All Photos posted on this blog unless otherwise noted were taken by me with my Canon Rebel XTI using a 300 mm zoom lens

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Black-billed Magpie

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about California Gulls the State Bird of Utah and a bird that is often maligned as a garbage bird and pest. Hopefully I helped bring out the positive attributes that gulls have. As I stated in my post the Gull was the first bird I remember interacting with as a child. The Black-billed Magpie would have to be the second. I remember as a kid watching some teenagers trying to catch a magpie that kept just enough distance not to be caught, but teased the would be captures by coming in close stealing the food they were using as bait then taking off siting in a tree and it seemed to me laughing at the boys. My brother and I tried many times unsuccessfully to catch magpies in our back yard. I knew two things about these birds from a young age, one they were one of the most beautiful birds I had ever seen and two it was obvious they are incredibly intelligent.

Magpies belong to the Corvidae family of birds:
Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers.[1][2] The common English names used are corvids (more technically) or the crow family (more informally), and there are over 120 species. The genus Corvus, including the jackdaws,crows and ravens, makes up over a third of the entire family.

Black-billed Magpies are omnivores but feed most often on insects. During post-breeding dispersal, they eat a number of conifer seeds. They eat berries, nuts, and seeds during winter. Black-billed Magpies also eat carrion. Magpies are intelligent and resourceful opportunists. They form large, noisy roosts in winter, sometimes numbering over 700 birds. They flip items over to look for food, follow predators, and sometimes steal food from other birds. They also take ticks from the backs of large mammals, and pick at open sores on those animals' bodies. They can even use scent to find food--an unusual trait for birds, which generally have very little sense of smell. They are often very bold, but in areas where they have been harassed, they become quite wary. Black-billed Magpies traditionally followed Native Americans and lived off the refuse of their bison hunts. Black-billed Magpies now frequent farms and ranches and roadsides, and have been known to rob trap-lines, take poultry eggs, and raid orchards. They are often seen on the side of roads eating road kill

They were considered vermin, and many Black-billed Magpies were killed as pests in the early 20th Century. They are still considered pests by some. Despite this, they remain common and widespread. They are protected in the United States, but not in Canada where they are still killed in some areas. Pesticides are of concern, especially those used on livestock, since magpies often perch on livestock and eat those pests that are being poisoned. 

Magpies do have some redeeming qualities besides their beauty;  Magpies help control pest insects such as grasshoppers and tent caterpillars, and also “clean up” dead animals and garbage scattered by other animals. Other species of birds and mammals often use unoccupied magpie nests. 

Although magpies prey on songbirds and their young, research suggests that they do not ordinarily have a significant impact on songbird populations. However, because magpies are intelligent, opportunistic, and at times congregate in large numbers in close proximity to humans, conflicts can occur.

Magpies seem to be jacks of all trades - scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers, their challenging, almost arrogant attitude has won them few friends. With its noisy chattering, black-and-white plumage and long tail, there is nothing else quite like the magpie. When seen close-up its black plumage takes on an altogether more colorful hue with a purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing feathers, and a green gloss to the tail.
Though hated by many I still love Magpies and enjoy watching them.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Friday Visit to Farmington Bay Nature Trail

I took my bicycle for a ride at Farmington Friday, as far as birds it was fairly quite compared to a month ago when warblers and ducks were abundant. Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens were calling from the cattails and a family of Yellow-headed Blackbirds with newly fledged babies were making a ruckus, and a couple of families of Canada Geese and a pair of Western Grebes were swimming around the pond. Compared to a month ago it was quiet but beautiful none the less.

Aside from birds the pond was filled with carp the scourge of the wetlands because of the destruction they do to the pond bottoms

Western Grebes

Newly Fledged Yellow-headed Blackbird

Mama Yellow-headed Blackbird

Papa Yellow-headed Blackbird

Barn Swallows were busy catching insects and gathering nesting materials over the main pond

I flushed this deer out from under some greasewood where she was hiding

With acceptable distance between us she started grazing but kept her eye on me

Just 45 days ago these geese were little yellow puffs of down now as you can see it's hard to tell the mother  from the goslings.

Having just completed their synchronous molt they are now ready to migrate to safer areas (parks and golf courses) when the hunt starts in another 45 days

Finally there were several busy Western Kingbirds (my hook bird) doing their aerobatics snatching insects from the air then returning to their chosen perch to wait for the next insect to come within range

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Our family took our annual trip to Moab a few weeks ago, I always try to get a little birding in during these trips and over the years have gotten several life birds while in Moab.
List of Life Birds from Moab:
White-throated Swift, Blue Grosbeak, Bushtit, Yellow Breasted Chat, Rock Wren, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, Black-throated Sparrow

Birding is usually done while we are doing other activities the rest of the family tolerates it as long as I don't infringe on the other activities. Nery and I did get to take a walk through the Matheson Preserve the first evening, we got there just before sunset so the light was bad for pictures so I didn't get any good pictures but did see a new life bird, I saw my first Indigo Bunting (no picture).
Lesser Goldfinch

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Birds seen during this trip were:
American Crow, Turkey Vulture, White Throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Say's Pheobe, Western Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow Breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, American Robin, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-throated Sparrow, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren (heard only), Black-chinned Hummingbird.

Since I wasn't able to get many bird pictures I thought I would share some of the other flora and fauna pictures from the trip, evidence of why our family loves Moab so much. I am still learning the names of plants and flowers so I am not able to identify all of them

Trail through Matheson Preserve lots of Cotton from the Cottonwood Trees

Indian Blanket or Fire Wheel

Red cliffs looming over the preserve

Remnants of a fire at the preserve a couple of years ago

Shot of the half moon over Moab

Prickly Pear were just starting to bloom

One of the many lizards we saw in the desert

I am still learning my flowers and don't know the name of this one but it is beautiful

Bull Canyon road

Young Buck and Doe Mule Deer


I think this one is Silver Lupine

Prickly Pear and a Sunflower

Bennett enjoying the desert

I don't know their name but these yellow flowers were blooming everywhere

Another one I don't know the name but they contribute to the beauty of the desert

Sacred Datura

I took off up the trail to see Gemini Bridges without my 300mm lens and these Say's Phoebes were everywhere

Trail to Gemini Bridges

Goony Bird formation

Mormon Tea

Gemini Bridges

Desert Beauty

I never did get the name of this arch just south of Moab

I could get up to this view every morning

Looking out over Moab Valley from the Lasal Loop road

The Family