Happy Birds at Our Feeder!

The last 4 nights I have been traveling to see sandhill cranes. Freezing mornings, but this morning I am able to observe birds from the comfort of my home. All photos of the birds at our feeder were taken while I stood indoors in a warm setting. A really wonderful way to observe birds! I will write about my latest travel, the cranes, and other birds in upcoming posts.

This post is about the 8 different species of birds that came to our feeder within an hour! Wow! There are two feeders for the birds to eat from. Some birds were very patient while they waited for another who is taking up space and feeding at a feeder. The Gamble’s quail and mourning doves are waiting for seed to drop to the ground. When the male northern cardinal swoops in with its bright red color, it is simply beautiful. Then came the female! Of course, the yellow of lesser goldfinch is an eye-catcher too, especially when in the sunlight! The ladderback woodpecker is becoming a regular here, just like the Gila woodpeckers. I am always surprised when a white-crowned sparrow shows up! Of course, the house finch are often here. Many of the birds also like sitting in the nearby trees. We are happy to see the birds at our feeders.

Enjoy the photos of the morning visitors to our feeders:

Gambel’s quail
Northern cardinal – male
Northern cardinal – female
Lesser goldfinch
Ladderback woodpecker
Gila woodpecker
White-crowned sparrow

Don’t forget to look out your window when home. There may be some birds sitting in the vegetation around your home or flying overhead. Take time to enjoy nature!

Turtles Brumate. What!?!

Where are all the turtles? Last month the question was asked of me by a young girl who obviously knew we usually see many, many turtles basking in the sun on the logs near the pond’s edge. Not on this winter day though. My answer was, the turtles probably are buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond since the water is very cold in winter. We will see them again when the weather warms.

I worked as a naturalist for a few summers when I was in my 20’s and learned to follow up on questions asked by people on my nature walks. It was important for me to learn more about a topic so I could provide accurate information when asked again by someone on my next hike. So I did some reading about the red-eared slider. This semi-aquatic, freshwater turtle is often seen here and I no doubt will hear that question again.

Red-eared slider

So where did the turtles go? Turtles are cold-blooded animals not capable of generating body heat. When water is below 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the turtle slows down, is less active, and does bury itself only to rise to the surface as needed. Since it needs to drink water during this time it is not hibernation like we read about with bears, it is brumation. As a turtle brumates it can still move around, sleep underwater by resting on a pond’s bottom or float on the surface with an inflated throat as a floatation aid. Apparently a red-eared slider can survive in this cold water with no food for 70 – 100 days. If water dries up, they will travel in search of more water.

The turtles are back! Red-eared turtles are semi-aquatic so we see them in water and on land. They eat aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, tadpoles and fish. We love seeing them on rocks and logs as they warm themselves in the sun. If there are not enough logs they will even stack upon one another. They communicate with each other through touch and vibrations. One could wonder what the “message” was between them all.

Want one as a pet? The red-eared slider is one of 3 North American Pond Sliders. While red-eared sliders live long in captivity, they are one of the most invasive species found on every continent, except Antarctica, due to people unfortunately releasing their turtle to the wild. If you want a turtle at home, know the rules and regulations which vary per state in keeping it as a pet. Plus know how to care for it through all seasons, especially knowing it could live with you for many years. Otherwise, enjoy your red-eared turtle sightings when you are outdoors!

Thank You Eagle Scout!

An Eagle Scout project is noticed.

El Rio Preserve often has much more water in it than the day I recently visited. However, as I walked around I noticed a duck blind built by an Eagle Scout. It is a fantastic addition when observing ducks from this location when the water is higher and ducks can be seen from it. This area captures overflow from mountain slopes and the Santa Cruz River overflow. Local Tucson Audubon has identified 244 different bird species here. I like stopping here also when I bicycle the Chuck Huckleberry Loop. I look forward to higher water and staying behind this blind to observe waterfowl. Thanks again to the Eagle Scout!

Duck blind
Thanks Taysom.

My 2023 eBird Challenge

I decided to challenge myself and take on a challenge listed on eBird. Could I observe birds everyday and submit a checklist per day in eBird? Don’t know, but I am on my way to attempting the challenge … to be done every day in 2023!

With this challenge, there will be no difficulty in completing a checklist per day when I can observe birds at our home feeder. Then to enter the list in eBird, simple. The challenge will increase when I am not at home, yet there should always be a parking lot, campground or wherever to observe birds and then submit the list. 

I meet the challenge with 2 submissions in one day when there is so much bird activity at our feeder! It happened recently as the morning crowd of birds finished off some of the bird seed. After I replenished the feeders many more birds came by! Word was out … new seed at the scene!

It is interesting to watch the house finches calling others … I even heard the Gila woodpecker, first at a distance and then it flew in to check out the new cylinder of seed. 

So many birds crowd in on the feeder! They seem to take turns, but every so often a couple of lesser goldfinch would challenge each other to a perch. It was fascinating to watch. Exciting at times when a yellow-rumped warbler or a ladder-backed woodpecker would show up. Unfortunately I could not get my camera in place fast enough to capture good photos of them. 

We have railings and plenty of trees near the feeders for birds to simply sit and wait their turn or to call in other birds before that bird went to a feeder. I will continue this challenge … 365 checklists to be done during 2023 … on my way!

Waterfowl Bathe While in the Water

Waterfowl, such as ducks, splash around in water to clean their feathers. While photographing a cinnamon teal recently, the bird was so engrossed in its bathing that it left me few minutes to capture a photo when water was not splashing! So I stayed and watched the bird.

Here is the cinnamon teal:

Cinnamon teal

Besides eating, bathing is an important task for ducks to do each day. Soiled feathers are cleaned of excess oil and ectoparasites. Ducks splash water over their backs and wings, shake the water from their wings and then spend time preening. The bird uses its beak to position and smooth its feathers. Feathers are very important in helping the bird maintain its insulation, waterproofing and aerodynamic flight. 

Getting the spot on the back of its head
This side too!

With an extra shake, water is off the duck and any feather barbules that unhooked can now zip back together. Birds are born knowing this regular maintenance behavior and preen often in a day. And here I thought the bird was having a good time … well, maybe it was while also getting itself clean!

Getting to all the right places!
This is so much better! Shake it off!

Another bird that caught my attention … a ring-necked duck. Here it was:

And then it too was bathing and shaking its feathers …

It is fun to observe birds as they go about doing what they need to do within their day. Take time to notice … another joy in being outdoors in nature.

My 4 Days of Winter!

It’s now winter! We beat the closure of Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. We were already relaxed in a warm Maswik Lodge room at Grand Canyon National Park. Driving the interstate highway the previous day was a breeze. We were ahead of the snow storm that eventually caused the highway’s closure. 

Coming to this national park when fewer people visit is what is best about the winter season. Unfortunately Covid is still in the air so facial masks are required in every building. Due to less staff and various supplies, we did find some restaurants with limited menus. We were here for the beauty of the place, so we were okay with how things were at the moment.

It is easy to spend 4 winter days here. We walked many parts of the rim trail. We stopped in at the art exhibit at the Kolb Studio and the geology museum. I do not think we missed any shop on the rim either. At Desert View we climbed the watchtower to see the eastern end of the canyon. Then we drove all the way to the western end at Hermit’s Rest to walk the rim trail. Meals were eaten at the historic El Tovar, Bright Angel Restaurant and AZ Steakhouse.

The day of our arrival there was no snow, but overnight the winter snow came! Unfortunate for those on the highway, but we woke to at least 6 inches of snow! Mule deer and elk were walking about during our visit. We bundled plenty of clothing layers on our body … it was cold weather! This was our 4 days of winter before returning to southern Arizona where we rarely see snow at our doorstep. It was a wonderful winter!

Enjoy the photos from our Grand Canyon stay.

Grand Canyon before the snow arrived.
Grand Canyon is beautiful all seasons!

Part 2 of 2: Carrizo Canyon Trail, Palm Desert, California

The Carrizo Canyon Trail is an approximately 3 mile out and back trail. I would much prefer a loop trail; however, since there were supposedly bighorn sheep in the area I thought, okay this out and back trail would give me a better chance in seeing the wildlife! Spoiler alert: I did not see even one bighorn sheep! Maybe next visit.

Carrizo Canyon is part of an Ecological Reserve to protect bighorn sheep. This area is only open to the public for 3 months, October – December.  This allows the bighorn sheep safe time for breeding and raising their young during the other months.

Carrizo Canyon trail is a nice mixture of trail surfaces. The trail starts easy, sandy and only interesting in the fact you are searching the mountainside to hopefully see bighorn sheep. The next part of the trail is rocky; I too was hoping to see a bighorn sheep run up some rocky mountainside. The final part of the trail, we climbed over boulders, took a side trail to a waterfall that wasn’t, and then finally at our destination, an overlook. Down below we could see palm trees surviving because of the water they could reach through a large crack in the land’s surface. Our continued search for the bighorn sheep was disappointing because then and on our way to our starting point, we saw no bighorn sheep. Darn … but I understand if I get on the trail in the early morning hours I have a better chance in seeing bighorn sheep. Ok, maybe my next visit here.

A couple of photos from the overlook:

From the overlook, in another direction, to see the growing palm trees.

Part 1 of 2: Randall Henderson Trail, Palm Desert, California

Unfortunately no desert tortoise will be seen, on or near this trail, till maybe February. However, we hiked this trail and enjoyed the quiet, some wildflowers, birds, and amazing geology. This land and culture still exists for the Cahuilla people. The artwork at the start of the trail is a reminder of their basket-making tradition.

Work of Gerald Clarke Jr. … 2014, Enduring Tradition

Along the sandy, loop, approximately 3 mile trail, we saw at least 8 different species of birds and many plants. Few people were hiking the trail. One runner and one mountain biker though were enjoying the trail and day too. The rock formation, especially where the curving rock can be seen on the hillside is fascinating. It makes one wonder what geologic event was happening to the land at that time.

Look at the folds in the rock! Wow.

Stop at the visitor center near the parking lot and start of the trail. There are very informative displays and staff who are knowledgeable about the area. As a result of one conversation, the next day we went across the highway to hike a canyon trail and look for bighorn sheep! Below are other photos from this hike.

Could not miss seeing this mountain biker!

California’s San Jacinto Wildlife Area

Escape California’s Interstate- 10 traffic and drive to San Jacinto Wildlife Area. As you do, you pass huge dairy farms, dry land wheat farming and agricultural lands. The final mile is down a muddy road to the wildlife area managed by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nine hundred acres of restored wetlands within the 19,000 acres of wildlife area. It is a great place to look for birds along with other wildlife. We were here to see birds.

We spent more than 5 hours driving and walking the trails within the area. Hundreds and thousands of some waterfowl! Yet then there was also the lone mountain bluebird or a couple of loggerhead shrikes. Various hawks were flying around and while looking into the next pond, more birds. It was nice to see a packed-down dirt trail accessible for handicapped individuals and a couple of blinds for a wheelchair-bound person to have space to maneuver within.

My two new birds for my life list: mountain bluebird and a Nuttall’s woodpecker. Fortunately I able to get a photo of the Nuttall’s woodpecker, see below, which is only found in California.

Nuttall’s woodpecker

I thought I had never seen an American pipit so I was looking for it here. The bird was hopping around near water’s edge in some grasses so I was able to photograph it easily. Then I discovered later in the evening I have actually seen this bird a few years ago…. Oh well, this bird is cute!

American pipit

I’ll include a few more photos from this day. It was a worthwhile visit and if you get a chance to visit here, do so. However, be sure to have a CDFW Land Pass, unless you already have a valid CA hunting or fishing license. We bought our land pass at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store while in Palm Springs. Also, check the wildlife area website for more information since the area is closed certain days for duck hunting.

Bald eagles
American kestrel
Long-billed curlew
White-faced ibis
Northern harrier

Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw

The sandhill cranes are coming to their winter resting area in McNeal, Arizona, specifically named Whitewater Draw. I too drove to the area to see what was happening as winter officially begins in a week. The last time I was here it was February and I saw the birds roost at night and then take off just before sunrise. This visit I did not camp overnight.

I arrived and immediately noticed the water in the draw was higher than my previous visit. What this meant for observing the birds, they were further away and not so easy to individually see. Thus I spent more time capturing photos of them while in the air.

Of course there were other birds at the draw. Here are some of them:

Killdeer
Northern shoveler
Vermilion flycatcher

On my way home, a short distance from the draw, I saw a new bird and stopped to photograph it … a ferruginous hawk!

It was a great day for watching birds!