Today the buzz is the solar eclipse. Although here in Southern California we did not get the full solar eclipse, it was still a pleasure to see the partial occlusion. Of course, having a store full of spotting scopes and a solar filter for a spotting scope we snuck out briefly from our work to take a couple quick photos at the peak of the event, out in the parking lot.
The Optics4Birding store is located about 45 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The peak of the eclipse happened at about 10:20 AM. It really was quite interesting. Although without filters to look through you would never know it was happening. The sun is so bright that from our vantage point and even with about 60% of the sun being eclipsed, with the naked eye you didn’t notice any difference. Contrary to this, wearing solar filter glasses it was quite interesting. Looking at this through a spotting scope was really interesting.
Digiscoping the solar eclipse
We took photos with both the Swarovski ATX using a 95mm objective module and the Kowa TSN 884 spotting scopes. We used a Canon 7D mark II DSLR camera on the Swarovski ATX spotting scope and the TLS APO 30mm attachment.
On the Kowa 88mm TSN 884 we used a Panasonic Lumix G-6 Micro 4/3 camera with an Olympus 14-42 zoom lens. We attached this using the Kowa TSN-DA10 digiscoping adapter. Both setups are very simple to take pictures with. Normally we would be taking nature photos. Of course, this was a natural event! Typically, though, most of us are photographing birds or animals with our spotting scopes.
It did make for a fun morning and a nice break from work. The weather cooperated and we had nice clear skies. Certainly, many people will have gone out to see this today. Having the right stuff to enjoy these type of events is always a pleasure.
Elegant Tern in flight
Terns at Bolsa Chica
Elegant Terns galore! In late spring and early summer, one of the birding spectacles in Southern California is the colony of terns at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, Orange County. The pretty estuary (as its name translates from Spanish) has been host to twelve species of terns, with Common, Royal, Caspian, Gull-billed, Black, breeding Black Skimmer, Forster’s, Least, and Elegant, and rarities Sooty, Sandwich, and Bridled. Continue reading
Kowa TSN-EX16 Extender
Kowa TSN-EX16 1.6x extender.
Kowa America recently released the TSN-EX16 Extender. The extender is placed between the body of a Kowa TSN-880 or TSN-770 spotting scope body and the eyepiece and multiplies the standard magnification by 1.6x. This is analogous to photographic lens extenders that mount between a camera’s lens and body. With the current 25-60x zoom eyepiece (Kowa TE-11WZ) that fits these spotting scopes, the resultant magnification becomes 40-96x!
But what about the historical downsides of extenders? How does the optical quality hold up? Is there much loss of light? What about sharpness and clarity? I took out my trusty TSN-884 and Panasonic Lumix G6 to find out. An accommodating Peregrine Falcon stayed long enough for me to get some test shots. Continue reading
American White Pelicans preening
The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of two species of pelican in North America, along with the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). While occasionally seen in the same locations, American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans prefer different habitats and their manner of feeding is as different as their plumage.
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
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
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, 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
The Rufous-backed Robin at 29 Palms Inn
Last weekend, we drove out to Twentynine Palms, CA to look for a Rufous-backed Robin previously 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. Thus, it consistently draws in wildlife of all kinds from the surrounding desert. The 29 Palms Inn sits close to Joshua Tree National Park, in extreme south central San Bernardino County, CA. Continue reading
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). Lincoln’s Sparrows have nearly as broad a distribution as Song Sparrows. Lincoln’s Sparrows only appear in southeastern states like Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida during migration. They are migratory, breeding in far northern Canada and at upper elevations of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada ranges. Thus, Lincoln’s Sparrows abandon much of their listed range except as passage migrants.
Here in southern California, we see these beautiful little sparrows primarily in winter. 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.
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