I got a great look at a yellow-eyed junco, Junco phaeonotus, also known as the Mexican junco, outside the general store in Summerhaven, Arizona, high atop Mount Lemmon. The bird was foraging on the ground at close range and in plain view, but by the time Jessa could bring the camera to bear, it had flown into a tree and was terribly backlit in the afternoon sun. I actually like the resulting picture, artistic and moody, but it is no way diagnostic.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Friday, April 29, 2022
As I believe I've noted before, the altitudinal changes on the Mount Lemmon Highway north of Tucson represent the ecological equivalent of a journey from Mexico to Canada in 27 miles. And here is a good representation of that phenomenon in two corvids.
Aphelocoma wollweberi appears in several of my field guides as the grey-breasted jay, but it is now (or should I say once again) officially the Mexican jay. This one was bouncing all around the Windy Point overlook—and I do mean bouncing; this is a spring-loaded bird—and Jessa was only able to get two photos, but both were keepers.
Cyanocitta stelleri, the Steller's jay, actually occurs in mountainous areas in Mexico and well into Central America, but the northern extent of its range includes Canada and Alaska. This is definitely not a bird you'd find in Tucson proper; this far south, they occur only at high elevations. The lighting may not have been the best when we encountered a pair of Steller's at Summerhaven in late afternoon, but at least the birds weren't overly frenetic.
Thursday, April 28, 2022
Melanerpes uropygialis is the desert Southwest's equivalent of the red-bellied woodpecker (M. carolinus). A pair of redbellies visit our back garden in Lincoln on a daily basis, and Gilas are correspondingly common in and around Tucson.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
Monday, April 25, 2022
Sunday, April 24, 2022
The Harris' hawks are presented as the finalé (I'm deliberately going out of order), and ASDM's website calls attention to "the only raptor species in the world that hunt as a family, using strategy (like wolves)". And that is, of course, impressive. I was a bit surprised, however, that the demo's narrator did not point out that this is unique to the Sonoran desert. The Harris' hawk is a widely distributed species, ranging as far south as Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Throughout much of its range, the Harris' is a standard-issue, territorial, non-social raptor; the cooperative breeding and associated group hunting behaviour of Sonoran Harris' hawks (and captive-bred eyasses of Sonoran descent) evolved as adaptations to a particularly demanding environment. Then again, I'm not altogether sure how many of my fellow falconers realise this.
More interesting to me personally than the Harris' hawks was the grey hawk, sometimes referred to as the Mexican goshawk. This diminutive buteo, with its barred breast plumage and banded tail, does bear a superficial resemblance to the accipiters, and its relatively short wings and quick wingbeat make it more agile than most buteos. Its quarry tends to be small and predominantly reptilian, but I would love to fly one if I lived within the grey hawk's native range. In the United States, however, that is limited to a small area in southeastern Arizona and another in southern Texas—and in both places grey hawks are summer residents, migrating southward with the onset of cooler weather.
A raptor with virtually no utility from a falconry standpoint, but interesting in its own right, is the crested caracara. It is a grand opportunist, living primarily on carrion but also pirating kills from other raptors and sometimes hunting small prey for itself. Despite appearances—notably the bare face and the "Elvis" crest—the caracara is a member of the Falconidae, more closely related to the true falcons than to the hawks.
The great horned owl ("tiger of the desert") is not a desert specialist to the extent that the other species in the demo are, but they certainly do well in the Sonoran.
Saturday, April 23, 2022
Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Grebes, though not at all related to coots, also have lobed toes. Grebes almost never venture onto solid ground, but one of them obligingly demonstrated for Jessa. Notice how far back the leg is on the body? That's why grebes confine themselves to the water: the stern-mounted legs provide excellent propulsion underwater, but grebes do not stand or walk well.
Silver Creek: not such a bad place to live if you're a poule d'eau or a dabchick, or even a peanut butter grebe.