Winter Hummingbirds

Tomorrow I’m headed back to Wisconsin and it’ll be months before I lay eyes on another hummingbird, but on Wednesday we went back to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum one more time and I had fun admiring the hummers there. Most of them were Anna’s Hummingbirds, which are ubiquitous here year-round. There’s a female that hangs out in the orange tree in my parents’ backyard, but all the ones I saw guarding feeders at the arboretum were males.

Anna's Hummingbird 2 (1024x767) Anna's Hummingbird 3 (684x1024)Each feeder belonged to one specific hummingbird, who would stay perched near it and chase away any others who tried to approach. These birds are tiny, but fierce! And one feeder was being guarded not by an Anna’s, but by a beautiful male Broad-billed Hummingbird. Any range map you look at will tell you that these birds shouldn’t be in the Phoenix area in the winter, but really they hang out at the arboretum year-round. However, the Broad-billed was shyer than the Anna’s and kept choosing perches where he was hard to photograph. This is the best I could do (his bill’s not in focus, drat).

Broad-billed Hummingbird (1024x723)

Look at all that metallic blue and green! Such dashing, handsome little guys! I’m so sorry for those of you who live on continents with no hummingbirds.

Succulents at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Note: I return to Wisconsin on Friday, and should be able to return to my usual several-times-a-week posting schedule starting next weekend.

This afternoon we visited Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a state park east of the Phoenix valley, one of my favorite places in the area. It’s a great place to see birds and, in the warmer months, lizards. Some areas have been left fairly natural, while some have been more formally landscaped with desert plants, and I love the varied shapes, colors, and textures of the succulents – native agaves, African aloes, and others. “Succulents” are plants that can store water in their fleshy leaves, which is usually an adaptation for dry climates.

Click on any thumbnail in the gallery below to bring up a slideshow (let me know in the comments if it’s not working right). I’m quite pleased with some of these photos.

A Bunting of Another Color

Varied Bunting
Image by MaxHenschell via Flickr

One day last week we paid a visit to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a state park east of the Valley known as fantastic birding spot (as well as just a lovely spot to walk around, with just the right blend of formal gardens and more natural areas). On a hot June day, it was almost deserted, but we ran into a couple other birders who saw our binoculars and were eager to share what they’d seen. One walked with us a ways back up the trail he’d just come down to point out an active Cooper’s Hawk nest, which was fun. The second mentioned he was keeping an eye out for a Lazuli Bunting someone had reported in the area recently. Hm, I thought, that would be nice to see – after getting my life Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak in Georgia, Lazuli was one of only two Cardinalid buntings missing from my life list.

After our picnic lunch I walked ahead into the demonstration garden area by myself. It was there that I noticed a dark, medium-sized bird on the ground. When I raised my binoculars to my eyes, I saw a decidedly buntingish bird, but without the white and tan breast of the Lazuli Bunting. Instead, this one had a dark purple-black body, a blue face, and a red nape. I stared at it, flabbergasted, until it flew away, then did an about-face to go back and consult the field guide still at the picnic table where my parents were lingering over lunch, because there was no way I’d just seen what I thought I’d seen.

Except the field guide confirmed it. Yes, that had definitely been a Varied Bunting.

The range map in Sibley shows this species as being confined to Arizona’s southeasternmost corner and describes its habitat as desert washes lined with dense mesquite, neither of which fits where I saw it, but they are listed on the Arboretum’s checklist as a rare visitor in summer.  When I walked around the area where I’d seen it again I found an Indigo Bunting and a Blue Grosbeak but no Varied bunting, but I have no doubt of what I saw. Before we left I reported it in the visitor’s center, in the form of a note describing what I’d seen and where that the woman at the counter promised to pass along to whoever it is there who keeps track of bird sightings. Never before had I been the first person to report the presence of an unusual bird anywhere!

This leaves the Lazuli Bunting as the only member of the genus I haven’t seen yet, but if I’m lucky maybe I’ll spot one on our upcoming road trip. In any case, the Varied Bunting was a nice unexpected surprise.

Death Match: Snake Versus Spider!

In the world of unlikely epic battles between animals that may give you the creeps, much attention has been given in the past to deadly struggles between alligators and pythons in the Everglades, but my mom recently gave me a heads up about a match-up no less intriguing for playing out on a smaller scale.  Click here for the most recent edition of the newsletter of the famous Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside Phoenix, Arizona, and on the right-hand side you’ll see the headline “Widow wins big: Visitors witness venomous valor.”  (Further down in the article is the phrase “bemused biologists barricade bookstore.”  Somewhere, someone is immensely proud of their alliteration abilities.)  Apparently a baby coral snake somehow got entangled in the web of a black widow spider, and the spider actually killed and ate it.  Crazy.


(image is obviously not mine, having been borrowed from the article in question)

The Arboretum is one of my favorite places in the Phoenix area, and I’ll almost definitely be paying it a visit while I’m town to visit my parents for the holiday this week.  Stay tuned for photos!