We took a very brief trip (2 nights) during mid-May to see the Yosemite owls. The timing of this quick trip was principally planned to correspond with the peak calling period of the Flammulated Owl and before end of May when masses of people arrive for Memorial Day. What we did not plan for was the moon phase and rising. With no moon and overcast skies, managing to photograph this sparrow sized owl on a pitch black night, in a dense forest is almost impossible. After spending several hours on our first evening trying to locate this very small owl we decided to modify our focus to some of the other Yosemite owls.
Great Gray Owl in Yosemite Wawona Meadow
On our way into the park we had heard Great Gray Owls calling in the Wawona meadow. We headed back to this location to see what we could find. Two Great Gray Owls were calling in the forest across the meadow. After about a half hour of trying to entice them out of the forest and over to our side of the meadow one of the owls flew over to the tree that we were standing under. The problem was that he was about 40 feet up and there was no clear view to the owl. After another half hour of trying to get him to fly over to the next set of trees, that we had walked over to, he flew back across the meadow into the forest. At this point we decided to try another location just outside the northwest side of the park. Continue reading
American White Pelicans preening
The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of two species of pelican in North America, along with the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). While occasionally seen in the same locations, they prefer different habitats and their manner of feeding is as different as their plumage.
The Gray Jay ranges from east to west across the northern boreal forests of America. They are popularly known as “camp robbers” and may even fly onto peoples hands or heads for food.
Description and Family
Gray Jay is unique in appearance, relative to the other crow, jay, and magpie members of the Corvidae family. The most notable difference is its small black bill which leads to it sometimes being described as looking like an oversized chickadee.
Gray Jay is a medium sized, fluffy, pale gray jay with a light underside and no crest. All races have black eyes, feet, legs, and bill. In North America there are three readily distinguishable populations of Gray Jay. The photos here show the Rocky Mountain version or color pattern. Pacific birds have a darker head and brownish tinged backs. Taiga (northern) populations are grayer above and have a slight grayish belly. 11 defined races are distributed among these three color morphs. Continue reading
Male Vermilion Flycatcher, Mazatlan, Mexico
The Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a small tyrant flycatcher in the family, Tyrannidae. Vermilion Flycatchers have a huge range in the New World, being found as far south as central Argentina and covering much of South and Central America. Across this vast range, there are at least 12 sub-species of Vermilion Flycatcher recognized by ornithologists, including one race on the Galapagos Islands that some regard as a separate species. In the United States, Vermilion Flycatchers are mostly limited to the desert southwest, where their range extends as far north as southern Nevada. Their California range includes much of the Mojave Desert, in San Bernardino County, across most of Riverside and Imperial Counties and across into Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. In coastal California, they are less common and more likely found as winter visitors, though there are indications that their breeding range is expanding towards the coast. Here, Vermilion Flycatchers often use edge habitat like golf courses and athletic fields. Continue reading
This Black-billed Magpie was photographed in Denver Colorado. It is common to see either of the American Magpie species walking on the ground foraging for food.
The magpies of North America are very visually distinctive from other birds and thus easy to identify. Although the Black-billed Magpie is very similar in appearance to the European Magpie, it is larger and genetically unique. DNA analysis places our two magpies as separate from the European Magpie. Under the same DNA distinctions that the American Magpies were divided from the European Magpies, the Korean subspecies should also be divided as a unique species. The ancestral magpies, after dispersing across Eurasia and becoming isolated in Korea, then crossed over the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas at about 3 to 4 million years ago. Strictly speaking, using DNA comparisons our two magpie species could also potentially be merged as a single species. Continue reading
Christmas arrived early in Orange County this weekend when, on November 1st
, local birder, Jeff Bray, made the find of a lifetime: an Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni
) at Yorba Regional Park. It may not sound like much, but it’s a really big deal.
Olive-backed Pipit – Previous Continental Records
Olive-backed Pipit, Yorba Regional Park, 01-NOV-14
For starters, there were only 3 previous records of this species in North America away from Alaska. (Here, North America is defined geographically as including Mexico – not the birding definition). Olive-backed Pipits had previously been found in Washoe, Nevada in 1967, in Baja in 1996 and on the Farallon Islands in California in 1998. So the take-home message is, these guys don’t show up very often! Whenever a call like this goes out, birders do their version of a ‘flash mob’, and the one at Yorba Regional Park on Saturday was very impressive! I was among the first 20 birders there, but soon birders began arriving from all over the map in minutes. And soon it was a who’s who of southern California birders. And why not? This little Olive-backed Pipit really put on a show! It led us a merry dance at first, flying from place to place within the park, landing in heavy cover and skulking around so low that often the only visible indication it was there was movement of the vegetation it was walking under. But eventually, it came out on the lawn between the picnic tables where it fed calmly for about an hour, giving everyone incredible looks. In fact, the bird was remarkably cooperative, seemingly oblivious to the constant whir of camera shutters and the quiet conversation of excited birders. Continue reading
The Rufous-backed Robin at 29 Palms Inn
Last weekend, we drove out to Twentynine Palms, CA to look for a Rufous-backed Robin that had been reported there. The bird had been present for at least a week on the lush grounds of the 29 Palms Inn resort. This resort is a 70-acre oasis of greenery and water for wildlife in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and the owners and operators of the inn are very birder friendly. The 29 Palms Inn is located close to Joshua Tree National Park, in extreme south central San Bernardino County, CA. Continue reading
Lincoln’s Sparrow in shadows
The Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) is a smallish member of the same genus as the familiar Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) that is so common in many habitats across the continent. Lincoln’s Sparrows have nearly as broad a distribution as Song Sparrows, with the exception of some southeastern states like Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, but they are much more highly migratory, breeding in the far north of Canada and in the upper elevations of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada ranges. Thus, Lincoln’s Sparrows are absent from much of their listed range except as passage migrants. Here in southern California, we see these beautiful little sparrows primarily in winter, though Lincoln’s Sparrows do breed as nearby as the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. The winter range of Lincoln’s Sparrow stretches almost all the way south to Panama. Sometimes you can find upwards of 20-30 Lincoln’s Sparrows in a large, loose winter flock.
Zeiss Victory SF Binoculars, top view
Some of you may already have heard about the Victory SF binoculars, the new high-end binocular from Zeiss. Victory SF binoculars are a completely re-imagined roof prism design. Zeiss now says that Victory SF binoculars will be available for purchase in January, 2015. We have first-hand experience with this binocular. I participated in the official Zeiss Victory SF Experience press event in Europe in June, 2014 and got to bird with a pre-production Victory SF for a week (For a travelogue of the press event birding, see Zeiss Victory SF Experience Tour, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it, so I happily took one for the team! We also had a pre-production Victory SF model in the store for a week this past August. Even though we haven’t seen a production model Victory SF, we can tell you already that it’s a spectacular nature viewing binocular. Continue reading
Migration of Red-throated Pipits
One of the most amazing migratory flights is that of the Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus. This pipit breeds primarily in eastern Europe and Asia, almost completely above the Arctic Circle, and on the Kamchatka Peninsula. There are also some breeding grounds in Alaska’s northwest coast, Bering Sea islands, and possibly also in the Yukon. Most Red-throated Pipits migrate down the western Pacific and winter in China and as far south as Australia. Some of the more eastern breeders take a more easterly route. These 6-inch passerines fatten up on the islands in the Bering Sea and then head off on a 3,000 mile flight across the Pacific Ocean to the California coast. While annual each October in southern California in small numbers, mostly on sod farms, Red-throated Pipits are almost unheard of much north of the San Francisco Bay Area. This tells us that they rarely follow land and fly straight across the ocean. The Red-throated Pipits that migrate through SoCal winter in Baja California. eBird records show them wintering near La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Continue reading