Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Idyllwild Birds Part 3

Okay, it's possible that I may have spent a little TOO much time taking bird photos while in Idyllwild.  I'm still only halfway through reviewing them.  Here are a few more of the highlights:
One of the new birds I came across during the trip was the Pygmy Nuthatch.  Smaller than the White-Breasted that I was familiar with, these tiny birds were frequent visitors to the feeder.

They liked both the suet and the sunflower seeds.  Apologies for the extreme cropping on the left - I was shooting between the bars of the deck railing.
Here he is on a branch with his prize sunflower seed.  He proceeded to wedge it into a crack in the bark and then repeatedly hammer at it with his beak to get it open.
Enjoying some post-meal sunshine.
Late in the afternoon got an unusual visitor - one Black-headed Grosbeak.  At this time, they were just starting to migrate in for Spring - this is the first one I have seen this year.

It was almost sunset so I was starting to lose the light, but wasn't sure I'd see this guy any more so I kept shooting anyway.

He stuck around long enough to serenade us from the top of this tree for a while.  Never saw a female or heard any responses, though.  He might be a bit early.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - More Birds from Idyllwild

I'm still sorting through all the photos I took on vacation.  It's a good thing I only spend a couple of hours each day sitting on the deck photographing the birds...if I'd done any more, I'd be sorting photos 'til Christmas :-)

Dark-eyed Juncos fall near the top of my list of "common, easy-to-find, but devilish hard to get a good photo of" birds.  It's bad enough they have those dark eyes against dark head feathers, but they also are fast movers and typically like to hang out on the ground at the base of trees or bushes which means they are perpetually in deep shade.  I managed to get one quick shot of this guy up on a brand and ALMOST in the light.

Last week's post already had the Oak Titmouse in it, but darn it...they are so cute that I couldn't resist a few more photos!

Especially since he condescended to pose so nicely for me with no branches in the way or anything.

Prior to this trip, I'd seen exactly ONE White-Breasted Nuthatch...and that was over at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in the Saddleback Mountains.  I don't ever see them over here closer to the coast.  They sure were out in abundance in Idyllwild, though.

And very happy to help themselves to sunflower seeds and they try to conceal them in the tree bark.

There were at least 4 of these birds all running up and down this tree trunk just of the edge of the deck.  They have high squeaky little voices like you would expect from a mouse.

Here's one showing off the classic Nuthatch posture.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Birding in Idyllwild

Just returned from a wonderful Spring Break week in Idyllwild, CA.  For those not familiar with the area, it's a small community in the local mountains about 1.5 hours away from my home.  Quiet, peaceful, away from suburbia and full of birds.  The house we rented came complete with a bird feeder on the back deck facing the forest.  I filled it up with black oil sunflower seeds and a block of suet and spent the rest of the week watching all the birds come and go and interact with each other.  It was fascinating.

I'll be sharing more pics over the next few weeks, but here are the first few:

The Steller's Jays were the first to arrive.  They are big and noisy, but so much fun to watch.  We had some extra treats for them...peanuts in the shell.  They would swoop in, take one and fly off to a nearby branch or rock to crack the shell.

Although slightly smaller than the Jays, the Acorn Woodpeckers were clearly the dominant bird in the area.  The other birds would always move out of the way for them and while they mostly got along, there turned out to be one species that the Woodpeckers would actively attack...I'll share more about that in a future post.

Have to love that flaming red head in the sun!

Small, shy and oh-so-fast, the Oak Titmouse was a lifer for me (we don't see them much near the coast) and became one of my favorites to watch.  Unlike the other birds who would stay on the feeder for a while, this bird would zoom in, grab one seed, and zoom off again.  It was responsible for most of my deleted photos - shots of an empty railing or feeder where there WAS a bird when I pressed the shutter button.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Whimbrel

Although beach fog and overcast are not ideal for taking pictures, there's just something so iconic about a foggy California beach morning.  Whenever I see that certain background to a photo...I can immediately see and feel exactly what the conditions were like.  One foggy morning, I was taking photos of gulls and turnstones at Main Beach (or as the rest of the world calls it Laguna Beach) when I spotted this foursome of odd-looking birds running around.  Long, down-curved bills...but not as long as those of a Curlew.  This turned out to be my first encounter with Whimbrels.

Here are two of the four...showing those distinctive beaks.

We'd had a lot of heavy surf earlier in the week, and in this shot's background you can see some of our California kelp forest that has been pulled loose and washed up on shore.

All of that debris makes a great attraction for bugs for the Whimbrels to eat.

One of this bird's other distinctive field marks (as if that beak wasn't enough) is that center stripe on the crown of its head.

I had a hard time actually getting just one bird in the frame - they all bunched quite closely together most of the time.  I thought this behavior was interesting as I'm used to seeing larger shore birds like Curlews and Willets have a little more space between themselves and other birds.

This one of the four was a bit braver than the others about the water so when he ventured a little closer to it, I was able to get a few shots of him alone.

This one shows that crown stripe pretty well, too.

And then his buddies came to test out the water, too, to see what all the fuss was about. 

Unfortunately, a few minutes after this, some people let their dog off leash and sent it barreling down the beach and that was the end of bird photography for that morning.  So, I headed off to grab breakfast.  Saw these birds at this same beach one more time a couple of weeks after this and have not seen them since.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Spotted Towhee

I often hear Spotted Towhees, but getting a good shot of them is usually tough.  They like to hide in the center of trees or, when on the ground, they scoot deep under bushes.  I managed to get lucky one day last year and get these few shots.

Their red eyes are particularly striking.

I found this guy by listening for his call...

...it's one of the few that I have learned to identify by ear.

He gave me one last look at those crazy eyes and then he was gone.


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Green Heron

Last summer, I came around a corner and surprised this beautiful Green Heron.  Usually, when I do that, the bird flies off, but this one was cooperative and stayed to pose for a while.

These birds have such beautiful colors and markings...

...and yet they still blend perfectly into their environment.

Even the orange legs don't look out of place.

They are also able to freeze into stillness for such long periods of time and then move ever so slowly while stalking prey...and then BAM! they strike like lightning.


Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Dana Point Harbor

Spent a day at Dana Point Harbor last summer looking for birds and other critters.

Here's one of our local Brown Pelicans hanging out on the dock.

California Sea Lion enjoying the late afternoon sun on a raft.  I believe that's a Western Gull behind him.

Here's a Snowy Egret looking for munchies amongst the rocks of the jetty.

Ground squirrels were everywhere...

...including these unusual partially white ones.  At first we thought there was just one unique individual, but the more we looked...

...the more we saw.  I would have thought the lighter coloring would make them easier for predators to spot, but apparently not (at least judging by their numbers).
Black-crowned Night Heron hanging out on the dock fence waiting for the fishing boats to come in.