Tucson to Casa Grande: Birding in the Cold

Well, all right, I suppose by some standards it wasn’t that bad, but 23 degrees Fahrenheit is cold for Tucson! It had warmed up nicely, approaching 60, by the time we hit Casa Grande at 3:00 this afternoon. But Katie, David, Graham, and I hardly noticed the weather all day: there were too many birds to distract us.

We started in the chilly dawn with a fluffed up Western Screech-Owl, and ended, 70 species later, with an actively diving female Long-tailed Duck, the biggest surprise of the day (and only the second I’d ever seen in Arizona). In between, we enjoyed such special targets as Mountain Plover and Northern Jacana, Ferruginous Hawk and White-tailed Kite, Burrowing Owl and Prairie Falcon, White-throated Swift and Bendire’s Thrasher, Crested Caracara and Oregon Junco…. It was a magical day on the lower Santa Cruz, as most of them are.


Guyana: Trash Birds?!?

I don’t like the term and I certainly don’t like the idea: there really are no “trash birds” if you’re a real birder. But in Guyana in November, Great Kiskadee, hardly a trash bird by any reckoning here in the US, nearly attained that status: not by virtue of its abundance, but by virtue of its less than virtuous behavior in the botanical gardens in Georgetown.

At first I thought, or at least hoped, that they were in search of insects attracted to the garbage, but no, they were happily cleaning out the styrofoam containers and greasy wrappers themselves.

(Notandum: Guyanans are extremely civilized people, and make conscientious use of public trash receptacles, which are then rifled overnight by feral dogs, to the obvious delight of the kiskadees.)


Guyana 2007: Atta Canopy Walkway

One of my favorite spots on our Guyana tour was the Atta Canopy Walkway, a series of sturdy platforms connected by stable walkways 100 feet above the forest floor. The view down was dizzying,

but the whole structure is supported by some tremendous rainforest giants. The duct tape inspired confidence, too.

But we weren’t there to be looking down or looking up, and the view out was as birdy was it was beautiful. Black-necked Aracaris fed from the tops of the trees.

Hummingbirds were not abundant, but they did include a couple of Black-eared Fairies, elegant monochrome hummingbirds stretched at both ends.

Hoping for the arrival of a very special target bird, we lingered until after sunset.

And just at darkfall we heard the strange, sad whistles of a White-winged Potoo. The bird fed around the platform and eventually perched not far away, where its wing patches showed bright in the beam of the flashlight, giving every one of us a lifer to end the day.


Guyana: Icterids

Here in the northern hemisphere, we tend sometimes to think of the icterids as a rather uniform group of black and blackish birds, the monotony relieved in most parts of the US and Canada by one or at best two species of orioles and a meadowlark.

This exclusively New World family really comes into its own in the tropics, though, where the icterids enchant with their bright plumages, species diversity, and fascinating social behaviors.

Caciques (two syllables, please!) are colonial nesters of forest and forest edge. In Guyana, the most widespread, or at least the most conspicuous, is the gorgeous Yellow-rumped Cacique, which its builds cities of pendant nests in isolated trees in open country.

The inhabitants of these colonies are bright black and yellow, with beautiful soft blue irides.

Oropendolas, blessed with one of the loveliest names of any bird, are even more outlandish, bigger, louder, flashier. Crested Oropendola is widespread in the American tropics.

Green Oropendola, every bit as bizarre as its name suggests, is a locally distributed bird of extreme northern South America, not easy to find but worth every moment of effort.

This one was being mobbed mercilessly by a pack of Rusty-margined Flycatchers, an indication perhaps of its omnivorous appetites.

The finest of all tropical blackbirds, though, is an open-country species.

This female-plumaged Red-breasted Meadowlark shows clearly that species’ intermediate position between the meadowlarks and the Agelaius blackbirds. The males are even lovelier, and they make any walk through the wet savannahs of Guyana memorable.