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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tanque Verde Wash & Sweetwater Wetlands: Cassin's Vireo, Phainopepla, Ladder-backed Woodpecker

[SE AZ. April and August 2015]

For all our ecologically righteous "gnashing of teeth" over the lamentable loss of habitat and the the squeezing out of wildlife by the inexorable (and hideous) march of "development", it will be no small relief to know that a surprising assortment of species are able to eke out an existence in a couple of small oases of nature found in the urban sprawl of Tucson: hotspots such as Tanque Verde Wash and Sweetwater Wetlands. And, a trip to Tucson earlier this year at these fabled venues was aptly rewarded with glorious sightings of:
  • Cassin's Vireo
  • Phainopepla
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Western Tanager
  • Common Yellowthroat
First, Cassin's Vireo:

Cassin's Vireo is a gift to the birding community through the wonderfully beneficent act of "splitting" by the AOU in 1997. Cassin's erstwhile incarnation was that of the "Solitary Vireo" -- which has been replaced by our 3 spectacled vireos: Cassin's Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo and Plumbeous Vireo. At Tanque Verde Wash, Cassin's Vireo was observed vocalizing frequently in the trees. Disambiguation with the Plumbeous is simple thanks to the overall grey color scheme of the latter. However, confusion of Cassin's and Blue-headed is inevitable -- and although there are subtle differences, the easier method is to rely on their (largely) distinct ranges (see the Blue-headed Vireo here).
Next, Phainopepla:

Both a female and a male were observed. This is the only member of its family present in the US. While it is only found in the desert Southwest, the next species should be familiar to all:

Yellow Warbler:

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker may look familiar -- it closely resembles Nutall's Woodpecker and sometimes it is even confused with Red-bellied Woodpecker; but there is no mistaking the red-crown and prominent eye-stripe:

While Tanque Verde Wash is excellent for songbirds, Sweetwater Wetlands (on the other side of town), offers a different mix of species -- especially waterfowl in winter. However, on this visit, a curious spectacle was observed -- a Roadrunner tailing a rather large snake:

Up in the trees, a Western Tanager was a nice surprise:

Finally, any habitat with marshy conditions is perfect for Common Yellowthroat:

Amidst the concrete jungle of Tucson, two outstanding hotspots offer the intrepid birder a chance to savor some choice species that are both familiar as well as extraordinary.


Bob Pelkey said...

It's good to see that a concrete jungle will not interfere with a great report from the Tuscon area, Hemant.

Unknown said...

We often forget to tell people how much their work is important to us, and today we want to thank you, Hemant, for all the years of knowledge that you have imparted to us, You take us to places we have never been and through your exceptional photography and interesting text, we continue to learn. Thanks so much for your passion and effort and for allowing us to share in your adventures! Janet and Aaron Kirk

Digital Plume Hunter said...

Dear Janet and Aaron -- thank you for your kind words; the fact that my passion was deemed worthy of your interest means a lot to me. I appreciate your support and readership! Hemant.