Habitat, habitat, habitat

21 February 2017

The familiar real estate addage is "Location, location, location."  For birds, the same is true of habitat.  As a birdwatcher, you tend to learn what areas just "look good" for birds.  If you're birding in the desert, and you see something like this, I recommend you stop and have a look around:

 

The pioneers knew that a good cluster of trees, often cottonwoods, meant water just underground.  Naturally that was a good place to sink a well – especially if you had to dig it by hand!  So, in western states, windmills are practically a signpost for "oasis."  In this case, that was only a few hackberry trees, but sure enough this mini-oasis harbored a half dozen Western Bluebirds.

 

Looking around, I saw nothing but arid grassland in every direction.  I think of Western Bluebirds as more of a forest species, but in the winter they do hang out at lower elevations where they can find adequate food and shelter.  Netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata) is a great tree for all kinds of wintering birds, but in my mind hackberries = thrushes.  Vagrant thrushes like Rufous-backed Robin are invariably discovered near hackberry trees or other fruiting trees and shrubs.  So check 'em out!

 

When you look at the pea-sized fruit up close, it doesn't look like much.  When you crack open the endocarp, there's just a thin layer of mesocarp.  Most of the berry is really just a seed.

 

It must take a lot of these berries to fill up a bluebird belly!  But, the fruits dry out and often hang on the branches throughout the winter, making them a reliable food source.  And when they're newly ripened, they're actually somewhat palatable to humans, too.  I don't recommend them by February, though...don't ask me how I know.

 

Good birding,

John Yerger

eBird list at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34635985

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Hiking Silver Peak in Arizona's Chiricahua Mts

1 October 2016

Now that things have finally calmed down around the office, I decided to kick off October properly with a hike up Silver Peak.  I'm lucky enough to behold this mountain from my living room window every day, yet I rarely have the few free hours needed to make the summit.  Not wanting to waste this opportunity, the dog and I jumped in the truck and headed out.

b2ap3 medium John and Madison 20161002

A fine day to be in the Chiricahua Mountains, and we had the trail to ourselves!  With 4.5 miles of trail and 3000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us, we put our heads down and hiked hard.  Even though I only birded for a few minutes at a time – while pausing to catch my breath – I still managed 33 species, mostly by ear.  The clear highlight was a "Mexican" Spotted Owl on a day roost only 4 feet above my head, directly over the trail!  Unfortunately, this doubled as a "lowlight" for me, too, since I didn't realize it was there until I had already walked beneath it, accidentally flushing the bird to an invisible perch around the side of a cliff...  Major bummer.  A consolation prize was a small songbird flock in almost the same spot on the return trip from the peak, which held singletons of Mexican Chickadee, Olive Warbler, Hermit Warbler, and Painted Redstart.  My first-of-season Hammond's Flycatcher was an added bonus.  Checklist available on eBird.

Since I wasn't in photographic range of anything avian, non-birding subjects are what I captured today.  While it's impossible to do justice to the 360º vistas available from Silver Peak, this shot overlooking Portal and the San Simon Valley is tough to beat:  

b2ap3 medium Silver Peak looking ENE 20161001

Pondering this landscape from the concrete foundation of the former Silver Peak fire lookout tower (which burned down after a bizarre snowstorm lightning strike in 1992), I chanced to look down just as this odd denizen ambled across the old water cistern:

b2ap3 medium Automeris io larva 20161001

This larva of Automeris io turns into a pretty cool moth, but I personally think the caterpillar itself is a far more fascinating find!

Hasta pronto,

John Yerger

 

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