24 March 2012

Neighborhood birding

I don't think I've even left my neighborhood in the last several days.  Most of my work happens at home so any birding I do is limited to staring out my window or recent wanderings around the neighborhood.

One such sighting came today with this WESTERN SCRUB-JAY carrying nesting material:

A common species in the neighborhood is the CEDAR WAXWING:

It was interesting watching this female ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD feed a youngster:

The flowering trees near the patio have been busy with warblers and hummingbirds.  We continue to have RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS visit once in a while.  Here is a male:

I mentioned warblers above which is kind of misleading.  We've only had one warbler species around the neighborhood and that's the ubiquitous YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:

Last and least, who walks out of their abode expecting to see a chicken running around?  I mean, I live in a suburb of Sacramento, not Salineno.  Anyway, Little Jerry was walking around the cars in our apartment complex earlier today:

Ash and I were discussing today what we thought were the 10 most common species we see from the apartment.  So, here's my list in order of decreasing abundance:

1. Rock Pigeon
2. European Starling
3. Anna's Hummingbird
4. Yellow-rumped Warbler
5. American Goldfinch
6. House Finch
7. Northern Mockingbird
8. American Robin
9. Western Scrub-Jay
10. Bushtit

20 March 2012

Some stick around...

A walk this afternoon around the little urban lake here in Elk Grove provided very little.  However, I like to think that quality sometimes trumps quantity.  For example, the only duck we saw on the lake was this female BARROW'S GOLDENEYE, presumably the same female that's been here all winter:

You can see this previous post for details on the last time I saw her.

One of the most abundant species around the neighborhood as of late have been WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS.  No, not House Sparrows.  In fact, I have yet to even see a House Sparrow from my yard despite hitting the 80 species mark recently.  Anyway, very rarely can you go 5 minutes without hearing WCSPs.  This one perched on a stone wall this afternoon for a few moments:

Another now-common species around here is the WHITE-THROATED SWIFT.  Here is one doing its version of a "spread eagle"... just on a slightly smaller scale:

Back home, the local female ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD often keeps watch over my feeders from this vantage point.  Hang in there lady:

18 March 2012

Study before chasing

I'm terribly sorry if you've been expecting a blog post from me.  It's been far too long since I sat down and put one together.  I'm working on a few book reviews as well so remember to stay tuned....

Now that it's "late" March already, lots of things have been happening around here.  For example, I swung up to the Davis WTP in Yolo County after a Slaty-backed Gull was reported there.

There was already a crowd there looking when I arrived.  They soon beckoned me over to where someone had apparently relocated the Slaty-backed.  They put me on a dark-mantled gull a fair ways out roosting on the rock levee.  

In the few times that I birded at the Davis WTP before, I usually saw one or two Western Gulls.  When they put me on the dark-mantled gull that everyone was calling a Slaty-backed, my number one question was "WHY is this a SBGU and not a WEGU?".  Fair enough, right?  Someone said the bill was too small for it being a Western.  Another person said the mantle was "too dark" to be a Western.  Neither of those field marks really satisfied me, I simply wanted to see the spread-wing to clinch the ID.  Eventually, it did just that:

Cue the problem... the above bird doesn't have a "string of pearls" like a Slaty-backed should show.  Instead, it has white mirrors on P9 and P10, something that seems fine for Western.  As I was finding this out, everyone around me was congratulating themselves on the "great bird".  Even though they were there next to me, they came to the wrong conclusion and were assuming this was the SBGU.  Granted, I'm not there to correct anyone but the whole notion bothered me a bit afterwards.  Now, it's ok if you don't know all the fieldmarks but why would people drive for hours to chase a bird that they're actually unable to identify?  This is a question I've pondered before.  Sadly, I've seen this phenomenon several times, a couple times even from my days in Iowa.  I would suggest studying up so that when you're there in person, you know what to look for.  Sounds logical, right?

I have been checking the Cosumnes River Preserve in recent days to enjoy the many hundreds of shorebirds that are present there.  In fact, I've noted 12 species of shorebirds in a single afternoon.  Can't complain with that.  Here's a typical view (dark and rainy):

In one of flocks was this SEMIPALMATED PLOVER:

I was surprised to learn via eBird that there are only 1-2 other Central Valley records from the month of March.  Sweet.

A bit more common (ok, a lot more common) are the many GREATER YELLOWLEGS:

Another recent arrival have been the WHITE-FACED IBIS.  Here is a back-lit shot:

Cosumnes River Preserve has hosted a pretty large flock of white geese in recent days.  Here is the distant flock getting up:

Upon closer inspection, you can see that this flock actually had 3 species of geese:

Speaking of geese, the other day I was sorting through a flock of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE when I came upon this weird goose:

Best I can tell, this is a BARNACLE X GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.  Weird combo.  More thoughts are welcome if you have experience with this hybrid mix.  Maybe it's a CACKLING X GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE?

Some of the most noticeable arrivals have definitely been the swallows.  Here are a few species from recent days:





I've also stumbled on more CALIFORNIA QUAIL in recent days than I have all winter.  I won't argue with that.  Here's one just south of town:

I'll admit, I haven't noticed many changes in our local selection of sparrows these days.  Everything still seems to be dominated by WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS.  Here is a shot of the latter:

Perhaps the biggest highlight in the last week came during one of my checks of the Davis WTP in Yolo County (the gull spot I previously mentioned).  Even though it was pouring rain, I huddled outside my car and scoped the many GWGU, THGU, CAGU, RBGU, and HERG.  I was hunting for the previously reported ICELAND GULL.  As luck would have it, I spotted it on the rock dike:

You can see that the tips of the primaries look 100% completely white and that the eye is very pale.  Here is another shot of the bird, this time preening (which gives you a vantage point of seeing the primary tips):

So if the wingtips are completely white, one must consider the nominate subspecies of Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides glaucoides.  Some of the experts around here consider this bird to be of that subspecies.  However, I hadn't seen the bird in flight and my digiscoped pictures were kind of crappy.  Well, things were about to change.  The ICGU, along with a couple other gulls, got up and started flying directly towards me.  In a panic, I tried to get my dSLR before the bird was gone.  I rifled off these shots as it passed directly overhead:

My, what nice white primary tips you have!  Anyway, if this truly is an adult L. g. glaucoides, I was told that it would be the second ever for California.

Here is a map of where I relocated the ICGU:
View Davis WTP in a larger map

In case any of you wish these posts weren't so bird-heavy, I'll end with a mammal sighting.  I was working out at Staten Island when I spotted this NORTHERN RIVER OTTER digging around.  It then proceeded to wallow around on its back!  Must have felt pretty comfortable with me.

09 March 2012

Swainson's Hawk

I spent a little bit of time working this afternoon out at Staten Island, San Joaquin County.

Overhead was this SWAINSON'S HAWK, my first in the Central Valley since 28 December and my first in San Joaquin County since 2 December.  This wasn't too much of a surprise given the numbers of SWHAs that are being reported to the south.  In fact, it looks like SWHA was first reported around here back in late February according to eBird.  Oh well.

Red-tailed Hawk:

Common Checkered-Skipper:

Golden-crowned Sparrow @ Cosumnes River Preserve:

Gadwall @ Cosumnes River Preserve:

Dark-eyed Junco @ Cosumnes River Preserve:

03 March 2012

Close of Feb, start of March

Nesting of some species is well underway here in the Central Valley.  Here is our female ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD on her nest just outside our apartment.  She's been incubating for a couple of weeks now:

I added a couple of yard birds in the last week as well.  A flock of fly-by RING-NECKED DUCKS was number 75.  Number 74 was a DOWNY WOODPECKER.  It's odd for me living in a place where NUTTALL'S are more common than DOWNYS:

I was out at Staten Island doing one of the last surveys of the winter.  At one of my first points were a couple of GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS:

A different flooded field had this THAYER'S GULL, a species I hadn't seen on Staten Island before:

That brings the gull list at Staten Island this winter up to 6 species:

California Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mew Gull
Herring Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull

This strange BREWER'S BLACKBIRD definitely stood out.  Poor thing.

You're probably sick of me posting pictures of SANDHILL CRANES standing out in the fields.  Well, that won't be a problem anymore considering most of the cranes I saw were doing this:

(They were all kettling really high up and taking advantage of the sound winds to push them northward. I wouldn't be surprised if every crane is gone from the Delta within a week.

Overhead, many of the SNOW GEESE seemed to be heading out as well (although we know there are still many hundred in the Delta):

Here are some blue-phase SNOW GEESE, the much rarer phase here in the Central Valley:

I heard a familiar sound overhead and realized it was my first CLIFF SWALLOW of the season:

And yes, keeping in line with all my other Staten posts, I took some pictures of the RED-TAILED HAWKS in the area:

Last but not least was this BURROWING OWL, a fairly widespread valley inhabitant although never very common in this area: