I had a really great experience with this Great Blue Heron last week at Delta Ponds in Eugene, Oregon. Enjoy the video!
I had a really great experience with this Great Blue Heron last week at Delta Ponds in Eugene, Oregon. Enjoy the video!
Well, it has happened once again, I’ve lapsed in my blogging. I’ve been through Utah, Nevada, and back to California again. There have been great birds along the way. I’d love to share some of the photos I’ve gathered along the way, but I want to share an experience I had yesterday. It was new and exciting for me, and carries potential for a whole new avenue of learning in my bird study.
I’ve yet to venture into the ocean to bird. I’ve only made it to the coast. Seabirds fascinate me, and I plan to make a pelagic tour soon enough. Until then I am standing on solid ground, watching what I can. I’m not seeing any true seabirds such as the Black-footed Albatross or Wilson’s Storm-petrel, but I am seeing unfamiliar birds passing over the ocean at a distance. My hawk watching instincts have kicked in on a whole new group of birds.
All the training I’ve had with raptors comes into play with passing sea migrants. There are particular field marks to pay attention to, but after enough exposure, I am sure I will be making my ID’s from shape, form, and flight style.
While watching for a few hours yesterday, I saw a massive loon migration. Every few minutes, a group averaging ten birds would come through, low over the ocean. It was a chore to check my field guides and learn what to look for with identifying passing loons. I started getting a handle on separating breeding plumage Pacific from Red-throated and Common, as there are some obvious in flight plumage differences. In the afternoon sun, however, I began to realize that lighting was confusing things.
A field mark for identifying Pacific Loons in flight is two prominent white lines on their scapulars, coupled with a dark throat. It seemed to me that every passing group was a Pacific, even the birds that resembled Red-throated Loons in shape. After some thought, I realized that the harsh sun was likely giving a glare off of the other dark backed loons, making it appear to have the white scapular markings.
There were other passing migrants, and shore dwellers. I had two Whimbrel fly through, a good number of Pigeon Guillemot, and of course many many gulls. I admit, I have not spent the amount of time studying gulls as I should, but I am working on it. What a daunting task.
I’ll be interacting with the ocean quite regularly for the next few months. I hope to find the time to share everything interesting and exciting that I come across. And the road continues ever onward.
The genus Toxostoma is comprised of some of my favorite birds. At the top of these species is the Le Conte’s Thrasher. I love this bird in part because it is rather difficult to find. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the Sonoran Desert, frequenting the sandy creosote scrub that is this birds habitat. Still, I’ve only seen a handful of this desert specialist, and each time has been memorable.
Recently, I found two birds outside of Palm Springs, CA, one of which was singing atop a creosote. I had never heard the song of the Le Conte’s. It is the same wonderful wandering warble of other Toxostoma species, yet it seems a bit more delicate.
One of the reasons I am so fascinated by this bird is its habit to run across the sand between Creosote shrubs as it forages for food. It seems to prefer running rather than flying. I can’t help but think of the Greater Roadrunner every time I see this behavior.
I find it incredible that this bird is only twenty miles from another southern California Toxostoma species. The California Thrasher is much like the Le Conte’s in appearance, but it frequents the chaparral hills of southern California. This pair of Le Conte’s Thrashers I found are on the western edge of the desert in the extremely arid white sand hills amidst Palm Springs iconic wind mill farms. Its proximity to the California Thrasher’s range is incredible, as the species is very different in habits and habitat. These two species are prime examples of evolution, adaptability, and the affects of environmental pressures.
A few days ago Caitlin Davis and I took a walk along the beach near Santa Monica looking for some spring migrants and remaining winter residents. It was a fairly productive walk with Brandt’s Cormorant, Red-throated Loon, Whimbrel, Western and Clark’s Grebe, Glaucous-winged Gull and more. The highlight for me was a pair of Surfbirds, one of which had a bum leg. The birds leg was lame, and it travelled about the beach without skipping a beat by hopping. It kept up with its compatriot, and seemed lively and healthy.
I was impressed that the bird was healthy, given that it lacked one leg. I appreciate the reminder of the adaptability that is common in nature. Of course, if one cannot adapt to maladies or changing conditions, one dies. It is nice to see a success story every once in a while.
Recently I went birding with some friends at the Whitewater Preserve on the edge of the desert in southern California. My friend Dan Williams is more experienced with the birds in the area, and has a great ear. He picked up on something that I’ve been paying attention to since.
The Whitewater Preserve is located in an area that is the meeting point for the ranges of two very similar woodpeckers, the Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s. The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is a species of the southwest that frequents semi-arid landscapes. The Nuttall’s is a California coastal species, preferring riparian areas. Very similar in appearance and habits, it is easy to confuse the two when in an area where it is unclear which is expected, such as the transition zone between the two.
We heard a woodpecker fly overhead calling. Dan recognized the call as a Nuttall’s, but when it landed it resembled a Ladder-backed in appearance. This began my inquiry into the occurrence of hybridization in the region. I found many discussions on the topic, with no clear or definitive conclusion of how, if, or where this really occurs.
I returned later to the Whitewater preserve in hopes of recording and photographing as many woodpeckers as I was able. I failed, but I did get to know the woodpeckers of the region a bit better. I found many birds, and one female that supported the idea that these birds are hybridizing in the area.
Last night I went birding in the Big Morongo Preserve. It was great birding. The Summer Tanagers have returned in good numbers. I kept tuned to finding woodpeckers in this area, as it is not far from the Whitewater preserve. I finally found a male woodpecker, and sure enough, it showed characteristics of both species.
First, I heard the woodpecker. In my mind, it sounded just as the Ladder-backed Woodpeckers sound across the southwest, but when it landed, I noticed a few things that were unlike the Ladder-backed.
1. The Ladder-backed Woodpecker has striping that extends to its neck. The Nuttall’s has a patch of black on the top of its back. This bird resemble the Nuttall’s in this regard.
2. The male Ladder-backed has red on his crown that extends forward above the eye. The Nuttall’s red is less extensive, and sits on the back of the head. This bird resembles the Ladder-backed in this regards.
3. The Facial pattern of the Ladder-backed is dominated by white. The black markings are rather thin. The Nuttall’s facial pattern is dominated by black. Thick black lines swallow up the face. This bird is tricky, it looks much like a Nuttall’s, but the white above the eye and to the back of the head is rather prominent. I included an image of a Ladder-backed I photographed in Texas last month with a facial pattern much like the bird from Morongo.
There are other nuances separating the two species such as the pattern of the outer retrices, spotting or streaking on the flanks, cream color or white of the pale parts, bill shape, etc. All of these aspects are learned through exposure, in my mind. The more you see both species, the more you will recognize the minutia that separates the two.
If anyone stumbles on this post that has any information on the subject, knowledge, or experience with both birds, I would love to hear your ideas. In my mind, the evidence is fairly clear indicating that this bird is likely a hybrid, or cross back. That makes the possibility or regularity of this occurrence rather high in my mind. You just have to be in the right place. Or maybe I just got lucky.
I’ve made a stop in the California Sonoran to conduct nesting bird surveys for a bit. This will be the end to the southwest tour of the beatnik birder. The roads I have travelled and the places I have seen… These times will be remembered.
My time here is brief, but long enough to once again experience the nesting season of the Sonoran. I’ve already had some amazing experiences with nesting birds, and found some of the most delicate lifeforms I’ll ever encounter.
The photo I share today is of a dedicated Burrowing Owl on the south end of the Salton Sea, standing watch over his tiny kingdom. He was so serious, I’ll have you understand. He took no notice of my vehicle as I encroached on his business. He was about a higher task, to ensure his legacy. He did not bother with me, for which I was fortunate. Soon I was too close for my lens to focus, so I stopped with my intrusion. It was a blessing to encounter such a stubborn owl, so I did not take anything for granted. After taking my fill of photographs, I simply watched.
I could have watched, and filmed, and taken notes, and drawn, and continued to pore into the world of this owl. But I left him to his task. There he remained, watching his land, diligent and dedicated. It is my hope that there he will forever be.
As a child, I poured over bird books, spending a substantial amount of time looking at the worlds herons. When looking through North America’s herons, I began developing favorites of the birds I dreamed to see. The Tricolored Heron was very near the top of the list. The bird has an aesthetic seemingly otherworldly. The colors and textures dazzle the eye. I was fascinated by illustrations and photos of this bird as a child.
Finally I have seen this bird, in its element, conducting its business, in all its glory. Every Tricolored Heron I have encountered since my first a few weeks back has afforded me first hand looks at characteristics that enlighten my understanding of this bird and the family to which it belongs. My time with this bird has been insightful and delightful. It conducts its business in its own style, with movements and techniques all its own. These techniques and behaviors are subject of a discussion which is to come. Oh the Ardeids; For whatever the reason, I find myself enraptured in their world.
South of Brownsville, along the Rio Grande, sits an Audubon sanctuary named Sabel Palms. It is one of my favorite places thus far. The trails feel very tropical, the birds are spectacular, and the other visitors are characters. I am odd in the world of birding, especially in the special places such as Sabel Palms. I am odd because I am young.
I came to Sabel Palms with one bird on my mind, the Crimson-collared Grosbeak. To see this bird would be a personal first, a treat to expound upon the bounty of fortunate birding experienced thus far. Asking around, I discovered that a female had been hanging about that day, so I posted up to patiently wait. And sure enough, the beauty revealed herself. Only birders understand the thrill of a life bird, of an exotic life bird, of a quest fulfilled. I’ll tell you as much as this, and let you the reader understand that this bird was special. I felt the purity and love of birding in the moment while experiencing this bird. A highlight, to be understated.
Another bird that was busy about the forest that morning was the Clay-colored Thrush. This bird is a new favorite. They are a very large Turdis, much larger than the American Robin of the north. I was fascinated by their habits, and fell in love with their song. They, along with a host of others, provided some music that helped build the experience of traveling about Sabel Palms. I council the birder, the reader, the adventurer, the inquisitive, I council you, to travel to the valley of the Rio Grande, and visit the Sabel Palm Audubon Sanctuary. A place for birds, aged birders, and beatniks indeed.
The Rio Grande Valley! This valley is the most incredible location for the beatnik birder. The area is a treasure trove of new birds, new scenery, new habitats, and specialties that have been on my mind for some time. The first spot I birded, Anzalduas County Park, sat along the Rio Grande some forty miles inland. It proved an incredible introduction to the area. I’d like to highlight three flycatchers that inhabit this park.
Caitlin Davis and I began early at the park. We were tasked with taking some video clips of Hook-billed Kite. We spent the morning on the dike watching the forested areas of the river for surfacing Kite. We never saw the bird. Around mid-day we abandoned our kite search to bird the park. The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet was one of the first birds we saw.
I cannot describe how adorable this bird is. We watched a pair foraging in the trees for a few minutes, as they called to each other in the most delicate of bird voices. The poses of the birds, and their raised crest, reminded me of small soldiers. The birds are characters, and characters are what I celebrate. I’ve stored these birds away in my book of favorites.
The Couch’s Kingbird is prolific in the park. You hear and see them everywhere. I was aware of the increasing presences of Tropical Kingbird in south Texas, so I kept a keen ear out for any unusual calls. The two are virtually indistinguishable by sight, and can only be reliably separated when a vocalization is heard. It is this instance that I can study the song, and then learn to distinguish the two. I love these challenges. No Tropical’s were in the park, to my knowledge, but I was able to get to know the calls of the Couch’s.
The Great Kiskadee is a bird I have wanted to see for long. They are characters for certain. The birds are highly vocal, and their calls are wonderful. The call is why the kiskadee’s has its strange name. It call is loud and full, with multiple syllables, phonetically sounding kiskadee. I really enjoyed the bird on all levels. Visually, it is striking, standing out amidst trees and sky. Its call is distinctive, and can be heard above any other. Its habits are in line with those of other large flycatchers, but something about the bird causes me to watch it a bit longer, and enjoy it a bit more.
I’ve really enjoyed flycatchers lately. I love when your study takes a focused fascination to a particular group. It helps facilitate deep learning. Perhaps my recent focus on flycatchers will continue further into discovering more about their lifestyles and habits.