One of the great surprises of my visit to Scottsdale, Arizona was the discovery of a plethora of bird species. I thought I would see a couple of well-known Southwestern birds – which I did, as you will see. However there were also so many others – it was birdwatcher heaven with a varied hiking trails kicker.
Let’s start with those iconic Southwestern birdies like the one at the top of this post:
GAMBEL’S QUAIL – There is so much to love about this chubby but quick footed bird who prefers staying on the ground rather than hang out in trees – although I did see “tree quails” during my visit. First is that feather question mark shaped topknot of feathers. It doesn’t appear, through my research at least, that this topknot serves any purpose than perhaps a lure during mating, but it sure is cute:
Even the chicks sport this cute little headdress:
Quails usually have large family groups called coveys and it was such joy to watch one family – usually walking along in single file with the adult male in the lead position and the mommy taking the rear:
A covey can average between 10 and 20 birds. I think the family above has about 12 chicks but it was quite difficult to get a count which leads me to my favorite quail fact number two – they are quick runners:
Quail may be fast but they can’t hold a candle to this most iconic Sonoran Desert bird:
ROAD RUNNER – This bird can run 13 miles an hour with even faster sprints when hunting prey. It not only eats seeds, cactus fruit, lizards, insects, rodents, scorpions, tarantulas, and centipedes. but, like its fellow Sonoran Desert friend the rock squirrel, it also eats rattlesnakes. Sadly for the squirrel species, the roadrunner also eats baby ground squirrels as well as small birds – it is a lethal predator,
It wasn’t easy catching a photo of the roadrunner for obvious reasons, so forgive the blurriness:
Here is a gorgeous capture of a flying road runner from the internet:
I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about my interaction with the roadrunner – after all, this guy didn’t fare too well either:
The last bird of this collection was I think, the biggest surprise to me and one that made the birdwatcher in me very happy. A number of years ago, I wrote this post to introduce my readers to a growing obsession with photographing the elusive red cardinal – you can read it here.
This obsession still exists. So with this background, imagine my glee when I spotted this black beauty:
PHAINOPEPIA – The name is Greek for “shining robe,” a perfect description of the adult male’s jet-black plumage. It is also know locally as the black cardinal. It proved to be just as elusive as its red cousin as I only managed a few photos, including one of a mated pair who looked like they just had a fight and had gone to their neutral corners:
There is also an ironic twist to this. Often when I am pursuing my elusive red cardinal in New York I am often led astray by the many mockingbirds that also live nearby. Their mimicry of a cardinal’s song is so exact that many times I have excitedly tracked the song’s source only to find a mockingbird rather than my elusive cardinal.
When a Phainopepia is pursued by predators it mimics the calls of over 13 different species of birds.
Turn around fair play at its best.