Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Pete Moulton has, after my usual begging and pleading, sent me some of his lovely bird photos. The notes below are his:

Here are a few images you might like to try out on your readers. The winter ducks are only just arriving in Arizona, probably because of mild weather north of us, but the numbers and variety are improving.
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). A drake from last weekend. A lot of the shovelers are still molting, but this guy’s nearly finished, and he shows why I consider the Northern Shoveler to be our most underappreciated duck. They’re really quite beautiful.
Drake Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) from a couple of weeks ago. He’s standing on a submerged mudflat, which is why so much of him is visible. Teal are generally pretty shy in my experience, and this is a heavier crop than I usually like. He’s pretty, though.
Drake Green-winged Teal (Anas [crecca] carolinensis). Eurasian readers will notice how similar he is to their Common Teal  (A. crecca), and in fact the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist Committee considers the two forms conspecific, but they’re distant enough genetically that most international organizations treat them as separate species.
Hen Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), the Nearctic analogue of the Eurasian Tufted Duck (A. fuligula). About twenty years ago a drake Tufted Duck spent five consecutive winters at a golf course in Mesa, where he routinely consorted with the Ring-necked Ducks, and they seemed to accept him as a rather odd Ring-neck. The last time I saw him he’d taken up with a hen Ring-neck, and the two flew off together.
Snowy EgretEgretta thula:
And finally a songbird for those who prefer them. This is a male Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus). Yes, it looks like a Northern Cardinal (C. cardinalis), and in fact the locals often call them ‘Gray Cardinals.’ or Desert Cardinals.’ Both Northern Cardinals and Pyrrhuloxias occur in this area, and the two do hybridize fairly often. The Pyrrhuloxia is a southwestern specialty, occurring in arid brushlands from west Texas to Arizona, and birders often visit the Desert Southwest from great distances to see them.


  1. Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos Pete.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink


  2. Frank Bath
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Smashing photographs. North American birds appear to be more beautiful than our NW European.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Frank! I don’t know about our birds being more beautiful than yours, though. That may be a ‘grass is greener’ phenomenon.

  3. Debbie Coplan
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Absolutely gorgeous –

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Debbie!

  4. Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Exquisite! Thanks!

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Thank you!

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Great photos and we see lots of Shovelers here in the spring. Can usually spot them by their behavior as they group into small circles and go round and round. Associated with mating I would guess.

    • John Harshman
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Feeding, more likely. They stir up bottom sediment to bring food particles nearer the surface.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

        Yep. A few years ago I got a very crappy* vid of the phenomenon. I was watching them putter around normally when they suddenly went into a swirling churning of the water. I was actually there to try to find a pair of seasonal shorebirds; they’re mixed in with the gyre from the start, and should be ID-able despite the bad quality. 😉 There are also a few Buffleheads around.

        (IMO, full screen makes it worse.)

        *A miserable day at a set of sewage ponds in SW Michigan–bitter cold and windy. We have no close access to this facility, can only view the ponds from a distance through a chain-link fence. So there I was, trying to hold my zoomed out super-zoom P&S steady against the chain-link fence. Definitely one of those documentary-only feats of photography. 😉

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

          Damn, forgot about the embedding here.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 14, 2016 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          Can you imagine what this mob would look like from below the surface? Feet digging furiously…jabbing toward the bottom. If they are in fairly shallow water they may be digging up the sediments and lifting nutrients up to the surface from the mud.

          • Pete Moulton
            Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            Pied-billed Grebes nipping at their toes…

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 17, 2016 at 1:47 am | Permalink


          • Diane G.
            Posted December 17, 2016 at 1:47 am | Permalink

            Hey, that would be an incredible vid! 😀

            (Did you notice the phalaropes?)

            • rickflick
              Posted December 17, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

              There’s no need to resort to that sort of language…oh, you mean the needle nose ducks?

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 17, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink


                Speaking of needle-nosed–their bill motion (and that of some other foraging shorebird species) is often represented as “like a sewing machine.”

        • John Harshman
          Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:32 am | Permalink

          Of course phalaropes are famous for doing more or less the same thing, just one at a time rather than in pairs. I’ve never seen mixed phalaropes and shovelers, though. Interesting.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 17, 2016 at 1:52 am | Permalink

            We get all three phalarope spp migrating through MI, but they’re uncommon and a treat to catch sight of. The Wilson’s are the most likely to be seen. Very cool birds. 🙂

  6. John Harshman
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t know why the AOU still hasn’t decided that Eurasian teal Anas crecca and green-winged teal Anas carolinensis are separate species. Most duck species have less than 1% internal variation in mtDNA. Other Canada geese Branta canadensis and cackling geese B. c. hutchinsii used to be the largest known separation of subspecies, around 2%, until they were split into two species. A. crecca and A. carolinensis are 6% different.

    Granted, DNA distance is not a very good species concept. But it’s certainly suggestive of long-term separation, which ought to count for something.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I’ve noticed that the AOU can be very slow to make changes, particularly when those changes involve reversing one of their previous decisions, as would be required in resplitting the Green-winged and Common Teals.

      They’ve also dragged their feet in reassigning the Mexican Duck, which isn’t a Mallard at all, but a Mottled Duck. If they’re gouing to continue theMexican Duck in the Mallard clade, then consistency demands that they also subsume the Mottled and American Black Ducks.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    It is good to see unfamiliar sorts of ducks, and also reassuring to learn that these species also fornicate with other duck species, like the more familiar mallards and pintails. This helps to keep all our ducks in a row, as it were.

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I note a clever trick with the egret. Their legs are black in front, and I suspect that helps their legs be much less visible to prey in murky water. Not sure why they are yellow behind, though.

  9. ivarhusa
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Lovely. Lovely. I aspire to share a few images almost as good. Great work!

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Thank you!

  10. rickflick
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Exceptional images. So much of the identifying detail is revealed by these. All these shots take advantage of good light – behind the camera(when people are photographed that way, it looks bad because the subjects always squint). They could easily be used to create an identification guide.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      That’s exactly what I’m after. I took up bird photography back in the 70s as a way of documenting rarities, something I still do when it’s called for. My significant other teaches beginning birders’ classes, and she uses a fair number of my images in her classroom sessions. The most useful ones show helpful fieldmarks in both cases.

  11. Mark R.
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this wonderful collection!

    I marvel at duck eyes…such vibrant colors.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Those are really beautiful Pete! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  13. Diane G.
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Lovely as always, Pete, and especially enhanced by your solid knowledge of birds as well! I, too, am a great fan of Shovelers.

  14. Pete Moulton
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Thank you, everyone!

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