Monday, October 27, 2014

Ramblings of a Phoenician Birder

Birding around Phoenix in both urban and remote areas certainly has many rewards and plenty of birding potential.  I often take "usual" days here for granted, but when I think about it, I'm really lucky where I live and with the birding opportunities that present themselves nearby.  From common birds to uncommon birds and the more unusual birds, Phoenix birding is enjoyable.  Birds are in action everywhere, from the day's start to the day's finish.  It's always neat to be out in the dark and see the silhouette of a Great Horned Owl sitting on the top of a cliff.  The voice of this bird carries for a remarkable distance.

As dawn approaches, the daytime raptors need to remind the nighttime raptors to go to bed once their shift ends.  The Great Horned Owl likes to get his word in a little longer as the semi-light sky starts to approach.  But the Cooper's Hawk doesn't like that, and goes out of it's way to get it's word in.

The Great Horned Owl of course wasn't phased by the the challenge.  But the Cooper's Hawk does deserve some credit.  It's a brave and bold bird, as are most accipiter style hawks.  Even the offspring of Cooper's Hawks are brave, and they learn how to be brave by standing in the urban streets.  

While I was walking through a desert in Phoenix, I was surprised to see a Bewick's Wren standing on someone's wall.  This bird is usually hard to photograph in the open, but this bird gave me that chance on the wall and on the branch.  

At this time of year in the Phoenix area, a double falcon day is always possible.  It is the bigger falcons I am referring to, the Prairie and Peregrine.  The Prairie flew by me at Tres Rios Wetlands.  When I saw it coming over my head, I was shocked at the sight of the bird and I looked at it through my binoculars.  I didn't think I could possibly get killer photographs until it was too late.  Duh Tommy, you idiot.  This photo isn't bad of the Prairie, but it could've been excellent had I lifted my camera instead of my binoculars well before the bird was directly adjacent to me.

In the Phoenix area, other wildlife is often seen.  The Coyote is one of those such examples.

The last of the year's snakes are getting ready for hibernation.  But some of them are still around.  On a recent trip, a pair of mating diamondback rattlers were found.  While they were hard to photograph under a dense mesquite, Laurence decided he would just demonstrate the scene of his snake discovery.  Laurence's demonstration is good enough to make up for me not photographing the snakes.

The Bell's Sparrows that I searched for with Laurence, Gordon, and Caleb one day weren't showy, and the snakes decided they wanted to compete.  The interesting herping at Robbins Butte continued when Caleb suddenly pulled a Gopher Snake out of the saltbush.  I thought for the initial second that Caleb was being crazy, but these snakes really are quite harmless.  It wasn't a happy snake by any means until Caleb let it go.

As the winter months are approaching, the Osprey numbers are highly increasing.  At Tres Rios Wetlands, there have often been as many Ospreys at the Wetlands as 8 through 10 birds.  I often find myself keeping immediate taps on as many as five birds.

As one of the biggest birds around, the Great Blue Heron can sometimes hide itself pretty well at the tops of cottonwood trees.

Just like Ospreys, many wintering songbirds have arrived also.  White-crowned Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and this one out of many Orange-crowned Warblers.

At Tres Rios, Neotropic Cormorant as well as Double-crested Cormorant are seen.  They can be told apart in flight with practice, but if the two of them are flying side-by-side, they are very noticeable in the size differences.

This drive up Phainopepla was an awesome experience.  I've never had this bird be so cooperative.  This was a little north of Phoenix though and was actually a little outside of Maricopa County in Yavapai County at the Agua Fria National Monument.  The Phainopepla seems to be a bird that is peaceful, sticks to itself, and doesn't start quarrels ever with other bird species.  This stunning male let me photograph him up close in a sequence I'll probably never see in a long time's worth.  My enjoyment of the bird and his enjoyment of paparazzi was ended by two Loggerhead Shrikes who came flying by.  Mr. Phainopepla didn't want to get ganged up upon, and he escaped with ease.

Some birds are easy to see, and others you have to work your butt off to catch a glimpse of them.

There are many neat birds out there.  Some of them fall under the "cool" category.  Others fall under the "awesome" category.  And then there are the ones that take your breath away whenever they present themselves.  The breathtaking birds don't have to be a mega rarity, but they sure are some of the most memorable.

Especially those that are hard to find and catch a glimpse of.....

Yes o yes, this is what Phoenix birding is all about!


  1. Nice post Mr. Tommy! Great photos of the PHAI and LEOW maybe I can get the owl one day.

    1. Thanks Caleb! You'll come across that owl before you know it!

  2. OH yeah!!!! It doesn't get much better than that:) Make out sessions with Long-eared Owls.

    1. Thanks Chris! That's exactly what it is. Cool birds like Long-eared Owls are my replacement for many things right now.

  3. Nice post on a mish-mash of some of the exciting reasons to still do birding in and around the metropolis!

    1. Thanks Gordon! We really do have it really good, don't we!? These places grow on us after awhile, and they make for some fun photo opps too!

  4. Take it from an outsider's perspective - Phoenix birding is magical! It's fun to read about your appreciation and awareness of what you have right out your door. I only got to bird around Phoenix last year, and every day I couldn't wait for the sun to rise to get outside and see your common stuff. You will probably laugh at this, but I was awestruck by the sights and crazy sounds of my first new bird - the Great-tailed Grackle.

    I have nearly an identical photo of that same gully, and it brought back awesome memories of staring at perhaps the same LEOW. It was one of the best birding outings I've ever had.

    Lovely post and beautiful photos, Tommy.

    1. Thanks Josh! If I was from the east, I'm sure I would die for a walk out in the desert, and that's also I I feel about birds back east, such as in Minnesota! But I've come to appreciate all of these common local birds even more, especially since they are only found in the southwest. Great-tailed Grackles are actually quite cool looking and have all sorts of interesting behavioral traits.

      Long-eared Owls are one of the greatest!