Readers’ wildlife photos

January 5, 2020 • 7:45 am

William Savage has contributed some photos from Arizona; his notes and IDs are indented:

The Sonoran Desert is said to be the greenest and most bio-diverse desert in the world. Partly this is due to the seasonal monsoon, which is responsible for a modest annual rainfall — rather more than might be expected for a desert. Mostly it is because the southern end of the Rocky Mountains reach almost to the Mexican border, appearing as a disconnected series of highland ridges — “sky islands” — where fauna and flora are determined by altitude. On the highest peaks, such as Mount Lemmon near Tucson, both flora and fauna are more similar to the species of Canada than to anywhere else so far south of the US/Canadian border. The proximity to Mexico and the Sierra Madres to the south also means that Mexican species cross regularly into the southern part of Arizona. For example, in most of the US only one or two species of hummingbirds are found. On a good day in the mountains south of Tucson, you might well find fifteen different hummingbird species or more. You can also find Mexican Jays, Crested Caracara and several other species of birds virtually absent from the rest of the US.

Here are some more pictures taken a while ago during our period living in Tucson.

Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) winter in large numbers in places where the is enough standing water to provide them with some refuge from predators, especially in the Sulphur Springs valley. These were photographed at Wilcox Playa.

These were found at Whitewater Draw, southwest of Sierra Vista:

Many duck also winter in the same spots (perhaps even PCC(E)’s Honey). These are American Wigeon (Mareca americana). The female resemble Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca Penelope) fairly closely, but with more orange in their plumage. The males are much more colourful that their Eurasian counterparts, which lack the grey and green heads. Both are notable for the piercing whistling calls they make.

It’s not too difficult to find Meadowlarks perched in the wires by the roadside throughout the Sulphur Springs Valley. Both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are present. I think this is a Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).
Naturally, standing water attracts many other wading birds, especially in the desert. Here is a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).

Near Whitewater Draw there was a kind of metal-roofed barn with no walls. You could almost always find one or more Great Horned Owls (Bubo Virginiana) roosting under the roof. Generally, they took no notice of you, beyond opening an eye and fixing you with a disdainful stare. This one was clearly trying to ignore my presence altogether while keeping a careful watch on what I was doing in its domain.

15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. It would be amazing to get close to so many sandhill cranes. I’ve only seen them in twos and threes. Lovely widgeon couple. Penelope?

    1. The wigeon pair in the photographs are M americana as indicated in William’s text. M penelope is the Eurasian wigeon. Both species were previously placed in the genus Anas.

  2. Great photos and thanks for the information on the Sonoran desert. A lot of facts in there I didn’t know. While driving into Phoenix from the North, I remember going through a Saguaro cactus “forest”. Is that a part of the Sonoran desert? Beautiful place regardless.

  3. Generally, they took no notice of you, beyond opening an eye and fixing you with a disdainful stare.And that’s why, in defiance of ICZN rules, they’re honorary cats.
    I wonder who, in a sit-down out-staring contest, would win? Felis domesticus, or Strigiformes ?

  4. Great set of photos!
    I’m not sure that it is fair to describe Eurasian wigeon as being less colourful than the American wigeon though. The males have a striking chestnut/orange head with a thick creamy yellow strip running from the bill up over the top of the head. A flock of wigeon in the sunlight is a splendid sight and with their charming whistles a lovely sound too!

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