Tag Archives: California

Bird Photography Weekly

“Hey, what you lookin’ at?”

There is something endering about California Quail.  I am not sure if it is the fact that they are everywhere along the sides of the road or their plumpness, or their great family life or that little top feather.   I also love that one of them stand sentinel while the others feed.  The first time I saw one I was in Marin County, California driving up to Muir Woods.  I immediately thought of the Warner Brother’s cartoon the Crackpot Quail.  (You can see what I did every Saturday in my youth.)

To see other birds scope out Bird Photography Weekly.

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Wordless Wednesday

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Almost Favorite Woodpecker

Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to see the flash of white on wings.  Tracking the bird to a tree, I saw it stash an acorn in a tiny acorn-sized hole.  I walked around the tree looking it up and down.  The whole tree was a pantry full of carefully stored food.  Acorn Woodpeckers do the darnest thing.  I have seen them in both California and Arizona.  They are easy to see not only in trees but also drilling in telephone poles along the highway.  I love that.

My favorite woodpecker actually is the Pileated.  What’s yours?

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Hawk on a wire

What the?  I slammed on the brakes and swerved onto the shoulder of the road.  I had seen the oddest hawk on a wire.   It had a huge eye and gray head.  We watched it as it watched us.  We couldn’t figure it out.  Big eye, no huge eye, gray head, look at the crest blowing in the breeze, very mottled back, very long legs and was that 3 bands on the tail?  Being on the west coast and out of my element, I wasn’t sure.  It could be anything.  I flipped open my ancient travel Petersen’s.  It didn’t fit any of the descriptions.  I looked back.

It had turned around.  With the red chest it had to be a Red-shouldered Hawk.  I have never seen one with a gray head before.  The Red-shouldered Hawks at home, do not perch on wires, are more woodsy and I usually see and hear them flying high above the trees.  He certainly had us going for a while.

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Birding in Napa Valley

Currently in between business conferences, I am loafing in Napa Valley.   Unable to find a bird guide (Grrrr), I randomly drove around this morning looking for birds.  With the countryside being so dry, I thought it would make the most sense to find water.   Looking at the map, I headed off to Hennessey Lake.  As soon as I got out of the car, I heard the crik-crik Western Grebes.  Scanning the lake from a distance, I saw what looked like white sticks planted out in the water.   It was a flotilla of Grebes.  Cool.  Even though I have seen them many times before, it was still a thrill to see so many.

The walk around the lake produced: Steller and Western Scrub Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, California Quail, Oregon Junco, Spotted Towhee, some sort of dark sparrow protecting its hard-won worm from a maurading western fence lizard, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, a big flock of Bicolored Blackbirds, Black Phoebe, Great Egret, Canada Goose, Mourning Dove, Oak Titmouse, Coot, Pied-billed Grebe and maybe some others that I forgot.

Of special note, was the very dark, almost chocolaty Winter Wrens I saw feeding young at Muir Woods yesterday.  The woods was also full of Wilson’s Warblers and Brown Creeper.  I mean full, they were everywhere I looked.  Oh yeah, and there were Chestnut-backed Chickadees too.

I hope to bird the marshes on the way back to the city tomorrow.

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Birding around San Diego

You know how once you have been to a place several times birding on your own and have seen most of the easy/common birds how frustrating it becomes, right?  Where are the other harder-to-find birds?  Are there local hot spots?  This trip I gave up and hired a guide.  I was looking for 4 life birds (elegant tern, bell’s vireo, black-headed grosbeak, california gnatcatcher) and I had no idea where they might be.  Local expertise was needed. 

I have had a terrible track record with finding guides.  I twittered-nothing.  I emailed some of the birdingpal folks-nothing.  Finally, I emailed San Diego Audubon.  Score!  I got an email back recommending Claude Edwards.  What a terrific find.  He knows all the bird songs and chip notes, where the birds are likely to be locally and has a vehicle.  A big bonus for me, is that as a biologist, he also knows plants, wildflowers, lizards, insects and points them out too.   If you are going to San Diego and need specific target species, I recommend hooking up with Claude (keps1@flite-tours.com) .  

Here’s the list of what we saw from 6:15-11:15 am. 

From the San Diego River Floodway to Old Mission Dam and Lake Kumeyaay,
to the bayside of Silver Strand, Imperial Beach Pier. and south Seacoast Drive

Pied-billed grebe
Western grebe
Brown pelican
DC cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Snowy egret
Little blue heron – Silver Strand mudflats
Reddish egret – Silver Strand mudflats
Black-cr night-heron
Mallard
Ruddy duck
Red-tailed hawk
American coot
Black-bellied plover
Killdeer
Black-necked stilt
Willet
Long-billed curlew
Marbled godwit
Western sandpiper
Least sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Western gull
Gull-billed tern – IB Pier
Caspian tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Royal tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Elegant tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Forster’s tern
Least tern
Black skimmer – Silver Strand mudflats
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
White-throated swift – Old Mission Dam area
Black-chin hummingbird – Old Mission Dam area
Anna’s hummingbird
Nuttall’s woodpecker
Downy woodpecker – Old Mission Dam area
Ash-throated flycatcher
Black phoebe
Pacific-slope flycatcher
Cassin’s kingbird
Tree swallow
Hutton’s vireo – Old Mission Dam area
Bell’s vireo – Old Mission Dam area
Western scrub-jay
American crow
Common raven
Bushtit
White-breasted nuthatch – Old Mission Dam area
Bewick’s wren
House wren
Wrentit
Northern mockingbird
California thrasher
European starling
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow warbler
Common yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted chat
Black-headed grosbeak
Blue grosbeak
Spotted towhee
California towhee
Song sparrow
Savannah sparrow (Belding’s)
Brown-headed cowbird
House finch
Lesser goldfinch
House sparrow

70 species and 3 of the 4 lifers.  Still no California Gnatcatcher.

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Off to California

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore

I am leaving for a 10 day, mostly business but hopefully some pleasure, trip to California.  The bins are packed, as well as my well-thumbed Peterson’s guide to Western Birds.  I hope to meet up with a fellow birder in San Diego to get a peek at those Elegant Terns.  At the very least I will be hanging around the bay.  Speaking of bay, after I leave San Diego I will be flying to San Francisco, where I definitely will have the chance to do some birding.  More later, I gotta go finish up a few things before I’m ready to go.

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The Importance of Sparrows

LBJ

Commonly called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs, sparrows are notoriously hard to identify. This one is a Savannah Sparrow. Can you see the little bit of yellow by the eye? Classic.

I am fond of sparrows. They are ubiquitous yet overlooked in favor of the brighter, more colorful, more easily identified birds. Many of them have beautiful easy-to-learn songs, like the ol’ sam peabody of the white-throated sparrow or the ping-pong balls of the field sparrow or the distinctive maids, maids, maids, of the song sparrow. I always try to spend time with sparrows.

Let me tell you a sparrow story. I was with my sister at Point Reyes National Seashore in California at the end of September for our birthdays. This was a few years ago. It was cold and windy out on the point. I was standing in a field birding every bird looking for a golden-crowned sparrow, a life bird for me. There were hundreds of sparrows, popping up and down, mostly white-crowned. My sister is a good birder but after way-too-many LBJs, she wandered off to look at a Say’s Phoebe and to ogle the California Quail. Finally a golden-crowned sat on the top branch of a bush, I shouted for her to come see it, but she was on a Black-throated Gray Warbler, also a life bird for me. I abandoned extolling the virtues of the sparrow and dashed over for the warbler. Totally fickle right? Thankfully I have seen many golden-crowned sparrows and savannah sparrows after that in California and Alaska but I have only ever seen the black-throated gray warbler just that once.

Thanks Gale for being bored of LBJs.

But if we hadn’t have been hours in that field sorting out sparrows, we would never have seen the black-throated gray. The morale of the story is–Spend time with sparrows, you never know who is hanging out with them.

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Birding without binoculars

I was sitting in a sunbeam in the hotel lobby overlooking the pool working on my presentation. My chair was comfortable and I had my feet propped up on the windowsill. I was really killing time.

The windows were at eye level with several trees surrounding the pool. As I sat watching the people below test the water of the pool then walk away; from the corner of my eye I noticed several birds flitting in the trees. My attention swung from would-be swimmers to the birds testing the poolside trees for early spring snacks.

A biggish glossy green Hummer popped up and buzzed the tree in front of me. I pressed my nose to the glass looking for any hint of color. I saw none. Must be female and she is pretty good-sized, about the size of a Ruby-throated. I extrapolated that she must be a female Anna’s. I looked around, got out a tissue and wiped my nose print off the window. Ew.

Several big dark gray-backed gulls flew by. One of them flew close enough to the window that I leaned back in alarm before it veered off. It had a single red spot on its bill. Ah, a Western Gull.

A Crow flew past, no wedge to that tail. I was feeling like Super Birder. 3 for 3 in California.

Then a skinny gray bird drew my eye hopping from branch to branch in the tree in front of me. I could not place it easily. Appeared to have a white throat, a darker cap, and a lighter patch on the rump. I continued to watch it as it sallied forth to catch an insect. Huh! Could be a Gnatcatcher or at least some sort of flycatcher. Maybe Olive-sided, they have a white rump thing, but I did not see any vest. The bird tantalized me as it flitted among the leaves. The Hummer buzzed it once. There was a big size differential.

My binoculars were in my room, of course.

I finally gave up and went to give my presentation. I still do not know what it was. When I got home, I looked in my Western bird books to no avail. How many times have you memorized field marks to look them up later? I do it all the time. Sometimes it works, many times it doesn’t. It always better to have the binoculars at hand and not locked in the room upstairs. A lesson I never seem to learn.

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