Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Semipalmated Plover

I spent quite a bit of time late summer/early fall learning to identify as many of the various common shorebirds as I could.  Thankfully, the Bolsa Chica wetlands are not too far up the coast and make a great classroom.  This Semipalmated Plover is one of my favorites, although all Plovers are almost unbearably cute!  This bird is differentiated from the Killdeer because it is small and has only one neck ring where the Killdeer has two.  The SPPs neck ring is complete whereas the Snowy Plover does not have a complete ring.  The Snowy is also smaller and more likely to be found on sand dune habitat.

Those dark objects are zillions of empty shells that the many birds at Bolsa Chica have already picked clean.

Another field mark for the Semi...bright legs.  The Snowy Plover has gray legs.

Here's a bit better look at that neck ring...complete all the way around = Semi-Palmated Plover.

I got so interested in Plovers that I participated in a Snowy Plover survey and field trip in Sept/Oct and will be sharing more about that threatened species in a future post.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Red-tailed Hawk

Thought I'd take a break from the shore birds and switch to raptors for a while.  Last year, my family members got together and purchased a lesson with a professional photographer for me as they knew I was getting into cameras and wildlife pretty seriously and I'd about reached the limit of self-taught/internet learning.  The teacher was nice enough to agree to meet me outdoors at one of my favorite spots.  I learned a lot that day and saw a significant improvement in my photos thereafter.  However, the birds were singularly uncooperative...we were limited to a few Mallards and a couple of doves as subjects.

After the hour was up and the teacher had left, I decided to stick around and practice some more in the hopes that I'd remember at least most of what she taught me.  Just as I was packing up to leave, I looked up and there was this gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk sitting in the tree above my car.  It must've heard I was looking for model subjects and decided to be extremely cooperative and not move.  There were a few branches/leaves in the way so I can't say the shots are quite as good as I wanted them to be, but they were certainly better than most everything I'd done before this.

Normally, I don't get to see these guys this close up.  They are usually perched on the freeway light posts and I go zooming by them at 65+ mph.  It's great to see the beautiful detail and patterning in their feathers.

Clearly, this bird knew I was there and was keeping an eye on me, but didn't seem too bothered by my presence.

Wish I'd been able to get rid of that blurry bit of leaves in the lower left, but when I maneuvered around the tree, I just ended up with more branches/leaves in the way.  This was the clearest vantage point.

This was the last shot I got before he took off.  He's just starting to lean forward a little bit before launching.


Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Black Turnstone

The weather has continued to be challenging.  Sunny during the week when I'm at work and then overcast or actually raining on the weekends when I have free time.  Although, it still hasn't really been enough rain down here to make an appreciable dent in the drought (Northern California seems to be doing a bit better than we are).  We're at the end of January and I still don't really see this El Nino materializing into actual storms - certainly not as compared to the last big El Nino where my house practically floated away!

All this by way of saying that I'm still reaching back to a sunny day in September for my birding pics.  The last couple of weeks I've shared the Surfbird and the Ruddy Turnstone so this week, it's time for the Black Turnstone:

I've found the Black Turnstones to be much more numerous on our beaches that the Ruddy Turnstone.  Everywhere I visited, the BTs were out in force, but there would usually only be 2-4 RTs.

The BTs were very enjoyable to watch, though.  Masters at ferreting munchies in the wrack or the sand...and then incredibly single minded in pursuing them.  The entire pile of sand in this picture was flicked up by this single bird's beak over the course of just a few minutes.

And then he moved onto a new location and did it again!

Daring me to just try and take his seaweed!

The only time he stopped pursuing food was when a big dog walked by behind me...he froze and I used the opportunity to grab as many shots as I could.

And then it was right back to digging...

Look at that sand fly!

Presiding over the mess he's made.

When he was done with the sand, it was time to move on to the rocks for possible snack opportunities.

My favorite thing about this shot as the last rays of the sun were slipping away is that the feathers on his upper back revealed this tiny amount of green iridescence that you would never guess was there if you didn't see him in just the right light.  Of course, he still has sand on his beak LOL!



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Ruddy Turnstone

Last week's post featured the Surfbird.  I had some good luck with other shore birds on that same day in Crystal Cove including the Ruddy Turnstone:

This bird is transitioning between plumages...

You can see a bit of the "ruddy" color that gives the bird its name.

It was fun to watch this bird actively hunting through the sand for prey.

I don't know what it was catching, but either the bird was really hungry or the food was extra yummy because it was really gorging itself (and not paying all that much attention to me so I was able to get extra close).

Down the hatch!

Even at the midway point between plumages...quite a handsome bird!


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Surfbird

It's been almost two weeks straight of gray, dreary and rainy weather here.  Good news for our drought...bad news for birding!  I've been fighting off a rotten cold on top of the weather (so much for my holiday vacation days!) so I'm reaching back to September when I had a particularly productive afternoon at Crystal Cove (one of my favorite local beaches).

Besides there being a plethora of birds out in force, I felt like this day marked a turning point in my photography skills as I came home with some photos I was quite pleased with from both lighting and composition perspectives.  Since I am my own worst and harshest critic - it's great when I can pass my own inspection LOL! 

In addition to the usual customers such as gulls and osprey, I met a new bird on this outing called a Surfbird.  You'll see how it got its name in some of the photos:

A short, two-tone bill and yellow legs are some of the field marks for this bird.

Although they are rarely found on the sand, this one posed on the beach for me for a while before heading onto the rocks.

Here he is hunting among the tide pools.

How to grip slippery rocks with your toes...

...and walk around without falling (unlike the clumsy humans)...

...while still keeping an eye out on the waves and the food supply.

The setting sun is doing a nice job bringing out all the colors in the rocks...

...and those yellow legs!

And why do they call it a Surfbird?

THAT's why!  And no...he didn't move out of the way LOL!



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - Heerman's Gulls

My favorite of the local gull species is the Heermann's Gull.  There's something so classic about their white heads, silvery gray bodies and lipstick red beaks.  Plus, I thought the red was a nice touch for Christmas!

Either he lost his keys, or he's checking to make sure he still has all his toes

And I guess he's taking too long about it because he's getting squawked at!

Merry Christmas from Southern California!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - Brown Headed Cowbird

The Brown-headed Cowbird is definitely NOT the most popular bird on the street.  I've noticed people seem to get upset at the mere mention of them...and here I am not only mentioning them, but sharing photos!  These birds are nest parasites (sort of the ultimate delinquent parents).  They lay their eggs in the nests of other species like House Finches and Sparrows and the unlucky host species ends up raising a baby Cowbird instead of their own babies.

Here's a phot of an adult male that I took at Ryan's school one afternoon (and since the place is full of House Finches, Song Sparrows and other potential host species, I can only imagine it was either originally raised there or was scoping out future possibilities).

Either way, it was definitely giving me the eye...

...and eventually decided to yell at me.

Here's an example of nest parasitism in action...I took this photo back in July during our trip to Pacific Grove, CA, up in Northern California.  This is a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird about to be fed by a White-crowned Sparrow.

First...the incessant begging...

...and then the sparrow uses its parenting skills on the other species.

Cowbirds may not be the most popular subject, but I do find their MO to be rather fascinating...makes me wonder about the very first Cowbird to do this in the distant past and what the circumstances were that led up to it.