King of the perch

The Western Kingbirds arrive in the spring like college freshmen – in large, noisy groups. They mob the acacia tree in the backyard next door, raising a racket and swooping through the yard on their way to another neighbor’s tree. The Hesper aloe stalks that we leave undisturbed next to the stream are a favored perch (the better to see you, my pretty flying insects …). Members of the flycatcher family, they sally forth in looping flight patterns, snatching prey mid flight before landing, often in the place from which they took off.


Field marks: Gray head, flycatcher bill, pale yellow abdomen, narrow white feathers at edges of tail.

They stick around the neighborhood through the fall, but when the heat slams down like a sledgehammer they pretty much disappear from the yard. Maybe they have other campsites that they like better in summer. Or, maybe their behavior changes! The bird that visited the stream this morning made me wonder about that. Why was he alone? Is flocking a breeding behavior?

After moving these images from camera to Photoshop, I noticed that this bird looked a little bedraggled.  The feathers are missing in a spot on his upper abdomen, under his left wing, where there appears to be a wound. Before I grabbed the camera, I watched him with binoculars as he bathed in the waterfall, then preened his feathers in the fan palm at the back of the yard. Those would have been beautiful shots: wing feathers spread like fingers, beak combing through chest plumage. But maybe part of that grooming ritual was wound care. That’s when the thought occurred to me: was he alone because Kingbirds disperse after nesting? Or was he alone because he was injured?

He appeared strong, so I’m hoping that he’s recovering and will be ready to fly with his mates to Southern Mexico and Central America in October.


Wound under the left wing


Watching for insects from his perch above the pool at the top of the waterfall


Morning in the garden

July 26, 2017 — I went to the Desert Botanical Garden on Sunday, which was another of those wished-for days under 100 degrees. I was hoping for birds, but wasn’t expecting much, because, once again missed the golden hour — about an hour after sunrise.

The garden was quiet: two or three small groups, and a couple other singletons with cameras around their necks. It was humid, but in the shade, surprisingly pleasant. My mission: gather ideas for a transformation of the back yard from largely grass to somewhat manicured desert. I did get some ideas — some too grand, I think, for the budget! But I saw fauna — such as the Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, above — as well as flora. It was lovely.



Curved-bill Thrasher eating prickly pear fruit


Curved-bill Thrasher



female costas

Female Costa’s Hummingbird