Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - Brown Pelicans

One of the best things about living in Southern California is still getting to go to the beach when most other parts of the country are battening down the hatches for winter or have already experienced their first blizzard!  Thanks to some summery-type temps, I was able to catch Brown Pelicans at sunset in Laguna Beach:
Lots of splish-splashing as this group indulged in a sunset bath.

One of the few birds I can manage to catch in flight - slow and majestic!

A little post-bath floating around in the surf.

A lone sentinel on Seal Rock.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - The Tale of the White Tailed Kite

Even though I only recently became "a birder", there is one local bird that has fascinated me ever since I moved into the area back in 1998 and first started seeing it.  Almost always when I was driving or stopped at a stop light, I'd see this white/silver bird of pretty decent size performing an unusual hovering behavior.
Now, when you live near the coast, anything white, silver or grey you tend to write off as something in the gull family.  But gulls don't hover like this.  They may appear briefly stationary if they are riding a good enough puff of wind, but they don't flap and hover in place...and when they are found away from the actual beach, they are usually at a dump or a parking lot looking for trash.  Not stalking lizards and rodents on hillsides.
Then, one day, I was at a local zoo and one of the keepers had an American Kestrel out on his wrist and was doing a bit of show and tell about it.  He claimed that Kestrels are the only North American bird besides hummingbirds that can truly hover.  So, I looked closely at the Kestrel (a male) and it clearly was not the bright white/silver bird I'd been seeing.  When I asked about it, the keeper attempted to convince me that the Kestrel's cream-colored chest and belly could appear white in the sun.  I walked away convinced that he was the expert and that I was, apparently, either blind or crazy.
I kept seeing my hovering bird and the more times I saw it, the more I was convinced that it couldn't possibly be a Kestrel, but I still couldn't figure out what it was.  Then, I got really into birding this year and shortly after I got my camera, one of my mystery birds did such a close fly by of my car that it nearly hit the windshield.  I thought, "FINALLY!  I am going to get to the bottom of this."  I parked quickly, got out and made a valiant attempt to get some photos so I could research the bird more thoroughly.
Sadly...this was my best shot that day.  This all happened in the process of picking my son up from school so once he was in the car, I told him what had happened.  A couple of weeks later when I showed up to pick him up, he excitedly told me that he'd seen the bird hanging out around the campus that day and did I want to go look for it before we left.
After walking around the soccer field for a while, we were rewarded with a brief fly by and an example of the hovering behavior.
I got a few more flight shots...better than the original, but not by much.

However, at least I now had what I thought was good enough to attempt an identification.  I'm sure you all have already figured out this is a White-tailed Kite.  Ryan still didn't think much of my pictures so he continued to report to me about his sightings during recess and lunch.  Finally, about a month later, he grabbed my arm as we were walking to the parking lot and said "Mom, get your camera out!  The Kite is RIGHT THERE IN THAT TREE!"  12-year-old eyes are SO much better than 50-year-old eyes!

Of course, by the time I'd fumbled the camera out of the case and got it turned on, the bird had moved farther away, but I still managed to get a few shots...enough to see that this particular bird is a juvenile based on the buffy streaks on its chest.
You can see the streaks a bit better in this shot.
Eventually the parent bird flew in for a bit.
It hopped around on the tree a bit and then took off again.

This time, the juvenile followed.  I'd finally solved my mystery and gotten my closer encounter with this gorgeous bird.  But, nature wasn't quite done with me yet.  About a month later, I happened to arrive early on campus to pick Ryan up and thought I'd spend the extra time wandering around with my camera.  I was actually pretty well hidden behind a post when a Kite flew into a tree directly in front of me with a fat rat in its talons! 
I did my best to stay hidden behind the pillar while trying to fire off as many shots as I could without disturbing the bird from its meal.

I know it's a little bit gory, but as many times as I have seen these birds hovering, I'd never actually seen one come away with any prey.

They really are beautiful birds...and you have to love those red eyes!

Despite my best attempts to hide, this one clearly knew I was there and turned around to keep an eye on me.

Didn't stop him from munching on his rat snack, though.

After one last shot, I slowly backed away around the corner of a building to leave him with his munchies.  I was left wondering if this was one of the birds I'd encountered earlier in the year or a different one.  Also, in processing the pictures, I think I can see a band on this bird's right leg just above that curved tree branch in this shot.  The band appears to be silver/grey so is very hard to see.  These birds are not endangered or threatened so I'd love to know who is banding them and what they are learning about them.  The photo isn't good enough to get identifying information from the band.
So, that's my "Tale" of the White-tailed Kite.  Finally solved my mystery and had a lucky and amazing close encounter with this beautiful bird!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

California Coast Trip - Day 9

Almost at the end of the trip, but the last couple of days were truly special.  On this particular day, we headed to Pt. Lobos.  I was still in search of seals, otters, and a better tide pool experience that what we'd found thus far.

I knew the day was off to a good start when I was rewarded with the sight of my first-ever Chestnut-Backed Chickadee.  He showed up in the back yard and kept us entertained during breakfast.  He was super-fast and hyper so this is the only clear shot I managed to get.  I was thrilled - he's so handsome!
The first area we explored at Pt. Lobos promised some good tide pool opportunities...as long as we were willing to clamber over a lot of rocks.
The cormorants kept us company on the rocks.
And they weren't the only ones...
...others were looking for tide pool bounty, too.

This Black Oystercatcher was busy scrounging for breakfast.

There must have been something good on this rock because he was really going over and over it.
Things looked even better when the sun came out for a bit.
Finally!  I found a great spot.  This pool was FULL of beautiful bright purple sea urchins, green shore crabs, hermit crabs, snails, tiny fish and more.
Purple urchins everywhere I looked...and there were multiple large pools all as full (or more!) than this one.

A close up of some urchins with snails and hermit crabs (using snail shells).
Gorgeous purple color on these urchins...

...so bright and vibrant!
Green shore crab crawling out of a hole in the rocks.

Then I found the "crab cave"...it was full of green shore crabs.  Some were as big as the entire palm of my hand!

This Western Gull was keeping watch over the tide pools.

Smaller Heermann's Gulls staked out their own observation posts...

They are my favorite of the local gulls...such a great contrast of that dark red beak with the pure white head!

This one gave a wing stretch demonstration...

...and S-T-R-E-T-C-H!

Ryan discovered these interesting formations in the rocks...interestingly, they were all on the non-ocean side of the rocks and far away from the tideline
And yet they were all full of salt crystals.

Ryan insists they were alien-generated.  Love that 12-year-old imagination!

Despite the rough swell and waves crashing on the rocks, there were plenty of otters.  I was amazed at how well they handle the rough surf and at their ability to avoid getting smashed on the rocks!

Of course, some were not as adventurous and had found a quieter cove area with a nice kelp bed to hang out in.

This little cove is one of the only places that divers are allowed, but you still have to get a special permit.

It must be truly amazing to be able to dive with the otters nearby.

I loved this one checking out his flippers!
Finally started to lose the sun, but I couldn't miss out on trying to capture some of the Harbor Seals.  I really love these guys...and this one was so pretty!

The variation in their coloring is so interesting...some are so dark like this one

He had to check out his flippers, too!

I also thought it was interesting how they get themselves onto these high rocks...the tide must've been a LOT higher when this one picked out this perch.

It's almost sad that their pelts are so pretty...I'm sure that's partly what made them such a target for hunters in the past.
And when we got home...the Black-tailed Deer were once again on hand to greet us.  Just love those dainty deer feet!

It must be so awesome to live in a place where you see deer in the yard all the time.

I don't think I'd ever get tired of it!

Especially when they pose so nicely!
Can't believe I'm finally getting to the end of the over 6,000 photos I took.  Stay tuned for the last installments - they include some more wildlife shots and some truly amazing scenery from our return drive back through Big Sur.