Canon PowerShot SX60 vs. Golden Eagle

Hi all,

I stepped outside with my laptop to do a bit of office work – things you can say when you live in southern Arizona – and, naturally, got distracted by trying to bump up the yard list for the month.  A quick scan around the cloudy skies revealed an impressive Golden Eagle soaring close to my yard's airspace.  Awesome!  I need to answer emails outside more often...

I dashed inside for my camera, but by the time I lurched back through the door the eagle had faded to a mere speck over the jagged skyline of the Chiricahua Mountains.  But, a Golden Eagle constitutes a fairly large speck at any distance, so I decided it was a fair opportunity to play around with the maximum zoom on my Canon Powershot SX60.  With a 65x optical zoom, I figured I could get something identifiable.  (Standard advice: just turn off the digital zoom, it's worthless on any ultrazoom camera.)  The results?

Cropped from maximum zoom and lightened in Photoshop - but you can see golden nape for which this eagle is named.  (Click on photo to enlarge)

My word, you can actually see an eyestripe defining the supercilium here...

Can you still see the eagle at top center frame?  (Zoomed out roughly midway, maybe 30x)

Where I was standing to take the photo.  Can't even imagine seeing the speck of an eagle naked eye!

Wowzers.  THIS is why I throw the camera on my shoulder when I'm out birding.  Imagine that this was a rare raptor for the area.  If I need to document something, I can pretty well count on this camera to get whatever my spotting scope can see.  It won't be National Geographic quality, but it'll sure pass muster for the Rare Bird Committee!  And it's a lot lighter than a real DSLR, which might not be able to capture the necessary details at this distance anyway.

And bonus, I just played around with the video function at maximum zoom while I was at it:

No, it's not going to take home a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film - especially with that high zoom hand quiver.  But, it'll get the job done the next time you have to say "guess what I saw?"

Good birding,
John Yerger
Adventure Birding Company

Plain-capped Starthroat in Portal, AZ

Yesterday's visit to the Foothills Road feeders in Portal, AZ was certainly a more exciting way to start the day than I had envisioned!  Experiences like this are a great reminder to me, and hopefully to others: don't ignore bird feeders as an early morning stop if they're available, often that's when you find the really good birds there!

Among the 25 species we saw while sitting in a single spot was this stunning PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT:

Note the large white patch above the rump, in the lower back.  While there aren't any other hummingbirds in this photo for size comparison, it was quite large in comparison with nearby Broad-billed Hummingbirds, about the same size as a Magnificent or Blue-throated.  Other features/field marks visible in the photo are the overall brownish color, very long bill, and arcing white eyeline and malar stripe framing a very dark auricular patch.  The throat can't be seen here, but was a neat dark ruby color.  Cool find!

Also flagged as "rare" in eBird (and appropriately so for Cochise County) was a RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW.  Couldn't snap a National Geographic-quality photo, but we snagged a documentation shot anyway:

The dull rufous eyeline matching the crown color, and two thin black "whiskers" are essentially diagnostic for this unique species.

Just another day birding in southeastern Arizona!

John Yerger
Adventure Birding Company

Atascosa Highlands CBC highlights - 2 January 2015

Once again, the Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count was a blast!  Although the point of CBC's is to monitor wintering bird populations by conducting surveys in a repeatable manner each year, it basically just involves going out to a pre-designated area and birding.  And, just like any birding, it's always fun when you rack up a decent species list!  Our team ended up with 65 species for our section for the day.  The rarest, however, was our last species for the day, a hybrid Red-breasted x Red-naped Sapsucker!

Here you can see how extensive the red is throughout the face and throat, typical coloration for a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

On a slightly different angle through the branches, one can see a heavy red wash through the auriculars, but the face pattern of a Red-naped Sapsucker is still visible through that wash.  Also, while there isn't much black framing the throat, a bit of black feathering can be seen where the red from the throat runs into the upper breast, another sign that the bird is a hybrid rather than a pure Red-breasted Sapsucker.

Finally, the bird turned its head to show red color filling the entire back of the head and nape, rather than the more limited red in the nape that a Red-naped shows.

After the count, Deb Finch and I stopped by the Amado Wastewater Reclamation Facility (i.e. sewage effluent pond) hoping that a previously reported Pacific Loon was still there.  It was!  For a bonus, a fellow sea-dweller was hanging out with it: a female Red-breasted Merganser.

Pacific Loon on the left, showing the classic "chinstrap" pattern as well as rounded head, small bill, sharp contrast between dark hindneck and whitish foreneck.  Red-breasted Merganser on the right, showing the very thin-based bill typical of that species.

All-in-all, not bad for a winter day of birding in southeastern Arizona!

John Yerger
Adventure Birding Company

Reid Park 1/24/14

After my 6th attempt to locate the PINE WARBLER at Reid Park I was finally successful in seeing it for a while!  Though no pictures were obtained of that gem, I did manage a few of the waterfowl in the park.

Nictitating membrane on this Ring-necked Duck
Did you ever wonder how ducks can see their prey underwater, or perhaps how raptors protect their eyes from greedy chicks grasping for food?  I was able to catch a picture of this Ring-necked Duck that helps explain how.  

Unlike eyelids which open and close from the top and bottom of an eye, nictitating membranes like the one in this picture close from the front of the eye to the back of the eye.  It is also, in some cases, translucent allowing animals to see under water, through brush, and at high speeds.  Look closely at the eye and notice half is dark (with membrane) and half is light (no membrane).

This feature is also seen in sharks, reptiles, and some mammals such as your house cat! (keep them inside!)  Not all reptiles have these membranes.  If you have ever seen certain species of gecko lick their eyes they're simply 'licking the place' of an eyelid or nictitating membrane that would otherwise keep it moist and clean!

Neotropic Cormorants

There were also a few NEOTROPIC CORMORANTS hanging out around the edge of the south pond at Reid Park.  Yet another 'nictitating member' of the representatives there.

Male and Female Hooded Mergansers

Perhaps the star of the show was this pair of HOODED MERGANSERS.  This female was sharing her time between 2 dapper males.  How could she possibly choose between all those beautiful membranes?

Jake Mohlmann
Tucson, AZ

Sweetwater Wetlands - Black-and-white Warbler - 1/21/14

Black-and-white Warbler at Sweetwater Wetlands foraging just like a nuthatch.

Today (1/21/14) I found (one of) the continuing Black-and-white Warblers that frequent Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson this and every winter.  This individual is lacking prominent dark ear coverts and has buffy flanks.  Both attributes suggest the sex as female. 


Jake Mohlmann