The Azure Gate Bed & Breakfast

9351 E. Morrill Way, Tucson, Arizona 85749
Innkeeper(s): Dennis & Christine Widman

Prothonotary Warbler 1 May 2016, 2:57 pm

Yesterday at 11:00 am I read the ABA Birding News and noticed that a Prothonotary Warbler was seen in Tanque Verde Wash at 8:00 am. 

Prothonotary Warblers are typically found only in the Eastern United States, breeding mostly in the Southeast.

Their preferred habitat is wooded swamps. They breed in flooded river bottom hardwoods such as black willow, ash, buttonbush, sweetgum, red maple, hackberry, river birch, and elm; or wetlands with bay trees surrounded by cypress swamp. It winters in the tropics (Central America) in lowland woods and mangrove swamps.

Males arrive on nesting grounds in early April, about a week before females. Males establish territories by singing, vigorous displays, chases, and fighting. Males place small amounts of moss into the nest cavity, building dummy nests, but only female builds real nest. Male displays intensively to the female during courtship by fluffing plumage, and spreading wings and tail. Nest site usually 5-10' up (sometimes 3-30' up), above standing water in hole in tree or stump. Cavities are often old Downy Woodpecker nests. Sometimes excavates its own hole in very rotten stumps. Female fills nest cavity nearly to the entrance hole with moss, dry leaves, twigs and bark; then lines it with rootlets and bark strips.

Breeding populations of these warblers are highly localized because of the extreme habitat specificity required. This makes Prothonotary Warblers vulnerable to habitat destruction. 

Their population has declined by over 40% in the last 50 years because of the clearing of southern swamp forests. It is on the State of the Birds Watch List as a bird species that is at risk.  

Given their habitat, one might well ask why is a single male hanging around in old cottonwood trees in the sonoran desert of Southern Arizona. A good question without a good answer. Yet, every couple of years a single (usually male) finds its way here.

Since it is very rare to Southern Arizona -- and I live only three miles from Tanque Verde Wash, I dropped what I was doing to see if I could find him.

It didn't take too long, about an hour and a half. He landed on a branch about 8 feet off the ground and about 15 feet from me. So I was able to get a nice photo.

Prothonotary Warblers typically feed on butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, mayflies, and spiders. In swamp environments it eats mollusks and isopods. It supplements its diet with seeds, fruit, or nectar. You can see mulberry stains on his head and breast in the photo:

Prothonotary Warbler

Back Yard Birding: A Hooded Oriole Family 30 Apr 2016, 10:25 am

Yesterday while sitting in my office working, Christine came over to say there was a large yellow bird in the oasis. (Large I took to mean larger than the many Lesser Goldfinches we have).

So I grabbed my camera and went into the oasis for a look. He had been in one of our mesquite trees but now nowhere to be found. Yet, a few minutes later one of our guests spotted him over by our fan palms. 

I could see right away that it was an immature oriole; maybe Bullocks, maybe Hooded. As I checked Sibley's I found the following statement for the Hooded Oriole: "uncommon in open wooded or brushy habitats, often near fan palms..."

I have photos of about a dozen different Hooded Orioles -- and none on or even near fan palms. Now, here was this oriole in our backyard hanging out on and near fan palms. I figured I had my answer.

An hour or so later I spotted both the adult male and female -- though didn't have my camera with me. 

Here are some of the photos of the young male Hooded Oriole: 

Birds with Fish: Osprey 29 Apr 2016, 5:54 am

Since I recently finished a series on Birds with Bugs, I thought a series on Birds with Fish was in order. This topic, however, has become a little more challenging since moving to the Arizona desert in 2002. 

Nonetheless, we start today with the Osprey. 

Osprey distribution is worldwide except for Antarctica. In the western hemisphere they winter in South America and Summer in the Northwest United States and most of Canada. They breed during the summer months throughout their summer range. Obviously, they can be found between these two zones during migration. 

Their diet is almost entirely fish. In fact, it is the only bird of prey that feeds exclusively on fish.

Therefore, ospreys are found near water, either fresh or salt, where large numbers of fish are present. They are commonly found around major coastal estuaries and salt marshes, but also regular around large lakes, reservoirs, rivers. Hence a smaller population in Arizona. Migrating Ospreys are sometimes seen far from water, even over the desert.

They fly slowly over water, pausing to hover when fish are spotted below; if  a fish is close enough to surface, the Osprey plunges feet-first, grasping prey in its talons.

They carry their catch parallel to their own body and head first to keep it aerodynamic (as seen in the first photo).

Their outer toe is reversible so it can grasp with three toes forward and one toe backward or with two toes forward and two toes backward (giving them a more stable grip in flight).

Ospreys typically lay 2 to 4 eggs. Their eggs don't all hatch at once however. It is usually five days between the first and last hatchling. Females stay with the chicks most of the time. The male is responsible for finding food and bringing it to the nest. Ospreys often use the same nest for years. Nests are usually near water where food is present.

Osprey with Trout above Ernst Lake, British Columbia

Osprey Eating Fish at Agua Caliente, Arizona

Osprey with Trout at Lake Chopaka, Washington

Osprey with Fish at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming

Incinerator Ridge, Mount Lemmon 26 Apr 2016, 12:10 pm

Since Mount Lemmon is right out our back door, it is where I go when I don't have a lot of time. So yesterday, I made a quick trip up to Incinerator Ridge wondering what I might find this early in the season.  It was a bit windy and cold (49 degrees). No real flocks of birds yet, but with a little patience a few nice birds did present themselves:

American Robin

Hermit Thrush

Red Faced Warbler


Spotted Towhee

Stellar Jay

Western Bluebird

Birding Madera Canyon 24 Apr 2016, 1:34 am

Wednesday and Friday of this past week I got a chance to bird Madera Canyon. Wasn't the best time of day 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Both days I started at the Whitehouse Picnic area and hiked up the trail to the Amphitheatre (about a mile each way).

Nothing unusual, but some nice photos:

Bridled Titmouse

Dusky Capped Flycatchder

Hepatic Tanager

Plumbeous Vireo
Acorn Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker
Black Throated Gray Warbler
Mexican Jay
Western Wood Pewee
White Tailed Deer

Brown Creeper and Painted Redstart 23 Apr 2016, 6:04 am

After finding and photographing the Olive Warbler at the Alder Picnic Area on Mount Lemmon, I decided to check out Incinerator Ridge -- a favorite birding spot just down a bit from the Alder Picnic Area.

While I didn't find anything unusual I did get two photos that I really liked. The first is a Brown Creeper. It is the composition here that sets it apart; the moss on the tree and the wreath-like arch encircling the bird.

Brown Creeper
Although plentiful on Incinerator Ridge, this particular Painted Redstart stopped foraging for a few moments to ensure that I got a nice, crisp, detailed photo:
Painted Redstart

Olive Warbler - Mount Lemmon 22 Apr 2016, 6:03 am

The Olive Warbler is rare to the United States. It's range is limited to southeast Arizona in the US and central Mexico. It prefers the tops of ponderosa pine, though it will sometimes visit other pines and firs -- above 7,000 feet. Given its limited range and habitat, not as much is known of this little warbler. It primarily eats insects gleaned from the pine trees by creeping over the branches, twigs, and needle clusters. It  sometimes can be found in flocks with other warblers, titmice, and nuthatches, though higher up in the trees. It nests high in the pines usually 15 - 20 feet out from the trunk.

After successfully finding the male Olive Warbler last week, I decided to go back up Mount Lemmon and see if I could get a better photo. The spot was the Alder Picnic area at 8,000 feet atop Mount Lemmon. As soon as I arrived I heard this little warbler. It took about 20 minutes to find him, but he was quite agreeable. Here are some of the photos I took: 

Bug Eating Birds: Unknown 21 Apr 2016, 11:30 pm


Bug Eating Birds: Yellow Eyed Junco 19 Apr 2016, 3:28 am

Yellow Eyed Junco

Bug Eating Birds: White Breasted Nuthatch 17 Apr 2016, 3:26 am

White Breasted Nuthatch