado National Forest]
Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) grows along the road to Rustler Park at this stream crossing. [Coronado National Forest]
View from the road to Rustler Park outside of Portal, Arizona in the Chiricahua Mountains. [Coronado National Forest]
Ctenucha venosa – Veined Ctenucha Moth on Lupine in Rustler Park
[Coronado National Forest]
The Lupines were in full-bloom at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]
10mm lens view of Lupines and pines.
[Coronado National Forest]
Lupine
[Coronado National Forest]
Hedgehog Cactus blooming (Echinocereus species) at Rustler Park.
[Coronado National Forest]

Even though I was at 8,000 feet elevation, there was still cactus in full bloom.

The striking undersides of the Arizona Sister butterfly
[Coronado National Forest]
Not just any chickadee!…The Mexican Chickadee

The Mexican Chickadee that is only found in a few places in the U.S.
[Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains [Coronado National Forest]

Rustler Park at 8,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains. It was formerly a better site for birding until a massive wildfire burned the area several years ago.

Yellow-eyed Junco
[Coronado National Forest]

Juncos with yellow eyes? These close-relatives of our Dark-eyed Junco are restricted to the very southeast corner of Arizona and extreme southwest New Mexico. They are only found at high elevations. There were several pairs here in Rustler Park (8,000 feet) and they were finding caterpillars under the needle duff layer.

HUNTER CANYON near Sierra Vista is our second stop on the blog post about the higher elevations of southeast Arizona.

The view of the Sierra Vista valley from the top of Hunter Canyon. A Rufous-capped Warbler had been reported here sporadically over the past few weeks. But we had no luck in finding it.

I got an early start to make the hike up to Hunter Canyon to look for a reported Rufous-capped Warbler. I hiked up an easy trail that gave me good looks at Arizona Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee, but it wasn’t getting anywhere near any large pines…plus folks had said that the hike to the Rufous-capped Warblers was a beast. This must be the wrong trail…And, yes, I was on the wrong trail.

I finally made it back to my car and found the correct parking area. Now this hike was straight up the mountain! Must be the right trail. As I reached the pines, I ran into three birders from Maryland that I’d birded with near Portal. They had had no luck in finding the warbler, but a while later they discovered a roosting “Mexican” Spotted Owl! It was only about 20 feet up in a maple along the creek. He was resting but allowed us a few minutes of photos and gawking. A real find and a beauty. I’d seen one in 1994 but this was much closer.

“Mexican” Spotted Owl is morphologically a bit different than the Spotted Owl of the northwest US and adjacent Canada.
His/her spotted plumage made for excellent camouflage in the sun-dappled canyon woods.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 3

Patagonia is a very small town that looms large in the legacy of American birding. It is a must-bird site for all visiting birdwatchers. I hit two of the most famous spots; Paton Center for Hummingbirds (formerly the home of Wally and Marion Paton and their plethora of hummingbird feeders) and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

The handsome and well named Gray Hawk is a specialty of the Patagonia area. They nest along the Sonoita Creek. I almost got too good of a look at this guy as he left off the edge of the dirt road as I rounded a corner. Here he is being harassed by a Kingbird. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the focus on this shot.
Cassin’s Kingbird at The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary
My lucky day! …but this Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) had to endure being manhandled by me for a few minutes. He/she was huge and hefty! (Let’s call it a “she.”) The carapace was almost two iPhone 7+ long! And it probably weighed about 10 pounds (total guess…but she was heavy!).
I love tortoises. The Sonoran Desert Tortoise can reach 15 inches in carapace length. This gal measured at 10.5 to 11 inches long so I imagine she is quite old. They eat all kinds of vegetation including cacti. I’ve also caught and “played” with the much smaller Texas Tortoise in, you guessed it, Texas. I helped this gal across the dirt road and off into the brush.
I was quietly walking a deserted and narrow dirt road west of Patagonia when I heard rustling in the brush. I stayed very still and watched this Javelina forage for about 10 minutes. As far as I know it never saw me.
Wally and Marion Paton’s home in Patagonia, Arizona has been a Mecca for birders and hummingbird enthusiasts for decades. I was here in 1994 and our group sat quietly under the canopy in their backyard waiting for the rare Violet-crowned Hummingbird to show. It did and I got my lifer Violet-crowned.
Wally and Marion passed away a few years ago and the Tucson Audubon Society stepped in to save this treasured and beloved location. Donations from birders and birding organizations helped buy the house and acreage. It is now loaded with gardens and paths and ponds…and of course, hummingbird feeders…and the Violet-crowns still come to feed.
This is the renovated hummingbird watching area at the Paton’s…now called the “Paton Center for Hummingbirds”
And the star of the show arrived! Several Violet-crowned Hummers fed at the Paton Center’s feeders and perched obligingly for us photographers.
Canyon Towhees in the underbrush.
Wildflower gardens and paths at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
Common Checkered-Skipper at the wildflower gardens at the Paton Center for Hummingbirds in Patagonia, Arizona.
White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora) is a large and beautiful wildflower in southeast Arizona.
“The oil of the white prickly poppy was used as a fine lubricant during WWII. It was found that the oil content of the seed is 25.8% which is similar to the oil content found in soybeans.”
—Quote from wikipedia.com
Vermilion Flycatcher along the dirt road to Sonoita Creek.
Any riparian area in the desert southwest USA is going to be an oasis for birds. The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Sanctuary is no exception. Unfortunately I arrived just an hour before closing so was not able to explore much.
Sparky and huge Cottonwood along Sonoita Creek.
Phainopepla at Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.
Broad-billed Hummer at the Sonoita Creek Sanctuary.

Trogons, Owl Bonanza & Black Bears? Cave Creek —Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 1

I hadn’t birded southeast Arizona since 2004…15 years ago…and I needed to get back. Between 1990 and 2004 I made 4 birding/photo trips here and picked up most of my target southeast Arizona specialists plus rarities such as White-eared Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Rose-throated Becard, Flame-colored Tanager, and Black-capped Gnatcatcher. But in those pre-digital-photography days I took few photos and my memories of specific bird sightings had long since faded. So nearly every bird I saw was a special treat…almost like getting lifers all over again.

My first two nights were in Portal, Arizona near the New Mexico border at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains. You can experience multiple biomes in the vicinity of Portal, all within a short drive. This post is about birding in the Cave Creek and Herb Martyr Canyon areas.

The flight from Duluth to Phoenix took us right over Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado. We visited here as a family in 2016. The kids loved running and leaping from the sand dune peaks. Very cool to see from the air!
Portal, Arizona is one of those tiny but picturesque little towns with a quaint general store and surrounded by spectacular scenery. It is in the same league as Polebridge, Montana, Talkeetna, Alaska and Finland, Minnesota. I spent two nights here, but could have spent much more time in this special part of the world.
The Elegant Trogon is really a bird of Mexico that has the far north end of its North American range in the U.S. South Fork of Cave Creek is one of the best places to find them in the U.S. This male just fed the youngsters in this nest cavity in a Sycamore tree. I was told that they nested in this same cavity last year.
Elegant Trogon male coming out of the nest cavity.
I had a disturbing Black Bear encounter in Cave Creek Canyon. This BIG Black Bear saw me, then ran about 30 yards before stopping and hissing and snapping its jaws at me. Maybe it was a female with cubs?? But I never saw any little ones. This is very aggressive behavior and of all the bears I’ve encountered in Minnesota, I’ve never had one do this.
What do you think of when you picture southeast Arizona? Though there is much Chihuahuan desert, there are also these “Islands in the Sky” mountain ranges. The Chiricahua Mountains near Portal is one such Sky Island.
Birdled Titmouse is only found in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico in the U.S.
Sycamores have beautiful patterned bark.
I’m sure the locals are pretty tired of Gambel’s Quail, but for me they are always a treat to see and photograph. This male was calling from a fencepost early in the morning.
Mom Gambel’s Quail with a brood of 8 adorable chicks.
The Painted Redstart is a stunning warbler of
Hooded Oriole at Dave Jasper’s feeders in Portal
Hooded Oriole at Dave Jasper’s feeders in Portal
Acorn Woodpeckers are gregarious and very vocal. It is not hard finding this distinctive woodpecker.
Acorn Woodpecker
Portal, Arizona is a town of 50 people with one general store and a cafe. But I am always out birding when it is meal time…Actually I bird from dawn to dusk and beyond, so no time for a sit down meal. Therefore I ate nothing but ham or bologna sandwiches for 3 days. 8 sandwiches total. Also, there is no gas station in Portal and I nearly ran out of gas trying to find a station. I ended up in Animas, New Mexico…the closest spot to Portal to get gas.
I called in this Whiskered Screech-Owl and he sang in my flashlight beam. I managed to get a photo, but not a great photo. This was on Herb Martyr Canyon Road, where I also heard Western Screech-Owl and I got two lifers! Heard Mexican Whip-poor-wills (a barrier song than our whip-poor-wills) and a heard Flammulated Owl…my last North American owl!

**All photos taken with Panasonic GH5 and Sony A6500 with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens, Rokinon 10mm lens, and iPhone.