The larger birds of Sierra Vista are outstanding in terms of their colors and shapes. Arizona is a vast landscape of bold color, formations and piercing beauty. The southeastern corner is no exception. Isolated mountains called “Sky Islands” rise abruptly from the arid desert highlands, harbor a tremendous variety of plant and animal life and border the San Pedro Valley. The unique grassland of the valley is supported by the San Pedro River, which enters Arizona from Sonora, Mexico and flows north to join the Gila River. A significant percentage of American birders, if asked to choose their single favorite regional destination, would pick southeastern Arizona. Within a relatively small region here, you can find Sonoran Desert, oak woodland, high-elevation conifer forest, and riparian areas. The list of special species is long, but a few highlights are Montezuma Quail, Gray Hawk, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, Elegant Trogon, Arizona Woodpecker, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Olive Warbler, Rufous-winged Sparrow, and Yellow-eyed Junco.
Some of you, long standing readers of the blog, since my trip to Africa may have noticed that I have been spending more time on animals than landscape or flowers. You would not be wrong to suggest that my recent focus is on nature photography rather than food and travel. Fear not, I will return to food and landscapes sooner rather than later. I have interesting information concerning cameras, lenses and techniques that have important consequences to your photographic purchases and workflow. In the meantime, I present a second visit to Sierra Vista Arizona, focusing on small birds. As I have said before, a location that excels in the breadth and depth of the birdwatching world.
When I visited Madagascar the focus was really on chameleons and lemurs. There was little time to explore the beautiful and unique birds of Madagascar. What I lost in numbers I gained in quality. The birds I did see were colorful and unique many of which found only on Madagascar. The distance from Africa to Madagascar and the surrounding islands does not seem that far for birds but they seem evolve in isolation creating beautiful riffs on familiar forms. The Malagasy Sacred Ibis seen above is a good example. Long thought to be a minor variation on the African Sacred Ibis, new research established them as a separate species and renewed focus on their habitat and numbers. Unlike the African Ibis, they seem to prefer mangrove swamps and are rare away from the coast and in freshwater settings. In fact they are so sparsely distributed along the west coast of Madagascar that there may be fewer than 2000 left in the wild. Even for birds, Madagascar may be far more like the Galápagos than we previously thought.
I got a new Sony camera about a month ago and decided to visit Sierra Vista Arizona to try it out on the beautiful birds that I have heard about. Southeastern Arizona is an eco-crossroad with five life zones within five miles. Habitats and species from the Sierra Madres of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonora and Chihuahuan deserts can all be found in these “Sky Islands.” The bird watching and wildlife viewing areas are world-renowned. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area has nearly 40 miles of riparian/riverbank vegetation and this 56,000-acre area is teeming with plant and animal life. The San Pedro River’s cottonwood-shaded corridor provides critical stopover habitat for millions of migrating birds each year. It is one of only two major rivers that flow north out of Mexico into the United States and is one of the last large undammed rivers in the Southwest. The San Pedro River basin is home to 84 species of mammals, 14 species of fish and 41 species of reptiles and amphibians. It has been said that over half of all the breeding species of birds can be seen in this area.
In a previous post, I presented examples of the smaller birds I saw on my recent trip to Botswana, in this post I thought I would show the larger birds. I saw the two beautiful birds seen above in Chobe National Park in Botswana, about an hours drive from Victoria Falls. Chobe is well renowned as a superb bird sanctuary featuring many different waterfowl, raptors, woodland species and migrants. In addition the Okavango Delta supports large concentrations of animals on both a permanent and seasonal basis. It has become perhaps one of the best places to see animals and birds in Africa. In between, there are many large and small birds adapted to the semi-arid bush during the winter. I have arbitrarily put Hornbills, Heron and Storks in separate posts to make the post more manageable. There a total 593 species of birds in Botswana, of which 4 have been introduced by humans, and 100 are rare or accidental. Of course, I did not see all of them but these posts cover the ones I did see.
On my recent trip to Botswana, I had the chance to visit Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, about an hour from Victoria Falls. The Chobe river forms Botswana’s northern border with Namibia and the boundary of southern Africa. Its water helps maintain a lush floodplain and rich variety of habitats vital to the multitude of animals that inhabit Chobe National Park. Chobe is well renowned as a superb bird sanctuary featuring many different waterfowl, raptors, woodland species and migrants. This area from Ngoma to Kazungula, incorporating northern Chobe National Park and Kasane, must rank as one of the top birding spots in southern Africa. The total bird list now exceeds some 450 species, which is Botswana’s longest area list. There were an astonishing number of Heron and Egrets and I thought I would present them together. These waterfowl tend to congregate around the Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and Elephants since they churn up the water, delivering food to the birds.
Last fall I had the good fortune to go on a safari in Botswana (it was spring there below the equator) where I saw some beautiful birds. While Botswana does not have any endemic species of birds, it is nonetheless one of Africa’s top birding areas because of its protection of a number of threatened and endangered species. The best season in Botswana for number of species is during the summer months, when the migrants have arrived, but this is not to say that the winter months are a bad birding time. On the contrary, it is easier to find birds during the dry winter months when their movements are restricted to permanent water sources and pools drying to mud with trapped fish and crustaceans. I have arbitrarily separated the smaller and larger birds into separate posts. As a disclaimer, since the stated purpose of the safari was large mammals, it was challenging to get adequate closeup photos of the smaller birds, I have presented what I have.
Two of the most common recurring themes on Moche/Mochica culture pottery are depictions of anthropomorphic birds, animals and lima beans. These themes played prominent roles in ceremonies and everyday life. Birds were precious resources in the economy of Andean societies. Merchants traded brilliantly colored parrot and macaw feathers in long-distance networks connecting the Amazonian rainforest, the Cordillera, and the remote Pacific coast, where they decorated garments of rulers and kings. Coastal agriculturalists used guano to enrich their fields. Sailors collected the valuable fertilizer offshore on sacred islands, where they left prestigious offerings. On the coast, domesticated muscovy ducks may have been part of the subsistence. One of the frequently recurring themes in Moche art is the race between human beings with the features of animals, carrying bags with lima beans and sticks in their hands. In this race the runners participated wearing their finest clothing and elaborate headdresses, one of the most characteristic of which was the circular frontal headdress.
New Zealand has many unique native fish, insects, lizards, frogs and of course, birds. The only native mammals are bats and marine mammals. New Zealand was one of the last habitable land masses to be settled in the Pacific. Migrants sailed in double-hulled canoes from East Polynesia, the last voyages in the exploration and settlement of the Pacific Islands, in several waves before 1300. They brought with them the Polynesian Rat (Kiore) and the domesticated dog. Europeans later brought pigs, ferrets, stoats, mice, rats, dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, and many other mammals which have seriously impacted the native animals, driving some near to extinction. Over the 65 million year isolation from any other land mass, New Zealand became a land of birds. When Captain James Cook arrived in the 1770s he noted that the bird songs were deafening. Māori and European settlement has been the cause of a huge decline in the numbers of birds and the extinction of over 40% of the 115 or more of the native endemic species, found only in New Zealand.