Rufous-backed Robin

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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

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Lincoln’s Sparrows

Lincoln's Sparrow 9205 psp

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.
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Zeiss Victory SF Binoculars

Zeiss Victory SF Binoculars, top view

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

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Red-throated Pipits Return to SoCal

Red-throated Pipits

Red-throated Pipit

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

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‘I’iwi (Scarlet Hawaiian Honeycreeper)

'I'iwi on Maui, Hawaii

‘I’iwi feeding on ‘Ōhi’a Lehua tree in Maui

‘I’iwi distribution

The ‘I’iwi (pronounced ee-EE-vee) is an endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper. We recently photographed this spectacular scarlet colored bird on Maui. It was once widely distributed throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Today 90% of its population is found on the big island of Hawai’i with most of the remaining population in Eastern Maui and Kaua’i. Very small groups of the ‘I’iwi are also present on the islands of Oahu and Moloka’i but their numbers are extremely low (below 50 birds). Continue reading

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A Fall Pelagic Trip Out of Dana Point

Heermann's Gull, Fall Pelagic, 20-SEP-14

Heermann’s Gull, Fall Pelagic, 20-SEP-14

I recently took the fall pelagic birding trip out of Dana Point Harbor. Recent sightings of a Red-billed Tropicbird in the Santa Barbara Channel and the presence of hurricane systems south of us off the west coast of Baja suggested that the fall pelagic might be a really good trip. There had already been greater than usual numbers of Craveri’s Murrelets in the channel, and many people were on the boat specifically looking for that species. Plus, with September being the peak of Blue Whale occurrence in the channel, we knew beforehand that this trip could end up being dominated by cetaceans rather than birds. In the end, all of those expectations were met. Well, except for the tropicbird… Rats! Continue reading

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American Pika – unmercifully cute alpine furballs

American Pika in Sierra Nevada Mountains

American Pika in Sierra Nevada Mountains

Finding American Pika

On a quest for the American Pika (referred to below as just Pika) we recently hiked above the tree line into the alpine zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We chose the high elevation region near Conness Lakes just outside Yosemite National Park for our search. Our arduous hike to almost 11,000 feet was rewarded with the bustling activity of the Pika (Ochotona princeps), preparing for the rapidly approaching winter months. Continue reading

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Variegated Meadowhawks

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Female Variegated Meadowhawk

The Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) is a commonly encountered dragonfly in North America, being found across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario, through most of the United States and from California to Florida. Variegated Meadowhawks are medium-sized dragonflies, averaging 1.5 – 2 inches in length with a wingspan of 2.5 – 3 inches. Variegated Meadowhawks are highly migratory, and have been known to turn up on Caribbean Islands and even in eastern Asia. They are as likely to be found cruising over dry land as in the vicinity of ponds and streams. Variegated Meadowhawks are “sally hunters” which means that they often sit on a prominent perch, fly out on feeding sorties, and return to the same spot repeatedly, much like a Western Wood-Pewee. This has the delightful side-effect of making them easier to photograph than many subjects. And well worth it. Continue reading

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Wandering Skippers

Wandering Skipper 2

Wandering Skipper nectaring on Heliotrope Flowers

The Wandering Skipper (Panoquina errans) is a very small butterfly found only in coastal saltmarsh, from Point Concepcion in Santa Barbara County in southern California, south to northern coastal Baja and the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez. The range is a narrow band close to the ocean because the larval food plant for this butterfly is Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata). Wandering Skippers fly in late summer and fall, usually in two broods. As it happens, one of the largest known Wandering Skipper colonies is right here in Orange County at the Upper Newport Bay Reserve. References said that they were present in the highest density in the vicinity of Big Canyon. So we started to look for them in late July. They weren’t easy to find! It wasn’t until August that we found a single individual, nectaring on the tiny purple flowers of European Seaheath (Frankenia pulverulenta). We went back several weeks later and found a fair few more of them, again feeding on the Seaheath. Continue reading

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Dance of the Reddish Egret

When people find out I’m a birder, one of the most frequent questions is “What’s your favorite bird?” Sometimes I’ll give a flippant answer such as “My next life bird.” Other times, I’ll say that I love all birds and can’t pick a favorite – that each is special in its own way. I do have an affinity for Magnificent Frigatebirds, because seeing an adult male flying fifteen feet over my head while standing on a dock on Key West was the experience that triggered my choice to actively pursue the hobby of birding. But there are in fact some birds that are definitely cooler than others, be they prettier, uglier, sweet singers, or just plain quirky. One of these is the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufecens).

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