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 →
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 →
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 →
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?
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.
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
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 →
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.
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.