Monday, March 16, 2015

Passel of Pretties

Savannah Sparrow
Ah Spring! Well, ah, well, in just a few days anyway. I took a spin over to my favorite spots to bird and gawk at wildflowers in the vicinity of the Jackson Highway. It is a little short of two weeks since my last foray to the area and what a difference.  The last time I posted I carried on about the Blue Dicks, aka Cluster Lilies.
Painted Lady Butterfly escaping with some Cluster Lily (Blue Dick) pollen
A week or two after the Blue Dicks pop up and test the territory, next to show their faces to the sun are the Ithuriel's Spears aka Wally-Baskets.

Ithuriel's Spears aka Wally-Baskets
Ithuriel's Spears is a fine & honorable name, but I get a giggle out of it's other name, Wally-baskets. In British slang, a 'Wally' is an idiot. So these flowers are Idiot or Jerk Baskets. HAHAHAHAA! OK. Perhaps you had to be there, but it's plenty funny to me.

I found some Spoke Pods, which aren't exactly wildflowers, but they come up in the spring and sometimes they are pinkish. This batch I found are more whitish & rather like tiny flat flying saucers. 

Spoke Pods
Many hills are tinted with wildflowers now
This pasture is pale yellow from 'Butter and Eggs'
Butter and Eggs a bit closer
Tidy Tips are one of my favorites
There were plenty of birds around. I was pleased to find a puddle with no less than four species putting it to use: a pair of Mallards, a couple of Killdeers and one Greater Yellowlegs. The yellowlegs, like the killdeer, is a shorebird that is often far off from the usual shorebird habitat.

Left to right...A pair of Mallards, a Killdeer (back to camera), 
then a nice grayish Greater Yellowlegs and a 2nd Killdeer
But the birdies of the day I saw when I noticed an owl sized clump of dirt under a berm. I looked carefully at the lump and sure enough was not one, but two Burrowing Owls, enjoying their 'porch' just outside their burrow. One was shy and ducked back into the burrow when I pointed my binoculars at them. The other just kept his or her beady amber eyes on me... you never know what those sneaky humans are up to.
That Burrowing Owl kept its disapproving yellow eyes on me

Of course I didn't stay more than a couple of minutes. I sure hope they have a nestful of eggs down in that tunnel.

Not quite as rare, but surely just as fun were a couple of Wild Turkey Toms, that were not the least bit tame. As soon as they spotted me, they took off running.

Dang... did you see how BIG that human was? We could'da been a snack.
Common Goldeneyes who were also un-thrilled with my presence
My first Wood Ducks for the year. Hurrah!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Guess What's Up?

Blue Dicks are up. I'm just sayin'...
Yeah, every spring I make the same limp joke about Blue Dicks, an early season wildflower, being 'up'. I know, I'm juvenile. But you know, the other name for these flowers is 'Purplehead', so be grateful I'm letting sleeping dogs lay. Yeah, yeah, right, they're also called 'Cluster Lilies' and 'Brodiaea', but where's the fun in that?

There are other wildflowers popping up but they aren't as much fun as the.. .uh... Brodiaea (BLUE DICKS!).

Fiddleheads are lumped in tangly clumps
And not to kevetch, but vetches are only sort of fetching

The odd California Poppy is up too, but they're not as fun to crow about.
Bored, I thought to take a little swing through the local boondocks to see how spring is shaping up bird-wise. I know it's pretty much spring out there, not because of the sunrise which has already started off my biannual insomnia - which happily only lasts a few days at worse -  but because the squirrels are chasing each other and as I said before, the Blue Dicks are up!

And the colorful, pink and iridescent green Lewis Woodpeckers are out
posing like they own the joint. Can you see the one there on the log?
I didn't see any unusual birds, but the spring birds are returning. There are Western Bluebirds, a few Horned Larks and Robins and Varied Thrush are nosily taking possession of woods and urban trees.

A Horned Lark that made a spectacle of itself
White-breasted Nuthatch, lookin' all innocent there

Of course some birds stayed put all winter to begin with.
The Killdeers never go too far either - I think.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Piggies in the Middle

Field o' Shooting Stars
I drove along Highway 5 on my way to Watsonville and thought, 'might as well cut across Del Pueblo Canyon Road over to San Jose, instead of driving south to the Pacheco Pass'. I was hankering for some birds, but I didn't see more than a dozen I could have stayed home to see. There were no baby Great Horned owlets or any hawks in the nesting nooks in the sandstone cliffs. No Phainopeplas frolicking in the mistletoe along the road. There were loads of lovely wildflower though, which give me heart that this is going to be a bumper crop year for Wildflowers - whoo hoooo! It is raining and hailing - off and on as I type this. There were puddles, rivulets and ponds galore. I looked and I'm certain the vernal pools of northern California are going to put on a glorious show for 2015. The last big year for wildflowers was the year that perked my interest in them, in 2009.

Close-up of what I would call Comets or Darts
but are correctly called 'Shooting Stars'
 The only annoyance on Del Puerto is few pull-outs and everything is fenced private property. There are so few people that when I stopped to take photos out the window a driver stopped to ask if I had car trouble. Nope! My only trouble was the usual - my poor crap focusing with a 400mm lens.

Buttery 'Johnny Jump-ups'
I always think the drive from Patterson to San Jose is a scant 2 hours tops, and it always stuns me the actual time is more like 3, if not 3 and a half hours. The second half of the drive is along a road composed entirely of hairpin turns. after passing the planetarium on the summit, I saw only a small herd of does and a large flock of wild turkeys (again, no where to pull off so I could photograph them). Then, when I hit the valley floor, passing two county parks, I hit the breaks and did a 'Yellowstone U-turn' (i.e., abrupt turn for wildlife viewing) to feast my eyes on the only wild, feral pigs I have ever seen.

California Wild Pigs

The motley swine were nosing around the meadow that looked like someone had worked it over with a heavy chain. The hogs were smaller than I would have anticipated, but maybe they are only youngsters from last year? Colors varied from hog to hog. Every once in a bit a little piggie would jump up, scampering, to be joined by other piggies, seemingly just for the fun of it.

There is 'frolicking' going on here.
The Piggies came in Disney-esque assorted colors
A 'grizzly' colored piggy
I missed a photo of one of them kneeling on one knee for easier access to whatever it was eating. I might have thought driving through the Del Pueblo 'Pass' had been a waste of time, but for the wildflowers and better - the wild pigs - the drive was well worth twisting through those brain spinning hairpin curves.

Here is a minute or so of piggy action I took before the herd disappeared back into the hills. And me left humming, "♪Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, piggy in the middle...♪♪'. I dare you to guess that reference without cheating and looking it up.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Scooting for Scoter

♪'One of these things is not like the others...'♪

Hum.. was Daffy a Common Scoter,
or just another 'little black duck'
Yes, yes. When an exotic flies into my home state or near abouts, I must pursue. That said, in late January a birder photographed a 'different' looking Scoter and being sharpish, he realized he had something extraordinary little black duck; the Common Scoter. If it's common, what's the uproar? An American birding adage, is 'common' birds are the least common'. How true for this particular little black sea duck, a Common Scoter. The species was seen in North America just one time before, in Greenland. This particular Scooter is the first ever, spotted in the U.S.. 'Whoo hooo!' shrieks the birder in my soul.

As incredible good luck would have it, Don decided to take off a day early, so we headed north on Thursday. Early Friday morning found us enjoying a delish breakfast of Eggs Benedict with fresh Dungeness Crab at the Chart Room restaurant, by the Crescent City Harbor. Have always loved having breakfast at the Chart Room, binoculars at the ready, enjoying my coffee, while watching Sea Lions & waterfowl at play.

Right after breakfast we moved further along the same jetty, where literally b'jillions of Surf Scoters - an American species of Scoter - flocked. There were the occasional surprise among them, such as the little female Long-tailed duck and a White-winged Scoter.

Left to right, White-winged Scoter (jumbo sized species), Long-tailed Duck & Surf Scoter
It was somewhat daunting to look for one little black duck amid scads of other little black ducks.

GAK! We're looking for what again...?
After an hour of scanning the hundreds of Surf Scoters and company, we headed over to the main harbor up the road, I parked, looked out the window and Voila!

TADA! The much sought, miraculous to behold,
Common Scoter, in all its majesty
Ah, and behold, there was much celebrating among the birders on the pier, as duck swam and dove, granting us all, lovely views. It was quite a wonderfully lucky Friday the 13th, for the following day, opened to a spectacularly heart breaking Valentine's Day for many, for on the day of hearts, the Common Scoter was nowhere to be found. I thank the birding saints for Don having deciding to drive up a day early. Hum... that duck does rather resemble Daffy, does it not?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rambling for a Brambling

Staring doesn't necessarily bring in the bird
Twenty fifteen seems a good year for bringing in the Eurasian vagrants. Hearing there is one in Arcata, got myself and birding buddy Don on the road. We joined loads of other birders in a sweet little neighborhood, in hope of seeing a rare vagrant bird, a Brambling. We searched all Friday afternoon. We stared at shrubbery hopefully most of Saturday. We gave up, shrugged and came home on Sunday. Hey, we gave it the ole' birder's try. Of course the bird popped up again after we left. Stupid birds. Really ought to give them up - but they're so flippin' cool.


While we waited, many other birds were far more sociable. The best one was a little hunting Merlin; a small falcon that perched high up in a pine and sat bobbing its head for a long time. I managed some digiscoped photos of it using my iPhone and my Kowa spotting scope.

I got a big surprise when a White-throated Sparrow popped up. They aren't exactly rare on the west coast, being common in the eastern states. I actually thought I must be seeing things when I noticed a 'weird' looking sparrow in a white bib. Great bird to see here in California.

White-throated Sparrow

A second 'surprise' was a beautifully dark & sooty Fox Sparrow. They too aren't rare but I don't see one every year.

Fox Sparrow looking all perky & handsome
On the drive home we stopped for some sight seeing in rainy Patrick's Point State Park. Don hiked out to view the ocean at Rocky Point for a closer view of ocean ducks and such. I refused to go out in the rain but did see a solitary dolphin passing the point. The whole of the park was alive with Varied Thrush which seem to be having a bumper crop year - these birds are being seen all over.

Varied Thrush

When not staring at shubbery in hopes of the Brambling, Don & I treked around the area in search of other feathered treats. We saw an imature Bald Eagle. I have seen more Bald Eagles in California over the past 2 years than I saw in the previous 2 decades. We also enjoyed fields and fields of Aleutian Geese, aka Cackling Geese.These once rare mini-geese grazed like sheep. There are always a few of them with heads up, keeping an eye on things.

So we did not see our target bird, the Brambling but we sure saw some splendid bits of California and its wildlife. Here are close ups of some lovely soaking wet, soggy elk we saw over the weekend.

Broke, busted, disgusted, tourists can't be trusted - Oy - Name that reference!
Damn rain. Damn tourists. Damn in general.
Never a curry comb when you need one
Real elk. Not Santa's throw rug.
 So it was a lovely weekend, even with rain and no sighting of a Brambling. The highlight turned out to be visiting Sunday evening with Don's daughter Rose & son-in-law Nate. That pair are awesome and they entertained us with their well trained pets. First there was little 'George', whom I swear is the only trained Chihuahua I have ever met. That pup sits, lies down on command, gives high fives and is cuter than any doggie has a right to be. Oh, and Nate & Rose have chinchillas - adorable, sweet, chinchillas that like to be held and will hold up an ear for you to scratch behind. *heaven!* Rose made us a wonderful home made soup & salad for dinner. A young couple that not only know where the kitchen is, but how to use it! Brambling, or no Brambling, it was a wonderful weekend.  

UPDATE:  Here's a gorgeous photo of the Brambling, taken by a premier California birder, Rob Fowler. I couldn't get a shot that good meself unless the bird in question were glued to a twig.
WAAAHHH! Why didn't we get to see this beauty?