Category Archives: Video

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

Elegant Terns

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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

American White Pelicans Feeding Behavior

 

American White Pelicans Group

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.
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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

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

Wildlife Photography is Full of Surprises

Female Flame Skimmer

Female Flame Skimmer

To paraphrase Forest Gump’s mother, wildlife photography, especially video, is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Animals do things on their own volition, so it always pays to wait and watch.

After looking at shorebirds along the Los Angeles River last fall, we walked back to the car through a park along the river. It was late morning and butterflies and dragonflies were quite active. Although we are primarily birders, we are interested in all of nature. So, we stopped to see what we could find.

Dragonfly Feeding Behavior

Dragonflies have two main methods of getting food: hawking and patrolling. In hawking, the dragonfly perches on the end of a branch, stump, or rock and waits for its prey to come flying by. In patrolling, the dragonfly flies up and down an area, often a path or road, and searches out its prey. Patrolling dragonflies are notoriously difficult to photograph because they are hardly ever stationary.

The Wildlife Photography Surprise

As we walked along, I noticed a Flame Skimmer. It was sitting perched on a stick in the middle of a planted area. Fortunately, Flame Skimmers are hawking dragonflies, so I decided to digiscope some video through my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with my micro four thirds camera. I set up, zoomed in, and started recording, waiting for something interesting to happen. The first few times the skimmer flew off its perch, I stopped recording, but it kept returning. Interested in showing that behavior, I started a new clip and decided to let the video run until it came back. Was I ever surprised and happy.

Letting the video run really paid off. When the Flame Skimmer returned to its perch, it was chewing away on a gnat! I never expected that. What a surprise! Isn’t wildlife photography fun?

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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Looking for Love – Is This the Right Place?

Ridgeway's Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Ridgeway’s Rail at Upper Newport Ecological Reserve.

Light-footed Ridgeway’s Rail (formerly known as Clapper Rail), are federally listed as endangered. They can be difficult to see here in Orange County California. Unless you know when and where to look, you will rarely get a close-up. They occasionally appear at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. But until recently, they have been few and far between. They still are not seen at Bolsa Chica with the regularity, quantity, or visibility of Upper Newport Bay during winter high tides.

Even though this Ridgeway’s Rail had been reported, I was surprised to drive into the parking lot at Bolsa Chica and hear it calling loudly, looking for love almost continuously in early July. I could barely see him through the vegetation lining the parking lot, so I walked around to the far side of the mule fat to see if I could get a decent look. There he was, looking for love, at almost point blank range (about 20 yards from me and about the same distance from Pacific Coast Highway). What an opportunity to take some video to try out the new Kowa TE-11WZ 25-60x wide angle eyepiece on my Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope! You can see the rail’s body shake with every call, and if you look closely, you can see his tongue.

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Black-headed Grosbeak: 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. I saw one Blue Grosbeak but it 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 sang 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 SLR camera adapter, and I was rolling seconds after I had focused on the Black-headed Grosbeak with the ATX 85 spotting scope.

The pale downy feathers are the Grosbeak’s insulation system. He was fluffed-up because the chill from the previous night had not yet left the air.

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.)

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.