Saturday, June 29, 2013

A pinyon-juniper woodland in Grand Canyon National Park

Mary Lou and I have just returned from a twelve-day 1300 mile trip in a 31 foot motor home with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters. We started out in Phoenix, Arizona and explored south to Tucson and Tombstone, then looped up to the northern end of the state, venturing into southern Utah. The campsites had either no WiFi or such limited bandwidth that the Internet was generally inaccessible. Cellphone was not available in some of the far northern reaches of the state, especially in canyons. Although it was not a birding trip per se, there were many opportunities to observe the bird life. I was able to fill two 32 GB flash cards with over 2,000 photos but now face the task of reviewing, selecting and processing the images.

My intent was to report on the adventure in an orderly fashion, so I started working on the images from the first few days. It was very slow going, and there have been demands on my time since returning to Illinois. Happily, our granddaughter, who recently turned nine years old, asked if she could compose a blog about a walk we took while camping in Grand Canyon Trailer Village. We were located at the far northern edge of the campground, next to the forest and within walking distance of the South Rim of the canyon. I was only too happy to agree, though I had to search for photos to illustrate her adventure in the pinyon-juniper woodlands that surrounded our campsite.

These are Graciela's words:

We are out taking an RV trip in Arizona. After one night at a motel in Phoenix, we drove the RV to Tucson where we stopped at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It was so hot I was burning up. We walked the trails and I found an Elf Owl in one of the exhibits. It flew down and picked meal worms out of the fingers of a volunteer.

Elf Owl 20130614 - Copy

One exhibit had a Roadrunner. I had never seen a real one before.

Graci with roadrunner 20130614

Graci at Desert Museum 2-20130614

Graci at Desert Museum 20130614

There were neat things such as Spotted Geckoes, Rock Rattlesnakes and Leaf-nosed Bats. We saw an Ocelot but it was sleeping and mostly out of sight. There was a Gray Fox hiding in one of the exhibits. A Bobcat woke up and popped out of hiding.

Bobcat 20130614 - Copy

The next day we went to Tombstone where it rained for the first time in many days.The people ran out in the rain and really liked getting wet.

Tombstone AZ HDR 3-20130615 Tombstone rain walker 20130615

We are now visiting the Grand Canyon for three days and will go on to Lake Powell for three more.

Grand Canyon sunset HDR 20130617

We visited some very high places out on the edge of the Grand Canyon. We looked for California Condors but could not see any.

Graci at Hopi Point 20130617

There are are woods right near our campground and Grampa wanted to go for a walk to see if there are any elk. Earlier in the morning he found three elk.

Elk 20130618

Elk 3-20130618

Elk 4-20130618

I wanted to bring my little kitty Mimi and Gramps said yes. The very first thing I saw was a bluebird, but I did not know it was a bluebird. At first I did not see the blue but I absolutely positively knew it was not a robin. It was smaller than a robin. I called Grandpa over and said "Gramps come here, I found a bird!" He came over and said "By golly that is a bluebird." Then he told me that bluebirds were relatives of robins. He took a picture and after he zoomed in on the picture I could see it had a blue back. 

Western Bluebird.

Western Bluebird 3-20130618

A little later we saw another one and it had a much more blue back.

Western Bluebird 4-20130618

I discovered something that looked interesting and told Grampa, "I found a place where a squirrel has been storing nuts!" He came over and after looking closely for a while said, "No Graci, those are old elk scat." Later we found some fresh black ones.

Old Elk scat 20130618

We continued walking some more and I saw a rock with crystals sticking out. I called Grampa over again and he said it was quartz.

Quartz deposit in rock 20130618

There were strange lines on the top of this rock and he said they looked like fossils.[Editor's note-- these were most likely striations on the face of the limestone caused by the movement of ancient mountain glaciers]

Striations on limestone rock 20130618

Then we came across some sandstone. I ran my hand across it and it felt like loose sand.

Sandstone 20130618

Mimi ended up sitting on it.

Graci with Mimi on sandstone 20130618

Grampa showed me Ponderosa Pine and also Pinyon Pine which had smaller needles. I told him we have a Ponderosa Pine at school but he said he thinks it does not grow in Illinois. He showed me one way of telling if it's Ponderosa. Its bark smells like Vanilla Wafers. Sure enough, it did!

Mature Ponderosas bark has the distinct smell of vanilla. Graci sniffing Ponderosa bark 20130618

I had Mimi smell the bark too.

Mimi sniffs bark 20130618

We also saw a family of ravens. Grandpa explained to me that the young bird has yellow near the corners of its beak. This helps convince the mother to feed the baby when she sees the yellow when its mouth is open.

Common Raven juvenile 20130618

Old Common Raven

Common Raven adult 20130618

We saw chickadees and nuthatches as well, but we did not see any elk. Boo-hoo!!

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee 20130619

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch 20130619

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch 20130618

On our way back we saw a little baby rabbit. It had a white cotton-tail and very long ears compared to the ones we have in Illinois. It has longer ears not only for better hearing but because the ears have lots of blood vessels and they help get rid of the heat.

Cottontail Rabbit 20130618

= = = =

During our little walk it was wonderful seeing and experiencing Graci's exuberance,  inquisitive nature and love of discovery. Sorry I took the lazy way out of doing my weekly blog, but I hope to be caught up before Graci hands me another one! By the way, we DID see California Condors the next day, but that's another story. A cow elk also walked right past our RV on the morning we departed for Lake Powell.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chapel Trail Nature Preserve

This view from our back patio just before sunrise showed rain clouds moving in from the ocean. Mary Lou and I stayed just ahead of the storms as we visited Chapel Trail Nature Preserve in Pembroke Pines.

Sunrise HDR 20130520

A Red-shouldered Hawk rested at the end of the boardwalk and allowed us to approach rather closely.

Red-shouldered Hawk 20130520

When we moved just a little nearer it launched into flight.

Red-shouldered Hawk in flight 20130520

Red-shouldered Hawk in flight 2-20130520

We had a fleeting look at a Great Crested Flycatcher.

Great Crested Flycatcher 20130520

During our brief walk we saw a Marsh Rabbit, but few birds.

Marsh Rabbit 20130520

Halloween Pennants were numerous, ...

Halloween Pennant 20130520

... as were butterflies, including this male Julia heliconian.

Julia male 20130529

We visited again the next week and found an Eastern Towhee. As a kid in New Jersey I called them "Red-eyed Towhees," not realizing that there was a white-eyed population in Florida. I should have paid more attention to the text in my first bird book, Chester A Reed's Land Birds East of the Rockies (Doubleday, Page & Company,  1923). Over 70 years ago I defaced my original copy by penciling "SAW" over the picture of each bird as I added it to my first "life list." I recently found a copy in good condition.

Towhee in Reed Guide 1923jpg

During the winter we see towhees with both eye colors, but this bird is breeding locally. Its eyes are actually yellowish, not pure white.   He was singing from a treetop on his territory, just as described in my first bird guide

Eastern Towhee 20130530

He was missing a few feathers from the back of his head. 

Eastern Towhee 2-20130530

An Anhinga flew over the boardwalk.

Anhinga in flight 20130530

A lone female Mottled Duck paddled among the Spikerush. It is a bit odd to see one without a mate.

Mottled Duck female 20130530

This is a view from the end of the boardwalk earlier this spring. Now this area is mostly under water.

Chapel Trail west from boardwalk HDR 20130322

During the wet season the high water disperses waders, so their numbers were low as expected. However the absence of some other waterbirds, notably coots, Common Gallinules and exotic Purple Swamphens was unusual. Further, we had not seen any Loggerhead Shrikes since returning from Illinois. A few can be seen all winter, and they normally increase in the spring.

On the way home, hoping for shrikes, we stopped at West Pines Soccer Park and Nature Preserve (quite a combination!). One of the two boardwalks was closed due to construction. There were no shrikes here either, but as usual at this time of year, over 50 Black Vultures had congregated at the edge of the wetlands.

 Black Vultures 20130530

An unusually pale Northern Mockingbird perched on the fence. Was it a young bird?

Northern Mockingbird 20130530

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Observations at the nest of a Common Nighthawk

The Common Nighthawk is the American Birding Association's 2013 Bird of the Year. In April they migrate through our South Florida neighborhood and some stay to breed here each year. 

Our daughter visited the newly reopened Hall of Birds at the Field Museum in Chicago and took this cell phone photo of one of my nighthawk images that was used in their new interactive bird exhibit.

Nighthawk in Field Museum MAY 2013

Last year, as reported earlier, I discovered the eggs of a Common Nighthawk.

Common Nighthawk eggs macro SOOC 20120614

This year, on May 19th, I found a fresh egg shell along the gravel road that leads into the wetlands near our south Florida home. The parent had alerted me to its presence by flying up from this spot. For fear of stepping on a chick I did not venture in immediately.

Common Nighthawk egg shell 20130519

Eight days later Mary Lou and I got out early to check on the progress of the breeding herons in the local rookery. On the way into the wetlands the nighthawk once again burst off its nest and tried to lure us away.

Common Nighthawk 20130527

This time I took careful notice of the exact spot where the bird had been sitting. Scanning with my binoculars, I found its single chick.

Common Nighthawk chick 2-20130524

Six days later the little nighthawk showed development of flight feathers.

Common Nighthawk chick 20130531

The baby was very well hidden. It is in the very center of this photo. To see it clearly, click on the image and select the original size.

Find the baby nighthawk 20130531

The last time I saw the nestling was on June 1, which was two weeks after I found its empty egg shell. It appeared nearly ready for flight.

Common Nighthawk nestling 201306

As before, the adult bird remained close by. While we had seen a pair of adults at this site several weeks before, only one adult had been present since we discovered the nest.

Common Nighthawk 201306

On June 7 an adult nighthawk dive-bombed over my head as I walked in the area of the nest. 

Common Nighthawk 2-20130607

I put together this video which illustrates the parent's behavior.

If video fails to run please visit this URL