Townsend’s Solitaire on a Juniper branch. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
The Townsend’s Solitaire is a member of the thrush family and is quite closely related to Robins and Bluebirds. They survive all winter almost exclusively on Juniper berries that can be found in great abundance throughout the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands of the Great Basin.
While these sparse woodlands are devoid of most other songbird species during the long winter months, Solitaire’s can be found fiercely defending areas rich in berries from other species such as American Robins and Cedar Waxwings. Not to mention from other hungry Solitaire’s.
This was truly the soundtrack to which I worked and played while living in northern Arizona and southern Utah until 2010. These boisterous birds predominate in the canyons of the desert southwest, singing from rock crevasses and natural amphitheaters to amplify their amazing song.
Canyon Wren’s also range further north into the black-rock basalt canyons of the Intermountain West. I found this expansive individual this week along the Snake River Canyon within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
I had so many photos of this Mute Swan, but chose the one that I thought made the bird look the most evil. Not that Mute Swan’s are inherently evil, because they are definitely not, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to have a discussion about introduced, non-native, and invasive bird species which cause so much ecological devastation around the world.
Introduced, or non-native species are ones that are able to survive outside of their naturally evolved habitats or geographic locations. There are many, many introduced species in North America, and not all of them are necessarily bad. Himalayan Snowcock, a large pheasant-like bird from Asia, was introduced to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada where it has persisted in small numbers within a very small geographic location.
Other introduced species did not stay in one location after being introduced, and instead spread very rapidly across almost the entire North American continent. The most famous examples of these are the European Starling and House Sparrow. These are invasive species.
The House Sparrow, a native of Europe, was introduced in New York City in the 1850s as a form of nostalgia for those European immigrants wishing to see a familiar backyard bird. After this seemingly innocent introduction, House Sparrows quickly adapted to their new environment and in just 70 years had reached all the way across the continent to Vancouver, British Columbia. Today they are one of the most ubiquitous bird species in North America, especially in human-dominated areas.
Invasive species such at House Sparrows, European Starlings, and even Mute Swans cause a wide variety of damage to natural systems that evolved in the presence of other, native bird species. Mute Swans are more wide ranging on the eastern half of the continent, but are still found in many parks on the west coast and even into interior North America. Specifically, Mute Swans negatively affect native waterfowl species and the ecosystems they inhabit.
Adult Mute Swan. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
For me, even though I find Swans breathtakingly beautiful, the knowledge that this species is an invasive and harmful to our native North American fauna diminishes their beauty.
I know it isn’t the birds fault, but it is the fault of those people who decided it would be a good idea to introduce a bird species to an area it clearly doesn’t belong.
Bird species that specialize within the Juniper and Pinyon Pine woodlands of the Great Basin retain a special place for me. Having spent a good deal of time in the Great Basin, I have an appreciation for the harsh, desert like conditions faced by these often little-studied and forgotten birds.
While working in central-Nevada during the summer of 2011, I thought it was inevitable that I would see large numbers of Juniper Titmice. But this was not to be, and I only very rarely caught glimpses of the species.
They have continued to elude me until I paid a visit to southern Utah and Zion National Park this past weekend. While camping outside Cedar City, Utah I was woken by a feisty titmouse calling from the top of a Juniper tree. Later that day I saw several in the dense Pinyon-Juniper woodlands that dominate the Kolob Canyons region of Zion National Park.
This photograph was taken during the early morning in Zion’s main canyon, before the sun had time to crest over the towering red-rock walls so well known to millions of tourists from all across the world. Nevertheless, two individuals decided to closely investigate my presence while I was standing atop a large boulder amidst several Juniper trees and holly bushes.
Stoked to have finally gotten so close to this awesome species!
White-crowned Sparrow. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Man. I feel like this week was slated to be a let-down no matter what after last week’s photo. Over 12,000 views on Flickr after the picture somehow made it onto Flickr’s Explore page. No idea how that happened, but craziness.
No matter. It’s a new week and that means another photograph. I don’t normally like photos where the bird is looking at the camera head-on, but thought this pose captured the name of this little songbird perfectly: the White-crowned Sparrow.
Free-flying adult male Merlin being released. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
I feel like I’m cheating… almost.
For the last three weeks now I have posted photographs of wild-caught raptors either in the hand, or just leaving the hand. Now some may say these photographs lack the true purity of a moment that might be captured of a similar wild, free-flying bird. I certainly can’t argue with that, but none-the-less all of these birds have been wild-caught. They are not education birds, or rehab birds, or falconry birds. They are wild, migrating raptors.
I trapped this adult male Merlin (most likely an After-Second Year adult) at the Idaho Bird Observatory’s Lucky Peak migration station this past week. I like to think of Merlins as mini-Peregrine Falcons as they exhibit much the same aggressive demeanor, albeit in a smaller package.
Two fellow trappers and myself were practicing our release shots that day: capturing that perfect moment when the bird leaves your hand and continues on it’s migration. This was by far the best shot I got all day.
Juvenile male Northern Goshawk. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Another photo this week from the Goshutes in Nevada.
If you look closely at this bird’s right leg you’ll notice a silver aluminum band. These bands have a unique number on them that will identify this individual bird if he happens to be captured somewhere else during his life. This information helps scientists gather vital information about the movements of raptors and other birds.
There are three species of Accipiters, or forest hawks, in North America. Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest followed by the slightly larger Cooper’s Hawk. The Northern Goshawk is the largest of the Accipiters, and by far the most aggressive.
The Goshutes are a remote field site without internet access, hence the lateness of this weeks photo. Since this isn’t a “free-flying” bird photo, it may be cheating, but the lighting inside the blind was just way to nice to pass up the opportunity to share this with everyone.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are a forest dwelling raptor found throughout North America. They are quite small, about the size of an American Kestrel, and prey almost exclusively on small birds. This bird was captured during fall migration, and after being released may end up as far south as Mexico for the winter.
With the government shutdown effectively putting the kibosh on my planned trip to Great Basin National Park, I decided to visit the neighboring Mount Moriah Wilderness instead.
This little known wilderness area in eastern Nevada is home to low-land sagebrush communities all the way up to high alpine tundra as Mount Moriah reaches over 12,000-ft in elevation.
As I hiked up Hendrys Creek deeper into the wilderness, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and abundance of wildlife. I nearly walked into a large Bull Elk eating grass right on the trail, and saw a large flock of Mountain Bluebirds at nearly 11,000-ft foraging from the branches of an old, half-dead Bristlecone Pine.
At nearly every step of the way I was greeting by the hoarse calls of Mountain Chickadees: Feisty little guys that aren’t afraid to come right in for closer inspection.
** PS- I will be in the field on Wednesday of next week and thus won’t be able to post the weekly photograph until I return on Friday or Saturday. This will be the first time I’ve missed the weekly deadline! **
After 39 weeks this is officially the first time I’ve used the same species twice during this 52-week project. I’m happy that it is the Mountain Bluebird.
I was excited to visit my old stomping grounds in southern Utah and northern Arizona this past weekend where I spent two years working for the California Condor Reintroduction Program. I must have been totally engrossed in my work with condors because I never noticed the huge numbers of bluebirds that undoubtably call this area home in the fall.
This photograph was taken near Kolob, Utah. This nearly 9,000 foot plateau stands just above Zion National Park, and is home to tens-of-thousands of domestic sheep making it a perfect summer range for condors. These same open pastures, surrounded by stands of cavity-filled Aspen, make great habitat for bluebirds!
Fall colors in Kolob, Utah. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Sure enough I saw several large mixed-flocks of bluebirds mingling with each other on fence posts and shrubs, foraging on the still abundant grasshopper populations. Many of these bluebirds like the one pictured above were undergoing heavy molt. They will soon be sporting fresh plumage in preparation for next spring’s breeding season.
I can’t help but wonder if any of these individuals are Mountain Bluebirds from Al Larson’s trails in Idaho. It seems a bit early, and I didn’t see any bands, but anything is possible!