Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Western Tanager...and a Surprise!

These photos were taken this past May at Laguna Niguel Regional Park.  It's a great local birding place that has even grabbed the attention of an unusual migrant or two the past few years. 

Lately, it's suffered some unfortunate environmental impacts, though.  The park includes a large lake which attracts lots of waterfowl including multiple duck and goose species, terns, herons, egrets, killdeer, spotted sandpipers, ibis and more.  An outside contractor used to manage access to the lake which required purchase of a special fishing permit and additional costs to take out a boat (vs. fish from the shore).  This past year, control of the lake reverted to the County park system so there is no more boat fishing and the only requirement for shore fishing is a California state fishing license.  This has been great for the fishermen (much lower cost), but as a result, the entire bank area where I used get great shots of herons, ibis and egrets are now full of fishermen no matter what time of day I go.  The birds have either left or re-located to the far side of the lake where there's no bank access.

In addition to the fishing issue, the sycamore trees in the park are under assault from a fungal disease caused by an insect that bores into wood and leaves the fungus behind.  The trees' main defense to this is their sap, but that has been affected by our terrible drought.  Many of the trees have already had to be removed in hopes of preventing the spread of the disease. 

I don't think the fishing issue is going to improve any time soon, but we have had some rain this fall so I have hopes that perhaps we'll start to make a dent in the drought (although we'll need several years of good rainfall to really make up for it).

I took the below photos before they started removing the sycamore trees in this area and got lucky to see my first ever male Western Tanager.   Such gorgeous colors - they remind me of my favorite popsicle - Cherry-Pineapple Big Sticks:

I was first alerted to this gorgeous bird by a flash of bright yellow high up in this tree.

I kept hoping he'd come out from the leaf/branch tangle so I could get a better shot...

...so I followed him pretty relentlessly as he hopped around inside this huge tree.

No such luck.

This was probably the best shot that I got - at least he doesn't look like there's a twig sticking through his head.
It was at this point that the park had a little surprise for me.  Have you ever been so focused on something that you only realize later that you were actually hearing or seeing something else happening in the background, but that your brain filtered it out so you could maintain your intense focus?  Kind of like when the alarm goes off in the morning, but doesn't wake you all the way up until you realize that you've been hearing music in the background of your dream...that is really coming from your radio?
As I was focused on the tanager and firing away with my camera, I finally realized that I'd been hearing a repetitive noise for a few minutes off to the side.  As I turned my head to figure out where it was coming from, I suddenly discovered a VERY pissed-off Red-Shouldered Hawk diving RIGHT AT MY HEAD!  I quickly dropped to the ground and she passed close enough to ruffle my hair with the air from her wings!
Apparently, I'd been so focused on the tanager that I hadn't realized that WAY UP HIGH in the top of a nearby (and very, very tall) tree...was a hawk's nest.
Um...oops!  I felt terrible and backed off to where my car was parked in the lot nearby.  She continued to sit on a nearby branch and scream her displeasure at me...and everyone else (to be fair - this is a VERY busy park and I was not the only person wandering near the trees - there were people playing tennis and basketball on the nearby courts, kids playing soccer on the grass, people walking dogs on the path through this same group of trees, and cars driving by on the nearby road).
Here is Momma Hawk - still screaming.  I'm now inside my car with the door shut and am shooting at the full range of my SX50 through window that's open just a crack.
She did calm down eventually.  I really love these hawks - such gorgeous colors and patterns on their feathers.
Because her nest was so high up, I couldn't see what, if anything was going on in there that day.  I went back to the park a few weeks later and was able to take a more circumspect approach to the tree and maintain a proper distance now that I knew where the nest was.  On that occasion, I was rewarded with these shots:
Here's mom on the actual nest.
And a few minutes after she flew away...Junior popped up and showed himself.  He's still got a few fuzzy baby feathers along the top of his head, but he looks ready to fledge soon. 
I learned a valuable lesson about not getting so focused on a particular bird that I completely tune out what's going on around me.  I've had mockingbirds in our front yard who will dive bomb anything that comes near (making it difficult to get to the car in the driveway sometimes), but that is NOTHING compared to having a full-grown momma hawk try to scalp me.
Not a lesson I will forget...ever.

1 comment:

Stewart M said...

Thats funny - I'll keep an eye open for any Australian versions!

Hope you have a great Christmas - Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne