Monday, September 30, 2013

A Magnificence of Hummingbirds and Warblers in Southeast Arizona

[SE Arizona. Sept 2013]

Southeast Arizona is justifiably renowned for its hummingbirds. Hummers can be notoriously difficult to photograph; thus, while many more hummingbirds were seen, the ones that photographed well enough to submit to positive identification were relatively small:
  • Magnificent
  • Broad-billed
  • Anna's 
Also, a half-dozen species of warblers were seen in a couple of hotspots (Sweetwater Wetlands and Mt. Lemmon):
  • MacGillivray's
  • Townsend's
  • Hermit
  • Yellow
  • Painted Redstart
  • Audubon's
And the bonus birds of the Post include a Mexican Jay and a couple of raptors seen at the venues:
  • Cooper's
  • Red-tailed
First the hummers; these incredible birds that are helpless on their feet (capable only of perching) yet are masters in the air (the only bird that can fly "in reverse"):
Broad-billed Hummingbird (seen at Madera Canyon)

Broad-billed Hummingbird is an Arizona exclusive -- this Mexican hummer is a summer visitor to Southern Arizona.

If you think the Broad-billed is colorful, the next hummer, aptly named the "Magnificent" is a stunner:

Magnificent Hummingbird (sub-adult)


The Magnificent Hummingbird is named for its brilliance -- the male is striking with a purple crown, iridescent teal throat and black undersides.


Like other hummers, the Magnificent has to drink almost twice its weight in nectar every day.


The Magnificent is second in size only to the Blue-throated Hummingbird. Like the the Broad-billed, the only place to see this hummer is Southeast Arizona.


The final hummer is Anna's this (rather poor) photo was taken at Madera Canyon); unlike the other two, this common species ranges widely across the West Coast.

Not seen this time around, were the Costa's -- posting some earlier photographs of these fabulous hummingbirds:

Costa's Hummingbird



Over to the warblers; the first four were observed at Rose Canyon while the latter two were seen at Sweetwater Wetlands.


Audubon's Warbler was the drabbest looking; this warbler is presently lumped with Myrtle where they are considered two variants of the "Yellow Rumped".


Next was Hermit Warbler (above). It's bright yellow face contrasting strongly with its white belly and only shades of it black throat visible.


Still fully resplendent was this Painted Redstart:

Painted Redstart


This warbler is always a delight to observe in the field due its bold color scheme.


Also observed was this Townsend's Warbler:

Townsend's Warbler


This is one of two birds named after John Kirk Townsend.


Over at Sweetwater Wetlands, a yellow warbler was spied (above). However, the real treat was the MacGillivray's:

MacGillivray's Warbler was first described by Townsend but was named after the Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray by Audubon.

Similar in habits and appearance to the Mourning Warbler, this species is restricted to the West. The key differences are the prominent white eye-arc's (and the lack of the black bib on the Mourning).

Finally, the Mexican Jay (above):

And, a Red-tailed hawk; keeping watch.

... plus the Cooper's Hawk:


Southeast Arizona is known as the Hummingbird Mecca of the US for good reason. And, as the pictures in this post attest, late Summer and early Fall can yield a bonanza of choice species including Magnificent Hummingbird and also migrating warblers.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Two Unique Flycatchers (Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird), Woodpeckers and More

 [SE Arizona, Sept. 2013]

There are some commonly found birds in Mexico that barely reach into US territory; of course, the birds are apolitical and don't know that they are crossing an international boundary. But, for us, the ability to see them on "our side of the border" makes them very special. A few of these are well known such as the Elegant Trogon and Colima Warbler.

Two such species will be profiled here: both specialty birds of Southeast Arizona:
  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
  • Tropical Kingbird
Additionally, we'll cover an eclectic assortment of woodpeckers:
  • Gilded Flicker
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
And other birds typical of the region such as:
  • Plumbeous Vireo
  • Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches
  • Hepatic Tanager
  • Yellow-eyed Junco
All these species were observed mainly in Madera Canyon and Mt. Lemmon.

First, the spectacular Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher -- this is a large flycatcher with a huge bill -- much like the Great Kiskadee; but, perhaps with even a more imposing bill.

To see this unparalleled flycatcher in the US, your only option is to go to SE Arizona where it is found at elevations between a mile a mile and a half above sea level in wooded canyons. This individual was seen at Madera Canyon between the Santa Rita Lodge and the Amphitheater trailhead parking lot.
Seen in a family group, this flycatcher has boldly streaked, bright yellow undersides and dark uppersides. The face shows a prominent eyestripe underscored with white while the tail is distinctly rusty.
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher showing rusty tail

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers are vocal and their calls resemble high-pitched squeaky-toy sounds.


Tropical Kingbird was seen at Sweetwater Wetlands. Found in the US only in SE Arizona and Southern Texas, it is otherwise commonly found in Central and South America.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird is very similar to Couch's Kingbird with lemony undersides and a grey head; however, their calls are sufficiently distinct.


Not bothered by human-altered habitat, the population of this flycatcher is increasing. It is also extremely aggressive in defending its territory from intruders -- even those that are several times larger.

Next, the woodpeckers: Gilded Flicker is a range-restricted species found in Mexico and the Southwest US -- mainly in Southern Arizona.
Gilded Flicker

This large woodpecker has a prominent red mustache and black breast-crescent with spotted undersides.

It was earlier considered conspecific with the Northern Flicker; however, it has limited range overlap with the Northern and they two species don't easily hybridize. This woodpecker was seen at Rose Canyon.



Seen at the same venue was this Acorn Woodpecker. Unmistakeable in its looks, this medium-sized woodpecker is also unusual in habits: a cooperative breeder, highly gregarious, and acorn-obsessed.

These woodpeckers use trees as acorn larders, sometimes storing hundreds of pounds of acorns in a single tree.


Perhaps not as distinctive is the Ladder-backed Woodpecker (seen at Sweetwater Wetlands); this is another woodpecker of the Southwest and thrives in arid environments.


More familiar is the Hairy Woodpecker (Western race) that was observed at Rose Canyon.


High up in the trees, a typical vireo-like call was heard. Upon closer inspection, it was identified as Plumbeous Vireo.


Plumbeous was recognied as a separate species when Solitary Vireo was split 3-ways into Plumbeous, Blue-headed, and Cassin's.

Commoner species included Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatch:

Pygmy Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

.. and, a female Hepatic Tanager:

Hepatic Tanager (female)

While not an uncommon bird, it is the most range-restricted of our Tanagers.


Lastly, the ubiquitous Yellow-eyed Junco which was observed commonly in suitable habitat throughout the higher elevations at Mt. Lemmon.

The thrill of seeing a range-restricted species in the US is sure to give any visitor to SE Arizona the birding goosebumps. And, spectacular species such as Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbird are prime examples of tropic of neotropical species that can be found in our own "backyard".

=============== Footnote ================

Two woodpeckers of the area that were missed this time but are worth mentioning are Arizona Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker. Here are some earlier photographs of these species taken at Madera Canyon:

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

And Arizona Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker


This brown woodpecker is found only in a tiny swathe across SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.