Birds of the American West

Ok, here’s the bird talk you’ve been waiting for and I’ve been dying to write. Two weeks ago we did some birding on our various hikes in and around Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Prior to this trip, my life list was comprised almost entirely of birds I’d seen in Ohio and Michigan. So I knew that virtually any bird I would see on this trip would be a lifer. I had absolutely no expectation that I would see one of the rarest and most endangered birds on the planet…BUT I DID! Allow me to present California Condor #72, seen soaring in the Grand Canyon on Monday, September 17, 2012:

Only 77 Condors live in Utah & Arizona, and we happened to see one of them!

I know the pictures are blurry and can’t convey his 8-foot wingspan, but still, isn’t he amazing? We were birding the woods on the North Rim at Point Imperial and he made a couple of big circles at our eye level and slightly below us. There aren’t many opportunities in life to see a bird from above, and I loved the perspective of seeing the beautiful sandstone walls behind him as he dipped down into the canyon.

Soaring over the canyon, searching for a meal. (Click for full-size view)

And by the way, I’m not just arbitrarily using the pronoun “him” here; I actually know this was a male bird. I know this to be true because I checked the National Park Service’s database, and found that this 10-year-old male bird was hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey on 4/12/02 and fledged on 3/3/03. Being able to get that awesome tidbit of information after less than 60 seconds of Googling was so satisfying. (Remember, I’m an information junkie…nothing gets me pumped up faster than having something new and exciting to research!)

Steller’s Jays are as common out west as the Blue Jays we have here at home

And if that wasn’t enough, we went on to see a bunch of other new birds: Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Pinyon Jay, Steller’s Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Lesser Goldfinch, Red Crossbill, Brewer’s Blackbird, Canyon Wren, and Bewick’s Wren. So I added 14 birds to my life list. If it hadn’t been so unbearably hot out there we would have certainly seen many more. And we did see others that we weren’t able to see well enough to identify, but that’s ok. That could be motivation for another trip. In the springtime.

Mountain Bluebird on fencepost

We found these Mountain Bluebirds totally by accident when we stopped to take photos of a rustic fence on the Kaibab Plateau. We parked on the side of the road and I started walking across the meadow to get into position for some fence shots, when suddenly I noticed that there was a lot of bird activity down there. There were at least four of these bluebirds as well as a couple of Brewer’s Blackbirds that appeared to be harassing them on the fence. The bluebirds eventually decided to move to some nearby stop signs and proceeded to swoop out from those metal perches to catch insects in midair. We watched them for about 15 minutes before leaving reluctantly. I felt we’d discovered a secret treasure trove of birds, in plain view of the cars whizzing by on the highway. That half hour was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me: A great fence for my Fence Friday group on Flickr, and two new species of birds for my life list!

Canyon Wren, spotted on the Riverwalk Trail at Zion

Red Crossbill enjoying a seed he’s just pulled from inside a pine cone.

This cute little Canyon Wren popped up in the brush alongside the trail we were hiking in Zion National Park. He was moving quickly and we only got to watch him for a couple of minutes, but that was long enough to point him out to some other people on the trail so they could enjoy him as well. What a treat that was.

On the rim of Bryce Canyon we found a group of Red Crossbills foraging in the pines. At one point we saw a parent feeding a juvenile too, always a fun thing to see. We were able to share them with other people on the trail too, adding to the enjoyment. I was hoping our enthusiasm about the birds on these heavily-traveled trails would get other people curious enough to start looking up in the trees as well as down in the canyons — I think it worked because a few people stopped to ask us about the birds and to take photos. It was odd to be considered the “bird expert” for a change, and I heard the little voice in my head saying, “You’d better be right about these bird identifications if you’re acting like you know what you’re talking about!” (Such an annoying voice.)

I’m still digging through my hundreds of photos, and if I come up with a couple more good pictures of other birds I’ll share them later. I loved being able to see birds from another part of the country. It was a bit challenging but a great learning experience as well.

I think I’ll do one more post from this trip so I can show you more of the beautiful scenery. Check back in a few days for that. Now I’m off to shoot some fall foliage photos in the rural areas of southeast Michigan — I think the colors are peaking earlier than usual this year so I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. Have a wonderful week.

This shows one of the gorgeous sassafras trees in our yard (on the right behind the house), and the weeping cherry beside the front door. Both have turned about 2 weeks earlier than last year. I absolutely LOVE these sassafras trees in their fall colors!!!

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9 Responses to Birds of the American West

  1. Kenn Kaufman says:

    Kim, thank you for sharing your wonderful writing and photographs! We always enjoy following your adventures, and clearly this trip was amazing!

  2. Well done on the California Condor, both spotting it and getting the picture! Many of the birds you saw are ones I am familiar with. You can tell I have spent my life west of the Rockies!

    • Kim says:

      Kristie, one of the things I continue to find interesting is how something that is common and mundane to one person can be so much more exciting to someone who’s not used to seeing it. I met someone from California recently who raved about the beautiful and “exotic” cardinals she saw in Ohio. I really love cardinals and it was hard not to tell her that we have them at our feeders every day all year long. I remember visiting friends on Kiawah Island in South Carolina several years ago and asking them if they realized how amazing their ocean view mansion was. I said, “Do you start to take it for granted after living here so long?” And they admitted that they did, in fact, not even think about it much. As a visitor I realized what a gift they had in being able to live such a luxurious lifestyle, and whenever I think of that conversation I’m reminded to get out and enjoy the best of my own home environment. Which is why I’m heading out the door right now to do some driving around country roads near home to see the short-lived but awesome beauty of our fall tree colors. Michigan is so beautiful right now!!

      • That’s funny about the cardinals! You would not believe how excited i was when I saw my first cardinal on a visit to Ontario about ten years ago. And I still consider them to be beautiful and exotic.

  3. Terry Fout says:

    Enjoyed your story of the birds and the Condor…amazing….

  4. littlesundog says:

    Kim, even with a little blur on that condor shot, those photos are AWESOME!! I had goosebumps reading about your adventurous trip, but what I kept pouring over were those great photographs. What an amazing trip! Thank you for sharing with us!

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