Posts Tagged ‘bird watching’

A dull version of the Violet-Crowned Hummingbird, a bird that sneaks across Mexico’s border into Arizonia.

Aging My Way:

          I keep a list of all the bird species I see flying free in the wild. So far, I’ve seen 712. It’s been that way for a while, but I thought I had finally found two new ones this weekend.

As I set and partied outside to celebrate a friend’s birthday in the town of Sahuarita, a brown hummingbird suddenly caught my attention. This was after another bird flew into my sight and landed in a scenic dead tree.

I suspected this latter bird was a kite, but I wasn’t sure what species. My host Doris said someone had told her it was a Mexican bird, which made sense since we were partying in Southeast Arizonia near the border with Mexico.

I had no idea the specific species of either bird until I got home and looked in my birding field guides. I have two. My favorite is National Geographic’s Birds of North America. But I also use Sibley’s Guide to Birds, when I’m stumped or want a second opinion.

While I couldn’t say with surety what the Kite species was, because I didn’t get that close a look, I basically ruled out anything but a White-Tailed Kite, a bird I had previously seen on the Texas Gulf Coast at the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. This meant that even if my identification was spot on, it still wouldn’t count as a new bird.

I was more confident about identifying the little brown hummer. Despite its plainness, I was about 90 percent certain it was a Violet-Crowned Hummingbird, as it’s the only brown hummer that can be seen in North America, and then normally only in Southeastern Arizonia. This one was most likely a juvenile whose crown hadn’t come into its color yet, or one whose color wasn’t visible to me because I wasn’t looking through my binoculars at it. Some violet crowns, or so my field guide alluded to,  have color crowns that are duller or darker.

Anyway, I would really like to go back and have a second look at the hummer through my binoculars. I’m still kind of hesitant about adding it to my list – so, despite my high hopes my list continues to stand at 712.  

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is an avid reader, the author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), is always searching for life’s silver lining, and these days aging her way – and that’s usually not gracefully.

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White-Eared Hummingbird. — Wikimedia photo

The sound of birds stops the noise in my mind.” – Carly Simon

White-Eared Hummingbird

I loafed through the past three days, which seemed an appropriate thing to do for a holiday weekend stuck at home. I binged on old Survivor seasons, walked my dog, had a night out playing Frustration and drinking Jack and coke with an adult granddaughter who also lives in my apartment complex, read a lot — and let my apartment get a bit dusty.

I live in the desert and you need to dust almost every day just to keep up with the blowing sand, which is thick enough that occasionally the night sky has a pink haze to it because of sand particles in the air. I was quite amazed the first time I saw this phenomenon.

White=Eared Hummingbird. — Audubon Field Guide

And I was just as amazed at the unexpected sight I saw this morning when I was sitting on my balcony with my morning coffee and writing out my to-do list, a bit lengthier today because of my lazy weekend.

Sitting on the table next to me was my ever-faithful pair of Leica bird-watching binoculars. Several familiar hummingbirds were flitting about the trees and my nectar feeder, mostly Anna’s, easy to identify because of the bright magenta feathers on their necks and head.

And then one flew in that was a bit different, a Broad-Billed, I assumed from its coloring and bill, and the fact they it is one of the more common hummers  I see at my nectar feeder, But it looked a bit odd, so I picked up my binoculars for a closer look as it sat peering at me from a nearby tree branch.

It had a wide white strip of feathers that stretched from above its eye almost to its neck, and not a hummingbird I was familiar with. But a quick flip through my favorite field guide let me know I was looking at a White-Eared Hummingbird. Wowzer!

This was a lifer, a bird that I was seeing for the first time. The 712th bird for my personal bird list. It was a big thing because it was the first new bird I had seen all year.

The White-Eared is a Central American hummer that barely crosses the Mexico border into Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And I got quite a good look at it, and even heard its distinctive tink-tink-tink voice as it fed at my nectar feeder.

What a great way to start the day.

Bean Pat: To Roger Tory Peterson, who published the first modern birding field guide that made it possible for non-ornithologists like me to identify the birds they see. I love the Peterson field guides, but my favorite for birding is

Travels with Maggie tracks my earlier birding days, when my bird list was only in the 400s. Check it out on Amazon. You might be able to read it free.

National Geographic’s Birds of North America, in which I keep a record of my first bird species sightings. I currently use the sixth edition.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, and is always searching for life’s silver lining.


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             “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky

Painted bunting — Wikimedia photo

The Bunting Came with a Bonus

Back in my early birding days, I spent some time at Texas’ Cedar Hill State Park near Dallas in search of a painted

Female painted bunting. — Wikimedia photo

bunting. It took three days of breaking spider webs on trails in the early mornings, and one day of slogging through the mud after a night of rain, but I eventually found one of these clownish-colored birds.

When in the open, you can’t miss the adult male.  He has a bright blue head, a scarlet breast, a green back, and a red rump. The female and first-year males are more subdued, dressed in shades of green, with the breast leaning toward yellow on the color wheel. These birds, however, feel more comfortable when ensconced in thick foliage, thus my difficulty in finding one.

The colorful bird I finally found on my fourth day of looking was an easily identifiable adult male perched in a tree near a small pond.  The painted bunting became bird species No. 383 on my life list (which now numbers 710). The painted bunting is nicknamed nonpareil (without equal) in French and mariposa pintado (painted butterfly) in Spanish because of its spectacular appearance.

Appropriately, a group of painted buntings is called a mural or a palette.

Green heron — Wikimedia photo

Sad to say, the bird’s beauty made it a popular caged bird until its capture and captivity became illegal in the United States. It is still, however, a hot item with the international pet trade, and the birds are particularly popular as pets in Asia and Europe, which may be one of the reasons its numbers are dwindling.

Meanwhile, as I was enjoying my front-row view of the Cedar Hill painted bunting years ago, it was suddenly displaced on the limb by another bird. I would have been upset, except this bird was a green heron – bird species No. 384.

Some days, life is really good.

Bean Pat: Traveling with dogs. https://jamieandthedogs.wordpress.com/2019/06/05/yep-just-me-and-four-dogs-heading-east/  This reminds me of my years on the road in my small RV, only I just had one dog.

*Available on Amazon, Travels with Maggie features a list of birds saw each leg of the journey.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, enthusiastic birder and is always searching for life’s silver lining. She can be reached at patbean@msn.com

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In a region of Texas some call the last great habitat, thorn forest intermingles with freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. Dense patches of thorny brush rise among unique wind-blown clay dunes called lomas.”  — US Fish and Wildlife Service

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Birds Galore

            It was a warm November day in 2005 when I visited South Texas’ Laguna Atascosta National Wildlife Refuge, whose name loosely translates to boggy lake. My own description of the refuge, recorded in my journal, coincides somewhat with the official version. I wrote: “Laguna Atascosta is one big briar patch – a haven of thorns. It seemed as if every plant was armed.  Scattered purple and orange wildflowers sat among sage, yucca, and palm trees with shaggy trunks.”

A pair of aplomado falcons. — US Fish and Wildlife photo

Along with my descriptions of the landscape was a list of the birds I was seeing: osprey, white-fronted goose, great egret, great blue heron, white-tailed kite, long-billed curlew, loggerhead shrike, kestrel, sandhill crane, white-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, white pelican, Harris hawk, red-shouldered hawk – just to name a few. Half of the birds found in North America rest, feed, migrate through or nest on this landscape, the leader of our small birding group told us as we watched lesser and greater yellowlegs feeding in some shallow water.

It was easy to tell which was which of the two, not an easy task when looking at only one of the species, I thought, as I added dunlin, marbled godwit, black-bellied plover, northern harrier, gull-billed tern, black-necked stilt and willet to my bird list, which kept getting longer – and kept looking for the No. 1 bird on my priority list.

But as the day wore on, I became more and more doubtful I would see an aplomado falcon, a globally abundant species but rare in North America. Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, only two remaining pairs of aplomado falcons were known to exist in the states in the 1940s and ‘50s, most likely because of over harvesting of eggs, according to US Fish and Wildlife.

Aplomado falcon. — Wikimedia photo

Today, the aplomado falcon has made a comeback in South Texas due to an aggressive recovery program involving captive breeding and re-introduction efforts. As of 2004, more than 900 falcons had been released in the Rio Grande Valley, with 25 nesting pairs documented in 2006.

Finally, thankfully, I got to see one of those pairs. Our group finally identified one sitting regally on a yucca. The aplomado falcon was a good distance away, but my long-lens telescope brought it up close for a detailed view. As I watched the falcon, which was a new life bird for me, I noted a second one sitting a bit lower on the plant. What a delightful day for us birders.

But it wasn’t over. Before we headed back to our Harlingen Hotel, which was the base for those attending the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I added lesser scaup, crested caracara, belted kingfisher and a dozen or so more birds to my day’s list.

Laguna Atascosa may mostly be a briar patch, but I feel like Br’er Rabbit, who despite his words, would have been quite happy to be tossed back into that thorny thicket.

Bean Pat: Bay of Fundy https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/the-bay-of-fundy/#like-38633 One of my favorite blogs because I usually learn something new, especially how to identify wildflowers.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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Hermit thrush — Wikimedia photo

            “That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture!” – Robert Browning

Fodder for Writers

Walt Whitman, like Browning, memorialized the thrush in verse. He used the song of the hermit thrush to describe his lament over the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Whitman had asked nature writer John Burroughs what bird’s voice had a heartbreaking purity that could be used as a motif for his poem, and Burroughs had suggested the hermit thrush. In his own writings, Burroughs wrote that the song of the hermit thrush brought him “that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature and religion are but the faint types of symbols.”

And Anthony Trollope wrote: “I do not know whether there be, as a rule, more vocal expression of the sentiment of love between a man and a woman, than there is between two thrushes. They whistle and call to each other, guided by instinct rather than by reason.”

I didn’t get a photo of the owls this morning, but I did get one of a gila woodpecker in a wild piece of desert landscape near my Tucson apartment. — Photo by Pat Bean

The great American birder, Roger Tory Peterson wrote about hearing the hermit thrush’s haunting melody near Monterey, California, during his trek across American with the great English birder James Fisher in the 1950s, in their book, Wild America.

I saw my first hermit thrush on a cold winter day in 2004, at a small city park near Brigham City in Northern Utah. I had been scrunching through crispy, crackling snow that was laced with ring-necked pheasant tracks when I heard someone say: “Hermit thrush.” I quickly veered in their direction, but by the time I got there, the small brown bird had disappeared into some thick bushes.

Before I could moan in despair, however, the thrush hopped out of the bushes and back into plain sight – and stayed long enough for me to note that its tail and rump looked like it had been dusted with rust, and to observe its slender white eye ring and sprinkling of freckles on its breast.   Life was good – still is. I’ve seen our resident great horned owl pair every day this week.

Bean Pat: Hide and Seek with Butterflies https://forestgardenblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/fabulous-friday-hide-and-seek-with-the-butterflies/  A delightful armchair walk in nature.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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“I said, ‘Ooh, Dad, I want the yellow ones.’ He said, ‘Where?’ I said, ‘Right there, Dad. I want the yellow ones.’ Everybody goes, ‘Those are green’. That’s how I knew I was colorblind.” — Michael Rosenbaum

An evening view from my apartment balcony that I took last fall. — Photo by Pat Bean

A Yellow Variant

It was a birdy morning today, one that had me almost constantly reaching for my binoculars as I drank my coffee

A yellow variant house finch.

while sitting on my third-floor balcony. There were the usual suspects of Anna’s, black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds spatting at my nectar feeder, mourning and white-winged doves cooing in the background, a raven cawing from the roof opposite my balcony, and small verdins and goldfinches flitting about in the trees.

Our resident Cooper’s hawk flew to the top of a tall tree and stared down at be for a bit – and I stared right back at him. A bright red northern cardinal flew past before disappearing in the foliage of trees across the courtyard. Then two other visitors, a brown thrasher and a tropical kingbird, uncommon visitors to my balcony view, flew in for a brief visit.

House finch sitting on my balcony railing. — Photo by Pat Bean

Elated at these last two, I described their visit in my journal. But then another bird flew in. It was a house finch, a common species I’ve seen hundreds of times. But this one was different. Instead of being all decked out in red feathers on head and breast, this one had yellow feathers. While not exactly rare, although not common, this was the first one in almost 20 years of serious bird watching I had ever seen.

I was seriously thrilled. Life is good.

            Bean Pat: A laugh for writers https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/06/13/classic-jokes-for-writers/#like-12824   You might not get these if you’re not a writer. And if you’re a writer, you will probably like this blog.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her patbean@msn.com

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Birds: Ibises

“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

One is not like the other. Among this flock of white ibis at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, is a lone snowy egret. — Photo by Pat Bean

One is Not Like the Other

I lived in Northern Utah – where you might see 463 different bird species – when I first started birding in 1999. The

Scarlet Ibis at zoo in Dallas, Texas. — Photo by Pat Bean

white-faced ibis was one of the first ones to make my Life List. Like so many other strange things I was learning about birds, I couldn’t understand why this ibis one was so named. The amount of white on this long-legged, curved-bill bird was so tiny that I usually couldn’t see it with the naked eye, and not always with binoculars.

But this maroonish-brown shore bird, with flashes of green in its feathers, is fun to watch. I often saw flocks around the shallow waters of Great Salt Lake. Its distinctive profile, and the fact that it looks like a flying stick when in the air, makes it an easy bird to identify.

I saw my first white ibis, even easier to identify, and the second of

White-faced ibis ner the shoreline of Great Salt Lake.

America’s four species of ibis to make my list, in 2001, and my third, a glossy ibis, in 2005, both on Texas’ Gulf Coast. I have only seen the fourth, the scarlet ibis, in zoos and aviaries. This brilliant colored ibis only rarely visits North America from its habitats in the Caribbean and South America.

Two other ibises are also on my life list: the hadada and the sacred. The hadada ibis was the first bird I saw after landing in the middle of the night in Nairobi, Kenya. It was up a tree in the courtyard of the Norfolk Hotel. A few days later, I saw the sacred ibis in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

Of the now estimated 10,000 birds in the world, 28 of these are ibises. Sadly, including the five ibis, (the scarlet ibis doesn’t count because I haven’t yet seen a wild one), I only have 710 birds on my Life List.  I guess this old broad still has a lot of birding to do.

Bean Pat: Gulls of the World http://www.10000birds.com/gulls-of-the-world-a-photographic-guide-a-gull-book-review.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+10000Birds+%2810%2C000+Birds%29  Just in case you’ve ever wondered what gull you are looking at.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  Currently, she is writing a book, tentatively titled Bird Droppings, which is about her late-bloomer birding adventures. You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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“A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.” — Ernest Hemingway

Great Horned Owl — Painting by Pat Bean

What Big Beautiful Eyes You Have

Back when I was a normal person and still a working journalist, I found myself eagerly accepting assignments that involved birds, which is how one day I found myself traveling in a van through the Bonneville Salt Flats on Highway 80 between Salt Lake City and Wendover, Nevada, with seven members of HawkWatch International, an organization that monitors raptors as an indicator of the ecosystem’s health.

My goal was to monitor and report on the HawkWatchers.

Eves of a great horned owl. — Wikimedia photo

The first notes I made were about all the birds these seven guys were seeing, mostly turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks. I had driven this route before and had never seen a bird while doing so. That was the day I learned the difference that separates a birdwatcher and a normal person.

Then, after we had entered Nevada and left the interstate and civilization behind, and were driving on an unpaved backroad, one of the guys yelled “Stop! There’s an owl in that cottonwood tree.”

The driver stopped, and all of the guys oohed over the owl, which they had quickly identified as a great-horned. Even after one of the men pointed out to me where the bird was sitting, it took me a couple of minutes to actually see it. But when I did, its giant yellow eyes popped open and it stared straight at me. “Wow” was all I could think as we piled back in the van.

I was well on my way to losing my status as a normal person and becoming one of those crazy birdwatchers

Bean Pat: FrogDiva Thoughts http://tinyurl.com/y7ttlp6q Just do right. A message for these times from my hero, Maya Angelou.

Travels with Maggie, is now available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y9gjlc7r Or for an autographed copy, email me at patbean@msn.com

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  “Without mysteries, life would be dull indeed. What would be left to strive for if everything were known?”  — Charles de Lint

Can you identify this bird. Or will it remain a mystery.

Can you identify this bird? Or will it remain a mystery?

Which Is Why I Enjoy Bird Watching

“My detective story begins brightly, with a fat lady found dead in her bath with nothing on but her pince-nez. Now why did she wear a pince-nez in her bath? If you can guess, you will be in a position to lay hands upon the murderer, but he’s a very cool and cunning fellow…” – wrote Dorothy Sayers as she plotted her first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery in the early 1920s.

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers' feminist essays. -- Wikimedia

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers’ feminist essays. — Wikimedia

When the book, “Whose Body” came out in 1923, the naked victim was male, but the pince-nez clue was still there. Many Lord Peter Wimsey books followed. I think I’ve read them all.

Along with writing the Wimsey mysteries, which like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple books, continue to be popular today, Sayers was a poet, playwright and advertising writer.

One of the latter efforts included a toucan jingle for Guinness Beer: “If he can say as you can. Guinness is good for you. How grand to be a Toucan. Just think what Toucan do?”

This same kind of humor continues in the Wimsey mysteries, which is consistent with the character’s name-play on the word whimsy.

DVDs of some of the Lord Wimsey films I checked out of the library get the credit for this blog idea.

DVDs of some of the Lord Wimsey films I checked out of the library get the credit for this blog idea.

The joy of reading Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries for me is that it is all about figuring out whodunit before the killer is revealed.

It’s sort of the same with bird watching. You have to read all the clues – profile, coloring, beak size, and a jillion other field marks – if you want to make an identification before the bird flies away.

The Wondering-Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering-Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: She’s a Maineaic  http://tinyurl.com/psgwdqx Einstein said what about anger?

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This great photo of a Merlin in pursuit of a blue jay was taken by John Harrison who put it up on Wikimedia. You can see his photos at:  http://flickr.com/photos/15512543@N04/

This great photo of a Merlin in pursuit of a blue jay was taken by John Harrison who put it up on Wikimedia.


“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Yet I Think It’s Magical

I had been seeing this dark bird shape flash overhead for several days, but hadn’t got a good enough look to identify it. Solving the mystery of what bird I’m observing is part of my bird-watching passion.

A close up look at a merlin. -- Wikimedia photo

A close up look at a merlin. — Wikimedia photo

It was mourning dove size, but it flew nothing like a dove. I thought it flew like a hawk but it was too small for the Cooper’s hawks that have been keeping the apartment complex company all year.

The brief glimpses I had of the bird were tantalizingly frustrating. It would fly overhead past me, and by the time I looked up after seeing its shadow, it had disappeared into the trees.

Merlins, before they grew up and became majestic birds of prey. -- Wikimedia photo

Merlins, before they grew up and became majestic birds of prey. — Wikimedia photo

Finally a few mornings ago, as I sat drinking my cream-laced coffee and watching dawn break, I identified it as a merlin. It whizzed past my third floor balcony at eye level, probably after one of the small song birds that had been flitting around waiting to catch the morning sun, too.

Merlins are not year-round residents of the Tucson area, but they do migrate through and winter here, according to my birding field guide. Since I haven’t seen the merlin in the past couple of days, and since it’s not yet winter, I suspect it was just passing through on its way farther south.

With all the small birds around the complex, it probably decided this was a good place to fuel up. Merlins, according to Cornell University’s ornithological web site, rely on speed and agility to hunt their prey. The merlins often hunt by flying fast and low, using trees and large shrubs to take prey by surprise. While they actually capture most birds in flight, they will also tail-chase a bird to catch it.

. While not a lifer, I’ve only been able to identify this member of the falcon family a few times. But bird experts say the merlin is becoming more numerous in urban areas, so perhaps there are more “magical” merlin sightings in my future.

The Wondering-Wanderer's blog pick of the day.

The Wondering-Wanderer’s blog pick of the day.

Bean’s Pat: Ian Butler Photographer http://tinyurl.com/ledqorr Great photo of a dunlin for all you birders out there.


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