Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dance of the Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret preening

Reddish Egret preening

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).

Reddish Egrets, once rare in Southern California, have been moving gradually up the coast. They now inhabit estuaries from San Diego through Ventura. Recently, they are visiting Santa Barbara. At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, they are breeding. Birders frequently report sightings of 2 or 3 individuals. Continue reading

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Blue-eyed Darners

Blue-eyed Darner in flight

Blue-eyed Darner in flight

Blue-eyed Darners (Rhionaeschna multicolor) are common throughout California. This dragonfly is a mosaic darner. This mosaic darner family contains at least 10 species, all of relatively similar size and coloration. Hence, mosaic darners are often quite hard to tell apart. The family gets its name from the beautiful pattern of coloration on the abdominal segments. The broad distribution of Blue-eyed Darners extends from central Canada south, across most of the United States and all the way down to Panama in Central America. Furthermore, the completely blue eyes and absence of a black line dividing the face distinguish Blue-eyed Darner from all other members of the family. They also differ in the shape of the abdominal appendages. Continue reading

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Orange Bishop

Male Orange Bishop along San Diego Creek in Costa Mesa, California

Male Orange Bishop

Since we recently wrote a post related to the unusual occurrence of a Yellow-crowned Bishop it seemed logical to also address Orange Bishop here too. It is also native to Africa, yet in the case of this species it is already well established and fairly common here in Southern California. This bird is certainly no less striking than the Yellow-crowned Bishop although its behavior is quite different. Fortuitously, Orange Bishop was in the same location along San Diego Creek as the Yellow-crowned Bishop. Continue reading

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Hairstreak Butterflies

Hairstreaks high-jacked us on a recent birding trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains! Hairstreak butterflies are found in a variety of habitats here in southern California.

Gray Hairstreaks

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Gray Hairstreak, nectaring

On this trip, we found two species: the common Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) and the rarer Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus). Gray Hairstreaks are one of the most widespread butterflies in North America, native to all lower 48 states, southern Canada and northern Mexico. Like most hairstreaks, the Gray tends to fold its wings when landing. Recognize this butterfly by the light gray coloration, prominent orange rectangle on the underside of the hind wing, and a line of dark spots on both fore and hind wings.

Little hair-like extensions of the hind wing rear margins form the “hairs” that give these butterflies their name. On Gray Hairstreaks, the hair is fairly prominent; it is much less so on some other members of the family, like the Elfins or the Hedgerow Hairstreak. Continue reading

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Long-billed Curlew

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Female Long-billed Curlew feeding

The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) bears several distinctions among North American shorebirds. In addition to being the largest common sandpiper on the continent, it is also the one with the largest bill. The bill size of the Long-billed Curlew is quite variable, with females generally having notably longer bills than males. The two genders have different shaped bills as well. Male Long-billed Curlew bills show nearly continuous curvature along its length. But the female’s overall flatter bill terminates in a sharply hooked tip. Note how this bird’s lower mandible is distinctly shorter than the upper, falling short of the often sharply curved tip.

Finding Long-billed Curlew in SoCal

Long-billed Curlews are common wintering birds in southern California, gathering in huge numbers on the agricultural fields of Imperial County, and in smaller numbers at Bolsa Chica Preserve and Upper Newport Bay here in Orange County. A certain small number of Long-billed Curlews do not migrate north to their breeding grounds each year, meaning there are some individuals present year round at locations like Bolsa Chica. Continue reading

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Salton Sea Dragonflies

Roseate Skimmer female at Salton Sea

Female Roseate Skimmers are common Salton Sea dragonflies

We took a trip to look for Salton Sea dragonflies and birds during the first week of August. Stop and think about that: the Salton Sea in August! Are we nuts?! Probably, but there are some things you can only find there in the summer, and the Salton Sea seems to always be good for odes (dragonflies and damselflies).

Mindful of the fact that it can easily top out over 120°F there in the summer, we took a lot of sunscreen and water, started well before dawn, and planned on leaving early. By 7:30 it was unpleasantly hot; by 8:30 it was sweltering. But we were finding birds and bugs so it was all good. We had the company of our good friend, Bob Miller, a local birding and odes expert who lives in Brawley, and who knows where to find everything worth seeing in terms of local wildlife at the Salton Sea. Continue reading

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Yellow-crowned Bishops

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Male Yellow-crowned Bishop in San Diego Creek

A male Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer) recently made news in Orange County. Part of what makes this unusual is that Yellow-crowned Bishop isn’t a wild bird. It undoubtedly is a released or escaped cage bird. Originally, Yellow-crowned Bishops come from Africa, and inhabit nearly every sub-Saharan country. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, for starters, he’s a cracking bird!

Where to Find Him

Moreover, this bird is just fun to watch! Present in San Diego Creek just upstream of Audubon House at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, this Yellow-crowned Bishop is very territorial. He perches high in clusters of sedge and aggressively chases virtually anything that comes near – Scaly-breasted Munias, Common Yellowthroats, House Finches… whatever! He doesn’t just chase them though; he puts on a show! First he puffs his feathers up and half opens his wings, about doubling in size. Then he launches at the intruders with rapid shallow wing beats looking like an angry little quail in hot pursuit. All the time, he utters a high-pitched, metallic, plinking call. His turf protected, he returns to his previous perch high in the sedge.

Almost any exotic escaped cage bird can become established in the southern United States. People who said the Pin-tailed Whydah would never become established in California are looking a bit foolish right now! You just never know. Continue reading

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