Posts Tagged ‘Russ Chappell’

  • Bird of the Month: Peregrine Falcon January 2019

      Peregrine Falcon By Russ Chappell The word “peregrine” means “wanderer” or “pilgrim,” and Peregrine Falcons reside world-wide. Thanks to captive breeding and a 1972 ban on DDT, this species has risen from near extinction in the 20th century to now populate every continent except Antarctica. The United States-Canada Stewardship rates peregrines as 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, but it is no longer on the State of North America’s Birds Watch List. However, their breeding areas, especially in the Prescott area, are monitored and protected during certain times of the year, and you should check with the Prescott National Forest Service before entering a Peregrine Falcon breeding area to avoid issues. Considered the fastest animal on earth, at least in a dive or “stoop” the Peregrine Falcon is capable of speeds of over 200 MPH, able to withstand 18G, and possesses exceptional vision which is protected by special membranes at high speed. They are capable of bringing down prey twice their size with their powerful talons and a unique beak. Adaptable to almost any habitat some Peregrines migrate over 15,000 miles a year, while other choose to call a selected region home year-round. In coastal areas nests are usually built on cliffs in “eyries” however being extremely adaptable many reside in cities with high skyscrapers that provide both elevation and a variety of birds to hunt

  • Bird of the Month: Black-crowned Night Heron

    By Russ Chappell Normally considered nocturnal birds, the beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron may move about during the daytime while feeding, primarily in the evening or after nightfall. During twilight hours, they may be seen flying toward one of their favorite foraging spots, sounding their loud and harsh quawk from which they received one of their popular names, the “Qua-bird.” The preferred hunting grounds of the Black-crowned Night Heron are shallow creeks, edges of ponds, and swamps which may include pools. They usually hunt alone and at some distance from their breeding location, so feeding their young involves lengthy flights back to the nest. Rather than stand rigidly, knee-deep in the water, like Great Blue Herons, night-herons move stealthily, head lowered, neck curved, ready for the quick stroke that brings demise to whatever frog, fish, or other prey they locate. Sociable birds, night herons often reside in large colonies during the nesting season. These heronries are usually in secluded wooded areas and may include hundreds of pairs plus four or five youngsters per family. The parents frequently raise two broods a season, so it’s common to find the adult birds feeding two sets of young simultaneously: fledglings in the nest and older juveniles scrambling around in the branches near the nest. Slightly over two feet in length, adult Black-crowned Night Herons are black and ash-gray with white below, and they display

  • Bird of the Month: Long-billed Curlew

    By Russ Chappell Long-billed Curlews (aka “candlestick birds”) are a migratory species that spend summers in western North America and winters in southern wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and beaches. These long-legged shorebirds are the size of crows. With wingspans of almost three feet, these birds have long, thin, down-curved bills. The females are slightly longer than the males. They have heavy spheroid bodies, long necks, and small heads. In terms of color, they’re brown with bars and speckles above and have plain cinnamon bellies and wings of brilliant cinnamon, visible during flight. Long-billed Curlews strut with heads moving back and forth while walking or running. When they leap into the air to take flight, they thrust their legs behind them and retract their necks. During landings, they flap their wings upward, hover briefly before touching down, and often run a few feet following the landing. These birds forage on shores and mud flats using their long bills to catch worms and burrowing shrimp and crabs. In grasslands, they feast on grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally eggs and nestlings. Monogamous during the breeding season, Long-billed Curlews often remaining paired in subsequent seasons. Nests are on the ground where the male and female form a shallow depression with their bills and chests, then line it with pebbles, tree bark, grass, and other shrubbery. These birds have one brood per season

  • Bird of the Month: Blue Grosbeak

    By Russ Chappell Blue Grosbeak males are large, brilliant blue buntings with a thick silver bill and chestnut wing bars, and their mates are cinnamon-colored. Widespread but not abundant across the southern U.S., their range is expanding. In fact, in Carl Tomoff’s checklist, “Birds of Prescott, Arizona,” they’re given the “transient – Summer” classification. Prescott is a breeding area of choice. Later in the year, they migrate to shrubby habitats in Mexico and Central America, and as far south as Panama for winter. Blue Grosbeaks feed largely on insects but also enjoy invertebrates, grains, and seeds, and hunt for food in the air and on the ground. Monogamous parents, these birds build cup-shaped nests from natural and man-made debris, low in small trees, brush, vines, and vegetation and often near open areas or roads. The nests are two to three inches across and two inches deep. Parents raise two clutches per season, each consisting of three to five pale blue to white eggs about 1 inch in length. Incubation lasts 12 to 13 days, and nesting lasts 9 to 10 days. Young Blue Grosbeaks are born with gray to brownish down and closed eyes. Prior to feeding insects to their young, the parents remove the prey’ head, wings, and legs. The openness of their habitat and the male’s habit of singing from high, exposed perches breed success, especially in late

  • Bird of the Month: Horned Lark

    By Russ Chappell One fine day you forgo our beautiful lakes and wooded habitats and decide to bird a local open area — and are shocked to see small brown creatures, the size of rats, creeping through a barren field. When you look closer, you notice these “rats” have bright yellow faces, black masks, and tiny “horns” waving in the wind. You’ve spotted one of our native, local, year-round residents: Horned Larks. Their habitats include prairies, deserts, tundra, beaches, dunes, and heavily grazed pastures from sea level to 13,000 feet. They’re frequently seen in cleared areas, such as plowed fields and mowed areas around airstrips, and flying above open country in flocks that number into the hundreds. At 6-8 inches long with wingspans of 12-13 inches, these tiny birds eat seeds and insects and sing a high “tinkling” song. They are the only larks native to North America. They forage in pairs or small groups during breeding season and form large flocks in winter. Nests are built on bare ground in natural depressions or areas excavated by the female, who uses her bill to loosen the dirt and fling it aside, though she occasionally uses her feet, too. The nest is a woven basket of fine grass and plants lined with soft material — down, fur, feathers, lint, and even string — 3-4 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches deep

  • Bird of the Month: January 2018

    By Russ Chappell If American Dippers are to be trusted — and, hey, they’re quite discerning — then Fain Park has a pond with quality water. Indeed, they’re quite picky and avoid even mildly polluted waters. A casual, transient, winter visitor, Dippers normally prefer fast-running, clear streams, where they feed on aquatic insect larvae like caddisflies, mayflies, beetles, bugs, and mosquitoes, as well as adult insects, worms, snails, fish eggs and small fish. They are, by and large, rarely seen on ponds or lakes. Also known as a water ouzel, American Dippers are stout and dusky grey with some brown on their heads, bright white eyelids and thick bills. They’re 5.5 to 8 inches in length, weigh 1.5 to 2.4 ounces, and have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane” which helps them see underwater. They also have scales that block their nostrils when submerged. Permanent residents throughout their territories, which range from Alaska to Panama, some Dippers stay through winter when streams remain unfrozen. Others relocate to lower elevations and southward for the winter. They can tolerate cold water because of their low metabolic rate, their blood’s extra oxygen-carrying capacity, a thick layer of feathers, and the generous quantity of secreted oil, which keeps them warm while feeding underwater. When not foraging, you can catch them bobbing up and down on a rock or the shore. North America’s sole

  • Bird of the Month: Double-crested Cormorant

    By Russ Chappell Double-crested Cormorants are large, expert fishermen with a diet of fish supplemented with insects, crustaceans, and amphibians. They pursue underwater prey with powerful kicks of their webbed feet, and if they catch a crustacean, they strike it on the water until the legs break off, then flip it in the air, and catch it head first for easier swallowing. They have goose like bodies, long, loon-type necks, and thin, strongly curved bills, approximately the length of their heads. Adults are brown-black with yellow-orange facial skin, and the immature birds are browner with paler necks and breasts. They have aquamarine-colored eyes and bright blue inside their mouths. During breeding season, adults display double-crests of white or black scruffy feathers on their heads, thus the Double-crested Cormorant name. When not fishing, they rest on branches, rocks or the shore with their wings spread to dry, since their feathers contain less preen oil than other water fowl. This is a minor inconvenience that contributes to their underwater speed and maneuverability. Double-crested Cormorants usually reside near large bodies of water, however many form breeding colonies near small ponds and travel up to 40 miles to a quality feeding site. Listed as “uncommon transient and casual summer and winter visitors” in Professor Carl Tomoff’s “Birds of Prescott, Arizona,” they raise two broods a year with up to seven chicks per brood. A male attracts

  • Bird of the Month: Grace’s Warbler

    By Russ Chappell The opportunity to spot one of Prescott’s least known yet common birds is rapidly coming to an end, as they will soon migrate to Mexico. Grace’s Warblers are one of the least studied American birds because they reside in forested areas, high in mature pine trees, where they forage for insects and spiders, raise their young, and rarely pose in open vegetation. They are, however, sometimes visible flying from the treetops while hovering and catching insects in mid-air. Grace’s Warblers are named for the sister of renowned ornithologist Elliott Couse, who first discovered the species here in Arizona in 1864. Couse is highly respected for his monumental literary works, especially “Key to North American Birds” (1872). Small song birds in the wood warbler family, Grace’s Warblers are approximately 4.7 inches in length with wingspans of 7.9 inches and weight 0.2 to 0.3 ounces. They’re striking birds featuring yellow chins, throats, and breasts; gray backs; white bellies; black streaks on the sides of their chests and flanks, short yellow eyebrows; yellow crescents under their eyes; two white wing bars; and white spots on their tails. The young are similar but paler and less streaked. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species is classified as “Least Concern.” Their nesting habits are largely unknown because their nests are so well hidden. The nests, themselves, are small

  • Bird of the Month: Yellow-billed Cuckoo

    By Russ Chappell High on the list of any Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s culinary menu are caterpillars. They are one of a few species capable of eating hairy caterpillars, and often consume thousands each season. A close relative of the Greater Roadrunner and Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-Billed Cuckoos have a croaking call they often voice in response to loud sounds, such as thunder, leading to the nick name “rain crow.” Fairly large, long, and slim with a long, primarily yellow, thick, downward curved bill and flat head, they are a distinctive bird with brownish backs, white underparts and yellow orbital eyering. They also display wide white bands mixed with narrower black ones on their tails. The parents share nest building, incubation and brooding of their young. Eggs are laid one at a time over several days, with the period between eggs being as long as 5 days, making the period from incubation to total fledging around 17 days. Chicks are born featherless, with the young fully feathered and ready to leave the nest within a week. Yellow-billed Cuckoos forage methodically in treetops for large, hairy caterpillars and live primarily in the canopies of deciduous trees in woodland areas. In the West, they are elusive and difficult to spot, normally found in Cottonwood-dominated areas near rivers flowing through arid habitats. They are visitors to the Prescott and Verde River regions in the summer and

  • Bird of the Month: Pied-billed Grebe

    By Russ Chappell Consider the Pie-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). Common across North America, these small brown birds have unusually thick bills which turn silver and black in summer. They’re expert divers, able to reach depths of over 20 feet and can remain submerged for up to 30 seconds, especially if startled or in danger. They frequent sluggish rivers, freshwater marshes, lakes, and estuaries, using their chunky bills to feed on large crustaceans and a variety of fish, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. They rarely fly and often hide amid vegetation. Their loud, far-reaching call “whooping kuk-kuk-cow-cow-cow-cowp-cowp“ is hard to forget once you have heard it. Two to ten, 1.5” to 2”, bluish white to greenish white eggs are laid in a bowl shaped floating nest, usually situated among tall emergent vegetation and sometimes among lower-growing plants. The young leave the nest shortly after birth, climbing onto the adults back where they brood for their first week of life. The adults still dive with the young aboard, holding them under their wings. Pied-billed Grebes can trap water in their feathers, giving them great control over their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay just at or below the surface, exposing as much or as little of the body as they wish. The water-trapping ability may also aid in the pursuit of prey by reducing drag in turbulent water. Like other grebes,

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