Monday, September 28, 2015

I’m writing this blog as Staff Naturalist for Shoshone Village, California 92384. Shoshone is a very small town.

 I'm from Maine. My father, who still lives in Maine, thinks that it’s the funniest to send me mail this way!



The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is the only breeding woodpecker along the Amargosa River. Their local range appears to be restricted. I have never seen one in Shoshone, but they are regulars all year round at nearby  China Ranch, and in the Amargosa Canyon south of the Tecopa post office. They have very large territories, at least the ones that I have observed. I have observed territories that were almost a kilometer long. They need dead trees. Their nests are excavated in old Gooding’s Willows, Cottonwood, and sometimes phone poles. They are permanent year round residents of the southern Amargosa. The Nuttal’s Woodpecker, a very close look-alike of Ladder-backed that breeds in cooler habitats has a range that’ Where the two species meet their ranges fit together like pieces of a puzzle” (Backhouse 2005) In nearby areas, the Eastern Sierras, Owens River, Kern and San Bernardino. There has been hybridization recorded.


Nuttal's Woodpecker Owens River


Northern Flickers seem to arrive first  in the fall, and their “keer” call can be heard throughout the day. They will be present all winter into early spring. Often seen on the ground, and a major predator of ants, they’re known as Red-shafted Flickers for the display of red feathers from the underside when the wings opened. They must be more commonly preyed upon by hawks during the winter than other birds, because each spring, in my travels I’ll find the orange-red feathers in shady places. I’ve found many almost full sets of red  flight feathers in such “kill spots”.

The Northern Flicker has a huge range in North America. From  Newfoundland to Alaska, in the north and from Cuba to  the Pacific Coast  and as for south as CostasRica, , Flickers are common and prolific.

 In the east they are Yellow-shafted Flickers. In the midwest the flight and tail feathers begin to be more orange, then more red in the west. They are all of the same species. Occasionally, a Northern Flicker yellow-shafted is reported in this area.  I was really jealous last winter when, while working at Shoshone’s Crowbar Restaurant, my friend Terri showed me in a plastic bag, a set of yellows that she had found! Finally in spring of 2015, I finally  found a set of yellows!! 

         Notice how the shafts of the feathers have been clipped by the beak of a hawk. Also here you can see the special shape of the “designed for strength” tail feather. (Black tipped)


Red-naped Sapsuckers and 

Red-breasted Sapsuckers are both found around Shoshone in fall and winter. The trees around Shoshone Village, Shoshone Campground, the Death Valley Academy, and Shoshone Birding Trails and China Ranch, are all good spots for wintering woodpeckers. 


  These two-species were formerly assumed to be western sub-species of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and have subsequently been designated as separate species by those who decide such things. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is common in the Eastern North America, but occasionally is reported in this area. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker are very difficult to tell apart from Red-naped as juveniles in fall migration. They breed at higher elevations, such as the Spring Mountains, locally to the east of Shoshone. Although I don't have a photo of a Williamson's Sapsucker, it's been seen here before and is always a possibility.

                                   LEWIS'S WOODPECKER

It’s always special to see a Lewis’s Woodpecker. A pink-breasted iridescent black-bodied woodpecker whose behavior and flight patterns seem different than the others.

 The only woodpecker known  to do “flycatching” , a mid air grab of an insect , then returning to the original perch, they are also the only woodpecker known to perch on a wire! They are occasionally found in surprising numbers. Although I have only ever seen individual Lewis’s Woodpeckers, I have heard a credible first hand report of 35-40 of them in one tree during migration in Furnace Creek in nearby Death Valley National Park. 

           I recently got these great shots of Lewis’s Woodpecker at nearby (90 miles is nearby for around here!) Spicer Ranch in Beatty, NV.

Thanks to Dave Spicer for showing me the great birds there. 

 More on Woodpeckers later.

References:    Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada 2007 University of Nevada Press , Reno

                          Frances Backhouse,   Woodpeckers of North America,Firefly Publishing, 2005

Monday, September 21, 2015

Flycatchers in Shoshone and along the Amargosa River.
                                            SAY’S PHOEBE video click here

There are an amazing amount of Flycatcher species that use Shoshone and the Amargosa River. Some are migratory and breed elsewhere. Some are migratory and breed here. Say’s Phoebe (pronounced feebee) is our only year round Flycatcher.

Say’s Phoebe is a classic Phoebe in that it is the one who makes a nest up in the eaves of an old building or garage. Their subtle coloration is like an American Robin yet washed out. If one watches Say’s Phoebe for a while, spectacular courtships flights and flycatching aerobatics will be the reward. Their nest sites in towns and villages throughout the Desert Southwest are well known, but their nest sites in the wild are often spectacular. Caves in high, hard to reach cliffs, almost any protected nook with a small shelf.

I’m often surprised by a Say’s Phoebe that I’ve accidentally flushed from such a place after a challenging trek.

More Amargosa Flycatchers coming soon.

When do the Phainopepla return to Shoshone and the Amargosa?
 Lots of people have been asking me. Well, they are beginning to return now.A lone Phainopepla will begin to be seen here and there. Their “wurp” call , a single soft human-like whistle may be heard long before they are seen. Then, mid October , Shoshone, Resting Springs, and China Ranch Wash, much of the Amargosa Canyon, and Chicago Valley should be fully saturated with Phainopepla, claiming territory fighting with white flashing wings over good patches of Desert Mistletoe. They are arriving from cooler mountain habitats where they depend on other types of berries, like Gooseberries, and Currant Berries.
Males and females will each defend their own territory of mesquite laden with mistletoe berries. 

In late February they will pair up and either join territories, if adjacent, or the female will join the male’s territory and abandon hers. Phainopepla are obligated to eating berries, and their digestive tract is adapted to handle over 1000 berries per day. Sometimes they abandon entire breeding areas or have mass nesting success or failure, based on berry abundance. In Shoshone in early 2015, for some reason, Phainopepla began nesting almost a month early, Late January in some cases.  Many eggs were laid in early February vs. the usual mid- to late March. Although I wasn’t able to monitor the 12 nests that I found in February, when I started monitoring in April, by the calendar, there should have been Phainopepla fledglings everywhere, and unlike any other April that I've seen, there were almost none, and almost no adults. Apparently a mass failure and territory abandonment had occurred. Could this have been because of a sub-par mistletoe crop? Could it have been due to a shift in nesting timing and its correlation to insect hatch timing? Phainopepla, as do most songbirds, feed their young insects, at least for the first week or 10 days.
More questions than answers, that’s the Phainopepla story.
        In 2012, Shoshone Village and US Fish and Wildlife Service co-sponsored a Phainopepla tagging project along with Death Valley Academy students. In 2015, the first nest I found, was of a male, color banded in 2012. Please report any color band sightings! Call 760-852-4284(that’s my number) if you see a Phainopepla with bands on the legs. Try to note the color combination. For example , orange over green, on the left leg. Each tagged bird has it’s own unique color combination that allows it to be identified without recapturing it. You can watch the video about color banding Phainopepla with Death Valley Academy students 

More coming soon on the arrival of Phainopepla on Shoshone Wetlands !

Saturday, September 19, 2015

All these photos were taken this morning.
Birding nearby Shoshone is excellent in the fall.
Tecopa Marsh and China Ranch are two of the best local birding spots. 
This morning a new bird species was added to the Tecopa Marsh bird list. A Sage Thrasher joined us on the fence for a while making it species # 134 for Tecopa Marsh since 2009.
Sage Thrashers do not breed along the Amargosa but migrate through the area in spring and fall, usually foraging in Mesquite for Desert Mistletoe berries, gaining body fat, before moving on.

      After the Sage Thrasher I watched young Coyote silently hunting on the marsh.

 More on Tecopa Marsh later.

    Then, a trip to China Ranch allowed me to get some early morning Turkey Vulture photos.

 The Turkey Vultures roost nightly in the tallest Date Palms at China Ranch from March until November. China Ranch is the best place that I know to see them close up daily as they warm their wings and wait for a thermal current to lift them into the sky for their day’s work. The adults have a pink head, the juveniles have a browner or darker head.
Juvenile Turkey Vulture

 A Chestnut-sided Warbler is rare bird anytime in the west. It is an east coast Warbler species. Strange, that I found one at Torrence Ranch in Beatty, NV on Wed this week, and found another at China Ranch today.
Chestnut-sided Warbler female

Note the solid eye ring, yellow green head and back, and two big white wing bars.

This appears to be a female young Chestnut-sided Warbler in her first fall plumage. Where did she come from? What causes eastern birds to arrive here?
Chestnut-sided Warbler female

The Willow Flycatcher found Thursday, remains at China Ranch and has been frequenting the parking lot and adjacent trail.

Willow FLycatcher
 Finally a Willow Flycatcher photo in Mesquite!Note the wide yellow-orange lower mandible, the white throat and breast, and overall brown coloration.

Willow Flycatcher
Phainopepla are beginning to return to the Amargosa. China Ranch held a few today.
This Rock Wren was foraging along the railroad bed trail downstream of China Ranch.
Rock Wren

Many other species were seen as well. What a great desert morning!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Yesterday, along the China Ranch trail, at the lower end of the China Ranch parking lot, I heard an unusual bird sound, like “whit whit whit” over and over. The sound reminded me of a Willow Flycatcher, but I couldn’t see it. Soon after I hear the definitive “fitz-bew” song, then was rewarded with a good look and a few more fitz-bews. The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is federally endangered. They migrate through Shoshone and the Amargosa region in May and June, then again in fall when they return to Mexico, Central and South America for the winter.
Willow Flycatcher

         Do Willow Flycatchers breed in Shoshone and along the Amargosa? Much of the Amargosa River is designated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as “Critical Habitat” for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. They are not currently known to be breeding along the Amargosa River, but have nested in the past at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Occasionally, the Amargosa Canyon will host an apparent territorial male, who will hold a territory for a while, relentlessly singing from favorite high perches, fighting with other flycatcher species nearby, and overall appearing ready for a mate. With short supply of possible mates to choose from, these males seem to have remained un-mated.
Will habitat restoration measures elsewhere expand Southwestern Willow Flycatcher populations? If they do, will the Amargosa River be populated/repopulated by dispersing birds? How can we improve our habitat to be more favorable to possible Southwestern Willow Flycatcher use? They need a dense shady canopy, preferably willow, with nearby water. The Northern end of the Amargosa River in Tecopa has this type of habitat, and it could be enhanced to be more accommodating to Willow Flycatchers.
References:Status, Ecology, and Conservation of the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Published by US Departmant of Agriculture in September of 2000.
USFWS critical Habitat map amargosa.MAP

Monday, September 14, 2015

Well I'm back! I'm Len Warren, Staff Naturalist for Shoshone Village. I'll be back in Shoshone for most of the next year. Thank you for all the interest in my blog and requests for a re-start! The Shoshone Birding Trails are being trimmed up for fall season.I'll be blogging about the local birds.
            Breeding season is over,yet a few Bell's Vireos remain. Their song can be heard in early AM, in heavy mesquite, on the Blue Trail. They'll be off to Baja for the winter within days.Latest singing date that I know of is Sept 21.
Bell's Vireo singing

Year round resident birds  are still on their breeding territories even though breeding season is over, and most baby birds are on their own.In September, Crissal Thrasher, are no longer singing their long mimicking songs, but can be located by their two note call, which sounds llike "churty-churty' or " "dirty Birdy"

Verdin, another year round resident, continue  building  small versions of their breeding nests to sleep in.The small nests, called  roosts  are not really nests at all, but little shelters built by individual Verdins.As weather cools, roosts are lied with feathers for insulation.
Verdin Preening