Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Deep in the Heart of

Texas! The whole nerd gang is in Texas this week - enjoying the Texas Hill Country and beyond. We rented a house in San Antonio. We have Hill Country to the north and flat cattle and oil fields to the south. Lori and I have a list of target birds to knock out on this trip. The 2 big ones are Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo which can only be seen in this area. Lori researched the accommodations and timing. I researched the birding locations and target list.

We headed north to a famous Texas State Park in Hill Country for our 2 targets. Lost Maples is on every birder's agenda. We left super early and drove for over an hour to get there by 7:30 AM. We were quite disappointed when the wind started to howl and rain started to fall.. The place was deserted - no rangers, no other birders, just us. We were under dressed and had no idea where to go for the birds. Luckily, we found a bird blind to give us some relief from the wind and rain while still allowing us to see some birds.

Bird Nerds in Bird Blind - Lost Maples
Eventually, we had to venture out of the blind to go after our target birds. Here is Di freezing her ass off.

Diane - Lost Maples
Luckily, I brought a rain coat - or what I thought was a rain coat. It turned out to be a poncho which proved difficult for binocular or camera use but at least I didn't get wet.

Ponch Linda - Lost Maples
The rain passed quickly but the wind and cold stayed. We hiked up the trail in search of Golden-cheeked Warbler. We were not disappointed. We heard 2 of them singing and then we saw one! Wow. I know it doesn't look like "wow" in these photos but considering the crappy photographing conditions, these are not bad.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler
I'm not spoiling the surprise by telling you that better photos are coming but I am being rushed out the door now to go horseback riding. I am not getting on a horse, the other girls are going. Connie and I are going shopping. More to come. . .

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Not for Kids

One wrong turn off the Freeway and I ended up at a park by the bay. I stopped in and I am glad that I did. There were Avocets and Black-necked Stilts very close to the parking area. Not like we usually see them in our area - very far away. Here are a few Avocets that flew right over my head. Even in flight, you can see their distinctive upturned bill.

Here is another one hanging around the mudflats at low tide. The apricot color on the head and neck indicates an adult in breeding plumage.

The real stars (porn stars) of the show were the Black-necked Stilts that are nesting on the mud islands in the park. Cover the kids' eyes. Here they are doing the deed.

Black-necked Stilts - gettin' jiggy
Here is the happy couple playing house afterwards.

Black-necked Stilts
Some other good birds were at the park too like this Clarke's Grebe. It came swimming down the channel right beside me and disappeared beneath the surface of the water. It popped back up a few yards away with a little fish! You can tell this is Clarke's Grebe by the fact that you can see the red eye in the white part of the face. Western Grebes look very similar but the black covers the eye.

Clarke's Grebe with fish
 The fish was finally gulped down and the grebe swam back out into the bay.

Clarke's Grebe
Another bird that nests in the park is the Coot. Here is one sitting on a nest right by the parking lot. I wonder how long that will last.

Green-winged Teals were swimming around in the shallow water. This one popped out onto a rock for a rest.
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shovelers were also feeling romantic. The males were chasing females around doing a head bob and a really cool quack.
Northern Shovelers
I left the park and headed to my original destination - a park in the mountains. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the park has both Sequoia and Redwood trees - pretty big ones. No photos since it is difficult to photograph giant trees with a telephoto lens.  What a great way to end a trip.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Magic Tree West

Have you ever noticed that you can go birding or walking and see very few birds and then all of a sudden, there is this one tree that is full of them? If you go back to that tree the next day and it is full of birds again, do you wonder why? The answer is easy - it's a magic tree! Magic trees are only magic for part of the year. Either when they are in bloom or when they are oozing sap. There is a pretty famous magic tree in Cape May which attracts warblers in fall - only around 4 PM when the sun hits it just right and the sap starts to flow. The sap attracts bugs and the bugs attract birds. The tree is a Chinese Elm.

I found a magic tree in Los Angeles this week. I went to a park called Sand Dune Park. It is called that because it has a giant sand dune - like 3 stories high that people climb up and down for exercise. I think they are nuts. I did not attempt the climb. I used the stairs that are off to the left of the photo.

Sand Dune Park
I was there due to reports of a Lazuli Bunting which would be a cool bird to see - I didn't. But I did see alot of other birds. Guess where - in the magic tree. This tree is called a Silk Oak. It first caught my attention because it was covered with yellow flowers - and birds. Black-headed Grosbeak was one of the birds that I wanted to see in California and I did. It was pretty high in the magic tree but just like the other birds, it was focused on those flowers.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Orange-crowned Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Western Kingbirds
As you can see, I could barely shoot a frame without catching the yellow flowers in the shot. A local birder told me that the Silk Oak flowers like that throughout the migration season so that it attracts birds. And here I thought I discovered it - HA!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Hum-Dinger!

The west is a terrific place to go if you like hummingbirds. They have more varieties than we do in the east. We have exactly one hummer that breeds east of the Mississippi - the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Don't get me wrong, Ruby-throats are awesome but it's nice to see some other varieties. We get a few here in winter. My friend Harvey had a Rufous Hummingbird at his feeder for a week or so this winter but then it must have found its way back west.

The other thing about western hummers is that they are predictable. You can get better photos of them because they stake out territories and use the same perch alot. I got a few good shots. The first 3 photos are a Rufous Hummer that I found in LA.

Rufous Hummingbird - Los Angeles
 I can't believe that these flight shots turned out. I guess it was due to the bright sun. Pretty cool - suspended animation.
Rufous Hummingbird - Los Angeles
 Then, she turned and headed right for me. Look out!

Little Missile
And then there were the hummers in Pasadena. These little wonders were defending territory along the Arroyo Seco. I found this female Allen's Hummingbird staking out a little shrub that I assume was for nesting. She has a few colored feathers on her throat.

Female Allen's Hummingbird 
But the male has ALOT of colored feathers on his throat. Here he is perched in what looks like a rose bush. His entire throat is iridescent red. He looks pissed - must be another male around trying to steal his gal.

Male Allen's Hummingbird
And then he turned his head directly into the sun and ------BAM! It almost blinded me.

Male Allen's Hummingbird - Pasadena
I went to the nursing home to visit my uncle. I took him outside into the courtyard. One of the nurses was excited to show us a hummingbird nest. Trust me, it was a bright spot in an otherwise depressing visit. I think she is Anna's Hummingbird but only because I didn't seen any rufous/cinnamon hummers in the area.

Anna's Humminbird on nest - Pasadena
More to come. I have a ton of other photos including some bird porn from San Francisco to share with you. It will have to wait until I get home though.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another LA Run

I'm back in LA for a few days. I'm starting to go to the same places now that I've been out here a few times. I'm by myself this time which is good and bad. Good that I can do what I want, when I want and take as long as I want to photograph birds. Bad that I don't have company or friends to share with.  I started at Playa Del Rey breakwater. Here are some photos starting with Elegant Terns. They are common on the beach here. I caught this one in flight:

Elegant Tern
It's the start of breeding season so it was fun to see and hear them courting. They would strut around and point their bills up in the air - all with that bushy hair doo!

Elegant Terns - courting
The next birds that got in front of the lens were a few shorebirds. First is Surfbird. They are not quite in breeding plumage yet. You can see this guy is still molting some feathers - one of them is just about to fall out.

Marbled Godwits can be seen on the East Coast, but they are usually pretty far away. Not in California. This guy was literally walking around me on the beach. I love the warm brown/cinnamon color of these birds.

Marbled Godwit
The stars of the show for me on this trip were the Eared Grebes in breeding plumage. Eared Grebes are fairly uncommon on the East Coast and we only get to see them in winter when they look really drab. I was looking forward to finding a few of them in California and I was not disappointed.  Check out those golden "ears".

Eared Grebe
 This guy looks like a Fonzi dinosaur with that big black pompadour.

Eared Grebe
 Here are a pair swimming in the channel together. I was sitting low along the rock jetty and they all just swam by - 8 total.
Eared Grebes - Playa Del Rey California
Wait til you see the warblers and hummers.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gulls and Eagles

This is the time of year when unusual gulls show up and cause the birders to go crazy chasing them. Frankly, these unusual gulls look almost identical to the other "regular" gulls that we see all summer long but for birders, they are a treat. 4 gull species look very similar to most people: 
Laughing Gull is the most common gull at the shore in summer - they have a black head and make that laughing call. Their head turns white in winter except for a little smudge of black here and there. They winter down south in Florida.
Bonaparte's Gull is the most common gull in winter. They also have a black head in summer, but we rarely see that since they spend their summers far north of here. We see them with white heads and a few "dots" of black.
Black-headed Gull as the name suggests has a black head too. We rarely see these gulls except during their northbound migration. They winter far south of us and nest far north. 
Little Gull also has a black head in summer and, as the name suggests, is smaller than the other gulls.  It is even more rare than Black-headed Gull in migration. Birders go nuts over this gull (truth be told, it is cute). 

Black-headed and Little Gull were both seen in Cumberland County earlier this week so I went down after work in an attempt to photograph them. The Black-headed Gulls were reported to actually have the black head which would be good for the photo. In typical fashion, I showed up 5 minutes too late to see the Little Gull. It had already flown away. Sigh.  But I did get a few photos of Black-headed Gull.

Black-headed Gull
The only way to tell this gull apart from Bonaparte's and Laughing is by the dark tips under the wings and the red feet. Are you kidding me? It's not that easy to see those features when you are looking at a hundred gulls but somehow these birders do it. I got pretty good at spotting this guy since he had the black head and black wing tips.  Here is another photo that shows 3 species together. Can you tell which is which? I just gave you the field marks for Black-headed gull so that one should stand out. The other 2 species are Bonaparte's and Laughing. 

Black-headed, Bonaparte's and Laughing Gulls
While I was patiently waiting to see if the Little Gull would return, the resident Bald Eagles got off of their nest to chase a Cormorant that had a big fish. Eagles are notoriously lazy hunters. They would rather grab a free meal from a Cormorant than find a fish on their own.  I snapped a few shots and noticed something odd about one of the eagles. You'll need to zoom in to see it.

Bald Eagle with deformed beak
Check out the top of the bill - it is totally deformed. I sent out a note to the Jersey Birds list and was told that this is probably an injury caused by a fight with another eagle. Wow, don't mess with eagles!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Make That Five Life Birds

Just when we were ready to leave the shore, the text alert came in - Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Cape May Point. Honestly, we had the car packed after having a leisurely morning walking the beach with our best friends - the Bald Eagles:
Bald Eagles at low tide - Villas NJ
We had our first "Coffee Talk" visit of the season with Patience. We went to the Lobster House Breakfast Counter for some delicious French Toast. We packed up and were headed home - with a slight detour.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows are very similar to European House Sparrows. They look alike and they came to America in similar ways. The European House Sparrow has spread EVERYWHERE while the Eurasian Tree Sparrow only populates a small area in St. Louis Missouri. I don't know how this bird got to Cape May, but needless to say it was a big deal as you can see by this photo. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Spectators
All of that to see this little guy. You can differentiate the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from House Sparrow by the black cheek patches and brighter head color. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Cape May Point
While we were there, another Cape May rarity flew in just a few feet away from me. Black-capped Chickadee. I know what you are thinking - "that's not rare". But it is rare in Cape May which only gets Carolina Chickadees. The Black-capped variety has a more northern range starting at about Hawk Mountain. This little guy has something weird on his belly, but you can tell he is Black-capped by the white streaking on the wings.

Black-capped Chickadee - Cape May Point
I'm glad he survived the winter with that belly issue and hope he goes back to where ever he belongs - along with his Eurasian friend.