Tag Archives: San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

The Black Skimmer

Sub-adult Black Skimmer close-up

A sub-adult Black Skimmer close-up over a pond at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California

The Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) is a  wonderful weird bird that breeds across the southern half of North America. Black Skimmers live and forage almost exclusively at coastal locations or within about 20 miles of the shore. They are primarily year-round residents here, though some winter as far south as the Yucatan. A large population of Black Skimmers resides year-round in a range roughly corresponding to the entire Amazon drainage basin.

Black Skimmers are easily recognizable by their bizarre asymmetric bill, longer below than above. Black Skimmers have clean white underparts, throat, neck collar (non-breeding only) and around the bill. Their feet and the inner bills are bright orange; the tips of both mandibles are black. Juvenile Black Skimmers are more brownish-gray on the upper surface, and have relatively dull orange feet and inner bill parts. At birth, juvenile skimmers mandibles are of equal length. But by the time they fledge four weeks later, the lower mandible is a centimeter longer than the upper one. 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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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

Yellow-crowned Bishops

yellow-crowned-bishop

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

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in Orange County

Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Sub-adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

We recently visited Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve to look for the reported juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. This is one of those location, location, location things. In Florida, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron excites nobody. But in California, where for decades the nearest breeding population of these night-herons was down in Baja somewhere, it’s a pretty uncommon bird. In recent years, a small Yellow-crowned Night-Heron population has become established in an apartment complex in Imperial Beach, CA, in the shadow of Tijuana. Even so, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron away from there is newsworthy in southern California.

At the time, this immature bird constituted the second confirmed record for Orange County. The first one showed up in 1977 at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. We see Yellow-crowned Night-Herons regularly now. This suggests the presence of a more local breeding population. But back then, a lot of local birders chased this bird.

The Heron was Elusive

We went on a Saturday morning, with someone who had seen the bird only the day before. Thus, we were confident of success. Naturally, we couldn’t find the stupid bird! We circled the entire pond under the bluff there. We checked out every immature Black-crowned Night-Heron on the property, without any success. Finally, it turned out that the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was actually roosting among a large group of Black-crowned Night-Herons in the trees right where we started. The night-heron cooperated, but only grudgingly. It gave us long looks at fairly minimal distance. But it perched in a dense tangle of branches that always obscured it . Eventually we got a few photos.

A Gift Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl

Wintering Burrowing Owl

Next, we searched the ground squirrel burrows around the mesa looking for returning Burrowing Owls. Eventually we found one bird. The didn’t get great views because the bird never completely emerged from its burrow. But at least we found it. Later in the day, someone else found a second bird. Burrowing Owls are often hard to locate. If you don’t know how or where to look for them, overlooking them is easy.

Burrowing Owls are tough to come by in Orange County. Widespread development pretty much gobbled up virtually all grassland habitat in the county. A small  breeding population of this species subsists in an area closed to the public. Also, scattered wintering birds pop up as winter migrants, like the Bolsa Chica birds. Hopefully, these two will stick around for the upcoming Coastal Christmas Bird Count!

The pictures were taken by digiscoping with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 (Night-Heron) or a Kowa TSN-883 with a Nikon CoolPix P300 (Burrowing Owl). The optics were mounted on a  Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a MVH500AH pro fluid digiscoping head.

A New Bird Species for San Joaquin WS

imagehawkOn a routine weekend in late November, we went to look at a Harris’s Hawk reported recently at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, California. The Orange County Bird Records Committee is unlikely to accept this bird due to questionable origins. Even so, you just can’t miss a bird that cool in a location like this. We arrived at about 8:45 on a sunny Saturday morning. At least 200 Cedar Waxwings were calling from the parking lot as we set up and headed out. We walked to the end of the boardwalk, and there was the hawk, sitting regally in a bare branched tree.

After taking numerous photos of him, we headed back towards the main pond area. A nice male Sharp-shinned Hawk interrupted our walk. It posed obligingly in a sycamore some 200 feet away. Next up was at least 7-8 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, all fussing away like tiny, angry felines. As we got back to Pond D, one of the birders with us asked “Isn’t that the Vermilion Flycatcher?” He was right! It was, and a nice bright male at that.

 

Unexpected BlackbirdBlackbird-Rusty-2011-11-26-012

While we photographed that bird, one of us noticed what appeared to be a Brewer’s Blackbird, walking along the shore of Pond D. Upon closer examination we noticed that this bird had cinnamon plumage on the crown, nape and saddle. It also had a bright pale supercilium extending well behind the pale yellowish eye, and pale gray between the wings and on the rump. This was an apparent female Rusty Blackbird. It was a first for San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and only the third for Orange County. As we observed further we noticed the handsome rufous edging to the flight feathers contrasting with the shiny black wings. The bird showed a paler brownish gray chest with faint, short vertical streaking across the chest and belly, all consistent with a female Rusty Blackbird.

Rusty Blackbird is a species of special concern in the United States at large. Its population has been in precipitous decline in recent years.

Blackbird-Rusty-2011-11-26-042All images were taken with a Kowa TSN-884 spotting scope with 25-60x zoom eyepiece and a Nikon CoolPix P6000 camera attached using a Kowa TSN-DA-10 digiscoping adapter. The optics were mounted on a Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod with a MVH500AH pro fluid digiscoping head. The Rusty Blackbird photos are of the same bird. One is in direct sun at 160 feet. The other is in shade at about 40 feet. The difference in these two photos illustrates how much lighting can alter the appearance of a subject.