Friday, February 15, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count

My friend Carol Tepper invited me to take part in the GBBC, a citizens science project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. Their web site is very nicely organized with a specific pop-up bird list for every gps point that you log on their map. You can still join for another couple of days, and the data do NOT have to be from your backyard, you can also send the list of a short birding trip.
So I spent a leisurely hour on our property this morning, with my new Papilio (Pentax) close-focus binoculars that I'm really fond of.

Mourning Dove and Gambel's Quail
 The most common and numerous birds by far were Mourning Doves, followed closely by Gambles Quail as long as there was bird seed on the ground. The noisiest are always the Gila Woodpeckers, and the most in-our-faces-at the breakfast table are the Costa's Hummingbird males. A Cactus Wren investigated between the pages of Randy's newspaper. No great surprises so far.

White-crowned Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow and House Sparrow (two left photos by Ned Harris)
 Then a whole group of sparrows flew in, searching for seeds among dried up bunches of cheat grass.  We used to weed after rains to keep this introduced species out, but when the rains became rare so did the grass. Now we appreciate it for its golden color and its attraction for Harvester Ants and birds. The sparrows, very clearly smaller than our usual White-crowned and Black-throated, and very lightly marked, were Brewer's.

Cactus Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Pyrrhuloxia, Lesser Goldfinch,
Curve-billed Trasher, Verdin, House Finch, Phaenopepla
Lesser Goldfinches used to appear in groups like that, but today I found only two singing territorial males and their mates. The same for the Phainopeplas: In early January, there was a couple of them on every Mistletoe bunch but today I found only one male sitting close to last years nest in a mesquite tree. Verdins were also close to new nests and territorial, so were the Black-tailed Gnatcatchers that I heard and then attracted by pishing. They were paired up, but I noticed no black cap on the male yet. I'm pretty sure about the species though, because I believe that I know their warning call and they have been nesting in that wash for years (with black caps). I will watch them though...could we have Blue-grays this year?

Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker
 At the border between our property and the adjacent State Trust Land a huge saguaro has lately lost its tallest trunk. A Woodpecker perched on the break turned out to be a Gilded Flicker female. She slipped into a fresh cavity and stayed inside for a long time. I hope they will raise a family, this species has become rare over the last dry spell.
A sharp 'zick' announced a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. The markings on the head of this female were so dark that I could have sworn she was a Nuttal's, but those simply don't range this far east.
I found a Mockingbird, a Cardinal and male and female Pyrrhuloxia. Curved-billed Trashers began singing as soon as it warmed up a little.
A young Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in his usual dead Ironwood, but on this cool overcast morning the other raptors didn't show. Only a pair of Ravens flew by with heavily swishing wing beats.
The only introduced species were Eurasian Collard Doves and House Sparrows. The sparrows are trying to claim a saguaro cavity that was used by Ash-throated Flycatchers last year.

My morning count took an hour from 9 to10 am, covered loosely 14 acres of Sonoran Desert Shrub in the bajada of the Tucson Mountains, the temperature was about 55 F, under an overcast sky. I logged 24 species plus one unidentified Vireo.


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