Category Archives: Video

Unlike still photographs, videos of nature can help us study behavior and learn more about our environment.

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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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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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.

Continue reading

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Black-headed Grosbeak: Video using Swarovski ATX 85

Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-headed Grosbeak: Aliso and Wood Canyon Regional Park, 04/13/13

Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park in Laguna Niguel, California is a wonderful place to go in the spring. Summer resident breeding birds are often perched up and singing. The habitat is a combination of coastal sage scrub with willow and cottonwood riparian areas. A road parallels the creek that runs down the center of the canyon. Late March and early April is the perfect time to visit, because you can see and hear Greater Roadrunner, Least Bell’s Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Therefore, I headed there to try digiscoping with my micro 4/3 format camera through the Swarovski ATX Modular Eyepiece with the Swarovski 85mm Modular Objective. The Chats weren’t in yet. The only Blue Grosbeak I encountered was high in a willow against marine layer clouds – a difficult background to work with.

Digiscoped Video

As luck would have it, I found this Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus posted up and singing. The bird sat low enough that there was foliage in the background. The Grosbeak was so vivid and singing beautifully. Therefore, I immediately decided to take a video. Fortunately, it was easy to mount the camera to the scope, thanks to the Swarovski TLS-APO adapter, and I was rolling seconds after I had focused on the Grosbeak with the scope.

The pale downy feathers are the Grosbeak’s insulation system. The chill from the previous night had not yet left the air.

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Yellow-billed Magpie: Another Roadside Attraction

We were driving back from central California when we stopped at the rest stop near Camp Roberts on U.S. Route 101. We consistently find Yellow-billed Magpie at this particular rest stop and did on this visit as well. We had only been there for a few minutes when 4 or 5 of these handsome birds flew in and began feeding in the leaf litter under the large, spreading oaks.

Endemics

Yellow-billed Magpie is endemic to California, meaning they live no place else on the planet besides here. Birders always prize endemics over those more widespread species.  They are big, beautiful and intelligent members of the family Corvidae, which includes all crows, ravens and jays worldwide. As such, they are often pretty skittish and seldom allow close approach. At this rest stop, however, they became habituated to being around people, which means they are easier to photograph. Even so, we chose to digiscope them from distance rather than approach closely. From farther away, the birds relax some and act naturally in our presence. This video was taken with a Nikon CoolPix P300 digital camera attached to a Kowa TSN-883 spotting scope.

Notice also how little yellow skin these magpies show around the face. The amount of yellow facial skin shown by a Yellow-billed Magpie varies with the individual. It may also vary with differing molt states. In our experience, the magpies at this particular site show more yellow than those in other places we’ve been.

 (If the video doesn’t load properly, try refreshing the screen and then retry. We’re seeing this a lot lately.)

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Featherless Joy of Birding

Birdless Joys of Birding - Desert Bighorn Sheep near Zzyzx.

Desert Bighorn Sheep near Zzyzx.

The joy of birding doesn’t always include birds. We made a successful three hour drive to Baker, California to see a White Ibis. White-faced Ibis are the common species in California. Glossy Ibis is very rare. And this was the first White Ibis I’ve seen in the state in nearly 20 years of birding. We then decided to check some other local spots. We know of several in the area that can often be productive.

One of our favorite spots is the California State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx. Formerly a desert resort, this oasis has springs and accommodations that facilitate workshops of many kinds, and on a good day, can have lots of migrant birds refueling in the trees and ponds. Some desert residents even breed there. So, we drove in, parked, and walked around searching for some rare bird to tickle our fancy. We checked the ponds, the tamarisks, the palms, and the willows. We even scanned the rocky hillsides and the salt pan.

Big(horn) Surprise

The place was virtually bird-less. But on our way out, we chanced upon this particular joy of birding, a flock of Desert Bighorn Sheep. These animals are very reclusive, so we stopped to get some photos and video. We shot some rewarding footage recording behavior that very few people get to see. I recorded the video with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera through a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope.

We used digiscoping so that we could keep our distance and avoid spooking the sheep. Through digiscoping, we were able to record Desert Bighorn Sheep doing things that are not often seen. Be sure to follow along with the narration in the video. We point out such behavior as the ram asserting his dominance and insisting on submission from one of the younger males.

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Season of Shorebirds – Summer 2011

The summer of 2011 is shaping up to be a fabulous season of shorebirds in California. The season kicked off with the appearance of the Lesser Sand-Plover in Orange County, CA, a cooperative bird that stayed a total of 8 days in late June, delighting many observers.

Shorebirds to the North

Little Sting season of shorebirds

Little Stint

July has been even better with the appearance of two Little Stints, both in northern California. On the 23rd, Kimball Garrett discovered another one at Piute Ponds on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base in norther

n LA County. On the same day, a Wilson’s Plover was found at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve in Carpinteria. Unfortunately it was in a restricted area where only a limited few could get access.

The Little Stint was too good to pass up, so a group of us got up before dawn the next day and made the trek north, arriving on the site by 7:15. The bird was re-found within minutes of our arrival and we began watching this rather reddish adult shortly after. After about an hour of digiscoping pictures and video, one of the observers got a phone call saying that Guy McCaskie had found an adult Curlew Sandpiper on the salt basin at Imperial Beach, south of San Diego. You could look at the birders around you and just see the wheels turning as they all began calculating time and distance, or perhaps gauging spousal approval. Continue reading

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Western Screech-owl calling

Western Screech-Owl with the Canon 7D Camera

Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl

Last month a couple of us went into Silverado Canyon to try and capture video of a Western Screech-Owl with the new Canon 7D camera. Since we found this cute little screech-owl right next to the road we used him as our test subject for our night-time video skills.

Night photography is always a challenge but with this camera in video mode, it was surprisingly simple to get great footage “fresh out of the box”. We set out this evening with only a small flashlight, camera, and tripod. Our results were very pleasing since this was our first attempt using so little equipment.

Canon 7D Camera

First of all the Canon 7D represents a big technological jump in digital photography. This camera delivers video and photo capabilities that give professional results at a reasonable cost to any amateur photographer.

We have now spent enough time with this camera to know that the rave reviews we hear about it are well justified. We took this video in the field at low light levels with minimal equipment, thus limiting the impact on the subject. The Canon 7D did a great job, producing high-quality video of Western Screech-owl under compromising conditions.

Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl has the highest population density in the foothills of our local area. In oak habitat of the Western United States this owl is a common resident. He is very similar to the other three species of screech-owls found in the US. The most obvious and defining characteristic of all owls is their call. The “bouncing ball” call of the Western Screech-Owl is very distinctive and make his identification very simple. The birdwatchers often miss actually seeing this owl even though he is fairly common. This owl lives in dense wooded habitat. Furthermore his very well camouflaged plumage makes him very difficult to locate by voice.

 

 

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Digiscoped Video – American Oystercatcher

On Saturday, May 22, 2010, I followed up on a report of an American Oystercatcher at a few locations in Laguna Beach. I tried Crescent Bay first, and was fortunate to find five Oystercatchers on the rocks below the point. There were three Black Oystercatchers, while the other two looked pretty good for Americans.

What are they?

Black and American Oystercatchers interbreed and their hybrid offspring can be anywhere on a cline from pure Black to pure American. We had to evaluate these birds for purity. J. R. Jehl, Jr. developed a rating system used by ornithologists to determine where on the cline a given bird falls. Because there are several genetic variations that are involved, we use ten different characteristics to judge the birds. Nine of them have a score between 0 and 4. The belly coloration goes from 0 to 6. A bird with a score of 0 to 9 rates is a pure Black Oystercatcher. One scored from 30 to 38 is pure American, and everything in between is a hybrid.

I took this video with a Nikon CoolPix P6000 attached to a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope at a distance of 96 yards measured by a Zeiss Victory PRF laser rangefinder.

How did they score?

The Oystercatcher in the center of this video has white upper tail coverts (Jehl’s score 4), basal half of all retrices were white (4), chest sharply delimited black to white on upper chest (4), belly entirely white (6), undertail coverts entirely white (4), thighs entirely white (4), greater secondary coverts 6-15mm (3), white present on some of inner primaries (3), underwing coverts entirely white (4), axillaries entirely white (4). Jehl’s score is 36 out of 38.

The hybrid Oystercatcher, seen on the left as the video starts, has upper tail coverts black (Jehl’s score 0), retrices mainly black with some white in the vanes (1), black chest bordered by jagged edge on upper chest (3), belly entirely white (6), undertail coverts mainly white (3), thighs entirely white (4), greater secondary coverts 6-15mm (3), white present on secondaries but not primaries (2), underwing coverts mainly white (3), axillaries entirely white (4). Jehl’s score is 28 out of 38, so close, but not close enough.

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