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.  



Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - Spotted Sandpiper

Back in August, I met my first official Sandpiper since I started birding.  When I think of Sandpipers, I think of them on the beach and usually in groups, but Spotted Sandpipers are more solitary by nature.  It showed up at Laguna Niguel Park on the lakeshore one day.  I continued to check on it on all my subsequent visits and it was nearly always to be found along the edge of the lake, near sunset, and all alone.  It was so predictable that I even narrowed down its preferred area to the spot in front of a certain picnic bench. 

Even though it's normal for this bird to be by itself, I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for it being all alone and getting bullied by everything from Mallards to Egrets.  I got busy with work towards the end of October and haven't been back since then to check on it - I'm hoping to make it over there this weekend.  Wonder if any more have shown up...

You can just barely see a few of the spots that give this bird its name.  They are much more prominent during breeding season.  In the off-season, it reverts to a snow-white belly.

Yup...he knows I'm looking at him. 

This shot shows a few more of his spots. 

One of the few times I actually saw him venture into the water.  Right after this, a Snowy Egret came by and chased him back onto the shore.

So very cute!  I look forward to getting some photos when all his spots come back in (assuming he's still around then).



Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday - Laguna Niguel Park Birds

I have a wonderful regional park near my house that is an excellent spot for birds.  It has a nice creek running through it and a lake big enough for small boats and fishing as well.  Meet some of the local residents:

Male Mallard Duck with his pretty green head feathers.

Female Mallard Duck.

I have not been able to get a confirmed identification on these two girls.  The black beaks mean they are NOT female Mallards.  Consensus seems to be they are Teals - possibly Blue-winged Teals, but I am not 100% confident.

Male Ruddy Duck - it's hard to see, but his beak is a bright blue color in this photo.  Can you imagine if YOUR nose turned blue when you were "in season?"

Female Ruddy Duck

Here she is with her babies.

Soooo cute - I love the single water droplet balanced on this little baby's head!

And one more shot just because baby ducks are so irresistable!

A Snowy Egret showing off his yellow feet.

One of our local raptors making a fly-by...

This was my lifer for the day...

...a female Nuttall's Woodpecker!

She was nice enough to let me get quite a few photos...

,,,and even showed off her bug-catching skills!



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!