Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Of Birds and Butterflies

While I was in Arizona, my son took me to the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert. This mile-square park uses re-cycled waste water to create a wetland in the middle of the desert. There are seven pond areas that are flooded and drained on a rotational basis and one lake that is left wet all the time. It was a great place for birdwatching. They claim that over 150 species can be seen there throughout the year and we saw 35 species in one morning! This is fall migration season which helps. I didn't see any new species that I haven't seen before, but I did get reacquainted with a few Arizona species that I have not seen in a long time, like the Verdin.

I took lots of pictures, but not many came out that great. The birds were either too fast for me or too far away. Butterflies are much easier to photograph, especially when they stop to sun themselves like this pretty yellow butterfly that is either a Sleepy Orange or Boisduval's Yellow. Taking photos of butterflies may be easier than taking photos of birds, but identifying them is much harder. If indeed it is a Boisduval, it was a rare sighting for that part of Arizona. Their main range is in Mexico and the southern border of Arizona. Sleepy Oranges are more common throughout the southern US. This specimen never opened his (her?) wings wide enough for me to see the upper side which might have helped with the identification. But then again, it might not.

One bird that does stand and pose for you is the Great Blue Heron and other members of the Heron Family like egrets and bitterns. What they are doing is watching the water for fish. They can stand very still for long periods of time and then when a tasty morsel swims by, ZAP! Like lightning, they grab the fish and swallow it whole. You can see the bulge in their long necks after a meal and some herons have been known to choke to death because they couldn't completely swallow their prey. We saw one such bird in distress like that many years ago in Massachusetts. It was sad because there was nothing we could do to help the poor bird.

We also took a trip to the Phoenix Zoo where I captured this beautiful Queen Butterfly. The Queen is related to the Monarch and looks very similar. Both Queens and Monarchs like milkweed which contains a toxin that they can tolerate but the birds cannot. A bird who tries to eat one of these butterflies doesn't die, but gets sick enough to never try eating one again.

Besides the animals in the exhibits and cages at the zoo, there were plenty of wild birds to see that were attracted to the water and food! In the area with the Common Squirrel Monkeys were these Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. This is another species that is not usually found so far north. My husband and I travelled all the way down to the Mexican border one year in order to find one of these birds and here in with the monkeys were five or six of them! They are called ducks but they look more like geese and they get their name from the high-pitched whistling sound they make which is like neither a duck nor a goose. There are only two birds of this type on the North American list. The other is the Fulvous Whistling-Duck which I have never seen.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing what you can find in the DESERT

    AZ DIL