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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Eggs!

First Efforts

Tonight as I was making my hens snug in their coop for the night, I spotted - GASP! - an ensie little egg by the chicken netting. Such excitement: one of my Maran pullets laid her first egg.
A few minutes later, after I gave the hens their 'good night' pats, in the egg box was a 2nd Maran egg . It was slightly larger than the first, and a few shades closer to dark brown. Both of my Maran pullets laid their first egg on the same day. At long, l-o-n-g last, my widdle pullet girlies have grown up! I am so proud of mes petites brats!

These 'first effort' eggs are 'small', and the egg colors are 'off' from the dark brown their breed is noted for. New Pullet's first eggs are often small and/or off color (for the breed). Am excited to see how their eggs end up looking once their internal egg apparatus get all tuned up.

My Easter-egger Lucy laid eggs a few weeks back then stopped. Then, when I was openly distraught about the dirth of eggs, the Faverolles each, begrudgingly gave me an egg. Now the pullets have popped out an egg each. A slow start, but a start, none the less. Why the slow start? Well, the daylight hours have begun to increase, but baby it's cold outside! Fair Oak's night time temps this year frequently dipped into the mid to low 30s. I found frost on the coop just a couple of mornings ago.

Oh well! I'm happy with my Leap Year eggs. Hopefully there'll be a few more due before the next leap year in 2016.

Top row: store bought large egg, Maran mini-egg,
Bottom Row: Faverolles egg, Maran egg

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Morning Birding

Swooping Redtail

Birder buddy Don was in town so we went on a nice morning birding trip in my neck o' the woods. I drove through the same area only a few days ago and the stars of that drive were Tundra Swans. I spotted a couple of their hiding places where they and some assorted other waterfowl, such as American Widgeons, Canvasback and such paddled about. It was fun getting to show off those spots to Don. This morning there was also a quite far off flock of White Pelicans - too far for any photos.

First Horned Lark of the Year

For today's stars it was all about the Raptors. Simultaneously we spotted two different raptors, of which mine was a buteo type hawk far off on a hillside. Don however spotted the first Prairie Falcon I've seen in eons! He got it in his spotting scope and I used my iPhone to digiscope it. I managed 4 quick shots before the falcon took off. Don's scope is a bit smudged, but the shot came out fairly good when I consider how far away the bird was, how small it was in the scope and what a pain it is to get the view in the iPhone. In the shot below the bird had its head turned to show off its profile. The whole shot is smudged but I'm still thrilled to have any shot of such as cool bird as a Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon through my iPhone looking through Don's scope

Prettied up but still smoodgie

The second, but no less exciting bird of the day was also spotted out the car window by Don; a Ferruginous Hawk, that was hunting over the open pastures along Meiss Road. I had my binoculars on it as it swung by over head, then it occurred to me - try for a photo! By the time I got my camera up it was in the distance, but oh well - better than a sharp stick in the eye. This particular Ferruginous was very white on the entire underside. Unfortunately none of that can be seen in this photo.

This quarter-of-a-mile away shot doesn't do justice for
the white undercarriage of this Ferrugenous Hawk

The male Northern Harrier below had us pretty excited when we spotted it just off road in a pasture, eating something tasty. A female (brown) Northern Harrier flew over the male, but he just picked up his lunch and dragged it off. No sharing, get your own damn mouse!

Male Northern Harrier having his breakfast

Female Harrier flew overhead, "Oh yooo hooo!

You ain't workin' yer female whiles on me!

Git yer own danged mouse!

This young buck was hanging around Twin Cities Road a few miles from Rancho Seco. He was a pretty boy!

Who was a pretty boy? Who's pretty?

Aw shucks M'am... I ain't all that purdy!"

For the morning's birding we did pretty well. We both saw our first Lewis's Woodpeckers for the year - none of which were close enough to photograph, but the year is still young! All together we saw 44 species, that is, 44 varieties of winged marvels.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day Birding

Suffered from a bit of premature Spring fever this morning so I headed east to Ice House Road, over in Placer County. No surprise the mountain top was composed of snow and I nearly had the place to myself - except for a nosey doe and her previous year's fawn.

'Wha... is that thing? A lumpy human?'

'Let's outta here. I know she's thinking venison steaks.'

So help me, other than a couple of flashes of grey feathering, the only bird I saw on the entire mountain was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I can see those through my living room window. So, I headed back home and stopped at a couple of American River Parks to see what was around.

Acorn Woodpeckers look, and sound like clowns

No need to go all huffy dear - you do look a bit clownish.

One of the endless supply of Yellow-rumped Warblers

After Rosmoor and El Ma-what'sit, I took a brief venture into Sailor Bar, which is just up the road from my house. I marvel I can never visit there any more without seeing dozens of Lark Sparrows. Where they around 17 years ago and I just never noticed them?

Lark Sparrow

As I left Sailor Bar, just beyond the entrance gate a long line of turkey hens crossed the road. I wasn't fast enough to photograph them on the road, but I got them after they went down the ditch and up the opposite hillside.

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, it's off to Roost we go

Too bad there were nine, as 7 would have fit better with my captioning. Hum... but maybe there was something of a fairy tale I saw over at Rossmore Bar. What the heck! It makes a nice Valentine's Day tale. Once upon a time there was a handsome, yet lonely, Common Merganser lad.

All alone on Valentines... If only there was
a hen merganser, just for me

So he looked up river and lo! There, along the misty river shore stood the magical Island of Lovlies! Eight, beautiful and vivacious redfeathered Merganser females lounged about clad only in their feathery dainties, and guarded by the powerful eunich-egret.

Magical Island of Lovlies and their Eunich-Egret guard

"Ah... on second thought, mused the Merganser lad,
"I wonder what's going on downstream"?

Oh dear... hope he feels a little more courage later when Spring arrives.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Drama at Fort Baker

The day began with my 5:30 AM drive to Emeryville to have my Sisterlocks hair tended to. Success!

At 10:30 AM I traversed over the Bay Bridge and north over the Golden Gate Bridge to Fort Baker in the Marin Headlands. I'm sure Fort Baker is a beautiful place with a museum or two and such, but I really couldn't have cared less - I was there to look for an Iceland Gull, that showed up there a few days ago.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Fort Baker pier

When I arrived, Birders were already in place looking for the Iceland Gull

Of course, there were a lot more Gulls present than birders, hundreds of gulls. I spotted: Western Gulls, sparse California Gulls, Mews, Glaucous-winged and one lonely little Heerman's Gull. The Gull family reunion was brought on by a bumper crop of Herring roe in the waters along the beach. As the tide receded more and more gulls showed up to feed at the free caviar bar.

Loads of Western, Herring, Glaucous-winged
Gulls and one Brown Pelican hidden in the middle

The previous day the Iceland Gull had flown in around 3PM so after an hour or so I thought I might as well sit in my car and have lunch while waiting for the Iceland Gull to fly in. So there I sat, eating blueberries and scanning my Sibley's guide when I heard the sound of people racing in rubber boots. I looked up to see a good half dozen heavily rubber-clad men and a woman headed for a little hut alongside a big Coast Guard type boat. A Black Labrador dog was with them and it veered off the path to the boat and raced along the beach, scaring up every mother one of the hundreds of gulls that sat there. Oh well!

One of the Coast Guard types yelled and hollered, recalling his dog and a few minutes later the big patrol boat sailed out, headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. My cell phone rang with my birder buddy Don's ring tone; I answered.

"Hi Don! I'm at Fort Baker, but I haven't seen any Iceland Gull yet."

"Did you see the Slaty-backed Gull?"

"What Slaty-backed Gull? Today?"

"There's a report they spotted a Slaty-backed a few minutes ago and..."

I was needless to say, perplexed. Long story short, while I was watching the Team Rubber racing to their boat, the birders out on the pier were watching a v. exotic, Slaty-backed Gull! Of course, the Slaty back took off with the rest of the gulls when the Labrador took its beach run. Had I forsaked my blueberries I could have seen an adult Slaty-back Gull!

Oh well. Back on the pier I held back my foul blaspheming as one lucky birder showed off the exquisit photos he had taken 5 minutes earlier of the adult Slaty-back - from the bird's red orbital eye ring to the tip of its primary flight feathers featuring the 'string of pearls' pattern that all birders hope to some day see for themselves and analyze.

As I was about give in to some hearty swearing, word came the Iceland Gull was on the opposite side of the pier, not far from where the Coast Guard boat launched from. I was off & running! Hurrah! I got my lifer Iceland Gull.

The Iceland was enjoying a nice splash & a bath

The Iceland heading for shore

Venturing onto shore the Iceland - right - tries to fit in

Close-up of the 1st year, immature Iceland Gull

I can't tell you how relieved I was to not miss seeing that ensie little gull. I was disappointed about not seeing the Adult Slaty-backed Gull, not because I've never seen one before, but I want to try my hand at getting some decent photos of one. But just as I was whinging to myself, another birder came up to those of us admiring the Iceland to tell us there was another possible Slaty-back Gull on the very pier I had just run over from. 'Possible' because this second Slaty-back was an immature and those are a little sketchier to get a good identification on. Here is one of my photos of the immature Slaty-backed Gull. Narrow-ish bill, smaller than a Herring Gull's bill? Check. Dark mascara around a pale eye? Check. Pale base of bill? Check. Slaty-backed Gull? I think so. However, my opinion and $1.75 will get you a cup of coffee at a Starbucks.

Immature Slaty-backed Gull - or not, the jury's still out

Ah! And now for the 'drama' I referred too. Around the time we were gawking at the immature Slaty-backed, the Coast Guard boat returned - body-bagged corpse in tow. ARRRGGH! Apparently someone either jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, drowned or was bobbing along in the surf. Very sad, and quite dramatic. Now, how about those Gulls!

That's my Honda just in front of the Police car and Ambulances

Monday, February 06, 2012

An Egg to Match the Sky

HURRAH! I ran my usual roaming check around the yard today and found the first egg of the season, and what an egg it is!

Lucy's first egg - beautiful blue

The first egg of the year is from Lucy, my Easter Egger (Americana?). I was told she may well be a hatchling from this past year and as such I had expected her first egg to be smallish, but her egg - which may or may not be her first ever - is not small. Also I didn't know if she would lay green or blue eggs so a nice Robin's egg blue egg is a happy surprise.

Am wondering when my other four 'slackers' will get around to laying their first eggs of the new year. My French Faverolles Adele and Babette will lay their normal pinkish beige eggs and my new French 'Black Copper Maran' pullets will lay dark brown eggs. I am going to crow when I get my first Maran egg. Happy days are here again. No more store bought eggs till late this year when the winds grow frigid.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Half Day of Birding

After far too many days indoors I ventured out in search of Short-eared Owls in Elk Grove today. Boo hoo! I struck out, not scoring any owls but will try again sometime next week. Can't complain though, I did get nice shots of a v. cooperative Say's Phoebe, a species that has previously thwarted my efforts to photograph it.

Say's Phoebe

Being only a few miles north of the Consumnes Wildlife Area I had to drive over for a visit. I decided to traverse the board walk through the marsh. There were plenty of noisy Marsh Wrens and Song Sparrows in the reeds. I tailed the little Song Sparrow below then, just as I snapped the shot, it turned its head.

Squandered shot: DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!

This handsome Cinnamon Teal drake admired its own reflection in the marsh ala Ugly Duckling. If he's waiting to turn into a swan he's got a long wait ahead of him.

Who is the fairest of us all? QUACK!

Flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese, and ducks of the Pintail, shoveler and Green-winged Teal persuasion slept or dabbled in the marsh. Overhead, were scads of noisy croaking Sandhill Cranes I thought would have headed north to the tundra by now. I shot little groups of them but if only the sun wasn't back lighting them! *whine, whine, whine*
Sandhill Cranes soaring above

I took the short leisurely hike along the wooden boardwalk at Consumnes and was rewarded with several shots of this American Bittern. It played "I can see you but you can't see me", and I must say I beg to differ with it.

This bittern slunked along in the reeds by the viewing platform

I looked for it on my way out and it
struck this "You can't See Me!" pose

Eventually it decided I could see it, and it scuttled into the reeds

Leaving Consumnes I drove the scenic route along the Sacramento River. I was actually there looking for an old birding spot where I once found Long-billed Curlews, Lazuli Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks. No luck there either, but I'll find the spot eventually and will have the photos to prove it!