Our winter skies are brightened by the dark forms of phainopepla, I love walking down the trails and hearing their quiet voices from the other side of trees. This one is from an early December morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail, I haven’t been hiking in about six weeks (!!!), partially from wanting to minimize exposure to others and partially from being exhausted. I’d like to try some of the wider and less popular trails as it would be beneficial mentally and physically but we’ll see how tomorrow goes. So far the weekend has been a lot of curling up for naps with the cats before yard work in the evenings.
The reptiles may be gone, but look who’s back! I met this male phainopepla in October on the Latigo Trail, I’ve seen them frequently on my recent hikes though usually not so close. They remind me of cardinals, another desert bird, but having traded red feathers and black eyes for black feathers and red eyes while keeping the distinctive crest. The bills tell a different story, however, as phainopepla have the thin bills of flycatchers while cardinals have the thick bill of finches.
The name “Phainopepla” (pronounced fay-no-PEP-la) comes from the Greek for “shining robe,” a fitting characterization of the shiny black plumage of the males, at least on a sunny day. However on this overcast morning last December the soft diffuse light showed off the details in his feathers. They’ve been gone all summer but I gather will be back in the next month or so. We didn’t see them at the rental house but will see them here, though this lovely fellow was on the nearby Marcus Landslide Trail.
The first bird I saw from the backyard of the new house was a male phainopepla, sitting in a tree in a narrow wash beside our yard. That’s a new one for me, I’ve seen quite a few birds in the backyard of our rental house but until now the phainopepla I had only seen on the trails. I saw this male on the Marcus Landslide Trail where they were numerous this winter, I haven’t been back recently but will soon as the trailhead is only a 10 minute drive from the new house.
One of the birds I hoped to see after we moved to Arizona was the phainopepla (pronounced fay-no-PEP-la) but after not seeing one for months I thought it was unlikely. In October I got some distant looks at a black bird with white under its wings and after hitting my field guides realized I had finally seen one of these silky flycatchers. It took a bit longer to see them up close but in late November I got a long look at this female early one morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail. Yesterday I got a long look at a male, they were thick as thieves around the desert, but this morning it was cold and windy and I didn’t see a one. According to one of my guide books they should be common from now until early spring so I’m looking forward to our next meeting.