Shining Robes

A male phainopepla perches on a thorny tree with his crest extended on a cloudy morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in Decmeber 2018

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.

A New Backyard Bird

A male phainopepla perches on a tree on a sunny winter morning along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

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.

The Fall Reward

A female phainopepla perches in a tree early on a November morning along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

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.