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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Little South County Birding

After lunch with a buddy today, I was near Consumnes Reserve, so decided I might as well put in a visit there. I walked the boardwalk and although I enjoyed some v. close looks at Wilson's Snipes...

Wilson's Snipe
I was taken by the number of Common Yellowthroat, a type of warbler, that were bouncing around the reeds like they were on uppers. There were at least a dozen, the males with their black masks, and the less flashy females, but they never held still for second so it was a challenge getting any shots of them at all.

How's that for a striking bird?
BOING! I'm outta here!
By the time I meandered around the boardwalk, it was getting late and it dawned on me, I wasn't too far from a spot where Short-eared Owls hunt the ag fields. Not having any shots of any kind of Short-eared Owls, I  headed on over. First thing I spotted was a big ole' owl on a post.

Around 4:30 this big Short-eared Owl was perusing the fields
I've seen loads of this species before, but today was the best looks I've had of them EVER. What a thrill! There were a pair of them, and I watched one of them with a vole, get bullied and harassed in the air by the second bird.

Fluffin' it Up
The Short-ears flew back & forth over the fields, hunting. I saw the land, though they didn't seem to catch anything with most of their efforts. Good or bad year for rodents? Don't know. When I saw one flying with a big juicy vole, the other owl chased after it for a bit, then gave up. Competition is on. Oh! And I watched one bird chasing a small song bird - that was interesting.

Swooping up
Almost got it there...
Teetering to smooth out that landing
Saw lots of new-for-the-year birds, miraculously bringing my annual total for species seen in 2013 to 100 even-steven. Go ahead. Applaud. I don't blame you.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What ever happened to...?

Robin, who is responsible for having found wonderful new homes for all five of my hens contacted me tonight. She sent me photos of Babette, Dove & Godiva enjoying their new home. Oh how I miss those little biddies!

Godiva, Dove and Babette hunting in the straw
To my eyes the Marans are larger than they were when they left here, and Babette she looks like her usual poofy and fussy self.

Babette inspecting the goat pen with her new 'Mommy' *sniff*
 They look fit and happy in their winter feathering. They have a ginormous hen house all to themselves now.

Looks like a Chicken Palace to me!
Well, I just wanted to share how well my three funny little hens are doing. I miss them every flippin' day. Thanks for the pictures Robin!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blue Gold, Out Back

This morning, I have been doing what I often do, messing about on-line. I looked out the living room picture window and spotted a House Finch in my Hawthorn, a bird I seldom see out back. I noticed another bird and went ballistic - not one, but several Western Bluebirds!  That's a new yard bird, or at least one I've never spotted out back before. They were helping themselves to Hawthorn berries and I saw them also popping onto the lawn, coming up with worms, larvae and such.

Western Bluebird in my Hawthorn, sporting the traditional Bluebird scowl
Who photographs me from yon window?

After staring and taking a b'jillion Bluebird photos, I noticed there were loads of other species around too. The Anna's Hummingbird that enjoys over-wintering here every year was sucking down the sugar water.  She had her back turned to me, which I guess I deserve, as I've been a little slow on refilling HER feeder.

Just as shocking was for the first time I can remember in the b'jillion years I've been in this house, there was two species of Goldfinches at the same time.  The American Goldfinches, currently cloaked in their fawn winter outfits were at the waterer.

For American Goldfinches stripes are all the rage this winter
And their minute cousins, the Lesser Goldfinches were up to thievery, I couldn't believe my eyes. Calmly as you please, Lesser Goldfinches were nicking my Rainbow Swiss Chard. Now, OK, that was actually fine with me, as I've had that Chard there at least 2 years and have yet to pick and eat any of it. Silly birds. Next time just ask, you little sneak thieves.

Lesser Goldfinches Filching the Chard
Yellow-rumped Warbler, working the lawn for bugs
Skippy here, has ravaged the Hawthorn tree for months
A pair of Western Bluebirds bug hunting from the platform feeder
Of course, I can't leave well enough alone. I'm going to get some mealworms and put them on my v. old bird tray feeder just under the telephone line. Bluebirds are suckers for mealworms, and I want to do what I can to encourage them to hang around. Classes up my back yard a bit, you know?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Birds visiting from the Big North

Another day, another search for interesting birdies. Early in the morning, Don and I headed south. It was late yesterday, Don found out there was a bird that was 'cool' in more ways than one, in Monterey Harbor - a bird that a number of years ago, I'd traveled all the way to Attu in the Aleutians islands to see. I didn't get a photo of it there, but now I had a chance at photographing the bird, so I was just as excited as Don to get to Monterey and find the bird.

A narrow bit of Monterey Harbor, featuring a few of its ever-present sea lions
Once there, we slowly waddled our way over iced up plastic boards, to get to the end of a wharf I've visited numerous times before. We scanned the waters below, but no sign of our target - the Arctic Loon. Then, across the waters, we spotted the next wharf down, & at it's point, we spotted at least a dozen birders - easily recognizable for their spotting scopes, binoculars and camera equipment. We headed on over.

It was a long slog for tubby me to get over to the 2nd wharf, but the trek was worth it. The Arctic Loon was bobbing around the harbor, giving every birder plenty of time to admire it's sharp good looks.

Arctic Loon, cruising about in Monterey Bay
The Arctic Loon nabbed a fish, near as big as its head
There were plenty of other good water birds in the Harbor. There were a few Northern Fulmars which normally I only get to see on Pelagic trips. A single Harlequin Duck was way over on the other side of the habor, in an obvious attempt at thwarting me and my camera. Silly bird! Could have been showcased here... *harump* Of course there were also loads of Brant, Double-crested & Pelagic Cormorants.

This Pelagic Cormorant floated on a gleaming patch of waters as colorful as itself
With his first lifer of the year under his belt, we headed along the coast, stopping to search for interesting shore birds. We made a stop in Pacific Grove to search for a wayward juvenile Vermillion Flycatcher, but the bird was a no-show. Rats!

Loads of Black Turnstones, a Snowy Egret & lone Surfbird (find the Surfbird!) hold down this off shore boulder
On our way back north, we stopped at Norma's a tiny cafe in Castroville for brunch. Full up, we drove on to some fields just south of San Jose. We were in the middle of nowhere, but still we ran into carloads of birders, all there for a decent look at the same raptor we sought - the Ferruginous Hawk.

A snowy breast with red leggings ID this sitting Ferruginous beauty
Not joking about the High Voltage!
Ferruginous dropping its landing gear for a 2 point landing
There were three of the tundra nesting hawks in the field. They put on quite a good show for everyone, zooming about the agricultural field, in company of vultures & Red-tailed Hawks. I've had close looks at a Ferruginous before, but it was decades ago. This time I had my camera with me and while my photos aren't going to make National Geographic, I feel pretty happy with them.

Ooops - a bit too much tail wind for this bird.
So! It was a good two days of birding - one lifer for Don, and better yet, one lifer for me. No clue what other birds new to me, will show up this year, but here's hoping they're as numerous as they will be exciting.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Little Sapphire of Pescadero

My first post of the new year, and yes, it's all about the birds. A little sapphire gem of a bird showed up in Pescadero and following its own little agenda, it seems to have decided to overwinter on Pescadero Creek Road in San Mateo County. The species is normally only found in the Eastern half of North America.  My birder buddy  Don, saw the bird week ago, and I joined him this weekend for 2 days of birding. Our first stop was a cute little apple orchard where the Warbler hangs out.

Don, on the lookout for the the vagrant warbler
I must say, the man who owns the property where the warbler is, is a rara ava himself. He is so  incredibly accommodating to birders, if only there were some award we could give him for being so wonderful. When the owner saw Don and I hanging out, scanning his orchard through his front gate, he didn't go all postal on us chasing us away, he instead greeted us, telling us he would leave his side gate open, to improve our chance of spotting the bird. It's wonderful knowing there are such kind people out there to offset the uh... not so kind.
Hermit Warbler in lichen swathed apple tree

Back to the bird! We were near freezing as we watched a parade of birds in the orchard - Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, American Robins, California Towhees and jaunty Hermit Thrushes.

Then, across the street from the orchard, I spotted a few birds shooting into a pine tree and the game was on! Soon I was capturing glimpses of a little slaty blue bird, and the occasional perfect profile of a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. The bird then shot into the orchard, settling in a tree by the gate, where he picked away at an old apple. Who knew warblers ate apple? 

The Male Black-throated Blue Warbler
An apple a day, keeps the Sharp-shinned Hawk away
I think we stood watching the bird for maybe as long as five minutes before it continued on its morning peregrination. We actually left the site, returning a hour later and respotted the bird, though the second time I got no shots of it. That only gave me an improved appreciation of how lucky I was the bird was so cooperative, standing still for such a long time. What could I possibly appreciate more than a photogenic lifer species for me?

We decided to stop at the Arcangel's Market to buy sandwiches for lunch and stock up on the wonderful fresh baked bread they always have for sale. Yum!

Busy little Townsend's Warbler, behind the Arcangeli Market in Pescadero

Before we left Pescadero I took a shot of the not-found-in-Pescadero hummingbird on painted on the side of a gas station building. No clue of the murel's significance, but it is pretty.

Our next stop was the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, to look for Ancient Murrelets which we heard were seen there the previous day, just off shore.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Flotilla of Red-breasted Merganser drakes
This fellow seems particularly proud of himself

I would loved a good look at Ancient Murrelettes, but alas, the little alcids were already off to another location. There were loads of Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Turnstones & such.
From behind the lighthouse here, we spotted White-winged Scoters and other seabirds
This was the first time I ever actually took any time to look around the light house. There is a lot to look at, though I only bothered myself with birding. The lighthouse has a tourist hostel that I hope some day to stay at.

 After leaving Pigeon Point, we drove on down to Santa Cruz, in search of a little Black & White Warbler that was said to be cruzing a little narrow strip of a park near the ocean front. The bird was a no show, but oh well, at least the search gave me a chance to end the day nearly freezing my butt off, yet again. That was our last birdie hunt for the day - One lifer for me, and I call that a great day.