Monday, April 29, 2013

Cochise Lake-Whimbrel

While out birding at Cochise Lake in Willcox, AZ a flock of 17 Long-billed Curlews and this one Whimbrel flew in.  As always, Cochise Lake, produced some great birds.  Other than the Whimbrel, at least 16 Willets were a surprise.  The numbers of phalaropes was high; there were about 135 Wilson's and a couple Red-necked Phalaropes.  A flock of 6 Lesser Scaup was also a nice addition to the list.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gila Monster!!!-Saguaro National Park

Eric writes:

The Gila Monster-just as cool as seeing an awesome bird

While surveying birds in Saguaro National Park this morning, the clear highlight was this Gila Monster while driving out of the park!  It's the first one I have ever seen and since I only have one bird survey in the desert left, my chances of seeing one were getting pretty slim.

A tarantula turns into prey
A creature that many people would prefer to not ever be close to . . . a tarantula.  This one was on the trail as I was hiking back from my survey.  I thought that the tarantula had found breakfast but a couple people have informed me it was being attacked.  The insect is a Tarantula Hawk which stings the tarantula.  This paralyzes the tarantula and the tarantual hawk lays an egg on it.  When the egg hatches the tarantula is used as a food source.

Eagle Creek Migrants

Rob writes: Last Sunday, Steph and I decided to meet up with some friends to do a little birding at Eagle Creek Park. After checking the marina, which had very few birds, we moved on to the Skating Pond. It seems that this is where all of the birds were hanging out! We very quickly found a Virginia Rail which was a lifer for one of the young birders with us!

We ended up making a couple of laps around the pond and Found a bunch of warblers and other migrants! While several of us were hiking around, Steph took my camera and was able to get some great shots of several different species!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Prairie Warbler
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - I love the raised crest!
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Birds are on the move, what migrants have you seen recently?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: The Unfeathered Bird

If you want to be constantly amazed by interesting facts regarding all families of birds, The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw is the place to start.  The book begins with an overview of bird anatomy and explains what the book is going to be all about.  If you don't know much about bird anatomy before delving into this book, the first chapter may be a bit overwhelming.  But, don't worry, as soon as Grouw starts writing on families of birds it becomes much easier to understand.

The illustrations in The Unfeathered Bird are phenomenal.  The basic concept is to show what a bird looks like without all of its feathers.  At times it just shows bones, sometimes muscles attached to bones, and sometimes the skin is included.  The book shows the reader what they can't normally see, which results in the them having an entirely different view of birds after reading it.

Much of the book concentrates on explaining the relations between bird families.  When you can only view a bird feather-deep, the relationships can be hard to see.  But, when you can see all the different levels of a bird the relationships can be different than they first appear.  If you just take the habit of Marabou Storks eating carrion, you may classify them as being related to vultures, "Considering storks as waterbirds, the carrion-eating habits of Marabou Storks seem rather incongruous.  The habit was conveniently rationalized when researchers pioneering DNA hybridization techniques in the 1980s revealed the storks' closest living relatives to be, not herons, nor even ibises and spoonbills, but the New World vultures."  It goes on to explain that now it's not believed that storks and vultures are closely related.

Illustrations of stork skulls

One aspect of the book that I wish would have been done differently is making it simpler to follow the text while it is talking about the illustrations.  If the illustrations would have been labeled it would have made this a more readable text and more accommodating for the average bird enthusiast.

Title:  The Unfeathered Bird
Author: Katrina van Grouw
Publisher:  Princeton University Press
Publication Date: February 13, 2013
Official Website:

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on  The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Weekend Birding at Magee Marsh

Rob writes: I found myself in northwest Ohio again this past weekend for the final meetings for the Biggest Week in American Birding field trips. On Saturday morning, I was planning to lead a Hike the Dikes event with my friends Kelly and Deb at Magee Marsh but due to the cold and windy weather, no one showed up for our hike. Instead we enjoyed a great few hours on the Magee boardwalk! We ended the morning with 64 species including many of these awesome Golden-crowned Kinglets.

 The highlight of the morning was the massive congregation of scaup on Lake Erie. We estimated that there were at least 10,000 scaup with a few other species mixed in. It was one of the most impressive flocks of ducks that I have ever seen and they were almost completely gone the next morning!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Review: National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America

Creating a pocket guide that is thorough but still small in size is not an easy task. The National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America is one of the better small-scale field guides that I have seen. You cannot expect a book like this to cover all species that occur in North America, but it does a great job of hitting 160 of the most abundant and iconic species on this continent while also providing plates of additional less common species.

The introduction offers a lot of useful information for beginning birders in the "Invitation to Birding" section. There are details on why bird identification matters, where to go birding, selecting optics, and bird topography.

On each species' page, there is a small map, some key facts and both a photo and a drawing, which is one of my favorite aspects of this book. By offering both a photo and a drawing, this book is able to offer significantly more identification help then most guides its size.  (Usually, pocket guides have one or the other - not both.)

It is important to remember that no matter which pocket guide you purchase, you will come across some species in the field that will not be in your guide.  But if you are birding only in your backyard, anywhere in the North America, the birds that you see will mostly likely be in this book.

Title: National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America
Authors: Laura Erickson and Jonathan Alderfer
Publisher: National Geographic
Publication Date: April 2, 2013

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Birding Mt. Lemmon

Eric writes:
Greetings from Tucson,

To follow along with my 400 List go to:

While working in the desert that surrounds Tuscon, you don't get to see many trees.  So, with a little break between transects, I headed up to the pine forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  I started out in the Bear Canyon area.  Since I had only been desert birding recently, every bird was great to see.  There were many Acorn Woodpeckers and Yellow-eyed Juncos that were tame and allowed for some nice photos.  My first Pygmy Nuthatch (#284) came through and a Spotted Towhee fed among the Yellow-eyed Juncos.  

Acorn Woodpecker
Yellow-eyed Junco
Next, I went to Rose Canyon where the warblers were everywhere!  I started out with my first Broad-tailed Hummingbird (#285) and Western Bluebird (#286).  I ended up running into a couple of nice warbler flocks and picking up my first Olive Warbler (#287) and Grace's Warbler (#288).  After a while, I came by a portion of the creek where many birds were drinking and bathing; this is where my first Buff-breasted Flycatcher (#289) showed up.

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: The World's Rarest Birds

Rob writes: As birders, we all know that there are many species that are in serious decline. The World's Rarest Birds provides an in-depth look at the four extinct in the wild species, 197 critically endangered, 389 endangered, and 60 species that are so poorly known that they are considered Data Deficient.

The idea behind the book is very unique. The authors held an international photo contest for the rarest birds in the world with the winning images being featured in the book. In addition to the winners, 800 other images are shown. If an image could not be obtained for some of the birds are that rare or maybe even extinct, an artist created beautifully done illustrations.

This book is absolutely fascinating from start to finish. The introductory chapter contains a wealth of information about many aspects of these rare birds and manages to do it in an extremely interesting and visually pleasing way. The page shown in the first image below is a great example of the type of information that you will find in the introduction.

The main body of the book is broken down by continent. Each section has a short introduction with fantastic information. The Hawai'i and Polynesia & Micronesia pages below are examples of one of the features included in each section, "Threatened Bird Hotspot". These features highlight some of the most important spots for conserving the world's rarest birds. After having experienced Hawai'i first hand in February, I can tell you that these sections really highlight the critical issues!

The image directly above shows what the bulk of the pages in this book look like. Each page features four birds and includes a picture, small range map, the estimated population of the species, the key threats to its survival, some additional information about the species, and a QR code that you can scan with your smartphone to find more information about each species on the BirdLife International website.

Critically Endangered Category - 1ST PRIZE White-bellied Cinclodes (Copyright Dubi Shapiro)

This book is a reminder of all of the beautiful species that are in serious danger of going extinct and will hopefully lead people to develop a strong desire to prevent this from happening. It's incredibly well laid out and really brings each species to life. This book is a must have for all bird lovers!

Title: The World's Rarest Birds
Authors: Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, & Robert Still
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: April 3, 2013
Official Website:

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Birding at Magee Marsh a Month Before the Biggest Week

Rob writes: While at Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) over the weekend for some Biggest Week meetings, I had the opportunity to do a little birding on the world famous Magee Marsh Boardwalk. On Saturday morning, I met up with BSBO intern Ryan Steiner for an hour of birding before we headed into meetings for the day. The boardwalk was oddly quiet but there were a few early migrants around. Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers were everywhere and a several Fox Sparrows were singing as well! There were also several species of ducks around including a rather photogenic Canvasback.

One of the many Golden-crowned Kinglets.
Although a little far away for a great shot, this Canvasback did not seem to mind our presence.

The boardwalk could not have been more different on Sunday morning. If you follow birding in the Magee region, you know that Kenn Kaufman makes awesome predictions about when migration will happen in the area. You can find his predictions here The weather was great for migration overnight and his prediction was dead on! It was even more fun for me to be able to join Kenn, Kim, and Ryan for a beautiful morning of birding. It was evident that the diversity and density of migrants had changed overnight as I made my way down the causeway. Robin numbers had grown exponentially and many sparrow flew up as I drove along.

Due to the amount of birds in the parking lot, it took us almost 30 minutes to even start down the boardwalk.  In just over 3 hours of birding, we were able to find 48 species, many of which were not around on Saturday. Some of the highlights were, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hermit Thrush, Winter Wren, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Kenn really wanted to find the first Louisiana Waterthrush of the spring but no matter how hard we searched, we could not find one anywhere. Hopefully the waterthrush and some other warblers will be arriving before I return on Friday!

This Tree Swallow perched on the boardwalk and allowed us to get some great photos!

One of the many Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that we saw. 
This male Eastern Bluebird looks like his back is a glowing neon blue!
Click here for my full eBird list from Sunday morning:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Surveying Birds in Southeast Arizona

Eric writes:
Greetings from Tucson, AZ

For about the past week I have been conducting bird surveys in Saguaro National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  I haven't been taking a camera out with me but I think that will change . . . there are just so many photo ops!  Luckily, my ipod has a camera, and while the quality isn't good at least it is something.  

Here are a few pics to show one of the areas that I surveyed in:

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake-I hiked in about a
mile on a trail then had to cut off to get to my transect.
I picked the right spot, this rattlesnake was about 10 feet
off the trail.

A beautiful canyon that was next to my transect.  Some nice migrants such
as Pacific-slope and Hammond's Flycatcher were in this canyon.

The same canyon as above-Canyon and Rock
Wrens were present, as well as Black-chinned and
Costa's Hummingbird.

Answer to Bird Quiz #168 - Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We had a great number of responses to this week's quiz and almost everyone was able to figure out that this quiz bird was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker!

Previous Quiz:

How to Identify:

Everyone that sent in answers to this week's quiz was able to identify this as some species of woodpecker. From there it got a little bit trickier. One of the first things that you notice in this photo is the striped pattern on the face. This limits us on our potential species that we can choose from. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker shows a similar facial pattern but it eliminated because this individual does not show the black bib that a sapsucker would have. When you combine the red on the crown and the spotting on the sides, you should come be able to narrow it down to two species, Ladder-backed and Nuttall's. Both the buffyness of the chest and belly and the extent of red on the crown, it extents all the way to the eye, lead us to identify this as a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Next Quiz:

The second quiz for April is up on at the following link

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Birding Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park

Eric writes:
Greetings from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument,

While working in the Tucson Mountains Unit of Saguaro National Park I've been camping at Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park.  This campground is spectacular desert birding and is easily visited from any part of Tucson.  The great thing about this location is that the birds have become acclimated to people, so getting close is not a problem.  

In the mornings and evenings all the common desert birds are present including Rufous-winged Sparrows, Canyon Towhees, Costa's Hummingbirds, and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  At night the nocturnal species start vocalizing; Great-horned, Western-Screech, and Elf Owls are all common.  This area is definitely a great spot to stop by if you are birding in Saguaro National Park.

Cactus Wren-a pair nests right along the entrance
road to the campground.

The same Cactus Wren as above.
A Gila Woodpecker at it's nest hole-another
species that nests right along the entrance
The same Gila Woodpecker on the top of the
Saguaro that it is using to nest.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #167 - Red Knot

This final quiz in our March series was quite tricky. We only got 2 correct answers this time! A winner for March will be contacted soon.

Last Quiz:

How to Identify:

This week, our bird is quickly identifiable as some species of shorebird.  The gray head and back eliminate many species right off the bat.   Wandering Tattler, Willet, Surfbird, Rock Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Sanderling, and Western Sandpiper all have pale gray backs and heads in at least one of their plumages.  The greenish legs eliminate Willet, Wandering Tattler, Surfbird, Sanderling, and Western Sandpiper.  That leaves us with Rock Sandpiper and Red Knot.  The pale gray back eliminates Rock Sandpiper; so our quiz bird is a Red Knot.  The gray barring on the sides and vent are also a good mark to help identify this individual as a Red Knot.

Next Quiz:

We will be doing another series of 4 quizzes in April. The first quiz can be found here, Good luck!