Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Cooper's Hawk

Still dealing with the annoying aftermath of a that cold so I'm pulling from the archives again.  Last fall, I had an incredible, up-close encounter with this juvenile Cooper's Hawk who was sitting at eye level right along one of the main paths at the San Joaquin sanctuary.  He sat there for quite a while and let me just blaze away with my camera.  Taken October 4, 2015 at SJWS in Irvine, CA.

Cooper's Hawk's eyes turn red as they mature.

Sadly, I believe this bird may have been responsible for the loss of the local female Kestrel several months after I took these shots.  She was reported to have been taken by a Cooper's in front of witnesses and she has not been seen since.

At the time I took these shots, though, this bird was still perfecting it's hunting skills.  I would watch it drop in low over the various ponds and try to grab one of the shore birds...but fail.

I managed to get this shot showing one of a Cooper's more distinctive features - the long, striped tail.

The rounded end/uneven tail feather lengths help differentiate it from another similar raptor known as the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - Sanderling

Somewhere around September, 2015, I got very behind in reviewing, processing and filing my photos.  I'm determined to get caught up so this series of photos was taken around that time frame at one of my favorite local beaches:  Crystal Cove.

After taking part in survey Training for the Snow Plover survey, I learned that this bird, the Sanderling, is one of the birds that people often mistake for Snow Plovers.

Seen on their own, I see why as they appear so much smaller than the other common beach birds like Turnstones, etc.  However, once you see them in comparison to an actual Snowy, you realize that Sanderlings are quite a bit larger.

Also, they are much more gray/white where the Snowy's have a touch of light brown.

Both can have partial black shoulder marks...more or less defined depending on whether it's breeding season or not.

Some other key differences are behavioral...

...Sanderlings are more likely to be found running almost ceaselessly between the waves and the tide line on the beach.

When roosting in groups, Sanderlings require less "personal space" between birds than do Snowy's.

Everyone occasionally experiences itchy feathers, though.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday - The Tale of the Northern Flickers

I'm still processing through my vacation birding photos.  I saved one of my favorite birds to do all at once although we had quite the on-going saga with them throughout the week.  I had previously seen ONE Northern Flicker near my home about a month before this trip, but it was on a terribly overcast day, it was way at the top of a tree and it took off before I had time to take more than one or two shots...all that by way of saying I'd never really got a good look at these beautiful birds before other than in my field guide and other people's terrific photos of them.

So, the first day we were there and I was sitting out on the deck taking shots of the birds at the feeder, I was thrilled to realize that the "knocking" I heard coming from the house next door was not another Acorn Woodpecker, but was, in fact, this gorgeous male Northern Flicker.  He was busily engaged in enlarging this hole in the wall of the house.  However, before I could even cross to the other side of the deck to move closer...

...he was off!  Of course, my shot has that horrible wood deck in the background, but you can still get an idea of how gorgeous these birds are in flight.  If you can get a clear flight shot with the sun coming through those wings...they look like they're on fire.

I thought that was going to be it for my encounters with this gorgeous bird, but lo and behold...

...he came back to work on his hole again the next day.  This time, I dashed outside and down the stairs to cross the patch of woods between our rental house and the next house so I could get some closer shots...

...I never thought he'd stick around while I maneuvered into position, but there must have been some GOOD bugs in that hole...

...because he hung out for quite a while.

I had mixed feelings about whether I should rat him out to the homeowners - hated for him to lose such a good restaurant, but with rain in the forecast and the size of that hole I also felt bad for the homeowner having to deal with potential water damage.  But, since they never were around (most of the properties on the street are vacation and/or rental homes) during our stay...I didn't have to make that decision after all.

The next day, I got a wonderful surprise.  He noticed all the activity at our bird feeder and decided to come and check it out.  We were eating lunch inside at the kitchen table so I had to shoot through the glass doors in order not to scare him off.

Interestingly, the Acorn Woodpeckers who, although they clearly dominated the goings on at the feeder, mostly let everyone else come and go with no problem, totally FREAKED OUT when the Flicker approached the feeder. 

This railing was the closest he managed to get on this day.  Every time he would make a move toward the actual feeder, a Woodpecker would launch itself out of a nearby tree with what I can only describe as a scream of rage and chase him off.

He kept trying, though.

At one point, shortly after I took this shot, he actually landed on the feeder for about a half a second until one of the Woodpeckers performed a birdie body slam (seriously, I heard the "thunk" of bodily contact from inside the house!) and knocked him right off the feeder.

The next day, he wouldn't come any closer than this dead tree at the other end of the deck.

He did a lot of calling from this perch, though.  I didn't figure out why until a couple of days later (we left and went down the mountain to another birding spot and then came back).

He called for reinforcements!!  That's the female on the right (her face is missing the red marking).  By this day, it was raining so I had to shoot from inside which meant the deck railing was a bit in the way.

Here are some close-ups of the female - I cropped out the deck railing.

The rain kept the Woodpeckers somewhat at bay - they were still around, but much less prevalent.

This allowed the Flickers to sneak in and get some suet, finally!

After the rain...we found ourselves inside a cloud bank (we were at the top of a mountain after all).  Here's the male "cloud sitting."

Finally, on our last day...we had a brief bit of sun before the clouds closed back in.  I found the female sitting on a branch directly overhead.

The male kept watch from a different tree nearby...I think they were really keeping an eye out for the Woodpeckers who had returned in greater numbers during the break in the rain.

These birds truly have some of the most striking markings on their feathers.  The black polka dots are awesome!

Finally, it was time to pack up and leave.  Watching the spectacle of these different species interacting with each other, the weather, and their mates all week was so informative.  I would love to know the REAL reason the Woodpeckers had such a hate on for the Flickers, but I did come up with my own (totally un-scientific) hypothesis.  Out of all the species that came to the feeder, the Flickers were the only ones who were 1.  ONLY interested in the suet (the others took some of both the sunflower seeds AND the suet) and 2.  They had by far the largest beaks and took HUGE amounts per bite.  So, whereas the other species all together had worked on the suet all week without making significant inroads on it, the Flickers were at it for a very short time and it was almost gone.  I actually replaced it after their short visit.

Hope you enjoyed the Tale of the Flickers!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: San Jacinto Wildlife Sanctuary

Towards the latter part of our Spring Break week, the weather took a turn from unseasonably hot (90s+) to cool and rainy.  We took a chance on heading back down the mountain to check out a wildlife area that I had seen mentioned many times on the Facebook California Birders page - I was even lucky enough to meet up with some locals who knew the area well and helped us get on to some great birds.  The skies were gray, but the rain held off long enough for me to add two new species to my life list in addition to some regularly seen species.  This area is just far enough from where I live to make it not do-able on a regular basis which is a shame, but I'm so glad I got to at least check it out this time so I can plan some future trips with maybe an overnight stay to cut down on the driving.

After getting shut out on male Red-winged Blackbirds at Lake Fulmor, I finally got some cooperation at San Jacinto.  They were everywhere!

Most of the water/shore birds had already migrated out, but we did find a few:

One solitary Gadwall cruising around...

...a few Avocets like this one were showing their breeding plumage...

...as well as a few Killdeer.

Usually, I can't get the right angle and light for White-faced Ibis to show up as anything other than dark olive green and I assumed this icky overcast day was going to be another such occasion so I was thrilled to show how these shots came out!

Had JUST enough light through the clouds to spark up the plumage colors in these birds. 

This bird is JUST starting to show the "white face" that it is named for.

I might have to put down the camera for a bit and pick up the beads to design some pieces inspired by this color scheme.

It was about this time that the people who were showing me around received a text from another birder inviting us all to come see something special!

A Great Horned Owl's nest...with two owlets in it!  Between the wind, the rain and the scraggly nest, I was hard put to find a decent angle, but in this one you can see the two owlets peering through the greenery (one is right behind and higher up than the other) and mom is to the right of them...you can see her feather "tufts" sticking up.

Mom is more hidden in this shot behind branches, but the owlets are more visible on the left.  We stayed as long as we could until the worsening weather and a desire not to overly stress Momma Owl forced us away.  What a great addition to my life list!

That wasn't my only owl encounter for the day!  We drive to a nearby location where Burrowing Owls had been found previously and, despite massive construction with dozers and earth movers going on right on the other side of that chain link fence...we located one owl (although there were several burrows all along this dirt bank).

I was shocked to see this little guy had stuck around despite all the chaos happening within a few feet of his burrow, but we all wondered how much longer he will stay.  It was a thrill to add this bird to my life list as I had previously only seen them in zoos or rehab raptor presentations.

San Jacinto had one last gift to give us on our way out of the park.  Not a new bird - in fact, one I see almost every day.  However, probably the most beautiful setting and best set of photos I have taken to date:

As we drove out of the park, this magnificent Red-tailed Hawk was perched perfectly on this boulder in the middle of a field.

Normally, they prefer to perch on freeway signs or streetlights...so any photo has those urban markers in it and is not always so pretty.

When I have managed to find one in a tree, they've either been too high up or partially hidden by leaves/branches.

This guy was right at the level of my car window and didn't seem to mind that we stopped to admire him for so long.  The brown bands on the tail (rather than the "red" that the name indicates) leads me to believe this is a juvenile bird.

San Jacinto is truly spectacular and I hope I can manage to get back there soon...with birding like this...who cares about the long drive?!