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Africa has a mammalian ‘Big 5.’ Southwestern Florida’s Sanibel Island has avian big-5: Mangrove Cuckoo, White Pelican, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and Reddish Egret.

You can see them and over 200 other bird species at the 2017 Ding Darling Days. The Oct. 15-21 festival is held annually at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the subtropical barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico.

The festival is a great way for anybody to experience the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. It is a spectacular, pristine place to see large numbers of migratory birds. It’s also home to bobcats, river otters, American Alligators, American Crocodiles, turtles and tortoises, West Indian Manatees, 3 sea turtle species, and color-changing Green Anoles.

There also is a great amateur nature photography contest.
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International border walls are meaningless to birds. Attendees of spring birding festivals in Arizona saw several colorful Mexican songbirds they’ve never seen before. Warmer temperatures have led the birds to forage farther north.

Experienced bird experts at annual birding festivals in Arizona, California and Texas have confirmed increasing reports of birds that are usually endemic to Mexico.

The Tufted Flycatcher was a new species for many attendees of the May 2017 Southwest Wings Birding Spring Festival in Sierra Vista, AZ. “It is a Mexican bird that hasn’t been reported here in about 20 years – if ever,” said Gorgon Lewis, head of the Southwest Wings Festival.

“It’s the same with the Blue Mockingbird, Rufous-capped Sparrow and Flame-colored Tanager," Lewis said. “They are usually 100 to 150 miles south of us, but those birds are coming up here, staying and breeding."

Another beautiful Mexican songbird, the Slate-throated Redstart, was sighted in southern Arizona in May.


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Q: What’s worse for migratory songbirds – hurricanes or deer?

A: Scarlet Tanagers and other migratory songbirds moving north from South America into Canada face far greater ecological threats from deer than hurricanes.

Herds of White-tailed deer can denude a North American forests if left unchecked. Deer eat anything edible, including plants, fruit, and crops such as corn. They particularly like acorns in the fall. They even eat poison ivy, and prickly pear cactus. There's nothing left for Scarlet Tanagers.

You might guess that hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast coastal forests are just as inhospitable to tanagers and other songbirds. Ornithologists had assumed the same thing.


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The Great Egret, catalyst of the modern conservation movement and symbol of the National Audubon Society, is breeding farther north along Canadian shores of the Great Lakes.

Great Egret numbers in the area rose 679% during the 10 years ending in 2008.

“Such northward expansion could portend changes in distribution coinciding with changing climate,” researchers with Mississippi State University, Canadian Wildlife Services and the University of Minnesota said in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology.

The Great Lakes from the Pigeon River in western Lake Superior, lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River once formed the northern limit of the Great Egret territory. But no longer.

Farther south, the egret is the featured species at the 2017 Great Louisiana BirdFest April 7-9 at a nature preserve near Mandeville.

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The Violet-crowned Hummingbird is one of dozens of glamour species highlighting the Southeast Arizona Birding Festival in August.

On Wednesday, Aug. 11, the 5-day festival kicks off its talks, field trips and workshops focused on appreciating an incredibly bird-rich piece of earth - southeast Arizona - during the area's relatively cool, rainy, and most bird-productive time of year.


• Sheri Williamson, Director, Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory: Hummingbirds: Small Wonders Tiny they may be, but hummingbirds know how to live large.

• Jeff Gordon, President, American Birding Association Birding Together: How Birding Can Save Your Life and Maybe, Just Maybe, Save the World.

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The annual May birding festival in southeast Arizona is a great opportunity to see Blue Grosbeaks and many other bird and wildlife species. It’s also a very convenient weekend get-away for Phoenix and Tucson nature lovers.

The top restaurants in town include The German Cafe, Breadbasket, La Casita, Texas Roadhouse, and Indochine. There also are a dozen excellent wineries in the Sierra Vista area.)

The festival is one of the best spring birding events in the Southwest and would make a thrilling weekend trip for birders traveling from Albuquerque, El Paso, San Diego and Los Angeles.

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The beautiful Elegant Trogon will be a glamourous addition to the life lists of many birders in the U.S. Southwest this year.

Ornithologists are equally intrigued by its ability to prey on caterpillars with potent anti-predator defenses.  

Hundreds of spring birding festival participants and their guides often listen for the loud “kowr” calls to locate Trogons in dry pine-oak forests. Trogons don’t have set breeding schedules. Their nesting activities seem to revolve around the availability of foul-tasting moth caterpillars about the size of a human finger.

(Photo: Christie Van Cleve)

The leaf-eating Sphingid moth caterpillars can defoliate some trees at night. By day, the camouflaged invertebrates remain motionless in in trees and bushes and leaf litter on the forest floor. When pecked or disturbed, they regurgitate a toxic brew of partially digested leaves. Most birds quickly learn to avoid them, but Elegant Trogons happily feed them to their young almost exclusively.

Daniel Janzen, a University of Pennsylvania ecologist and expert on the Trogons, is trying to understand their specialized diet.

 “It is the species-level detail of the prey items that make the Elegant Trogon interesting,” Janzen said. “I have no trouble getting birders interested in this detail.”


Most birders also are drawn to Trogons’ spectacular, iridescent colors. In the branches of a leafy tree they can be very difficult to spot. They turn their less colorful backs to birders and swivel their heads owl-like to watch us. Their elusiveness combined with their beauty only heightens their appeal. 

The Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival in May in Sierra Vista, Arizona, is known for its Trogon-viewing opportunities. The festival’s field trips fill quickly, but the “Huachuca Specialties” trip and others have openings.

Other birding festivals with field trips to Elegant Trogon habitat include these:

• Tucson Bird and Wildlife Festival, August in Tucson, Arizona.

• Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival, August in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

• Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, November in Harlingen, Texas. 


The Resplendent Quetzal of Central America is a member of the Trogoniformes order, and is a huge birdwatching attraction in Costa Rica and other Central American countries.

Trogons and Quetzals form an ancient group that is distantly related to all other bird families. In the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America, the Trogons nest in cavities in Sycamores and other trees that have been excavated by Red-shafted Flickers and other woodpeckers. 


A male Elegant Trogon that claims an empty hole, positions himself near it, and sings the eerie call until a female arrives and accepts the cavity and its defender. In southeaster Arizona’s Chiricahua, Huachuca and Santa Rita mountains, Trogon pairs start their nests in May, June or July. Why the extended schedule?

Rain in the mountains is spotty and variable. Hawk Moth pupae lie in wait in the leaf litter, waiting for a signal to emerge as adults to complete the reproductive cycle. Trogons wait for the caterpillar cycle to kick in. If emergent female Hawk Moths don’t like local conditions, they migrate to more hospitable areas. An adult Hawk Moths uses a long proboscis to feed on flower nectar while hovering, usually at night. Females are twice as large as males and are often mistaken for hummingbirds.


Trogons actually catch all kinds of flying insects. However, big slow-moving caterpillars are at the top of the menu. Each female Hawk Moth may either lay hundreds of eggs within a week or two, or spread egg-laying over months. The Elegant Trogons, which like all Trogons usually don’t migrate, are always waiting. Adults opportunistically feed on fruit and other insects.

There are 39 species of Trogons and Quetzals in the Americas, Africa and Asia. There common ancestor lived about 49 million years ago. This line of birds has a unique toe arrangement different from all other bird species. They are heterodactyly: digits 3 and 4 point forward, and 1 and 2 point back. The feet make them almost unable to walk, and they often flap their wings to change positions on a tree branch.

But rain isn’t the only factor driving Trogon breeding. They seem to be highly tuned to the lifecycles of a variety of insects. Janzen says insect diversity is the “glue” of forest biodiversity and Trogons are a sign of good ecological adhesives.

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The Prairie Falcon is “the wildest and fiercest bird” in the dry U.S. West. The bird list of the Willcox Birding and Nature Festival, Jan. 13-17, reads like the menu of this bad boy.

The appetite of a Prairie Falcon increases during spring egg-laying, and any bird that ventures close to a falcon nests tempts disaster. 

The Willcox festival offers a wide range of talks and other events and birding field trips. One of their popular field trips takes in local wineries.

A nice place in Willcox to celebrate a day’s birding would be at the tasting room of a winery like the Pillsbury Wine Company, winner of 26 medals in the past 2 months. No doubt some of the festival goers will take advantage of Pillsbury's  $5/glass specials to toast Arizona’s amazing bird diversity at the winery’s tasting room, 6450 S. Bennett Place, Willcox.

One story of a Prairie Falcon was first told by a U.S. National Park Service ranger who had watched a falcon parent one afternoon in May dismember and feed a ground squirrel to 3 of its chicks. Two chicks got nothing.

When the rodent was gone, the adult bird flew from the eyrie at Pinnacles National Monument, circled and dove toward a group of White-throated Swifts. The falcon quickly separated the least swift of the swifts. The raptor moved in, slightly under its doomed prey.

“As the swift began to climb steeply to avoid capture, the falcon rolled over just below the swift and reached up with its talons and grabbed its prey,” Amy Fesnock wrote in The Southwestern Naturalist. “The falcon righted itself, flew back to the nest with the swift, and fed the 2 chicks that had not been fed.”

Prairie Falcons attack larger raptors from above when they venture onto hunting territory defended by falcons. However, a hawk will turn over in mid-air and thrust its larger talons toward the more skillful flier. It’s an effective defense against an aggressive falcon. 

However, a hawk carrying prey is at a disadvantage: they quickly become providers of fast food. They drop their prey under attack by falcons, which expertly retrieve the easy meals.

Every unsuspecting raptor is at risk. A researcher in Colorado watched a Prairie Falcon kill a Barn Owl on contact after it had flushed during the day from a cliffside roost. The owl “most likely died of a punctured heart,” David Andersen wrote in The Southwestern Naturalist.

Actually, falcons also are fast-food thieves. Roughly 60% of all kleptoparasites are falcons and gulls. That doesn’t mean that crows won’t steal from falcons. They will.

The closely related Peregrine Falcon has a different hunting approach. They are diving jetfighters, using the fastest speeds of any bird of prey in lightening stoops to kill almost any bird on violent contact.

Prairie Falcons are surprise attackers that come in low and fast. In most of the American West they specialize on ground squirrels and other mammals, and a lesser extent on birds and other prey.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, and study Prairie Falcons, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans. 

#Arizonabirds #birdsofprey #binoculars #birds #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtour #birdingguides #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature  

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The spring birding festivals are coming up soon, and the available spots on their field trips are filling up fast.

Air fares and gasoline prices are down. The birds, especially the twice-a-year migrants will be terrific. The link takes you to a map and calendar of over 40 birding festivals: 

There are 11 festivals in March and April alone – in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

#birdingfestival   #birdfestival   #birding   #birdwatching   #birdphotography  

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The graceful Black Skimmer has an exasperating problem when it drops an anchovy, silverside or killifish onto the ground.

Darwin called skimmers “scissor-beaks” after watching them slice the top 6 centimeters of a tidal pond, making a sound like tearing silk.

When a skimmer's lower (longer) scissor blade strikes a fish, the bird's head snaps downward, the prey pops into its open mouth, and the top (shorter) bill clamps the food. The unequal-lengths are perfect for catching fish. 

Darwin probably didn't see what happens when they drop fish.

The mismatched scissor blades become cumbersome chopsticks when used to pick up a fish dropped onto the ground. As any sushi eater knows, it’s very difficult to pick up slippery fish with chopsticks unless the tips are perfectly aligned.

(Photo: Dan Pancamo)

A birder with the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club watched a skimmer struggle to pick up a fish dropped alongside a tidal pool near the Atlantic port city of Tuckerton, New Jersey, U.S. He said the skimmer repeatedly failed to pick up the fish with downward thrusts of its bill.

“It then tried to get the struggling fish by turning its bill sideways but this also failed, and without further delay it flew out over the pool and started again to cut the water in its characteristic manner,” Julian Potter wrote in a 1932 dispatch published in The Auk. “Almost at once, another fish was caught.”

Birders who watch skimmers, often in the low light of dawn or dusk, marvel at their fishing skills.

“Early naturalists such as Audubon (1831) and Darwin (1845) were astounded by this bird and recognized its unique features,” wrote Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld in their book, The Black Skimmer: Social Dynamics of a Colonial Species (1990, Columbia University Press).

The Black Skimmer forages during the day, but it’s most active at night. It is the only bird species that closes it pupil into a cat-like slit while foraging in bright sunlight.

They emit boisterous barking calls, but are so shy they quickly desert nest colonies when disturbed by humans or their pets. They nest on beach and marsh sand and gravel, which is increasingly scarce because of oceanfront development. 

Thousands of pairs have nested in colonies in Louisiana, but in the last century, skimmer numbers along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts have plunged. Yet, if not disturbed by humans and their pets, they will nest within sight of the New York City skyline.

Concerned wildlife management experts hope the birds will learn to nest on the roofs of buildings and man-made islands. However, Fish Crows might take more skimmer eggs from roof nests. Skimmers usually prefer to nest in the company of various species of terns, which may not nest in high places.

Birdwatchers can see Black Skimmers in 2016 at birding festivals and comprehensive guided birding tours:


Feb. 3-6, Palm Coast (Florida) Birds of a Feather Fest

March 9-14, Big O Birding Festival (Florida)

April 8-10, Great Louisiana BirdFest

April 23-25, Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival (Virginia)


Jan. 24, a 3-day Florida birds photography workshop.

Jan. 24, a 7-day Greg Miller ‘Big Year’ birding tour of central Florida.

March 26, a 12-day Spring Texas birding tour with Whooping Cranes.

April 17, a 7-day Greg Miller ‘Big Year’ Louisiana & Texas Coast birding tour. 

April 23, a 10-day Southern Florida and the Keys birding tour.

April 20, a 10-day South Florida & the Dry Tortugas birding tour

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Black Skimmers, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans. 

#Floridabirds #Texasbirds #Louisianabirds #NewJerseybirds #waterbirds #binoculars #birds #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtour #birdingguides #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature  
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