Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cooper’s Hawk Drama and the Blasted Cats!

1. Cooper's hawk-kab Cooper’s Hawk 5-9-13

May 25, 2013: I awoke this morning bleary-eyed and yawning. I pull back the drapes to see what birds are in my yard. From the backyard I hear quail calling. I look out to see two pairs walking the wall and hopping down into my yard. From behind the bushes and trees I hear another pair calling. A wide smile spreads across my face. 


I like quail, but I never thought I would see any in this yard since I live at the center of a suburban neighborhood surrounded by houses and block walled yards. I only started seeing quail here earlier this spring. Lately I have had a male quail hanging around on a regular basis. So, it was a surprise to me to see this many pairs here all at once. I quickly dress and make the bed, all the while keeping an eye on the birds out the window. I am almost done when I look out to see a 20 pound fat gray cat sitting on the corner of the block wall watching my birds. He has one paw dangling down into my yard and his pupils are fixed and dilated. I can tell he is deciding which bird to pounce on. I jump towards the door in alarm. My quail are down there! I rush out onto the balcony yelling and hissing and clapping my hands hoping to scare the cat away. The birds fly off in all directions, so I guess I saved them anyways, but this cat is not dumb. He looks up at me on the second floor balcony wildly flailing my arms and yelling and gives me a look that says, “Really? What do you think you can do about it from up there?” What can I do? I yell down to Gus to chase the cat away from downstairs. I tell him frantically that I have quail out there! He quickly opens the patio door and steps out. The cat bolts away.

3. DSC_0412-kab The rest of the afternoon passes peacefully. Gus and I watch a little TV, eat lunch and relax. Eventually we both get on our respective computers. It is a sunny and windy afternoon and I watch the wind gusting in the backyard while I am sitting at my computer processing photos once again. I’ve been watching birds on and off out my backyard windows all day. Mostly I have seen the usual finches and doves. Now I spot a Rock Pigeon in the yard and grumble to Gus about it being here. I want the birds to come to my feeders, just not this species! So, as I am sitting here cropping and enhancing photos I hear the quail calling again. I cannot resist and so I turn to look out the window. Suddenly I am struck dumb and my mouth gapes open. I cannot believe my eyes for there in the backyard are a momma quail and four newly hatched babies! They are not much bigger than gumballs running around on tiny little legs and following momma everywhere!

4. DSC_0155-kab As I am watching the quail family and smiling I see the hen hop up on the brick retaining wall to where the feeders are. Papa quail is standing guard high up on the block walls that surround our yard like fences. It is his job to keep a look out and sound the alarm in case he sees trouble. As I am watching these cute little fluff balls I am wondering how they even got into my backyard since they are far too small to fly like the adults when suddenly I see my own bit of trouble. The tiny little birds cannot even hop up the retaining wall to join their momma. The momma keeps on calling and searching for food and the chicks keep throwing themselves against the cement blocks trying to follow her. They can make it up one level of the three brick high wall, but they cannot go any higher. After watching this for a few minutes I know I need to do something. I do not want the babies to exhaust themselves with the effort. The only thing I can think to do is to build them a ramp, so, off I go.

5. DSC_0158-kab(This may be the same hen as I saw today since they both have that speckled head look, unusual for this species. Photo taken 4-16-2013)

I grab my sunglasses and my yard gloves and head outside. I see the mother quail has moved to the west side of the yard near an old doghouse and a pile of wood stacked there for campfires. I work my way slowly up the east wall so as not to alarm the birds. While the male quail flew off from his perch the instant I stepped out, all the other birds stayed around, including the doves underneath the feeders that are partially blocked from where I am standing by rose bushes and a tall tree. I grab some cement pavers that were left in the yard and start to build my little ramp. I am engrossed in stacking it to the right level with a staggered effect so the chicks can hop up them like stairs. Out of the corner of my eye I watch the little chicks clambering over the wood pile and running behind the old plastic dog house. All is going well and I am almost done when suddenly I hear the explosion of wings around me. I quickly turn and straighten up to see what is going on. I did not think I made any sudden movements to scare the birds. And that’s when I see it.


There on the west wall is a Cooper’s Hawk. Its talon is closed around a tiny fluff ball. Before I can react or do anything, the accipiter takes to the air on powerful wings and flies over my rooftop with one of the chicks clutched in its claw!

All my yard is silent now and I am standing there in disbelief! That hawk swooped down with me in the yard not more than 25 feet from where it landed. There is not a bird in sight. I stand there limp armed and sad. I was thinking I would have to 6. Finches feeding-kab defend these little birds from the big fat gray cat I saw here this morning. I knew that hawks were a danger from above, that is why I wanted the babies to be able to follow their mother up onto the upper level. There is a thick desert broom growing up against the back wall where I suspect she may have been nesting all this time for I have seen the male hanging around my yard for the last two weeks. I thought he was a bachelor. I guess not. I was out here trying to help this little family. Now I find myself part of an even bigger drama. Broken-hearted I go back inside to sit and wait. It isn’t long before the finches and doves return to the feeders. Then, I see the male quail back on his post calling. Next, the mother quail emerges from inside the dog house which has its opening turned to the wall so my grandson will not play inside. There is just enough of a gap for the quail and her chicks to squeeze inside and now her three remaining babies follow her out into the yard.

7. COHA-kab Then, the momma quail starts gently calling. She wanders all over the yard looking for her lost chick. I watch from inside as she hops up onto the retaining wall and walks beneath the feeders. The male flies down and joins her. Together they wandered the backyard with the little chicks following. Now that they have the ramp they easily make it up onto the upper garden. Up and down the parents go with the babies following, but their sibling is not to be found. Finally they nestle against the east wall catching the last bit of warmth from the setting sun. The chicks are so tiny and so perfectly camouflaged that they blend right into the stones and disappear before my eyes. It is only when I look through my bins that I can distinguish their shapes and see their downy fluff.

8. coha-kab I am starting to relax and think that all is well for the night. In spite of everything I am proud of myself for making the little stairway for them to climb up. Then, as I am sitting here at the computer typing up this story I look out the window to see an orange and white cat climbing down my block wall and into my garden. I quickly bolt for the door and chase it away doing my best and loudest cat hiss! Really! Twice in one day? I know I will not be able to protect these little chicks from all the dangers that can befall them. It’s a tough world out there. The hawk is one thing. I know the chick it killed will go to feed the hawk’s own little chick, but roaming cats are something else. They do not belong outside! They kill millions of songbirds, lizards, reptiles and mammals every year. While the hawk getting one of the baby quail made me sad, the cats just make me mad! Please, if you have cats, keep them indoors where they are safe as well as the wildlife outside that they hunt and kill! These little quail will have no chance against a cat. They are trapped in my yard until they are old enough to fly away. And while they can hide from the view of a hawk by hunkering down under a bush, there is no place for them to hide from a marauding cat! Darkness has fallen now. I do not know if the three remaining quail chicks will survive. I can only go to bed and wake up tomorrow to see what the new day brings. In all my love of nature, I know that I cannot control it, or make things turn out the way I want them to, but I will do my best to protect the baby quail if I can. Now if I could just teach the Cooper’s Hawk to hunt the cats!

9. coopers hawk-kabCooper’s Hawk in birdbath May 14, 2013

Note: while I did not get photos of the hawk in action I was able to get pictures of the baby quail and will post them as soon as I can get them processed. All of the hawk and bird photos on today’s post are from shots I have taken over the past month. Cooper’s Hawks are hunting my feeders on a regular basis. On several occasions I have seen the Cooper’s fly down and just stand in the birdbath. On May 14 I saw one land there and stay. I think it was cooling its feet, for it stayed there so long that the birds started to relax and return. I saw a Mourning Dove land right beneath the hawk and the hawk just looked at the dove. Suddenly the dove realized the hawk was there and flew off again. The hawk never moved from the birdbath! Nature never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sweetwater Friends

1. blue winged teal-kab Blue-winged Teal at Sweetwater Wetlands 4-23-13

April 23, 2013: Just about a month ago now I met up with a fellow blogger at Sweetwater Wetlands on the Northwest side of Tucson. Mary lives in Indiana but comes to Tucson every now and then to visit her sister. While I have known Mary from her blog for a few years this would be my first time meeting her in person. We agreed to meet around 8 a.m. but I arrived a few minutes early to see what I could see. Plus, though it was only April and only a month into spring the temperatures were starting to rise and I knew the heat would end our birding adventure early.

2. ruddy duck-kab While waiting for Mary and her family to arrive I found a few Ruddy Ducks. This female was enjoying a paddle around the pond.

3. blue -wing-kab A few Blue-winged teal floated near the gazebo making it rather easy for me to get a picture!

4. RW blackbird-kab Red-winged Blackbird singing!

5. BC hummingbird-kab Black-chinned hummingbird with Palo Verde blossoms behind.

6. palo verde-kab Blooming Palo Verde, a sure sign of spring!

7. willow twigs-kab Willow Catkins

8. yellow-heaed blackbirds-kab  A small flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, one of the species Mary really wanted to see!

9. GT grackle-kab Male Great-tailed Grackle calling.

10. AMKE-kab American Kestrel in a cottonwood tree.

11. yewa-kab Yellow Warbler in Mesquite

12. desert spiny lizard-kab Desert Spiny Lizard along path.

13. me n mary-kab Mary’s sister, me, and Mary Freeman at Sweetwater Wetlands 4-23-13

Mary arrived with her husband and sister and we set off down the northwest side of the ponds since the town had decided this was the day to chip up all the wood that had fallen down in recent storms and they had the wood chipper running along the east side of the ponds! However, by the time we worked our way around to that side they were finished, so we were able to get a look into the recharge basins. But, unfortunately there were not many birds in them. Two basin were dry, and Mary, being a bit short, was not able to see much down over the embankment and fencing posted with “No Trespassing'” signs prohibits one from crossing over and getting closer to the edge. I did walk back to my car to get my scope but it was of little use as I could not get a good angle to see the birds and the sun was in the wrong spot and since I had not used it in awhile I had trouble focusing it. Plus, by now we had been her for a couple of hours and the heat had built in so that we were all hot, tired, and hungry. But, it was so nice to meet a fellow birder and blogger in person and we did have a really good time. You can check out Mary's blog by clicking on the link below!


Birds seen at Sweetwater Wetlands on April 23, 2013

  1. American Widgeon
  2. Northern Shoveler
  3. Blue-winged Teal
  4. Green-winged Teal
  5. Cinnamon Teal
  6. Ruddy Duck
  7. Mallard
  8. Gambel’s Quail
  9. Great Blue Heron
  10. black-crowned Night heron
  11. White-faced ibis
  12. Harris Hawk
  13. Common Gallinule
  14. American Coot
  15. Killdeer
  16. American Avocet
  17. Black-necked Stilt
  18. White-winged Dove
  19. Mourning Dove'
  20. Great Horned Owl
  21. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  22. Gila Woodpecker
  23. American Kestrel
  24. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  25. Verdin
  26. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  27. Curve-billed Thrasher
  28. European Starling
  29. Common Yellowthroat
  30. Yellow Warbler
  31. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  32. Wilson’s Warbler
  33. Abert’s Towhee
  34. Lark Sparrow
  35. Song Sparrow
  36. Red-winged Blackbird
  37. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  38. Great-tailed grackle
  39. Brown-headed Cowbird
  40. House Finch
  41. Lesser Goldfinch

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Birding with Gordon Karre

1. Agua Caliente-kab Agua Caliente Park 4-14-13
April 14, 2013: Two weeks after I fell in Saguaro National Park a fellow birder and blogger from the Phoenix area contacted Chris Rohrer and I about going birding with him in the Tucson area. He planned to come down and spend the weekend to try to increase his Pima county List and perhaps pick up a couple of Life Birds. Chris was out of town for the weekend but I agreed to go and we met at Agua Caliente Park. I was still hobbling around, so I warned Gordon that I would not be up to any vigorous hiking and he was fine with that. Agua Caliente is a gentle place to walk about and he wanted to see if we could find the Northern Beardless Tryrranulet. It would be a Life Bird for both of us and it is know to hang out in this particular park. People all over the birding world were reporting and photographing it here. Alas, we were not one of them. Though we hunted all over and searched near the expected area, we saw and heard nothing like a tyrranulet!
2. deer-kab We did walk out through the mesquite Bosque where we found a few mule deer.
3. egret-kab Back at the pond we found a Great Egret Hunting in the reeds.
Though we saw quite a few birds here the wind was gusting quite fiercely and as the temperature rose and people filled the park we decided to move on. Agua Caliente is close to the Catalina highway and Mt. Lemmon. Gordon had never birded here and since it would involve more driving than walking, we headed up!
4. Tucson valley-kab View of the Tucson Valley from our first stop at an overlook.
The only bird we saw here was a Gila Woodpecker.
5. Molino vista-kabFarther up the road we stopped at the Molina Vista Overlook. We saw many more birds here, including a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and some Chipping sparrows.
7. lizard-kab A cute lizard crossed out path!
8. across the canyon-kab View across the canyon.
9. gordon-kab Gordon gazing out over the canyon.
10. rowr-kab Rock Wren on a rock 4-14-13
We drove farther up the mountain and stopped at a picnic area that yielded little more than a western spotted towhee before moving on. The road snaked and climbed to Windy Point, a favorite place for rock climbers and tourists with spectacular views of the valley below.
11. windy point-kab The edge of the road we just drove on.
12. road below-kab That silver snake is the road we just drove up!
13. thimble peak-kab View of Thimble Peak from Windy Point
14. rock climbers-kab Rock Climber
14. on the point-kab We walked out to this edge where white-throated swifts dashed about in the sky and darted over the ledge. We think they had a nest somewhere down on the face of this cliff, for we could hear the nestlings chirping. it was amazing to have those black and white bullets dash past our heads so swiftly that it was impossible to get off a shot. It became very apparent why they got their name of “Swift!”
15. annas hummingbird-kab It amazed me to find this Anna's Hummingbird up here on this dry, windy cliff!
16. twisted tree-kab I love this twisted tree sculpted by nature and the wind!
After spending about 20 minutes here we headed farther up the road to Rose Canyon Lake. Chris R had told me that many desirable species were being seen here. I have only birded this lake one other time, so I was anxious and excited to see what we would see. As I stopped to pay the fee to enter Rose Canyon Gordon jumped out of the car to see what bird a couple of guys with spotting scopes and cameras were looking at. It turned out to be a Painted Redstart! This was going to be good!
17. rose canyon lake-kab Rose Canyon Lake
It was a little over a mile drive down to the farthest parking lot. all along the way we drove with our windows open so we could see, hear, and count birds. After parking we still had a quarter of a mile hike down to the lake, then about a 1 mile hike out along its eastern edge. Loaded up with two cameras and my binoculars as well as my trusty fanny pack filled with emergency stuff and a granola bar we headed for the trail. I have to say that Gordon was such a gentleman and was very patient with me as I hobbled along taking care to not twist my ankle or slip and fall once again. At one point there was quite a steep step down and he offered me his hand since my knee would still not bear my weight very well. But seriously, this was about birding and we got on with it!
18. YE junco-kab A Yellow-eyed Junco walked along the water’s edge, then flew up into a tree!
19. Grace's warbler-kab We found the Grace’s Warbler! Life Bird!
19. the lake-kab Along the edge of the lake. Do you see Gordon? Look closely now!
21. osprey-kab Soon an Osprey flew in. He had his eye on some fishermen and their catch!
22. pygmy nuthatch-kab We found a nesting pair of Pygmy Nuthatches, my first since I returned to AZ.
We went as far as the dam, then turned around and headed back. When I spotted a nice straight and sturdy stick alongside the trail I picked it up and used it as a walking stick as we headed back along the trail to the parking lot. By now my knee was swollen and painful and I was trying very hard not to limp. Gordon, who is tall and long legged and very fit could have easily hurried on, but he was very patient and courteous with me. Soon we were back by the parking lot and looking for a hummingbird nest someone had told us about.
23. zonetail-kab However, I soon got distracted by this zone-tailed Hawk that was flying overhead!
24. BT hummingbird-kab Broad-tailed Hummingbird on nest 4-14-13
Eventually we did find the hummingbird nest when we saw the female fly in with some soft nesting material to tuck inside. It was well camouflaged but only about 5 feet off the ground and hanging over the pathway where a tall person or a kid waving a stick could easily hit it. I can only hope she and her nest survived.
25. Stellar's jay-kab Stellar’s Jay in Summerhaven
By now it was well past lunchtime and we were both starving! I drove us up to Summerhaven where we both got pizza and a cookie at the Cookie Cottage. While there we also counted birds and found a Stellar’s Jay, among other species. On our way back down the mountain we did stop at the Palisade Visitor’s Center to see if there were any hummingbirds hanging out at their hummingbird feeders. Frequently one can find a magnificent hummingbird here, but they only had one feeder up and all I saw was another Broad-tailed hummingbird, so we headed on down the road. Our destination now was Agua Caliente Park again where Gordon had left his car. Once there we took one more look around for that blasted tryrranulet to no avail. I guess it is my new Nemesis Bird!
26. Harris hawk-kab However, we did find a fine Harris hawk basking in the setting sun.
27. Lark sparrow-kab And a sweet Lark Sparrow to boot!
It was a very fun day. I found Gordon to have a birding style similar to Chris R and I and we talked of plans to get together in the future. Gordon was headed for Sierra Vista tomorrow and our plan was for him to drive and take me along but I was so exhausted and my knee was hurting so badly by now that I declined. Beside, he was meeting another birder and they talked of hiking up some canyons and I did not want to hold them back! So, we both went our separate ways with dreams of future birding adventures that would come sooner than I thought they would! In the end I was very glad that I didn’t go because he and his friend did hike some steep mountain trails and find some great birds! You will have to read Gordon's blog to see what he saw on his trip! He is an excellent photographer and his blog has gorgeous bird photos! He is also a very good and faithful eBirder and at the top of the list in Arizona!
Our trip summary: We saw 28 species at Agua Caliente Park in the morning; 11 species at Molina Canyon Vista; 4 species at Windy Point; 19 species at Rose Canyon Lake; 5 species in Summerhaven, and 19 species back at Agua Caliente Park in the evening!