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Baltimore by the Sea

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Little Local Birding

Loon Lake at the top of Ice House Road, Eldorado National Forest
Woooo hoooo! Second birdie weekend in a row for me, when birder buddy Don drove out from the Bay Area Friday morning for some sierra and central valley birding. We headed east to Ice House Road where we went straight up the mountain. There at our traditional first stop, we chatted with the caretaker Fay, whom we've met with many times before. Soon, with Fay, we were seated on comfy chairs watching the hummingbirds at the feeders under the shade of a copse of pines.

I was pretty excited, because I had a new toy to try out. I purchased a little gizmo that was meant for attaching an iPhone to binoculars for photo taking. In practice at home, I realized the gizmo was useless with any binoculars; no way you can hold the binocs still, and even if you could, the iPhone kept sliding ensuring crap photos. The good news is, when attached to my Kowa spotting scope, the gizmo worked wonders. So I was able to take my first 'experimental' photos with the gizmo and I was wildly happy with the results.

Taken by my iPhone 5, digiscoped with Kowa TSN-824 spotting scope
There is 'vignetting' which is the black area around the round photo area, but the shot inside the black was in focus. To get the iPhone & gizmo attached, I had to unscrew the little eye cup on the scope's eye piece, but who cares! I could see what was in the scope on the iPhone, as could anyone else standing there with me.

Hoovering Anna's Hummingbird fussing at a Rufous Hummingbird
Oh! And what was the cost of the little gizmo? A mere $15 - what a deal.

There were three species of hummers using the feeders, most being Anna's Hummingbirds, two Rufous hummingbirds, and one lone Black-chinned hummer which I didn't manage to get a photos.

We spent maybe an hour with the hummers before heading up hill. We stopped at what Don and I both know as the White-headed Woodpecker spot, where on past visits we've also seen Evening Grosbeaks  and heard Mountain Quail. Today we were skunked - very few birds, and then, they were only seen in brief glimpses.

A tree-top youngster - a Townsend's Solitaire
Digiscoped with iPhone & Kowa Spotting Scope
Soon we hit the upper reaches of the hill, by Loon Lake. As per usual, the lake was conspicuously short on birds - not a duck, loon or grebe in sight. Happily, the chaparral surrounding the lake were not a bird-free zone. The two photos above were trimmed of the black halo from vingnetting. Don also spotted some little Sagebrush Sparrows, which we've seen before but not since the species - Sage Sparrows - were broken into two different species, the Bell's Sparrow and the Sagebrush Sparrow.

We headed back toward Fair Oaks, but decided it would be worth it to head out to Michigan Bar Road and Meiss Road. Don was hoping for a Vesper Sparrow, as seen the last time he was on Meiss, but today there was nothing of note on either road. But, when we'd given up hope, we were on one of the worse roads I know of - it bumps along between pastures before joining up with Sunrise Blvd. There, up at the top of a Telephone was the second Prairie Falcon of the day. The little falcon was just digging into it's lunch, which I believe it had only just caught before we arrived.

Prairie Falcon enjoying a birdie snack - this shot was
Taken with my iPhone gizmo on my shaky Zeiss binoculars (40X10)
This shot was taken just under this fearless bird, with my Canon 100-400 lens
What a brave little Falcon! I wouldn't have gone so close to it, but a truck coming from the other direction didn't spook it, so we correctly guessed it wouldn't be put off by us gawking through my moon roof.

The following day we did some more birding, taking advantage of free & legal access to Folsom Lake. There I put up my usual whining the mile walk necessary to  hike to reach he lake from where we could park. Still I ventured to walk a ways into the dry but nevertheless magestic California oak/grassland. Our main target was Yellow-breasted Chats, those gigantic warblers I haven't viewed in decades. *sigh* the Chats were a no-show. After a while, I retreated to the car while Don headed out to bird by himself. After a half hour or so, my cell phone rang.

Claire:  What...?

Don:  There's a Northern Pygmy Owl!

Hyper excited Claire:  WHERE! WHERE?

Don: Hang on I'll call back!

As happens, Don spotted the owl because of a flurry of smaller birds that were mobbing it. It is always a treat to find furious and fluttery little feathered furies, doing their best to drive off owls that outweigh them by more than a bit. In this case, Don said there were numerous Anna's Hummingbirds trying to put out the owl's eyes and lots of Oak Titmouses, and such. Unfortunately the little birds did succeed in driving off the owl soon after Don called me. Oh well! We've seen Northern Pygmy Owls before, my last time being during a trip to the Mendocino Lost Coast.

So the weekend ended with a great annual bird for Don. One doesn't enjoy a viewing of Northern Pygmy Owls just any old year.

Here's a parting prezzie: Video of the Ice House Road Hummers, with a bit of music so you needn't hear my rattling about in the background. It's a bit long, but kind of restful; enjoy!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Birthday Pelagic (One day late, but who cares!)

It was an awesome day for a pelagic cruise, to which I invited myself  birder buddy Don told me he was signed up for a Alvaro's Adventures Pelagic tour. As bad luck had had it, the last few jaunts I tried out of Half Moon Bay were either overcast, choppy, godawful, or all of the above. However, certainly because it was my birthday yesterday, today the sky was achingly blue and the equally blue bay waters were undulating and alive with birds.

Headed out of Half Moon Bay harbor at the crack of the first gull's fart
Elegant Terns

Leaving harbor we slowly cruised past the rocky breakwaters, covered with Elegant terns, pelicans, Surfbirds & Black Turnstones, oh, and gulls, loads of gulls. 

Barely out of the harbor we passed a big ole' raft of Sooty Shearwaters. The chocolate ocean dwellers are weren't more than a half mile off shore (uh... that's by my yardstick anyway).

Small portion of a large gathering of Sooties

Compact Sooty Shearwater shooting by
We traveled an hour or two to get to true ocean where we could be over waters at least 60 fathoms, or 360 feet deep. That's a depth that will get you true oceanic birds.

The Common Murres weren't too far from land either
On our way out we saw a bouy, which for the pinniped world is sort of a spa. The bouy had not one, but two species of Sea Lions, the giant & rare Stellar's and the more petite Californias.

The bruiser on the left is a Stellar's Sea Lion, and there is
one on the rear too - the others are California Sea Lions

Just when we spotted our first Common Murres, a Sabine's gull or two and other cool pelagic birds, I shrieked - scaring even myself - as I spotted a Pacific White-sided Dolfin pop out of the ocean just below where I stood on deck. Suddenly there were dolphins everywhere, headed for the boat.

"Hurrah! A boat to play with!"
Mini-spy hop by a curious passerby
A dolphin team leaves no chance to show off unexploited

I love dolphins and the way they hurry over to enjoy a free ride from the slip stream along side a speeding boat. I guess there were about 200 Pacific White-sides shooting around the boat. There were some mothers with their 'mini-me' babies trailing along beside them. I was in heaven.

There were also a half dozen or so Northern Right Whale Dolphins leaping about, but unfortunately by the time I would spot them, they were someplace else - they're sneaky like that. However, since it is my damned birthday, I give myself permission to post a shot I took of one during a Searcher trip out of San Diego one soggy gray day years ago.

Whale Redux:  There is no kind of dorsal fin on a Northern Right Whale Dolphin
Now, just because the dolphins were bouncing around, doesn't mean the birds had ceased to fly - there were shearwaters, gulls and such shooting around in the distance. I wasn't paying them much attention, when Dan Singer, a notable world class birder shouted, "Great Petrel"!

Happily I had my Canon camera up and ready as I'd been taking the above still shots of dolphins, so I managed to capture only 3 shots of the bird, only one of which is any good. HURRAH! I got a lifer, a Greater Shearwater, which in his own excitement Dan Singer messed up the name. I forgive him, as when I spot cool birds I often get so excited I can't spit out any words at all.

I got great looks at the bird, which has a white collar and a back cap. You can see it's other easily spotable feature in my photo, its white rump and black tail. What a fantastic treat, as I had no idea I'd see a lifer today. This was the best birthday present ever!

Greater Shearwater, headed lickity split, for parts unknown

The boat buzzed with the excitement of the Shearwater - it was expected to return to the boat as it had at first seemed to want a better look, but it seemed to change its mind and just head off into horizon. I thought Greater Shearwaters were limited to the Atlantic ocean, but apparently there are small numbers of them on the California coast. I still can't believe I was lucky enough to see that big bird fly by.

Really - with the boat rocking up and down, and trying to not fall on my face while holding my big-arse canon camera with both hands, pelagic photography is difficult at best. Enough excuses, here are some other birds I managed to get some kind of shot of.

Red-necked Phalarope (front) & pair of Red Phalaropes. These
little biddies always look too small to be on the ocean at all.

Rhinoceros Auklet

One of about 3 or 4 Pomarine Jaegers spotted during the day

Um... I'm calling this beauty a non-breeding Long-tailed Jaeger. 
A wet and groggy looking Tufted Puffin
 Oh, and one other solitary mammal we picked up on the trip was a Humpbacked Whale. I was kind of hoping to see lots of whales today, but sometimes Posiden holds back a bit - you know - so we appreciate the big things when we do get the chance.

I swear, the larger the whale, the smaller the dorsal fin

Love the water sheeting action on this Humpback's top
 All in all, it was a pretty decent day, as is any day that has a lifer bird for me. Totally enjoyed myself and at day's end, birder buddy Don and I sat down to hoist a beer (thanks for the Anchor Steam unidentified generous birder!) and dinner at Barbara's Fish Trap. The proverbial perfect end to a perfect day.

For no good reason, is a video I shot with my iPhone, a neat trick as I had no idea what was on the screen due to the glare. Look for dolphins dipping in and out of the waters as far as the eye can see.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Why did the Turkey/Duck/Whattheheck, Cross the Road?

Not much to say here other than WHATHEHECK!  First off, I woke in the wee hours before day break because I heard water - I assumed was my neighbor's sprinklers. Nope... it was rain. Rain? Yesterday, Sunday September1st, was a grade A Central Valley summer day, i.e., HOT. Now, a mere one day later, Monday September 2nd and BOOM! Autumn. Rained on and off all danged day.

Now at some point I needed to run errands. So, I was driving up Madison, toward HWY 80, and there was a bit of morning traffic but it wasn't bad at all. Still, suddenly, the cars in front of me began to jam on their breaks. I floored my breaks, sending things on the passenger seat flying. Traffic on the four lane suburban street, with a center divider, were stopped in both directions. I mean, what the heck, you know?

Then I saw the problem - Turkey Jam! Tom Turkey Jam to be exact. I had an fit of the giggles as ten young looking Tom turkeys took their dear sweet time walking from one curb, over the center divider and on to the next sidewalk. I thought how wonderful it is that none of the other drivers pushed the issue or moved as much as an inch as the Toms strutted across the busy street.

It was raining of course, but you can sort of see the ten turkeys which just reached the far sidewalk.

I took these photos just as the cars began to move again, and truly the Earth Mother was with me, in as much as I didn't cause an accident on the wet street, with my one-handed, one eye on the road, one eye on the turkeys, iPhone photo op.

EEK! Drive by shooting in broad daylight!  Turkey photo shoot that is...
Turkeys are crazy birds that seem to go where ever they feel like it, even though in this case they were at least five miles suitable habitat - suitable as I see it, that is. No clue what these birds were doing in this suburban neighborhood. I must say I am quite envious of the people on this street that get to share their yards with such BIG birdies. I'm sure they'd happily let me have their yard turkeys if it could be arranged. Can only imagine how... um... interesting it would be to find turkey sized poo all over your lawn or patio.

Oh, and a good month ago, I was further up this same street about 6 miles farther west, and the same thing happened - much, much busier section of street, near the immensely busy Sunrise Avenue and something similar happened. All cars screeched to a halt, as - get this - a mother Mallard crossed the extraordinarily busy street with her ensie widdle baby ducklings peeping and scrambling behind her.

Not my photo - not my ducks - apparently many
Mallard Mommies take their babies into traffic
I nearly had a heart attack watching those fluff-butted ducklings waddle & peep as they raced to keep up with their Mommy. As Mom raced over the cement center divider (after just passing in front of my car) I held my breath because I thought there was no way the tiny babies were going to make it. I actually turned off my car, prepared to leap out and grab ducklings in my shirt, which I guess I would have had to take off to throw over the babies, what was I thinking????

 Happily, the ducklings saved me from making an ass of myself in public. Adeptly, as each reached the cement, they jumped up like little bouncing balls and crossed the divider behind their mother. Whew!

 May I say, there is not a scrap of wildland near Sunrise and Madison. That mallard must have hatched out her babies on a rooftop, alley or in some shrubbery because the nearest body of water & proper duck habitat is the American River and it maybe four or five miles away from the 'duck' crossing.

 I guess the moral of all this poultry road crossing is first, I wish there was more habitat for these adorable & necessary critters. And secondly, I guess we'll all just have to be patient, and jam on our breaks to let the wildlife cross the roads. They know why they are crossing the roads, and we need to shut up and let them.