On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
It’s still springtime in Arizona with Albatrossity. I hoped it would be! Not sure what BillinGlendale is bringing us this week, but I can tell you that – for this week and next – we will spend 6 days in Kenya with way2blue. I can’t wait!
The final round of bird images from our March trip to southeastern AZ is a series of “portraits” of some of the fabulous birds that can be found in that part of the country. Most of these birds have appeared in some of the previous posts in this series, but here are some closeups to allow you to appreciate their spring finery even more.
First up is a favorite of birders and cartoonists, the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). The color pattern of the featherless region behind the eye (aka the apterium) is actually useful in identification of species (Lesser Roadrunner has a crimson section, while this Greater Roadrunner is more orangey) and for sexing these birds (white central section = male, like in this bird, and blue central section = female). Sadly, neither sex has been heard to say “Beep Beep!”.
A small and flighty desert denizen, the Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is one of the smallest birds in North America, weighing in at a whopping 5 grams or so. That is less than a kinglet or gnatcatcher weighs, and only a couple of grams heavier than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Fortunately, they are always found in flocks, so a photographer can be hope that at least one of them will sit still long enough for a portrait. This female (distinguished by her light iris) did exactly that.
Another dinky desert denizen is this Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps). The yellow head and chestnut shoulders are distinctive field marks. A true desert bird, it is thought that they do not drink water at all; nests have been found more than 10 miles from the nearest water source. They do seek out fruit and nectar, however. This one was sharing his orange section with a friendly ant.
Winter sparrows were still hanging around there in March, including this Dark-eyed Junco of the pink-sided subspecies (Junco hyemalis mearnsi). This subspecies is distinguished from other subspecies by its black lores (the region between the eye and the base of the bill). This subspecies does sometimes wander eastward in winter, but is not a usual resident of feeder flocks in my part of flyover country.
Another lingering winter sparrow was this Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina). This distinctive individual, sporting some unusual white feathers in the crown, was regularly seen at the Ash Canyon feeders throughout the winter. It would be a good spot to hang out if you were a sparrow, for sure!
One of my all-time favorite birds is the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). Their crazy eyes, clown-makeup faces, and “waka waka” calls (along with their myriad other vocalizations) are just plain endearing, at least to me.
Curve-billed Thrashers (Toxostoma curvirostre) also have a crazy-looking eye. Found across the desert southwest, this species does find its way to the southwest corner of Kansas, but not to the northeastern part of the state where I live.
Mexican Jays (Aphelecoma wollweberi) are favorites of photographers because they occur in flocks of 8-15 related individuals, and because they are dedicated bird-feeder visitors. They are also a lovely shade of azure/ultramarine, which is a welcome color in this part of the country.
The Pyrrhuloxia (aka Desert Cardinal, Cardinalis sinuatus). The peculiar and challenging-to-spell name is derived from the Greek words pyrruos – flame-colored and loxuos = crooked (referring to the bill. If you can remember that Loxia is the generic name for the crossbills, whose bills are also crooked but in a different way, it might help. Or not. At any rate, I was happy when this female posed for a portrait, crooked bill or not!
The final bird for the series is familiar to birders across North America, the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). And that plume at the back of the head indicates a bird in breeding season. But not all birders are aware that these birds have other color changes in breeding season. That striking cobalt-blue patch near the eye will fade to a dull gray in a few weeks as this bird gets down to the business of feeding this years baby herons.
As always, great photos and descriptions!
@eclare: Yes! “Dinky desert denizens” made me smile. Great way to start a Monday.
Blue Herons make my heart soar. I’ve always loved the sight of them in flight.
A fine portrait display. Thanks for adding the link to the acorn woodpecker call!
A wonderful collection to peruse with my first cup of coffee. That thrasher does look a little unhinged. My favorite is of course the roadrunner. I love the detail of the colors behind the eye!
Several of those photos look like studio portraits–like if Irving Penn had taken birds for his subject. I’m always impressed by the detail and individuality of each bird.
You have really made me appreciate these finer details in looking at birds. I am starting to be able to do it on my own. Well done, professor.
Thanks again for photos! I saw my 1st Acorn Woodpecker near Portal, AZ. Photo is great.
I learn so much from your pictures and descriptions! As always, thank you! ☺️
Nice! Thank you!
Mike S (Now with a Democratic Congressperson!)
Another fun birdy Monday morning with great pictures! My fave is the verdin, even though it isn’t a closeup head shot I love the color compsition.
Amazing photos. Thanks!
West of the Cascades
Thank you for these beautiful photos! I just moved to Silver City, NM, and thanks to this post was able to identify a Curve-billed Thrasher hopping around outside my window this morning. I need to make plans to get over to Ash Canyon soon.
J R in WV
The expected wonderful work from the best birb photographer in the business…
Thanks so much, SE AZ has wonderful wild life for such a blasted desert! Clear up from tiny birds to foxes and lions!
I love the Acorn Woodpecker too. Saw my first in a Ventura County park last year and another in Guadeloupe Mountain National Park just a week or so ago.
Such gorgeous detail in all these photos!
Such fine detail in the photographs!
Gosh, these are so marvelous. Thank you!