12 toes

On a recent hike that took us through a long stretch of a recently burnt forest we heard the sound of a woodpecker pecking away in search of a meal. When we finally got close enough we were surprised and rewarded with a male American Three-toed Woodpecker drilling away.

The American Three-toed Woodpecker’s small stature is deceptive. One study of its musculature and skeleton revealed that this woodpecker can deliver especially powerful blows. It’s been suggested this is due to the evolutionary loss of the fourth toe—an unusual trait shared only by the Eurasian Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers. With only three toes, these species may be able to lean farther away from the tree and thereby hit the tree harder than other woodpeckers, all of which have four toes.


While we were watching this guy drill away it became clear that there must be another individual out of sight on the other side of the tree given as we heard drumming even when this male was holding still and within a few minutes a female emerged from the hidden side of the tree.

American Three-toed Woodpeckers are much more numerous in disturbed forests than in mature green forest, so look for them in bark beetle outbreaks, recently burned areas (up through about 8 years after a wildfire), and other places with dead and dying trees. 


There was only a short moment when both the female and male were visible in the viewfinder together but they do make a mine pair and 4 legs with three toes each well…that’s twelve toes.

Chipping Sparrow: Spizella passerina

It wouldn’t seem like summer without the sounds of the Chipping Sparrows echoing through the trees in our area. A beautiful little sparrow with their rufous crown. We see the Chipping Sparrow foraging on branches, jumping around on the ground and hopping about in the both pine and deciduous tress each summer.

More often than not a hike through the forest in July is accompanied by their song echoing through the woods. A song we thoroughly enjoy.

So here’s to the Chipping Sparrow a widespread, modest and wonderful summer companion.

Song Sparrow: Melospiza melodia

Given the enormous variety of regional differences it took a few looks and luckily photographs, to be certain this indeed was a Song Sparrow. And what a fine looking Song Sparrow it was.

For quite some time this birds perched upon a thorny branch of a small shrub. Moving back and forth and allowing us a nice long look during which were were able to inch ever closer.

After a few minutes this bird moved just a few yards away to a shrub containing leaves. While it was the same bird the image seemed to take on a different feeling. From pure blue sky and thorny shrub to a fresh field of green.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

Those Blue Legs

Always looking delicate and elegant and with those beautiful blue legs in full display and American Avocet wades through a shallow poll in search of a meal earlier this spring.

It’s hard to believe many wading birds will soon begin the perilous journey back south for the winter. Given this summers heat wave across the American west we hope some the the pools and ponds these birds rely on for their fall migration have not dried up to the point of leaving them high and dry. Migration is a dangerous business and climate change is making it more dangerous every year.

Deep in the Willows

On the opposite side of a field in which we were watching two coyotes prowling we heard the singing of the American Redstart. It had been quite some time since we have seen this unique little black and red warbler so we skedadled over to a thick stand of willows where thought the singing was coming from.

But low and behold, it was not an adult male making all that wonderful noise, it was an immature male hanging out deep in those willows.

Young male American Redstarts have gray-and-yellow plumage, like females, until their second fall. Yearling males sing vigorously in the attempt to hold territories and attract mates. Some succeed, but most do not breed successfully until the following year when they develop black-and-orange breeding plumage.


We had no idea immature males sang so much.

Lark Sparrow

At least there is one sparrow that is always easy for us to identify.

The Lark Sparrow.

This large sparrow may be brown, but its harlequin facial pattern and white tail spots make it a standout among sparrows. Males sing a melodious jumble of churrs, buzzes, and trills reminiscent of an Old World lark. Their courtship is also unusual, involving a hopping and crouching display unlike other sparrows. Lark Sparrows occur in the West and the Great Plains in prairies, grasslands, and pastures with scattered shrubs. In winter, look for them in small flocks in brushy areas.


Getting a nice long look at Lark Sparrows always makes the long drive out to visit to the grasslands and prairies complete.

However on a more serious note, prairie and grassland birds and their habitats are perhaps the most threatened birds and ecosystems in North America. A recent article in Forbes, yes Forbes, brings this problem to light and how one major bird conservation group is working to address it.


While we regularly see and hear the brightly colored male Lazuli Bunting singing his somewhat squeaky song from the tops of bushes and trees at the edge of open fields we see and have had the opportunity to photograph the female only on rare occasion. Softly colored with a light cinnamon breast the female was quietly hanging out in dense foliage listening as a nearby male sang his heart out.

The beauty of the Lazuli Bunting did not escape the early naturalist who named it Passerina amoena, meaning beautiful sparrow.


While it was indeed named beautiful sparrow the Lazuli Bunting is actually in the family Cardinaliadae being more related to Cardinals or Grossbeaks.

It was indeed our lucky morning as another female peeks out from a thick tangle of shrub with her best man nearby.

And just for fun, one more shot of the male perched nearby in a cottonwood tree.

And by the way… isn’t Lazuli a fun word to say?

Orange-crowned Warbler

An Orange-crowned Warbler with orange crown actually showing forages high up in a stand of shrubs with nothing but a blue sky behind.

These grayish to olive-green birds vary in color geographically and have few bold markings. There’s rarely any sign of an orange crown, which is usually only visible when the bird is excited and raises its head feathers. They might have you scratching your head until you recognize their slim shape, sharply pointed bill, and warmer yellow under the tail. 


An excited male sang this morning moving from shrub to shrub and tree to tree as we intently listen and tried to learn his song.

The male Orange-crowned Warbler’s song is far more variable than that of other wood warblers—so much so that the males can be told apart by their distinctive song patterns. Breeding males often form “song neighborhoods,” where two to six birds in adjacent territories learn and mimic each other’s songs. These “neighborhood” songs can persist for years.


A true burst of sunshine was a nice start to the day.