Sunday, July 28, 2013

Grand Canyon wildlife

We continued our twelve day multi-generational journey in a 31 foot RV from Sedona to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, an easy 120 mile drive that took less than three hours. Near the entrance to the National Park, our granddaughters were excited to see an Elk grazing along the road. 

After securing our rig in an ideal location at the north end of Grand Canyon Trailer Village, we wasted no time taking the ten minute walk to the Visitor Center at the very edge of the Canyon. The children wanted to see the IMax introductory film, but the projector was broken. We talked to a Park Ranger who told us that California Condors had been reported at Hopi Point, so we planned a visit for the next day. We lingered at the South Rim to observe sunset from nearby Mather Point. 

Sunset to east of Mather Point HDR 20130617

The ever-changing play of colors on the rocks to the east was beautiful, but the clear sky to the west plunged the foreground into shadow and lacked the interest that would have been provided by a few clouds. When the sun went down it was as if someone had simply turned off the lights.

In my haste to eliminate the large number of 25,000 KB RAW outtakes among those that had filled two 32 GB compact flash cards, I inadvertently deleted that day's only bird photos, of two Scrub Jays that posed in a dead tree near the Visitor Center.

The next morning I set out on my first walk in the woods adjacent to our RV. The first bird I saw bears a close resemblance to the Boat-tailed Grackle, a Florida species. It is a Great-tailed Grackle, feasting on a pine nut.

Great-tailed Grackle 20130618 

I walked a more few yards, passing a staff parking lot when I realized that a very large (12-point) bull Elk was staring me right in the face. A second smaller one was just behind him. I froze and snapped a few shots, then they both ignored me, moved along the edge of the lot and resumed browsing on tree branches. Soon, a third bull joined them.  

Bull Elks at parking lot 20130618

Bull Elks at parking lot 2-20130618

I continued down a dirt path through the mixed pinyon-juniper and Ponderosa Pine woodland, keeping an eye on the Elk who followed me erratically among the trees along the path. 

Elk browsing 20130618

Our camp was at about 7000 feet elevation. Although nighttime temperatures had dropped into the high 30s (F), the sun was quickly warming me up, and I stood silently for a while in the shade of a thicket of Pinyon Pines. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the wheezy squeeze-toy calls of a flock of a dozen or more Pygmy Nuthatches.

Pygmy Nuthatch 20130617

Pygmy Nuthatch 2-20130617

The nuthatch calls seemed to attract a few hummingbirds. From the cricket-chirp sound of their wingbeats I could tell that one or more were Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. However I think this one represented the Black-chinned species.

Black-chinned Hummingbird 20130620

An Ash-throated Flycatcher also responded to the commotion.

Ash-throated Flycatcher 3-20130617

A harsh, strident call revealed the presence of a Steller's Jay.

Steller's Jay 20130620

The pattern of white stripes on the Steller Jay's head varies gradually, being more sharply defined in the eastern part of its range and absent from birds in the northwestern US.

Steller's Jay 4-20130620

Mountain Chickadees appeared, as if out of nowhere.

Mountain Chickadee 3-20130619

On the way back to the RV, I did not see the Elk again, but a Violet-green Swallow roosted in a tree just long enough for me to take its picture.

Violet-green Swallow 20130618

A shadow of a large bird passed overhead and I looked up casually, ready to dismiss it as a Turkey Vulture. But no-- it had a white band on its tail. It was a Zone-tailed Hawk, known for its ability to hide in a flock of Turkey Vultures, making it easier to surprise smaller birds, mammals and lizards that constitute its prey. 

Zone-tailed Hawk 2-20130619

Zone-tailed Hawk 3-20130619

Our granddaughter Graciela has already stolen my thunder by writing about what happened just a bit later that morning, so I will stop here! 


  1. What a wonderful variety of birds. The nuthatches are one of my favorite and the cool looking Hawk. Great post, Ken!

  2. so cool to see bird varieties we don't get here. LOVE the pygmy nuthatch. so cute! elk are awesome!!!

  3. Beautiful pictures of many different birds.
    The nuthatch is really quite amazing.
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. You have fantastic images here!!! Looks like a productive day indeed!

  5. What an amazing walk you took us on. My virtual hike was such a great pleasure, gorgeous shots, thank you Ken!

  6. love that little swallow. And all other wildlife you share. Visited Grand Canyon once, at North Rim. Did not see much because of limited time. :(

  7. That little nuthatch is adorable! What beautiful views and the elk..what a majestic sight to stumble upon!

  8. These look like some of my favorites birds to see when we travel and it was good to see them again!

  9. Fantastic variety! I love the elk! Nice shots of the birds, too!

  10. You see some wonderful wildlife... thanks for sharing.

  11. Great photos and so interesting to see such a variety of birds and wildlife so close to the park.

  12. Great series!! Nice find on the Elk. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  13. what an amazing trip you've had and great photos for the memory box; I love the flycatchers

  14. What beautiful sights!

  15. I am enjoying your trip! Terrific series of shots!

  16. I do like the nuthatch! Used to have a different species in my garden in the UK - but not (alas) in Australia!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS: I have posted another picture to WBW - I forgot last night!

  17. Beautiful pictures. Thanks for letting us join your trip :)

  18. Lovely birds and the elk are so handsome.

  19. What a superb elk with his great antlers in full velvet. Nice bag of birds you got as well.

  20. Hi Wonderful shot of the Elk and a great bunch of great bird shots.


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