Sunday, October 16, 2016

Madera Canyon Delights: Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Blue Grosbeak

[Madera Canyon, SEAZ. August 2016]

Just as Black-whiskered Vireo, Snail Kite and Mangrove Cuckoo are synonymous with South Florida, so is SE Arizona the best venue in the country for Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Broad-billed Hummingbird -- all species that we shall savor in this post thanks to a late summer trip to the Tucson area.

South of Tucson, the fabled hotspot that is Madera Canyon, serves as a veritable avian pilgrimage site for birders and nature-lovers alike. And here, this blogger (armed with his travel camera kit) was able to observe the following delightful species which in many respects typify SEAZ: 

  • Elegant Trogon
  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Mexican Jay
  • Bridled Titmouse
  • Painted Redstart
  • Montezuma Quail
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Red-tailed Hawk 
We start with the Trogon:

This stunning female was seen in the upper reaches of the canyon; a little lower on the trail where a resplendent male was seen two years ago.
A characteristic "squeaky toy" call betrays the presence of an imposing flycatcher:

This large, noisy and flamboyant tyrant flycatcher is a specialty species of the area.

Further down toward the Proctor Rd area, grasslands and shrubs about abound and this is perfect habitat for sparrows as well as Blue Grosbeak:

Blue Grosbeak is a widespread species -- breeding as far north as Ohio; however, the next species is exclusive to Arizona:

The peacock-hued Broad-billed Hummingbird:

Much more widespread is Black-chinned Hummingbird:

Raucous Mexican Jays are also ubiquitous at this venue:

Of all American titmice, the Bridled Titmouse has the most distinctive facial markings and is unique to SEAZ in the country:

Painted Redstart is a resident breeder in this area:

After a serendipitous encounter with Montezuma Quail in Spring, this blogger was not expecting to run into it again; but, an obscured yet certain sighting did indeed occur:

Other species included Acorn Woodpecker:

Red-tailed Hawk:

And, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (in a frightfully poor image):

Birders may scour the length and breadth of this country furiously checking off species after species but to see Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and other specialty species, the intrepid birder will discover that there is no place better than Madera Canyon in SE Arizona.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

From the Leopard's Lair: Indian Pitta, White-browed Fantail, Grey Francolin and Bay-backed Shrike

[Jhalana Forest Reserve. June/July, 2016,

The greatest danger faced by this blogger while birding in Michigan has been the insidious threat posed by despicable ticks and abominable mosquitoes. This pales, however, in what one can encounter in other parts of the world -- indeed, to put this in perspective, as you enter Jhalana Forest Reserve (on the outskirts of Jaipur, India), the reason visitors are required to stay in their vehicles soon becomes apparent:

Panthera Pardus is is a formidable carnivore and predator; and, with males weighing up to 160 lbs, they will, although rarely, attack and eat humans. 

Rapid urbanization and loss of habitat has meant a severe depletion of the leopard population in India -- only about 14,000 are left in the wild today. The only positive is that human fatalities from leopard attacks have also decreased from 11,909 (total fatalities over a 40 year period from the late 1800's to the early 1900's) to just a handful of attacks a year today.

But, a foray into the leopard's territory holds its own reward for those who dare to enter the leopard's lair and explore the Indian jungle for its avian riches -- a fact that this blogger profited from immensely on his recent summer vacation to India where the following species were savored in full:
  • Indian Pitta
  • White-browed Fantail
  • Indian Silverbill
  • Indian Peafowl
  • Bay-backed Shrike
  • Chestnut shouldered Petronia
  • Oriental Magpie-Robin
  • Green Bee-eater
  • Black Drongo
  • Grey Francolin
  • Hoopoe
  • Cinerous Tit
  • White-throated Kingfisher
We start with the Pitta:

The Indian Pitta is a spectacular songbird and its bright spectrum of colors and loud song enliven the forest --now a verdant green thanks to the monsoon rains.

This bird is a ground forager and can usually be seen among the leaf litter digging for insects. In the second photograph below, the Pitta takes cover as a Shikra (Sparrowhawk-like raptor) flew above.

White-browed Fantail is an Old World flycatcher -- and one look at the picture below leaves no doubt as to the origin of its name:

The fantail ranges from the subcontinent through to SE Asia; indeed, it was the sweet song of this species that made the blogger oblivious to the approach of the leopards.

Indian Silverbill was also spied:

Indian Peafowl is always a welcome sight:

During the monsoon, many males convene at a lekking site to display their fantastically symmetrical and patterned tail feathers -- the effect on the opposite sex is predictable -- the peahens swoon and appear completely mesmerized  by this hypnotic seduction.

Bay-backed Shrike is a colorful example of the Shrike family:

 Chestnut-shouldered Petronia is also known as the Yellow-throated Sparrow:

This species is notable for being the "spark bird" for the Alexander Wilson of India -- Salim Ali.

Oriental Magpie-Robin:

This striking species belongs to Old World flycatcher family and is the national bird of Bangladesh.

Green Bee-eater ranges from Africa to SE Asia:

Black Drongo is a member of the drongo family -- these are intelligent birds whose members have a strong mimicking ability.

"Tea kettle, tea kettle, ..." -- the call of the Grey Francolin is a familiar call in the jungle:

This is a handsome landfowl species with finely patterned plumage.

The Hoopoe is the only extant member of its family:

The Hoopoe has an Ibis-like bill which it uses to feed like a shorebird; it looks somewhat like a woodpecker and nests in tree cavities but has the extravagant crest of a cockatoo.

It is no wonder that this enigma is the sole member of its family -- nothing else is quite like this bird!

The Cinerous Tit is much more familiar:

Not all kingfishers fish -- indeed, some have adapted well to arid environments such as the White-throated Kingfisher

The apex predators of North American forests -- bears, pumas, and wolves have long disappeared or retreated to the remotest parts of the country. Yet, in some of the truly wild places on earth, we are reminded that we share this planet with all manner of life -- including big cats like Panthera Pardus. And, for the intrepid birder, an excursion into these areas will reveal avian treasures such as Indian Pitta, White-browed Fantail and Bay-backed Shrike.
Prey species of the leopard:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bay Area: Northern Harrier and Anna's Hummingbird

[Late 2015/Early 2016. Bay Area]

We review some highlights from the San Francisco Bay area that were long delayed in their publishing in this blog due to the blogger's travel schedule. 

We trust, however, that the eclectic mix of species presented herein shall not be unworthy of the reader's patience

Specifically, we shall review species such as:
  • Anna's Hummingbird
  • Raptors: Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk
  • Herons: Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Flycatchers: Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe
  • Songbirds: Audubon's Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, House Finch, Song Sparrow
We start with the hummer:

This is a common hummingbird of the West and has increased its range thanks to the corresponding spread of exotic flowering plants. A counter-example to the notion that only native plants benefit native species.

Anna's Hummingbird was named after a French noblewoman by Rene Lesson.

This stunning male was seen at Lucy Evans Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto.

Shifting gears to Raptors, we start with Northern Harrier. Globally, this is known as the "Hen Harrier" and in the early days of American birding was known as the "Marsh Hawk".

In "Birds of America" by JJ Audubon, the flight of the Northern Harrier is beautifully described:

The flight of the Marsh Hawk, although light and elegant, cannot be said to be either swift or strong; but it is well sustained, and this may be accounted for on comparing the small size and weight of its body with the great extent of its wings and tail, which are proportionally larger than those of any other American Hawk. While searching for prey, it performs most of its rambles by rather irregular sailings; by which I mean that it frequently deviates from a straight course, peeping hither and thither among the tall grasses of the marshes, prairies, or meadows, or along the briary edges of our fields.

The harrier was spied (as was the next raptor) at the WPCP in Sunnyvale.

Red-tailed Hawk is a raptor found across the country:

This buzzard comes in a light and a dark morph; and, like others in its family, the females outsize the males by up to 25%.
On the heron front, a Great Blue Heron was seen at Charleston Slough:

As was Snowy Egret:

Also at WPCP Sunnyvale, the reed beds held many Black-crowned Night Herons hiding in the vegetation:

This is a nocturnal species and the blogger's approach caused many to take to the air:

This included immatures (above) as well as adults (below):

Somewhat dumpy looking when standing, these herons are extremely graceful in flight.
Both the expected Western phoebe's were observed: Black Phoebe and Say's Phoebe:

The Black Phoebe above -- caught in the moment it snapped a fly in its bill -- was seen at Baylands. This is common flycatcher in California and was well observed in appropriate habitat.

Say's Phoebe:

Seen at Coyote Valley, this colorful flycatcher was named in Honor of Thomas Say who was an eminent naturalist of his day specializing in insects and shells.

On the songbird front, a couple of warblers, a finch and a sparrow were spied:

Audubon's Warbler:

Seen at Baylands as was the Common Yellowthroat:

House Finch:

Song Sparrow:

Finally, a couple of bonus birds -- Western Gull:

and, Belted Kingfisher:

A stunning hummingbird named after a French noblewoman and a hawk with a captivating flight that inspired Audubon, the West Coast of the US has a plethora of avian riches that will excite the interest of any birder.