Sunday, May 28, 2017

Baltimore Oriole

                  A female Baltimore Oriole darts across the sky in search of special nesting material.

                      There's no counting the number of trips she's made to make her nest just right.

She has been working for maybe a week now.

First, the support strands were woven with stringlike material such as vine, grasses and even fishing line. Next, fibers like wool and horsehair gave it the typical oriole pouch-like shape.

It's now time to add a soft lining of plant material, feathers, and even manmade materials such as cellophane.

The male Baltimore Oriole will occasionally supply building materials to her, but she alone does all the construction work.

The male's job is protection of the home territory, which, surprisingly, is quite small compared to other birds.

Protection and providing food to the nestlings are his main functions.

That, and looking pretty.

The nest dangles at a hard to reach branch end for safety from ferrel cats and natural predators.

It's important to be comfortable for two weeks of sitting on 3-7 eggs.

Spring is a busy season and her only opportunity to raise a clutch this year. So her work continues relentlessly. Trip after trip she gathers tiny additions of featherweight material.

With luck, there will be more baby Baltimore Orioles in 2017.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Barred Owls

Only two now, but once they were three.

These young Barred Owls seem confused as to where their nest mate has gone.

Nesting together in the aging ash tree is the extent of what they know and it's just not the same now.

Something draws them forward into the light... footsteps in the forest?

No danger here.

Things are under control as an adult Barred Owl stands guard outside...adults look alike.

No matter how sleepy looking this appears, s/he is aware of the coming and going of creatures on the ground.

The missing sibling is safe, too. This fluffy ball of feathers wandered up the tree in an early exercise of independence.

S/he stares down intently through the leaves of early spring.

This adventurous member of the trio can fly, though its landings are inelegant. Everything is new to this Barred Owl owlet. Remaining motionless is the chosen defense.

John, the property owner who tipped me off to the nest, takes an owlet picture.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

My friend and fellow photographer, Fred Thorne, captured this image of a chick being feed by an adult.

It's evidence of a chipmunk's last few seconds on earth.

(Click any picture to enlarge.)

It's two days later now and the two remaining owlets have flown the nest. They still have a lot to learn about being a Barred Owl.

Here the owlet on the left thinks the owlet on the right's foot is food. The mistake was quickly rectified with a sharp peck to the head.

All three will be cared for through the coming weeks as they grow out of their downy owlet feathers. They'll quickly take on a coat of flight feathers on their way to becoming full fledged Barred Owls.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
The Sibley's Guide to Birds

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are common, yet seldom seen. This adult female with staring yellow eyes seems to prefer things that way.

If you see an owl in the daytime it's probably resting comfortably or startled into fleeing.

Owls are around us all the time, they're just reluctant to let you know, YOU'RE the one being watched.

Hiding in a hole seems a smart way to pass the daylight hours.

I unknowingly startled two resting Great Horned Owls as I passed under this bridge one morning.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

They flew away, but not far away. That's an odd behavior, but it presented a great picture opportunity for me.

Male Great Horned Owls are slightly smaller than females, though with a deeper voice. The males advertise their presence in late winter/early spring with deep hooting nighttime calls. The females respond if they like the male's beckoning with a soft return hoot. Soon after there will be baby owls.

This male seemed a bit cross, but accepted my presence as I respected his.

The reason he was staying nearby was sitting underneath on a bridge support. One of two offspring remained when the adults left.

With eyes wide open in amazement the young owl stared back at me in a seemingly confused state of stay-or-go.

The male in the tree departed when he learned all he needed to know about me.

It's was back to the bridge to check on his straggling youngster.

It's not likely the Great Horned Owls nested or raised their young under the bridge. Rather they stopped to rest for the day in a cool dark place. There was an active Raven's nest at the opposite end of the bridge and that would have been an untenable arrangement for all. Both species are known nest robbers given an opportunity.

So, it's likely the Great Horned Owl's best chance for a successful next generation is remaining seldom seen.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is the ubiquitous, but seldom seen, owl of the nighttime. If you see one in the daylight it was probably flushed...fortunate for you, but a nuisance for the owl.

Most birds, Barn Owls included, don't have the luxury of sleeping as we know it. There is too much danger in their world to rest unaware of their surroundings.

Nevertheless, a 'morning' stretch (sunset actually) feels good.

(see below)
Gravelly footsteps signaled someone approaching. The Big Wash in Arizona is a dry riverbed for most of the year, making it hard to sneak up on a resting owl.

Both male and female flew away in ghostly whooshes, luckily, not that far away. This leads me to believe they are hiding something in a cliff crevice.

I was sorry for disrupting their crevice-in-a-cliff home, but I wanted to see them in early evening light.

The male returns to check out this new intrusion. It's nesting season so he wants to know the comings and goings of strangers.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

These beautiful owls with heart-shaped faces are more aware of people than we are of them. Barn Owls populate the world in 46 different races*.

Unless you trespass into their comfort zone they won't acknowledge your passing. They have nothing to gain in giving their presence away.

The larger and slightly more colorful female is on the right. The male is on the left.

With little likelihood of ever seeing what they are hiding deep in their cliff crevice, we can only hope for another generation of beautiful Barn Owls like these.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 
All About Birds
Sibley's Guide to Birds 

*What is the Difference between Race and Ethnicity? Race is associated with biology, whereas ethnicity is associated with culture. In biology, races are genetically distinct populations within the same species; they typically have relatively minor morphological and genetic differences.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


The glossy black desert bird with a commanding treetop presence and a taste for mistletoe berries is the Phainopepla.

Gleaming black from tip to tail this medium sized songbird doesn't retreat.

Instead he proudly sings his varied song, sometimes including the songs of other birds.

(pronounced: fay-no-PEP-la)

His pretty partner is also a stand-out. She's feathered in subtle shades of brown trimmed with white.

They both have bright red eyes and a crest.

In flight, Phainopeplas show still another dimension. Hidden at rest, but brilliant in the air, white wingtips flash with every beat.

Yet the Phainopepla is not only about show. They can have two broods of young per year if conditions are right. That demands a great deal of teamwork from this pair.

Even if their nests aren't elaborate, raising two broods a year requires substantial food gathering.

Here a female is returning to her well hidden nest with an insect.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The male waits nearby with his food offering.

While glancing right... to check my intentions, she flashes her wings repeatedly to frighten an insect into revealing itself.

The Phainopepla is well suited for the hot dry desert. Phainopeplas rarely drinks water. Mistletoe berries provide their moisture requirement.

Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Friday, March 31, 2017

Curve-billed Thrasher

By observation alone, I suggest the Curved-billed Thrasher is a bit of a bully. My observations hold no scientific weight, as it's only my opinion. Still you might agree, he has a bent to intimidate.

It's unknown how other birds see the Curved-billed Thrasher's demeanor and formidable appearance, but most birds give way when a thrasher arrives on the scene.

Not antisocial, rather 'anti-sharing', the Curved-billed Thrasher prefers to dictate who will share the bounty where one exists.

As a large songbird armed with an outsized bill... a sizable weapon... the outcome of conflicts is predictable.

Birds like this Mourning Dove back off when push comes to shove.

An insect eater with an 'attitude' best describes this southwestern desert dweller.


Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Northern Cardinal (Southwest)

I have nothing more to offer today than a bright red bird. If it is cold where you are, he's an offering of warmth. If it is sunny where you happy for that.

The male Northern Cardinal (the Southwest variety, above) is not as bright red as the typical Northern Cardinal found in the Eastern United States...never the less, he's a treat to see.

The female Northern Cardinal (Southwest) offers warmth in golden and red tones.

Cardinals are the State Bird of seven States; Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

It seems a lot of people love this lovely bird. She, too, is a bit of sunshine on a gloomy day.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Harris's Hawk

I suspect this pair of Harris's Hawks see something scrumptious in the desert scrub. They have the advantage of this tall utility pole, but the little critter in their sights managed to escape.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

With the Catalina Mountains of Tucson, Arizona as a backdrop, this is home territory for 3-5 Harris's Hawks. I'm unsure of the exact number because I've not seen all of them in the same place at the same time.

Harris's Hawks live communally in small family groups. They hunt together and share the food.

As medium-to-large hawks, not shy or retreating, you may come across them on suburban roads and in agricultural fields.

They don't migrate either...rather holding a particular home territory the year round.

In the USA only Tucson and southernmost Texas can claim a resident population.

The chestnut red and charcoal black birds will impress most anyone lucky enough to see them up-close, low-down and hunting.

This juvenile is just coming into his/her own. Their white breast turns dark with age.

Size matters!

Females are 35% larger than males. They look alike except for size.

Here the female asserts herself and removes the male from atop the utility pole. The male drops to the wire below.

It was a not-so-delicate suggestion to get out of the way.

Finding food is a daily quest. You might think birds just sit around in trees all day, but eating is a daily challenge. Paying attention to every little things that moves in the desert pays off.

If you've ever been told, "You have the eyes of a hawk," take it as a complement. It's not just a saying. It's a real thing.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds