Birder's Eye View

Friday, July 30, 2010

A couple passerines

Yesterday I went on one last walk down the local trail to get some fresh air and see what was out and about. There wasn't a whole lot, besides the usual California Towhees, a Spotted Towhee, and Bushtits, but at one point I stopped to look down over the side of the creek bed and a Lesser Goldfinch landed a few yards away.

It sat quite cooperatively on a high vine, cocking its head this way and that, seeming to examine me with mild curiosity.

I put my backpack down as slowly as I could, not taking my eyes off the little bird lest it would fly away, and pulled out my camera. I managed to snap a few shots, although it was slightly backlit.

Eventually the goldfinch darted off to join a small flock of its kin in a tree guarded at the top by two House Finches. These too, posed well against the vivid blue sky and colorful foliage.

They hung around for a few seconds before quarreling among themselves and scattering.

Beautiful little birds though! I will miss them when I go home, although with fall migration starting up soon, we should be getting our own fair share of colorful songbirds through the area.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A growing list

With three days left in California, today I tallied up both my trip list and my overall year list so far.

If you've been following the blog for a long time, you'll probably know that every year I try to get my year list to at least 150, and every year I fall just short. My first year of birding in 2007, I ended with 123 birds (that was with a trip to Maine). In 2008, my total dropped to 104 -- understandable, as that was my first year in college. Last year I came close, and ended with 141, partly thanks to a trip to the Great Plains.

So it's now the middle of 2010 and I wanted to see how close I am to reaching my annual goal. The answer? I've surpassed it! My year list so far is at 152. Granted, that's counting the birds I saw overseas as well as here in California, but hey, I made it! And it's only July!

I feel kind of silly getting all excited over a meager number like 152. But for me, it's not so meager considering I've actually spent very little time bird watching in between school, traveling, and various other unforeseen circumstances that have occurred in the last few months.

The fact that I've seen 152 birds in my spare time is reassuring to me. Birds will always be there for me to count, to study, to admire, to appreciate, and to enjoy. Part of me wants to be one of those Big Year birders, racking up hundreds of species and learning them all by heart. But the other part of me knows that it's not practical in my life, for the other things I want to do and accomplish.

And that's the ultimate beauty of birding, I think. It can be as much, or as little a part of your life as you make it. Birding gives me something to do, a way to focus my energy when I need it. It's something familiar that I can do almost anywhere. And I love it.

So here's to another five months of successful and happy birding!

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Shorebirds galore

This morning my brother and I biked up to the shoreline area I've been exploring this week, only this time we rode all the way to the park proper, about 10 miles round trip (before today I had only been in the preserve area by the sloughs).

I had no idea how many birds we would find there! First of all, the rolling lawns were covered in Canada Geese -- hundreds of them. They all strutted around, bickered with one another, and terrorized small children. Following the path though, we found ourselves rounding several lakes and more shoreline/mudflat/marshy areas.

I totally geeked out when I saw this bird as we rounded a bend and came into view  of a wide slough -- my lifer American Avocet! There were actually hundreds of them, at least as many avocets as there were geese, off in the distance. This one loner was foraging close to the walkway, and looking quite picturesque.

Also in the vicinity were Willets, Snowy Egrets, tons more Barn Swallows, White Pelicans, and Mallards.

The sheer numbers of birds there were quite amazing to me. Of course it was nothing astronomical, but certainly more than I expected for a relatively crowded park on a hot, midsummer day.

Mud flats

More Avocets

Snowy Egret

Once I finished admiring all the avocets, I turned around and noticed the little building behind me was swarming with Barn Swallows. It turned out they had dozens of nests under the overhangs and would periodically all explode out and swoop around for a while before coming back in to cling to the shingles or hide in their nests.

White Pelican coming for landing

My second most exciting find was a little area full of Black-necked Stilts. This is a bird I've wanted to see for a long time in Florida, but now I've seen more of them here in than I ever thought I would. I think they're adorable, although they weren't too active this morning. 

This little bird puzzled me for a long time. It spent most of its time running around in the tall grasses by the path, darting out for bugs and little bits of seeds. I could not figure out what it was for the longest time, until I realized it must be a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. Correct? It's the best I can come up with, based on the bill shape, body size and build, and its behavior. Sure threw me off though!

Still having a great time with all these new Western birds and the great parks and wild places around here. Two weeks down, two more weeks to go in the Golden State.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Birding the marsh

Song Sparrow
Equipped with a borrowed mountain bike, today I rode up the local bike trail all the way to its northern-most point, where it ends at a preserve area on the bay. The habitat is mostly marshy grasslands, but this made an ideal environment for practicing my very rusty sparrow IDing skills.

Barn Swallow

There were also mass quantities of Barn Swallows in the area, nesting underneath the few footbridges that crisscrossed the water. They would all explode out from the grass when anyone approached, and swoop around you chattering irritably until you left.

Savannah (Belding?) Sparrows

For all the sparrows that were hiding in the grass, it appeared that they were mostly Song Sparrows (with the exception of the questionable pair above), although I could be mistaken. Like I said, my sparrow identification skills are severely lacking in some areas.

Red-tailed Hawks
There were also these two raptors waaaaaaay far away on a power line.

Aside from the numerous swallows and sparrows, I also got a glimpse of a Common Yellowthroat! Beautiful bright yellow male, but barely got a glimpse and picture before he disappeared in the grass.

Heeey, another sparrow!

Above is a pretty good representation of what most of the area looked like -- lots of dense grasses, some dry brush, and a muddy stream. The birds loved it, as did the ground squirrels in some of the drier areas.

It was a fantastic park, and I will certainly be returning very soon to explore some other spots I didn't get to this morning.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More birds in CA!

California Towhee
This area of California has turned out to be much "birdy-er" than I thought it would be. Just through general observation (as opposed to hard-core birding) I've managed to see close to 30 species in the last few days, many of them lifers.

Above is the view of the mountains from where I'm staying. On clear days you can see a lot more hills, but in the mornings it's usually pretty foggy as seen above.

Mystery hummer
One of my biggest personal challenges out here is to identify all the hummingbirds I've been seeing! This is only the second picture I've managed to get, and I still can't tell for sure what it is. My money is on Anna's Hummingbird right now, but I haven't been able to get a good look at the crown.

Black Phoebe
Black Phoebes are also common near the creek. This one was catching little things off the water for a long time while my brother and I watched, over the weekend.

What am I?
So, I know what these little birds are, above, but do you? They're dirt common out here once you know what you're looking at. ;-)

House finch
Another fairly common bird is the House Finch, almost nonexistent where I live in Florida, but a daily sighting out here. I was particularly proud of this shot I got!

Western Gull
Yesterday we went to San Francisco to visit some friends and tour around a bit. Got my lifer Western Gulls and a possible Heerman's Gull (although I don't know if I'm going to count it yet...). Also got a lifer Brandt's Cormorant at Pier 39, while musing at the infamous sea lions there!

Reservoir in the foothills
Today I met with another friend who took me around some of the area into the foothills of the mountains. We saw a surprising amount of wildlife, including several deer (young bucks with their velvet antlers and 3 doe's), a tiny little rabbit and my lifer California Quail! It was a lot of fun, and I must say, CA has some excellent hiking trails.

I'll have to tally up my CA list later, but it's growing fast. Looking forward to the next few weeks here for sure!

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

First day in the Golden State

Yesterday was spent mostly in the air on the 9 hour long transit to California, but it was surprisingly quite enjoyable. After a short layover in Chicago, we began our journey west, over Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and finally the Golden State.

As would be expected, the Rocky Mountains were drop-dead gorgeous from the air. Crisp, white peaks jutted into the blue haze, accenting the green landscape.

I was surprised by the amount of snow still in the mountains, even in July. But, anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with snow, so I had a fun time photographing the scenery during the long hours of the flight.

After settling in at our hotel, today my brother and I took a long walk on the local bike/pedestrian trail that cuts through town. It is incredibly beautiful here. Even for being a relatively urban/suburban area, the trail seems quite secluded and forested in, running along a deep creek bed.

The trail is home to a host of birds and wildlife, one of which especially caught my eye: a Black Squirrel! I have never seen one of these before, but I find them fascinating. Wikipedia says it's a melanistic (dark-colored) subgroup of the Eastern Grey Squirrel and found in a few areas of the US.

Another exciting find were a couple of hummingbirds! Unfortunately, both individuals I spotted happened to be silhouetted and only offered a few seconds' glimpse, so I wasn't able to ID them. I'm hoping to see more tomorrow and get a better picture. Regardless of what they are though, they're definitely lifers, as all of the species here are new to me.

In a particularly fast-flowing area of the creek we found a few Mallard Ducks and 3 ducklings. Needless to say, the babies were adorable. :-)

This interesting bird was also flying around by the ducks -- it's apparently a Black Phoebe (Thanks for the correction, Chris!), the same as my next photo. That's another lifer!

Another Black Phoebe! Yay!

Among the other species I've identified are Western Scrub Jays, Stellar Jays, American Robins, Chestnut-backed Chickadees (I think), Dark-eyed Juncos, and Snowy Egrets. Lots more birds than I expected to find, considering I was hardly looking!

Until next time,

Happy birding!