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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!

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