29 January 2012

Bodega Bay

We spun over to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County this weekend.  

Most of our highlights came from our first stop, the well-known Diekmann's Bay Store.  I think the very first bird we saw was the continuing BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK:

I should add with the above photos that distinguishing pheucticus grosbeaks can be somewhat tricky.  With adult male breeding birds not yet in the picture, we're left with 1st-winter birds and nonbreeding adults.  Identifying it would be easier if the breast was all orange with no streaks (1st-winter male BHGR) or if there was heavy streaking across the entire breast (adult nonbreeding female  RBGR).  However, we're stuck in the middle with some orange and streaking.  We can focus then on adult nonbreeding female Black-headed and 1st-winter male Rose-breasted.  I'm leaning towards this being a nonbreeding female BHGR.  I'm wondering if the bicolored bill, best seen in the last picture, might be the best factor pointing towards BHGR?  Any thoughts out there from birders used to making that call?

I'll admit, it was enjoyable seeing 5 warbler species in a day in January.  Here is a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER:



.. and this NASHVILLE WARBLER which has also been somewhat reliable:

A brief walk around "Hole in the Head" yielded 4.3 million YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.  Here is one:

This "SOOTY" FOX SPARROW was downright sharp:

We also checked out Porto Bodega where the usual suspects were around.  I snapped a few pictures of a couple of different PACIFIC LOONS, noticing especially the differences in the "bumps" on the forehead:

When this predator comes around....

... all the MARBLED GODWITS and WILLETS completely lose their cool.  In fact, we saw dozens of godwits actually land on the water and swim around "duck style".  They all were able to pop up off the water and take flight once the danger had passed:

Hmm, a gull.  Think the mantle is dark enough for a pure Western?  Doesn't the yellowish orbital ring and pale eye point towards Western?  Based on the dark markings on the bill I'm guessing this is a 3rd cycle going into 4th?  I'm not sure if the wing coverts are ratty or just oiled/dirty/wet....

28 January 2012

Short-eared Owls

There were a couple of SHORT-EARED OWLS just south of Elk Grove, Sacramento County.  These were spotted at dusk hunting over a portion of Stone Lakes NWR.  Here are a couple of pictures of a distant SEOW hunting:

To bird this area, we parked at the dead-end of Nestling Circle and walked along the walking path alongside the grasslands.  Here is a map of where the owls were flying around (feel free to use the "+" icon to zoom in and see where Nestling Circle is located):
View SEOW @ Elk Grove in a larger map

Other than that, it was nice week in the Central Valley after a weekend of solid rain.  Doing some survey work at Staten Island is quite enjoyable when you can see snow-capped mountains in the distance!  

But of course bird surveys are ALWAYS enjoyable when you can look at a field with thousands of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED and SNOW GEESE.  Such was the case on Staten Island:

I was also near Modesto recently for work and again spotted a PHAINOPEPLA along the San Joaquin River.  I first spotted a PHAINOPEPLA at this location back on 5 January (you can view that post on my blog here).  I didn't spend much time working on getting good pictures, just enough to prove it:

The last picture is not of a bird, but a COYOTE instead.  This particular one near Modesto wasn't afraid of me (which is rather disconcerting):

23 January 2012

Harris's Sparrow

The HARRIS'S SPARROW was still present first thing this morning at the Cosumnes River Preserve in Sacramento County:

The sparrow, as described yesterday in the listserv posts, was with a large flock of White-crowned and Golden-crowned sparrows along the south side Desmond Road just west of Bruceville Road.  The flock moved around a bit but the HASP remained on the south side of the road when I was there.  Here is a map of where I had it:
View Harris's Sparrow in a larger map

18 January 2012


In case you have forgotten, I write reviews of books published by Princeton University Press on this blog every once in a while. 

"DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES OF THE EAST", by Dennis Paulson, was published in 2011 by Princeton Press.

Let me start by saying my history with dragonflies has been a short one.  Although I started birding when I was 10 or 11 years old, it took me quite a while before I appreciated insects.  Even then, 15 years later, I focused more on butterflies.  My interest in dragonflies started to take hold when I lived in Iowa.  Can't you picture it?  I'm walking through a remnant prairie... but I already know that what I'm hearing is a Henslow's Sparrow... and that the big butterfly other there is a Regal Fritillary... but what is this dragonfly??  I'm not saying I know everything about birds or butterflies, but dragonflies naturally became an interest of mine and I soon found that searching for dragonflies can be just as rewarding as searching for butterflies.

First and foremost, you may recall that this guide is the eastern counterpart of the book released in 2009 by the same author, "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West".  It is that book that I ended up using in Iowa/Nebraska and on many of my travels and I can't recommend it enough.  This book covering eastern species is laid out in exactly the same manner.

This book illustrates all 336 eastern species of dragonflies and damselflies in about 538 pages.  The book isn't exactly a "pocket guide" but it's not too large to take into the field either.

Each species account comes with:

Common Name
Scientific Name
Total length (in mm)
Hindwing length (in mm)
Natural History
Flight Season

Here is a sample from the book, this one of the Canada Darner:

For me, in the beginning phases of learning odes, I've always found it important to have a good idea of distribution.  In most cases, it really helped me to be able to dwindle down the number of possibilities.  I'm pleased that Paulson's book includes range maps for most, if not all, the species covered in the book. Here is the range map for the Eastern Forktail:

Pretty exciting stuff, I'm really happy that this eastern guide has finally been released!  I would definitely recommend it to anyone who lives out east.

I'll leave you with the start of another species account, this one of the Westfall's Snaketail:

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

17 January 2012

A Humboldt humbling

We took advantage of the long weekend and swung up to Humboldt County for the first time.  Anyway, before we got there, we stopped in Bodega Bay first to check things out.

Along with the usual suspects, I snapped a picture of this MEW GULL doing a fly by:

I also saw this first-cycle THAYER'S GULL with some pretty pale primaries from Porto Bodega:

We checked out Owl Canyon but didn't find much except for a giant flock of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS.  Instead, I just took a picture of the "canyon" itself:

Here's the sunset overlooking the harbor:

We ended the day by doing some owling along Salmon Creek Road.  We dipped on Northern Saw-whet Owls but heard three SPOTTED OWLS and some GREAT HORNED OWLS.  The SPOTTED OWL was at the very top of my nemesis list so it was super rewarding to sit in a dark, quiet canyon and listen to them hooting away.

The next day found us up in Humboldt County.  Our first stop was the north jetty:
View North Jetty in a larger map

Things fell into place perfectly starting with great looks at a ROCK SANDPIPER:

The SURFBIRDS were common, several of them practically asking to be photographed:

This BLACK TURNSTONE was also extremely tame:

A bit more uncommon at this location this time of year was a lone WANDERING TATTLER:

Even a LEAST SANDPIPER was on the jetty, apparently looking for acceptance with the shorb crowd:

In terms of gulls, there had to have been at least 20 BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES in the area.  Here is one flying by:

Judging by the underside of the primaries, I was thinking this gull was a THAYER'S GULL:

Giving me a chance to *try* to learn more about the hybrid gulls in this part of the world, I first thought this was a WESTERN GULL due to the yellow orbital ring but looking at how pale the mantle is (among other things), it's a hybrid WESTERN X GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL instead:

These GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL-things have apparently figured out that they can digest starfish... if they can just swallow them:

"Do I have..... something.... hanging out of my mouth?"

There were some neat ducks around the north jetty as well including all three scoter species, two HARLEQUIN DUCKS and three LONG-TAILED DUCKS.  Here is one of them:

After birding the north jetty, we went to Arcata Marsh to look for BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES:

View Arcata Marsh in a larger map

We eventually found a swarm of chickadees but before we found those, we paused to look at a EURASIAN WIGEON amongst a flock of AMERICAN WIEGON.  Anyway, it seems silly to target BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES but out here in CA, they only occur in the extreme NW corner of the state.  We eventually found quite a swarm of them:

The next morning was rainy and dreary but we started anyway by looking for the TROPICAL KINGBIRD that has been in the area for some time.  A little looking and we found it low in a pasture nearby:

Here is a map of the spot we had it:
View Tropical Kingbird in a larger map

We then headed to Russ Park in Ferndale to look for GRAY JAYS.  We will note though that Google maps didn't lead us to the right spot for this park.  Instead, from downtown drive east on Ocean/Bluff Street until you see the dirt parking lot on your right.  Here is the spot:
View Russ Park in a larger map

What an awesome canyon, I desperately wish I lived closer to places like that.  Before long, we heard a GRAY JAY whistling.  Further up the canyon Ash spotted a loose, high-flying flock of GRAY JAYS moving from tree top to tree top.

Other birds at Russ Park included PACIFIC WRENS, HAIRY WOODPECKERS, FOX SPARROWS, both KINGLETS, and many VARIED THRUSHES like this one:

We ended the day in Oakland.  Our target was to find the wintering TUFTED DUCK at Lake Merritt:

View Lake Merritt in a larger map

We honestly didn't think much of the park... until we saw the flock of ducks!  They literally have become tame "puddle ducks" which actually made for fun photography.  Never before had I walked up to a lake looking for a TUFTED DUCK with my naked eyes, pointed down at it, and said "There it is".

In fact, we saw 6 aythya species on the same lake.  That got me wondering... has anyone ever had 7 aythya species on one lake anywhere in the world?  I can't imagine it.  Either way, it was a treat seeing up close GREATER SCAUP:



And even this BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON was extremely tame: