Monthly Archives: April 2014

Gone Fishin

Green Heron gone fishin at UC Fullerton Arboretum

Green Heron at UC Fullerton Arboretum.

We can learn a lot by watching animals. Unlike humans, they remain focused on their task at all times. This Green Heron, gone fishin at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California was no exception.

Green Herons, like most members of the heron and egret family, fish and crustaceans for a living. They have to get good at it to survive. Of the family members that occur in North America, the Great Blue Heron and the Cattle Egret eat land-based critters. The Great Blue Heron will eat anything it can fit in its mouth including rodents and birds. The Cattle Egret eats mostly insects, but also frogs and worms.

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Mid-April Migrants

Mid-April migrant - Ash-throated Flycatcher

Mid-April migrant – Ash-throated Flycatcher

Recently, we took a trip to one of the local canyons in the Santa Ana mountains in search of mid-April migrants. We hit the jackpot almost immediately. Right away, this handsome Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) greeted us in the parking lot. Surprisingly, he was pretty cooperative too. We stopped in a dry foothill canyon to listen for sparrows. First, Lazuli Bunting, Black-chinned Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Western Tanager rewarded us. Typically, California Thrasher, Bewick’s Wren and both Blue-gray and California Gnatcatchers were there, along with California Towhee, Phainopepla and a distant Coastal Cactus Wren.

Silverado Canyon

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Next, we went to our target destination: Silverado Canyon. The reported MacGillivray’s Warbler, a much sought-after mid-April migrant, ultimately called loudly enough to be heard over the stream. Mountain Quail were calling from all over everywhere. Pacific-slope Flycatchers worked the under story over the creek. Following that, a wave of common warblers came through: Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, and a few Nashville Warblers. A handful of late Yellow-rumped Warblers of the Audubon’s race also showed up. Some of the Orange-crowned Warblers (Oreothlypis celata) annually stay and breed here. And the morning light was perfect for photography too.

Other Migrants

Male Hermit Warbler

Male Hermit Warbler bathing

Surprisingly, the vireos put in a good showing too, with half a dozen migrant Warbling Vireos and at least two singing Cassin’s Vireos. Perhaps the most common vireos were the vocal resident Hutton’s. An early Western Wood-Pewee sang its distinctive song in the distance, a perfect complement to the activity in front of us. Later, at a stream crossing with shallow pools, we found migrants coming in to bathe and drink. Hermit Thrushes stood by shyly as the warblers boldly splashed about. This lovely male Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) gave us quite a show. Some of these bathing birds were so busy, they let us approach quite closely. Thus, even small birds like these warblers were huge in the 10×42 Zeiss Victory HT binoculars we were lucky to be using. It’s pretty hard to beat that kind of frame-filling view of such beautiful birds!

Lastly, I shot these photos with a Canon EOS T3 equipped with a 100-400 mm zoom lens.

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Blood Moon in Southern California

Blood Moon 4-2014

The moon becomes very reddish in color as the total eclipse progresses. Light refracted from our atmosphere dimly lights the “blood moon”.

The first of four total eclipses of the moon was visible late in the evening of April 14, 2014. A blood moon is another name for a total lunar eclipse. The refracted light as it passes through our atmosphere is the only light that hits the moon. In essence, this has the effect of casting a red sunset onto the moon. Going forward, one of the remaining three total eclipses of the moon will occur each 6 months. This frequency of total eclipses has not occurred in over three hundred years. This is a pleasurable and easy event to enjoy with binoculars.

The events are also unique for multiple other reasons. The first reason is because all four eclipses will be visible from somewhere in North America. This first eclipse had the added attraction of also being on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to the earth since 2008.  Just below the red planet was the blood moon. A celestial event that will not happen again in our lifetimes. Continue reading

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Hummingbirds Migrating in Southern California

Clearly, hummingbird migration has begun here in Southern California. We went to Sea Terrace Community Park this past weekend to look for reported Rufous and Calliope Hummingbird. I have never been to this small park right along Pacific Coast Highway and it was very interesting. As its name implies it is a small community park that is along the Coast Highway between Dana Point and Laguna Beach.

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous HummingbirdThe majority of the park is just an open grassy area with small islands of well-manicured vegetation. Although not overly busy there were a few people flying remote gliders or planes and walking the paths. It seemed were the only one looking at the hummingbirds. The park is virtually on Pacific Coast Highway and just a stone throw from the beach.

The number of hummingbirds was quite a surprise. In most of the vegetated areas Flowering Pride of Madera was prevalent. The hummingbirds were abundant feeding on the blossoms. We see a fair number of Allen’s Hummingbird along the coast. It was particularly interesting to see such a good mix of Rufous Hummingbird here also.

Calliope Hummingbirds

Calliope HummingbirdSix species of hummingbirds can be found here in Orange County (Anna’s, Costa’s, Rufous, Black-chinned, Allen’s and rarely Calliope). People mostly see Calliope Hummingbird in the Santa Ana Mountains. It also showed up this year along the coastal lowlands in both Sea Terrace Community Park and Huntington Central Park.. It was a real treat to see this hummingbird and especially unusual right on our coastline. The abundant Anna’s, Allen’s and Rufous Hummingbirds were also a treat that made for a quick morning of four of the six species of hummingbirds found in the county. Note: for those of you who might call me on this count… yes, in addition Broad-billed Hummingbird has rare, scattered records within the county.

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My Little Chickadees

The chickadees and titmice of North America belong to a small family (Paridae) without many North American representatives. The Paridae, unlike say warblers, sparrows or woodpeckers, seldom have many members of the family present in the same habitat and locations. For example, southern California, we typically only have one chickadee and one titmouse species in any given area, and some areas have none, since they are generally forest or edge habitat specialists.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

In southern California, the chickadees are typically much less widespread than the titmice. For chickadees, there are really only two: the Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), and the Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli). Chestnut-backed Chickadees occur mainly along the coast, mostly confined to the coastal plain. Look for them from the middle of California up to southern Alaska. In northeastern Oregon, eastern Washington, northern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia, there is a discontinuous range segment more inland. Most authorities recognize three races of Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Generally, the central California race shows the least color, with little to no rufous wash along the flanks. We found this bird among a group of 3-4 at Douglas Family Park on the bluffs above Santa Barbara. The furthest south we’ve ever observed this species.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadees

Mountain Chickadee

The Mountain Chickadees range widely from the Davis Mountains of west Texas across to the coastal plain in San Diego County. They also inhabit much of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and Idaho. In Canada, they live in extreme southwestern Alberta and most of British Columbia, wherever there are mountains. Recently, here in Orange County, our Mountain Chickadees staged a dramatic spread to lower elevations. Surprisingly, several bands of birds apparently breed at nearby Serrano Creek, at well below 2000 feet of elevation. We photographed this particular individual at a more typical location: at over 7000 feet along the Angeles Crest Highway.

Finally, we took these shots with a Canon EOS T3 Rebel camera and a 100-400 mm IS zoom lens.

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