Monthly Archives: November 2014

Vermilion Flycatcher

Male Vermilion Flycatcher

Male Vermilion Flycatcher, Mazatlan, Mexico

The Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a small tyrant flycatcher in the family, Tyrannidae. Vermilion Flycatchers live in the New World, ranging from central Argentina and covering much of South and Central America. Ornithologists recognize at least 12 sub-species of Vermilion Flycatcher. Some experts think the Galapagos Island Vermilion Flycatchers may be a full species on its own.

In the United States, we find Vermilion Flycatchers mostly in the desert southwest, where their range extends to southern Nevada.  Their California range includes much of the Mojave Desert, in San Bernardino County. Additionally, it extends across most of Riverside and Imperial Counties and into Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. In coastal California, we see Vermilion Flycatchers increasingly often though more likely as winter visitors. However, their range is expanding and there are indications that their breeding range is expanding towards the coast. Here in Orange County, Vermilion Flycatchers often use edge habitat like golf courses and athletic fields. Continue reading

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Magpie – Black-billed and Yellow-billed

Magpie Origin

Black-billed Magpie

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. DNA distinctions caused the AOS to divide the American Magpies from the European Magpies. The same logic should apply to the Korean subspecies.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, the AOS (American Ornithological Society) could potentially merge our two magpie species. Continue reading

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Olive-backed Pipit

Christmas arrived early in Orange County this weekend. Jeff Bray, a local birder, made the find of a lifetime: an Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni). Jeff found this bird 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 9565

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, we define North America geographically as including Mexico – not the birding definition). Washoe, Nevada hosted the first continental Olive-backed Pipit in 1967. Subsequent records came from 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’! The Yorba Regional Park mob 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. Frequently, it landed in heavy cover and skulked around. Sometimes 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 and fed calmly for about an hour. Everyone there got crippling looks! In fact, the bird was remarkably cooperative, seeming oblivious to the camera shutter whir and quiet conversation of excited birders. Continue reading

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