27 January 2015

12 years a goose

We've continued to stay local.

A male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER was found on the American River and so we went to check it out.  It's been aggressively displaying to a female COMMON MERGANSER (and no, she hasn't seemed impressed):
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER is a pretty rare bird in Sacramento County, this was only my 3rd ever.  Even more, it's an adult male (most of the others haven't been).

Oh, I took a digiscoped picture using my new phone of this sleeping GREAT BLUE HERON.  Digiscoping with it is quite difficult but I look forward to when Kowa comes out with a case adapter for it:
Here's our checklist for the visit.

On a recent visit to Elk Grove Regional Park, we found this male intergrade NORTHERN FLICKER:
It was a bit different than most of the intergrades I've seen around here though; this bird had a very strong red nape crescent and the malar was mixed black and red.  Most of the intergrades I see have a weaker red nape crescent and a fully red malar.  So who knows, maybe this was a first generation intergrade.

Anyway, we also connected with BROWN CREEPER which can sometimes be tricky to find in county.  Our list for EGRP is here.

We went to Folsom Point hoping to see some new year birds; we succeeded in just that.  We added COMMON LOON, EARED GREBE, CLARK'S GREBE, and ROCK WREN.  Also, the ACORN WOODPECKERS there are quite tame:
You can see that checklist here.

There's been a few RED-TAILED HAWKS hanging around the apartment lately.  Above it, mostly.  As one would expect, both of these are calurus, or "Western", Red-tailed Hawks.  You can tell on the following adult light bird by the dark throat (adult eastern RTHAs have a whitish throat):
It's not tough to know the subspecies on this intermediate/dark bird because there is no dark morph of eastern RTHAs.  Gorgeous hawk though, it's been fun living around those here in CA:
I visited Staten Island in San Joaquin County yesterday morning to see if the goose flock was close enough to scope.  It was, finally, after being fogged in on many of my prior visits.  Slightly unusual was a large flock of SNOW GEESE there as well; my estimate of 1300 was flagged in eBird.  Here's a fraction of the flock:
I enjoy scoping the flock of "ALEUTIAN" CACKLING GEESE looking for banded birds.  Because the fog lifted and the birds were close, it was a successful outing; I ended with 27 different collars.  As always, I submitted those to the Bird Banding Lab so they can have that resighting data on record.  Let's take a quick look at one of the birds I saw; 34P:
I just heard back from the BBL (less than a 24 hour turnaround!) and the certificate they attached shows that this bird is decently old, at least 12 years:
This is considerably older than most of the CACG I resight there so I consider myself lucky to have gotten something a little interesting.  Additionally, several other geese I saw yesterday morning were banded only 2-3 months ago.  And yes, some of those geese are not even a full year old yet.

23 January 2015

BIRDS OF AUSTRALIA: A PHOTOGRAPHIC GUIDE

"Birds of Australia:  A Photographic Guide", by Iain Campbell, Sam Woods, and Nick Leseberg, was published in 2014.  It's a 392 page paperback and costs $35.00.
An upfront disclaimer... I'm NOT an expert of Australian birds.  Although I did visit Australia for a couple of weeks back in 2005, I haven't seen the vast majority of birds in this book.  However, I do look at a lot of bird books and because I find them fascinating and the birds of Australia mindbending, I'll review this book anyway.

First, about the size, it isn't a tiny fit-in-your-back-pocket kind of book.  As you can see below, it's just a tad smaller than the newest Sibley Guide to Birds (which most North American birders are familiar with).  The proportions are the exact same as the Pizzey & Knight Australia book in everything except thickness; Campbell et al. is just a tad thinner:
There is a 37 page introduction devoted to the habitats of Australia which I actually found helpful.  I doubt habitat names such as "mulga" or "gibber plains" are familiar to many of us birders, especially here in the US.  For that reason, the authors include maps of where the habitat is generally present and some text describing it and what some of the key species might be:
Sometimes a picture of the habitat is included with the text and map:
 
After that comes the species accounts which essentially is the remainder of the book.  When you open this book, you'll see species text and maps on the left side and pictures of the birds on the right.  Here's an example of the treecreeper section:
Sometimes, as you'll see below, a picture makes it into the left side of the spread, in with the text and maps.  There isn't really any rhyme or reason to when that happens but it hardly seems like a bad thing.  Here's an example on a page with cuckoos:
 Here's another example with a photo on the left side, this time with parrots:
Focusing a little bit more on the text for each species, here is a photo I took of the Scarlet-chested Parrot account.  You can see it includes the common name, scientific name, size, general habitat, a quick verbal description of the bird, and even a location where birders might look for it:
The maps in this book are simple but informative.  You'll see the territories are outlined, major cities are represented with a dot, and the bird range as shading.  The maps don't delineate between winter/summer ranges.  However, you'll notice that there are differences in the shading; darker indicating their core range (and presumably they're easier to find there).  Here's an example map, this one of the Channel-billed Cuckoo:
 Here are three more range maps, this time of grasswrens:
 As another example, here's the text, map, and a bonus photo of a Yellow-throated Miner:
Sometimes species are packed in pretty tightly which obviously leaves little room to expand very much on each species.  In this example, six species of falcons are fit in this spread:
I figured I'd end with a list of pros and cons:

Pros:
* Every Australian bird is mentioned (all 714 species)
* Photos are pretty decent; this book is said to have 1100 photos.
* Range maps are present with the text and photos, not in the back.

Cons:
* Some birders don't like photographic guides.  This is a photographic guide.  I hear you.
* There is little room for additional text about calls, natural history, seasonality, etc.

As a whole, though, I really enjoyed flipping through this book and I do think it's quite valuable to have.  Still, this book brought to mind an issue I've discussed before; photographic guides.  I typically don't rank photographic bird books very high due to the inability to standardize and, overall, I'm not a fan of any guide here in North America that attempts to ID a species in one or two photos (whereas "the" gull book, with tons of photos of every species, is superb).  I'm not 100% certain why that is but I think it roots in me being familiar with birds here.  Once I learned the birds and became familiar with so many, I think my level of expectation in a field guide went way up.  Instead of trying to figure out if it's a Spotted Towhee or Eastern Towhee, I want to see the different subspecies, I want to see as many different ages as possible, I just need more.  In general, photographic guides don't do that for me.

So why do I like this photographic guide?  Well, it comes back to me NOT being familiar with the birds in Australia.  If I went back, I'd surely be spending my energy on just trying to figure out which honeyeater I'm looking at, you know?  Not being familiar with these birds in turn makes seeing photos of buttonquail and emu-wrens maybe more enjoyable than illustrations!

Still, in the end, if I had to choose only one bird book for a trip to Australia, I'd definitely still choose the Pizzey & Knight book just because there are more depictions of the birds (and they're illustrations!) as well as more information about nests, eggs, habitat, seasons, voice, natural history, etc.

For more information about this book, you can visit the Princeton University Press website.  Just click here.

Disclaimer:
I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.

22 January 2015

Local yokel

It's been fairly quiet here in Sacramento County, at least for us.  Most of my birding lately has either been at Don Nottoli Park, a local patch of ours, or simply making checklists from the yard.

Although birding the local patch might seem rather dull, and it is at times, it's still possible to find neat things that we haven't seen there before.  For example, this MERLIN was the first record of that species from the park:
Although I've seen MERLIN from the yard 5x, they're pretty scare overall in the area.  In fact, I just checked my eBird records for Sacramento County and can say that I see 22 AMERICAN KESTRELS for every MERLIN.

Another first record from Don Nottoli park was this CACKLING GOOSE.  You can see the white collar on the smaller goose on the right:
This species definitely isn't that rare but they're usually so outnumbered by GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE at the park that it's just a matter of sifting through enough geese (and I don't usually take my scope).

Looking at the picture of the geese, you can see a lot of grassland going on.  It's true, Stone Lakes NWR butts up directly next to Don Nottoli Park, and much of Elk Grove, in fact.  The expansive grazed grasslands are responsible for many of the cool rural birds we see so close to an urban setting.  A good example of that is this uncommon grassland raptor, the FERRUGINOUS HAWK:
 
Although they're generally uncommon around here, spend enough time around grasslands in the winter and you'll surely find some.

Same goes for this flycatcher:
That flycatcher, as you might know, is a SAY'S PHOEBE and is a common winter resident.  You can usually find a couple in just about any open grassland setting around here.  Drive I-5 south of where I live and you can usually find a couple even at 70 mph.

Although Don Nottoli Park sits next to the grassland, we owe the diversity here to the wooded pond that we walk around every visit.  I thought I'd take a few pictures so that you can see what I'm dealing with:


So yeah, it's nothing huge or impressive but next to the urban jungle, it acts as a migrant trap.  In different seasons, it's brought in birds such as YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER, BLUE GROSBEAK, WESTERN TANAGER, and even rare birds like BREWER'S SPARROW and GRAY FLYCATCHER.

Most of the time, however, it's not as gripping.  We often see things such as RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS, a very common species:
There are usually some COMMON GALLINULES skulking around somewhere too:
Although they're completely abundant, I snapped a picture of this particular NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD anyway:
This local patch usually has a good number of sparrows, mostly GOLDEN-CROWNED, WHITE-CROWNED, and SAVANNAH.  However, we'll see SONG, FOX, and LINCOLN'S around too.  The rarest of the sparrows here are things like LARK, CHIPPING, BREWER'S, and DARK-EYED JUNCO.  Anyway, here's a fence full of GCSPs:
Speaking of sparrows, I was birding in extreme SW Sacramento County (down in the Delta), when I started looking at the WCSPs a little more carefully.  It started with this bird which I thought had a mighty yellow bill:
The question was simply "would I know if I were actually seeing pugetensis or nuttalli?"  Both of those races winter just an hour drive west of there.  Yes, gambelii is the most widespread and expected winter subspecies in the Central Valley but since all three of those races have pale lores, I started to wonder what I should be looking at.  Does the yellow bill of pugetensis and nuttalli stand out enough?  Because like I said, I kinda think the bill of the above bird looks pretty yellow and I'm betting it's still gambelii.

Anyway, here's another photo from the same spot
While we're talking about WCSPs, I may as well share this picture too, taken from my patio in Elk Grove:
It's always a bit of a treat when we see sparrows in the heavily manicured urban neighborhood I'm in.  In here, sparrows are pretty uncommon and things like wrens are downright rare.  You can imagine my surprise then when I found this HERMIT THRUSH in some leaf litter below the patio:
That was certainly a first record for the yard.

Anyway, that's all for now.....

13 January 2015

Alaska eBird map

I recently shared my eBird maps here on my blog and I stated that I couldn't get openheatmap.com to take my Alaskan numbers.  Well, thanks to a tip from SEFI, the key is to add the word "Borough" after the borough name to your spreadsheet.  That worked with most of them but I was still having issues... and then realized that some should be called "Census Area" instead and sure enough, that worked as well.

It's a shame that I don't have any checklists from 3-4 other boroughs/census areas that I've been to in Alaska but maybe someday I'll return.  Anyway, here is a peek:


10 January 2015

Fun to start fast

Even though we had birded both January 1 and 2, we weren't quite done with the long weekend yet.  We were, simply put, on a hunt for county year birds.  This post is devoted to our recent snags for the year list.  Less words, more pictures.  Go.

First up, we headed to Cosumnes to target things like GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET.  It took us a while but it worked out in the end:
And it's hard to ignore other non-year birds along the way like this AMERICAN KESTREL:
A male CINNAMON TEAL doesn't exactly blend in with coots all that well:
I visited the City Cemetery targeting BROWN CREEPER and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH.  Managed to find both.  Here's the latter:
I birded William Land Park in Sacramento hoping to bump into the Hammond's Flycatcher that has been seen sporadically there this winter.  No luck with the flycatcher but I found my year TOWNSEND'S WARBLER and photographed the HOODED MERGANSERS there:
I hit up the Blue Heron Trail portion of Stone Lakes NWR; I had a hunch it was my best shot at AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS.  Apparently they agreed:
A spin to Camden Park didn't yield any Black-crowned Night-Herons, a species I still need for the year, but there was still a male BARROW'S GOLDENEYE on the lake.  Sharp looking dude:
There were also several PINE SISKINS there at the park.  Although it wasn't a year bird, I think it might have been the first record of that species for this local patch:
Also at Camden, there were two freaky ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS.  I'm not sure if anything is wrong with these birds but they don't look right to me!  Ruffled forehead feathers, messed up eyes, and a giant bill (or maybe just accentuated by the chewed-up forehead).  Strangly, BOTH birds looked like this:
A visit to the Folsom Rodeo Grounds was in store to target HUTTON'S VIREO and RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW.  I picked up a bonus WILD TURKEY along the way, managed to hear the RCSPs, and this HUVI was obliging:
Birders found a STELLER'S JAY on a CBC at a park I had never been to before.  Since it was a year bird, away to Lew Howard Park I went.  I actually found one before I even parked; it flew right over the road as I was arriving.  That's stupid.  Here's a documentation pic:
It was here that my attention was drawn to some interesting notes coming from the top of a tree.  For the life of me, I thought it sounded similar to a vireo singing!  Keen to find the culprit, I searched until this PURPLE FINCH popped into view.  What the crap?  Here's a picture of the bird:
Take a listen to this recording of a PUFI from Vancouver, see what I mean?  Now I know.


I ventured back to Nimbus Fish Hatchery to see if there were any odd gulls around.  I didn't see our ICGU from before so I instead took pictures of mixed goldeneye flocks.  Here are two male BARROW'S GOLDENEYE on the left and two male COMMON GOLDENEYE on the right:

Whew.  In the end, I reached 150 species in the county in the first week of the year.  All of a sudden, it hit me that I'm basically 3/4ths through the species I'll see in Sacramento County this year already!   I looked at my pace in 2014 and it took me 3 weeks to hit 150 so I guess I'm ahead of schedule.

So branching out a bit, we actually took a detour one day and headed up into Gates Canyon in Solano County.  I love this canyon.  We weren't very far in when we noticed BAND-TAILED PIGEONS freaking everywhere:


Yeeeeeah, we ended with nearly 300!  Again, this winter has brought BTPIs into lower elevations all over the place (so no, this wasn't all that unexpected).  What WAS unexpected was finding a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE about 3.3 miles in:

This was a good find for us, there were only 4 other Solano County eBird records of this species.

Anyway, up through today, the 10th, we're happily perched at #1 and #2 in the county this year.  Of course, that doesn't really mean anything, it's just been fun to start fast.