Watching Hummers With Penn Jillette

There are more people interested in casual birding than we realize and you never know who that is. So, last fall I went to Las Vegas with Non Birding Bill, Clay Taylor and WildBird on the Fly to film some digiscoping videos, I think I had my biggest geek out ever--bigger than the time I met Scott Weidensaul. I was a tad inebriated at a bar during an ABA convention and Scott suddenly walked in and all I remember is thinking to myself, "Act sober. Act sober. Act sober."

I must not have been too bad because Scott still welcomes me with a hug when he sees me, rather than darting away in the opposite direction.

facebook birdchick.jpg

But due to some lucky scheduling and total generosity of Penn Jillette, we got to see the Penn and Teller Las Vegas show , hang out backstage (that's Amy and me with Teller), and watch birds at Penn's house--I got a lifer in his yard, a black-throated sparrow.

It was the most surreal moment of my life back stage. For one thing, it was the first time NBB has met some of my closest birding buddies. For another, how weird was it to be back stage with a bunch of magicians, the editor of WildBird Magazine and Swarvoski Optik--and we ended up talking about bees! Penn and Teller told us about a segment where they made thousands of bees appear on stage, you can watch it here (see if you can tell when they get stung).

I said, "Holy crap! How did you do that," meaning how did they work with bees, but they told me how they did it, how the entomologist they consulted backed out because he got freaked out and how many stings they ended up with and how Penn had a rather unusual injury on a rather sensitive area of his anatomy--I'll let you google that one, it's easy enough to find or better yet, if you meet Penn, he will gladly tell you the story much better than I ever could.

Again, Penn had a lot going on that weekend, he was flown to another state to shoots a scene for a movie, had his own Vegas show and still managed to give us some time to talk hummingbirds (I got to make hummingbird nectar in his kitchen). Since we were dealing with brief time and when working with video things like cicadas and air traffic can get in the way it's not perfect, but it's still someone I think is cool showing an interest in birds.

I've also hesitated posting this because I was geeking hardcore on the inside during this segment and tried very hard to keep my geek in check. I think from now on, I'm going to have to just let my geek flag fly because trying to play it cool makes me look like a dork.

So here it is and thank you to Swarovski for making this possible and to Birdorable for making the perfect shirt to wear in Vegas and especially to Penn Jillette and his people for being so nice, so gracious with their time and allowing us a few moments to chat about birds.

You can do some awesome birding in Las Vegas. We still have one more video to go, but here's a link to some of our adventures. Between this, testing Swarovski awesome new digiscoping adaptor in Kazakhstan, and climbing a volcano in Guatemala to see a giant tree chicken I can safely say that 2009 was hands down the craziest (in a good way) year of my life.

Roadrunner Attacking Cowbird Video

I love birding--you can do it anywhere and I love to show people that.  To prove it, I called some friends: WildBird on the Fly and Clay Taylor and said, "Let's make some videos on birding and digiscoping in Las Vegas.  We are probably going to have at least 4 when Non Birding Bill is finished editing them (and one with a very exciting guest!).  So, here is one of them, this was done at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park and features the video footage of the roadrunner nailing the cowbird: [youtube][/youtube]

I'd like to thank Swarovski Optik for making these videos possible.  This was all filmed with your basic digital cameras from point and shoot, to handheld video to digital SLRs and Swarovski spotting scopes.

Don't forget, I have a digiscoping contest going on, where you could win some great Swarovski binoculars!

Birding Private Property While In Las Vegas

flamingos Again, when I said I was going to Las Vegas to see birds, many thought I was a bit crazy.  A few thought that I would just see the birds at the casinos like the flamingos above who reside at...The Flamingo.  There were also hooded mergansers, shovelers, pochards (which I've actually seen in their native Asia), wood ducks and sacred ibis.  But I was into more.

Rita, our contact with Red Rock Audubon said that she knew a great place for hummingbirds, but it was on private property and she needed to get permission to escort us there.  It was a lovely yard with a feeding station for hummingbirds and many seed eating species.  The home was in the mountains, about 50 miles from downtown Vegas and so worth the trip, it wasn't too far from Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.  The morning temperatures were lovely.  The only downside was one REALLY pesky honeybee.  That bothered all of us and was very interested in my scope and some of my camera equipment.  I must have some honey/wax/propolis residue from my hives and this girl was looking to rob.

eager rufous

This was one busy place for hummingbirds.  I'm only going to id the in focus rufous hummingbird, those western hummers are a bit tricky for me where I live in the land of mono-species hummingbird.  The birds were zipping all over the place, Amy Hooper almost got totally beaned by one and another flew right between the legs of my tripod.

western hummer

I had to get some help from hummingbird maven Sheri Williamson for this bird's id.  She called it a juvenile black-chinned male hummingbird.  Speaking of Sheri and black-chinned hummers, she had quite the big news this summer.  Some hummingbird banders got a recapture in their nets this summer, only the bird was not orginally banded by them, but was banded by 2000! Nine years ago!  That's geriatric by hummingbird standards which are believed to have an average lifespan of three years.  You can read the full story here.

am i identifiable

Sheri also helped me id this little dude, a broad-tailed hummingbird.  How fun to have three different species flying around.  Depending on what you read about Nevada, more species are possible.

stellars jay

But hummingbirds weren't the only attraction, there were also Stellar's jays--I love these guys, they almost make the blue jays I see down right drab (almost). The appeared to be a younger jay going through a bit of a molt, but check out the snazzy white eyebrow.  You might also notice the white stripe going up from the bill.  This is a variation in plumage known as the "interior west."  Like many jays, the Stellar's were all happy to hop down and grab a peanut in the shell.


This is a young black-headed grosbeak that flew in for black-oil sunflower seeds and suet.

pine siskin

There were also oodles of finches.  Above is a pine siskin on the left.  The larger obscured bird in the back is a Cassin's finch.  I saw those in Utah, but did not grasp how large they were for a finch.  Especially compared to the siskins and goldfinches around.

lesser maile

There were quite a few lesser goldfinches (note the dude with the cap on the right).  They were eating black-oil sunflower seed, Nyjer and some sort of finch mix.  They were almost as abundant as the hummingbirds.

nom nom nom

The lesser goldfinches also ate some of the leaves on the trees too.  I wonder if that's a tactic to get moisture?

lawrences goldfinch

A big unexpected surprise and probably the best new bird I got on this trip was the finch in the above photo in the middle with the yellow on the wings--a Lawrence's goldfinch!  I told Non Birding Bill that for a non birder, he was getting some amazing birds on this trip. He simply gave a non committal, "Oh."

This bird is on Audubon's "watch list" and according to their website its breeding range "is confined to the Central Valley and coastal foothills of California, as well as the northern portion of Baja California."  Was excited to get one in Vegas.  Rita our guide said that there is usually one that will show up in Nevada when they disperse after breeding season, but did not expect that morning.  What a treat!

mountain chickadee

We were also treated to the uber cute mountain chickadee coming in for sunflower.  There was a pygmy nuthatch that popped in and out around the chickadee, but it refused to be digiscoped.

This a GREAT spot and you have to contact Red Rock Audubon to see if you can get permission to visit this yard.  The home owners are gracious to allow birders to look at their great feeding station but it's best to make sure to keep the neighbors happy.  If you do get the chance to visit, you might consider bringing either a bag of table sugar (for hummingbird nectar) or a back of black-oil sunflower or Nyjer as a thank you for the hosts' birding hospitality.

Roadrunner vs Cowbird At Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

spring mountain ranch I need to get back to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in Nevada.  I blogged earlier that I given the advice by the Red Rock Audubon Society to visit here, since there would be different species than we would see in and around Las Vegas. We saw some great birds and I got a life bird, but I also saw one of the coolest birding interactions I have ever seen.


It started when we reached the actual ranch part of the park. That's Clay and Non Birding Bill setting up their cameras.  Clay spotted a predator in the grass:


Can you see it?  Believe it or not, there is a greater roadrunner lurking in that grass.  Clay gets them in his backyard in Corpus Christi. Roadrunners are incredible predators that will eat snakes, reptiles and even birds. In Clay's yard, the roadrunner stalks house sparrows.  He recognized this bird as being on the hunt right away.  Most of my experiences with roadrunners has been watching them scurry along a road, so to watch it in full on skulk mode for the hunt was incredible.

roadrunner head

The roadrunner would crouch down in the tall grass and slink along with just the top of its head visible. Almost like a feathered shark fin breaking the top of an ocean. Periodically, it was stop for an insect and gulp it down while using the grass for cover. What was this bird stalking for a meal?


A flock of unsuspecting cowbirds. They were following the cow and the horses in the field. The area was recently grazed and the grass was short for the cowbirds to feed, but nearby the taller grass hid a predator actively stalking them.  Clay, Bill and I all staked out a position to get photos of whatever was about to happen.

lone cowbird

One lone cowbird made the fatal error of straying away from the safety of the flock. I tried to line this shot up so that the cowbird was in front of the roadrunner, but the roadrunner had crouched so low, you couldn't see it.  Suddenly, the cowbirds took flight, some went right over the roadrunner.  The predator leaped into the air, grabbed a cowbird with it's beak, whacked it a few times against the ground, and took off running.  NBB actually got footage of that, which you will see when we get the videos edited together.

roadrunner with cowbird

I got a shot of the roadrunner crossing the road in front of us with the dead cowbird in its mouth. I previewed this photo on Twitter with the question, "Guess what's in the roadrunner's mouth?" A few were insistent that it was a house sparrow, but this is a young cowbird--note the size in relation to the roadrunner, the white throat patch, the thick dark bill, and the vertical streaks on the breast (young cowbirds have vertical streaks). House sparrows and brown-headed cowbirds are unpopular birds.  House sparrows are an introduced species that can wreak havoc on nesting bluebirds, chickadees and nuthatches. Brown-headed cowbirds are natives, but their nesting habit of laying their eggs in other birds nests has caused problems for species like Kirtland's warblers. Many people don't mind a roadrunner eating those particular species. But like any successful predator, roadrunners are generalists.  They don't go for just he unpopular birds, many in the western US are chagrined to find roadrunners stalking their hummingbirds feeders.

amy hooper

As we worked our way around the trails, we made it to Lake Harriet, which was an oasis of color.  Above is WildBird on the Fly scanning the water for ducks.  It was quiet apart from some young coots incessantly clucking. I think this would be packed on a weekend, but on a week day this was a spot where you could imagine being the only person for miles.

bill filming

It was weird having NBB along on this trip (my birding and non birding world was colliding, my compartments were getting mixed up).  I sat at this spot and leaned against NBB for a moment.  I'm so used to seeing a beautiful vista and wishing he were next to me or wondering what he'd be doing while I'm and about, it was a treat to have him there to see this with me.  My filmmaker husband did surprisingly well on this trip.  I must admit that I was nervous with how we would handle being around my birding friends for 5 days and out doing some hardcore watching and filming in the heat.  But I think since he was focused on getting footage, he was able to do it.  I'm so proud, he got some great footage--especially that roadrunner.  Editing is going to take longer than I thought, but this video series is going to be so cool, it's about how you can watch birds anywhere and we're using a small HD camera while Clay experimented with a cheaper hand held video camera with the new Swarovksi UCA adaptor and I took video with my Cannon A570's point and shoot video feature and my scope.  On the fly birding videos for the internet, I love making these.

young coot

This little lake was chock full of young coots.  They don't quite look like the black adults, but when this young bird stepped out of the water, those lobed toes gave it away as a total American coot.  Again, I wish we could have explored further, there's an old cemetery in the park and it would have been fun to visit that too.  This park was a great suggestion from Red Rock Audubon.

wild burros

We saw signs around the park that wild burros were possible and as we were packing up to leave NBB said, "Look, burros."

There they were!  Wild burrows...well feral burros...oh heck, we all shouted, "Wild Asses!"

Just what we came to Vegas for!

wild ass

These are feral burros, they were brought over as a beast of burden by the Spanish because they do well in arid climates.  The ones that roam the west are the result of escapees or released animals from well over a century ago.  They behaved pretty much the way a captive burro would behave and I'm not sure why I got so excited over seeing feral ones.  What is it about seeing an unfettered ass that makes me so happy?

So, this is a very cool park and if you have some time in Vegas, check it out.  You could easily spend a full day here, but we did it in half a day.  It was easy to get in and get out with a rental car.  If you don't have a rental car, if you contact Red Rock Audubon Society, you could probably find a guide to take you there for a reasonable fee.

I'm going to end this with some video of the cowbirds.  Note how they keep their tails cocked up while they feed.  I wonder if they are releasing heat from their vent area as a means to keep cool?


Spring Mountain Ranch State Park

vegas strip When I told people that I was going to Las Vegas on a birding project (and to visit some old friends) people thought I was a little nuts.  Vegas in August?  The timing may not have been ideal, but there were birds there.  Most people tend to think of the casinos and great shows (by the way, we saw the Penn & Teller Show--highly recommend it, we had a GREAT time) in Vegas and my earlier posts have focused on the urban birding potential.  However, in just a short drive into the mountains, you can find some fabulous natural scenery:

spring ranch

This is Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.  Rita at Red Rock Audubon Society recommended this site to our group and I'm so happy we took her advice--isn't that gorgeous?  Totally worth the $5 fee to get into the park.  It's recommended that you visit this park on a weekday when there are fewer people, on the weekends this park gets packed with people.  We were here on a Thursday and there were times when we felt like we were the only people in parts of the park.  We didn't have a chance to do it all, but if I ever go back to Vegas, this park will be at the top of my list to revisit.


We were greeted by a western kingbird in the parking lot with a lone raven calling overhead.  The park's cooler temperatures were instantly noticeable when we stepped out of the van.  It was still hot, but this park is 3,800 feet and averages about 10 - 15 degrees cooler than Las Vegas.  The drive from our hotel to this park was about 40 minutes, so if you have a rental car, it's an easy day or early morning trip.  One of my favorite sparrows was in the parking lot too--lark sparrows!  Such a classy looking brown bird.  Here's a video:


While we were in the parking lot, we could hear a TON of house finches in the distance.  As we all went our separate ways to record video of birds, WildBird on the Fly, Non Birding Bill and myself headed towards the finches.

pear tree

The sound came from this pear tree with branches laden with ripe fruit.  The house finches were going crazy eating the pears.

female bullocks

Here's a female Bullock's oriole chowing down on a pear.  She worked this one for a good ten minute.  It was interesting to watch her wedge her bill inside the white flesh and then open her beak to cut out a morsel to swallow.  Western tanagers also flew in to take advantage of the tree's bounty.  We could also hear other cool birds around us including lazuli buntings (Which almost caused an argument with me and my husband, it's a nemesis bird for me, I always miss it.  As a matter of fact NBB got a clear look at a male before I saw a bunting period.  I did not get the best look of lazuli bunting, but I at least got a countable look).

amy's phoebe

I had WildBird on the Fly try out some of my digiscoping equipment and lo and behold, she actually got a good shot of a black phoebe at the park.  This was using my Swarovski scope and DCA adaptor with a Cannon Powershot A570, not bad for a newbie.

says phoebe

Check out this Say's phoebe I got with my new SLR.  I was experimenting with my new Nikon D40 that I got right before I left...which Non Birding Bill pointed out, "Don't you tell people in your workshops to not get their equipment right before they leave?  But I figured that Vegas was not the trip of a lifetime and my beloved Fuji FinePix E900 died.  The Cannon A570 is a serviceable digiscoping camera but not my favorite.  The D40 worked but I did have a strong learning curve.  I have to look through the view finder and not at a digital screen with the SLR.  All my shot look perfect in the view finder, but had I paid attention to the shots as they showed up for a few seconds after been taken, I would have seen that they were under exposed.  So, I thought I was getting 50 great shots at a time, but in reality when I downloaded them, I discovered that I got 1 or 2 for every 200 photos taken.

Again, that is advice that tell people about digiscoping.  For every good photo, there are 200 utter crap ones.  I think once I get my groove down, I'm going to like this camera, but I'm still trying to figure out how to carry this larger SLR camera and my binoculars.


Check out his cutey!  The park was full of these tiny critters and when they ran away from you, they had tiny white tails--like a rabbit.  My cute mammal centric husband enjoyed these far more than he enjoyed the birds.  After checking out my Peterson Mammal book, I learned that this is an antelope squirrel, small social critters that are adept at climbing cactus.  We also saw a mountain cottontail and the park brochure said that if you go into higher elevations mule deer, big horn sheep, and kit foxes are possible.

More on this park in the next entry.

Las Vegas And Urban Burrowing Owls

fanilow Las Vegas is a strange world that I cannot quite fathom.  I get the spectacle of it, I love how just as a visitor, you yourself become a part of the overall Vegas ambiance, you become part of the background of someone else's vacation.  I love that I can go into a casino and have my photo taken with parts of Barry Manilow's wardrobe (I know that looks like something Liberace would wear, but believe me, that is classic Manilow). I love that there is a store that sells nothing but Barry Manilow items--a whole store, in this economy, a whole store dedicated to Mr. Copacabana himself (a note--Donny and Marie have a case as a casino shop, but not their own store, that's how big Barry rates).  I love that I can turn my phone from a mere Blackberry to a Blackbarry Manilow.

But other parts of Las Vegas baffled me, like golf courses aka lush areas of grass made to fit in a desert landscape.

retro slots

And then there is the casino itself.  If someone wanted to torture me or if I believed in a hell, I think that my version would be in the center of a casino surrounded by slot machines and the only way out is desert heat of 105 degrees.  I'm unnerved by the number of slot machines based on my childhood like above Dukes of Hazard or Green Acres (or That Girl, and yes I mean THAT Girl or R2D2 or Indian Jones).  Standing in the middle of a place like the Flamingo surrounded by an overhead speaker pumping in Lady Gaga surrounded by blinking machines all playing a different computerized tune with no outdoor lighting totally freaked me out.  I marveled at people who think, "Yes, this is how I'm going to spend my hard earned vacation money!"


I know I am not one to be putting on airs when it comes to how one should spend relaxation time, we all recharge our personal batteries in our own way.  Just as I am baffled by those who sit in the din of electronic over stimulation of a casino, I'm sure there are tons of people who would find my personal heaven of sitting in a dark box on a cold fallow farm field at the crack of dawn waiting for a hawk to fly by so we can band it equally as torturous. To each their own, I suppose.

owl beetle

Fortunately, there are plenty of birding opportunities in Vegas.  One of the best ways to take advantage of them is to contact the Red Rock Audubon Society who hooked our crew up with Rita Schlageter.  They were happy to help us find birds and suggest locations, one being a spot for one of my favorite birds, the burrowing owl (above, claiming taloned victory over a rather large beetle in the middle of a street).

urban owls

If you want to enjoy the burrowing owls in Vegas, you MUST contact Red Rock Audubon.  The members are engaged in a partnership with US Fish and Wildlife for the Urban Burrowing Owl Monitoring Project in the Las Vegas Valley.   The goals of this project are to map and monitor the location of burrows used by breeding owls and to educate the public about collecting scientific data and bird conservation.  Rita took us to owls that would be good light for filming and were also not too skittish around people.  She had a specific distance she wanted us to stay from the burrows so as not to disturb the owls.  With her help we got the best view we possibly could have and for me, these were the best looks I have had of this species.

burrow owl

Burrowing owls are a crowd pleasing bird, even my husband Non Birding Bill enjoyed filming the owls.  How can you not enjoy an owl that is active during the day, are about nine inches long (with long legs), who take over old burrows or dig their own and lurk at the entrance like a little boy cautiously defending his tree fort from cootie laden little girls?

owl flight

Even though we kept our distance, the owls were not disturbed by us in the least little bit.  One burrowing owl we were watching, took off and flew with four feet of our group.  We marveled at its bouncy flight, watched it flip around, heard a faint snap and fly back to its original location.  Clay asked, "Did that bird just grab something?"

beetle chomp

Yes it did!  Some sort of ginormous beetle that was flying behind us (yuck, that's what's flying around in Vegas--EW!).  Clay estimated that the owl saw it flying in from behind us and when it came in range, made it's move.  I just enjoyed having the bird in flight so close to us, what a treat to watch its feeding behavior in action.  Rita was a distance away and was impressed by the owl's hunting technique.

mid chomp

Look at the wild look in the bird's eyes as it nom, nom, noms up that crunchy big beetle.  What great pest control for the neighborhood.  Alas, it appears to be on borrowed time.

burrowing owl spot

This is the small lot where we found the owls.  There's another one across the street and between these two lots were about a dozen owls, perhaps four family group.  Rita said that according to Red Rock's numbers, there are about 27 pair in and around Las Vegas.   These two lots are slated for development, but thanks to the recession, all construction on the two lots is currently on hold.  Once the economy bounces back, construction will begin and all of the burrowing owls will have to move on.  Where will they go? Flat open space without trees and buildings is harder and harder to find.

vegas owls

I think we got some great footage for a birding segment here.  I'm glad we had an opportunity to experience this spot chock full of cute owls.  Consider giving Red Rock a call if you are interested in seeing and learning about burrowing owls in Vegas.  Here is some raw footage of burrowing owls, I especially love the little guy lurking in the burrow.  I think you will see four individual owls in this clip.  One is eating another ginormous beetle.  Note how the burrowing owl eats it like parrot by holding it with its foot.  Also, I recommend having the volume down, there's quite a bit of wind in this footage:


Birding Around Henderson Wastewater Treatment Plant

henderson wastewater That's right, we did some birding at Henderson Wastewater Treatment Plant and is also known as Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve (doesn't that sound better), which is just a hop, skip and jump away from downtown Las Vegas, about 13 miles southeast. This is a popular destination for birders visiting around Las Vegas and certain times of year will be more productive than others.  We didn't spend too much time here, it's hours vary depending on the time of year.  In summer when it is beastly hot, viewing is only allowed between 6am and noon.  You also have to get buzzed in, sign in and out at the visitor center.  Non birding readers of this blog must be imagining all sorts of sordid smells and disgust by birding at a wastewater treatment plant in hot august.

amy hooper

However, the view was quite lovely--isn't that a cute hat worn by WildBird on the Fly?  When we first arrived, there were a few black-necked stilts around, but they were rather cagey and took off.  We also noticed a few flocks of white-faced ibis.

wilsons phalarope

We were there about an hour before it closed, but this place would be loads of fun at 6 am and especially in spring and fall based on what we saw.  Above are a couple of Wilson's phalaropes in their non-breeding plumage.  A far cry from the beauties I saw in North Dakota a couple of months ago.  There were also quail, mourning doves, common yellow throats, one lone snowy egret and a green heron.

earred grebe

Earred grebes (above) nest at the preserve and one of the men working the preserve showed me some of his photos of a pair with a chick--that he took the day before we visited. There were also quite a few male and female ruddy ducks, although the males lacked the sky blue bill (already transitioning into their nonbreeding plumage, even though we did see at least one female with chicks).  Here's a video of one of the male ruddys:



This is definitely a place I would put on my list for birding if I happened to be in Vegas.  If what little we say doesn't tempt you, another one of the workers at Henderson showed me a photo on her camera and got a shot of a black-throated gray warbler around the preserve--this is a great birding spot, so close to urban Vegas.

Whirlwind In Vegas

So, our weekend in Las Vegas went from easy paced fun in the heat to holy crap this is really happening go, go, go, go, go! We got all kinds of footage and now that we have completed the filming and I don't feel like I'm going to jinx anything, I can say I went to Vegas to film some birding segments for the Internet. Some of the filming involved Amy from WildBird on the Fly but the other involved someone you may not think would have an interest in birds.

I have to say, you can get some GREAT birds in and around Las Vegas and if you are married to someone who isn't interested in birds or you aren't into the spectacle of the strip but you spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend needs to go for a convention, you can find some fun stuff.  There are a few good spots right in urban Vegas and some great places just outside the city where on a weekday you can feel like the only person for miles.

One of my favorite things was going to view some burrowing owls.  Here is some raw footage and I would have your speakers on mute, the wind was pretty beastly.  This was filmed on the north end of town:


And to give you a hint of the other segment Non Birding Bill and I are is a hint--below is a photo of WildBird on the Fly and I with the person I did not watch birds with:


Birding In Sunset Park, Las Vegas

sunset park Well, I don't know how I survived it, but yesterday, my buddy Clay Taylor and I (and my poor husband Non Birding Bill) went to Sunset Park in Las Vegas for a little afternoon 104 degree heat.  I was a tad moist at the end of it.  I wasn't wearing too many clothes, yet I felt about as soaked as I would working my hives in a full bee suit.

gambell's quail

We went for Crissal thrasher who hang around in the mesquite by the administrative building, which we saw but did not digiscope, but we did see tons of Gambel's quail which made NBB hum the Benny Hill theme every time they ran--too cute and too funny.  The quail loved to lurk and watch us from the brush, can't blame them for seeking shade.  As I was getting photos of the above male, something walked into the shot:

cats indoors

Oh, hello there outdoor kitty.  Fortunately for the quail, the cat was more worried about me and the scope than the intended quarry in the brush.  I looked up from my scope and the cat skulked away.

hidden quail

Clay found another critter as I was trying to get this hidden quail.  Can you see signs of another animal in this photo.  Take a quick look above.  See it?  I didn't either and would have missed it had Clay not pointed it out.  I'll give you a hint if you can't see it, the animal part is on the bottom towards the center left...see it?  It's a rabbit ear.


Here I focused on the rabbit.  Look at how crazy long those ears are!  From this angle I thought that it must be some sort of hare, but it seemed to small in the body.

desesrt hair

I adjusted my position for a better view and saw that it had more of a rabbit body than a hare body.  I quick look on the internet and I found out that it's a desert cottontail.  Rabbits use those ears for thermal regulation.  Where I live in Minnesota, the cottontails have tiny ears.  If you are in the Vegas desert, you need big ole honkin' hears to deal with the heat.  My non birding hubby was hidden under some shade marveling that Clay and I could bird and digiscope in the heat.  I walked over and told him about the rabbit and asked if he wanted to see it.  He declined but said some small yellow bird was coming down from the trees and feed a few feet away.  I waited and...

wilsons warbler 1

...down popped a Wilson's warbler.  How fun to have such a cooperative warbler!  We saw these all over in Guatemala and I see them from time to time during migration in Minnesota, but this guy was so cheerful and perky in the heat.  We also saw a butt load of mourning doves, black-tailed gnatcatchers and verdin.  Not bad for a quick afternoon spot in oppressive heat.