Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Search for the Island Scrub-Jay

Yesterday was a great birding day... I observed and photographed the endemic Island Scrub-Jay!  A new life bird and a very rewarding success.  Then as a bonus, I got another new lifer, the Scripp's Murrelet on the boat ride back to Ventura harbor, just north of Los Angeles, California.

Everyone who makes the journey to the Channel Islands National Park takes the Island Packers 90-minute one way boat tour, and this trip left from Ventura harbor to go to Santa Cruz Island.  Most hikers and campers got off the boat at the Scorpion Anchorage, but a few of us birders stayed on for another 15-minute further trip to Prisoners harbor.

Approaching Santa Cruz Island

Once on the island, I had a little over 3 hours to 'find' the target bird... before the trip back departs.  There was lots of birds observed... BARN SWALLOWS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, DARK-EYED JUNCOS, RAVENS, even a small pond which had a pair of MALLARD DUCKS.

The nature guide suggested watching along a row of willow trees, right to the left of where the main trail begins.  Instead of taking the 5-mile round trip strenuous hike, I stayed at the beginning where it was flat and birded the willows and surrounding marshy area and hillsides.

I was all alone.  Lucky for me, about 40 minutes into the search, I spotted the ISLAND SCRUB-JAY flying down from the hills and sure enough... landed right into the willows.  Yea!!  I moved closer and captured a few photos... and the bird cooperated and stayed there for several minutes before flying off back up the hill.  Incredibly, over the next 3 hours... I never saw another Scrub-Jay!   Notice the triple-color banding on this bird as well. Whew... thank goodness I saw this one.  The only place in the world to see it is here. 

Island Scrub-Jay

On the way back to Ventura harbor, the seas were much calmer since we were going with the wind and currents, so I was able to watch for the Scripp's Murrelet, which should be seen shortly after leaving Santa Cruz Island within the first few miles.

Sure enough, there were many of them sitting on the water... usually in groups of two... and as the boat approached, they would take off and escape away from the boat path.  I was fortunate to stand steady enough and capture this sequence of another new life bird, the SCRIPP'S MURRELET!

Scripp's Murrelet

A great birding day with successful results!  And I didn't get sea sick!  That's a bonus for me.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Backyard Berries & Birds

26 January 2014

Every winter the CEDAR WAXWINGS arrive in our Morgan Hill, California backyard to feast on the berries... but only on the exact day when the berries are just ripe for eating. Not all the berries ripen on the same day... but today was a banner day!

The CEDAR WAXWING tail feathers look as if the tip was dipped in bright yellow paint, and their wings have red wax-like tips on their secondaries... which is how this species gets its common name!   So fun to watch!
Cedar Waxwing eating the berries
Cedar Waxwing at berries
Another species also visits our backyard when the berries are ripe, the PURPLE FINCH.  We have lots of HOUSE FINCHES year-round, but we only see the PURPLE FINCH during this time, as they too are a berry-eater.

Purple Finch at the berries
Purple Finch

Although the WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW doesn't eat berries, they are another winter bird common in our backyard... and this adult wanted his picture taken too... so here it is!

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Charleston Slough Birding Trip

18 January 2014

Enjoyed another beautiful sunny morning birding with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society in Mountain View, California at Charleston Slough and Shoreline Lake.  Leader Steve Tracey guided the group, and the first stop rewarded everyone with surprising, very splendid views of an adult SORA moving out from the protective reeds and walking directly in front of us well into the open marsh area.  This normally reclusive rail seldom shows itself so openly and in the sunlight!   Amazing to watch this bird feeding and walking the marsh for several minutes, before the loud noises of nearby roosting Black-crowned Night-Herons finally scared him back into the reeds.

Sora ~ feeding well out into the open marsh away from protective reeds

At a creek overpass, I noticed a splashing AMERICAN COOT making a fuss... and was lucky enough to capture this image just as the bird was about to eat this crayfish.  After lots of thrashing by both bird and crayfish... the show was over within 30 seconds... and the creek had one less crayfish. 
 American Coot ~ crayfish lunch time

At nearby Shoreline Lake, this adult RING-BILLED GULL flew by in a hurry with a complete mollusk in its mouth... with other gulls chasing and hoping the mollusk would fall so they could get it.  The mollusk didn't fall, and I assume this gull enjoyed his lunch assuming he could pry it open!

 Ring-billed Gull ~ escape with a mullosk

Monday, January 13, 2014

Panoche Valley Birding - still no Chukar !

12 January 2014

Enjoyed a full day birding the Panoche Valley and Griswold Hills area along New Idria Road with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon field trip, led by expert leader Clay Kempf.

The trip began in Paicines, California, and the nearby Paicines Reservoir was extremely low and almost completely dry due to the record-low rainfall so far this fall and winter.  About a dozen American White Pelicans, with a few Northern Shoveler ducks and a Western Grebe were noticed far off in the distance.  The long winding trip along San Benito County Road J1 (Panoche Road) to reach Panoche Valley was equally uneventful.  Even the almost-always observed Rufous-crowned Sparrow was missing from its usual spot.  

Once in the Panoche Valley, the landscape was very dry, harsh, and dusty.  The Savannah Sparrows and Lark Sparrows were present as usual, along with plenty of Brewer's and Red-winged Blackbirds.

I was particularly interested in finding the elusive Chukar... my nemesis bird from this area.  It's now been over a dozen trips to the area over the years, and I've still never seen one.  Still searching to add this species to my Birding Lifelist!

Does this Chukar bird species really exist?

 New Idria Road in the Griswold Hills near Panoche Valley

Here's a scene of New Idria Road from the Griswold Hills area where I've spent a lot of hours searching and looking for the Chukar.   Still hopefull someday I'll get this very elusive bird!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cape Hatteras Pelagic Boat Trip Map

Here is a composite image using Google Earth & my handheld GPS track log & selected photos from my pelagic boat trip off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on June 10, 2013.  It shows our departure from the marina in Hatteras with the round trip path overlay onto the map.  

Cape Hatteras Pelagic Trip Track Map

    * 105.2 total miles traveled
    * 11 hours, 31 minutes duration
    * 3,940 data points in the GPS track log

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pelagic Birding in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras, NC

This week has been a fantastic week of excitement while birding the Cape Hatteras National Seashore along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  With excellent field guides of George Armistead and Alvaro Jaramillo, we departed Hatteras for a nearly 12-hour pelagic birding trip to the warm, blue waters of the Gulf Stream about 30 miles offshore.  Even though... yes, I did get seasick... I was well enough to capture several photos of these important sea birds... and added 7 new ABA birds to my Lifelist... so it was a great success!

Great Shearwater on the water

Wilson's Storm-Petrels

Black-capped Petrel

Bridled Tern

Cory's Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

High Island, Texas - Spring Migration Trip - April-May 2013

We enjoyed a full 21 days during spring migration at one of the birding capitals of the world... High Island, Texas!

It was a very long drive from California all the way across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and the big state of Texas to reach our destination in eastern Texas, almost to the Louisiana border along the Gulf of Mexico.   We drove our RV and stayed at the High Island RV Park, which was fantastic and so ultra convenient.
High Island Living during our month in Texas

The birding was some of the best in years, according to the Houston Audubon and Field Guides, and the focus of our trip was to see many of the eastern warblers.  Also nearby was the Bolivar Peninsula, Lafitte's Cove in Galveston, and the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge... which we all enjoyed and saw many fantastic birds. 

We observed 28 different species of warblers... out of 174 total species seen.  We will be back!

Indigo Bunting

Bay-breasted Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Roseate Spoonbill


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sea Otter kills Red-breasted Merganser

22 February 2013

I spent the morning birding & photographing at Moss Landing & Elkhorn Slough, when to my horror I witnessed a certainly unusual event...

A California Sea Otter caught and killed a male Red-breasted Merganser in the Moss Landing harbor.

After the otter attacked the merganser, he was able to get free for a few seconds, but the otter was able to swim faster and quickly recaptured the duck.  It appeared that the merganser at that point was unable to fly... only able to splash frantically and try to escape.  If that wasn't sad enough, I then noticed a female merganser swimming all alone nearby looking everywhere...

I thought otters eat sea urchins, clams, mussels, etc... not ducks.  I had never seen such behavior!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Arctic Loon - Monterey Harbor

A few days ago local birders found an ARCTIC LOON in Monterey, California harbor near Wharf 2.

So this afternoon I joined several other birders to go to Monterey and hopefully find this important bird.  It was a dreary overcast day with some drizzle at times, and after almost four hours of searching all around harbor... just as we were about to give up... the ARCTIC LOON was again spotted very close to the wharf!   It dives for several minutes and it swims underwater quite a ways... so you never are quite sure where it is going to re-appear again.  Luckily, about an hour before darkness, we all were thrilled to finally observe this quite rare bird for California!   Success!

ARCTIC LOON - Monterey, California harbor

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Snowy Egret - Morro Bay Birding

As part of the 5-day California Photo Festival, I enjoyed an early morning photo trek to attempt to capture the soft pink light just before sunrise with Juan Pons and others.  The clouds of the past several days didn't show up... and we experienced the pink glow of dawn on the mudflats of Morro Bay.

This Snowy Egret provided an excellent subject as the tide was coming in... a fantastic way to begin the day!
SNOWY EGRET - early morning pink light

Monday, October 1, 2012

Common Cuckoo - LIFER!

This afternoon I went to Ramsey Park in Watsonville, CA... to hopefully observe a very rare bird for California or even for the entire lower 48 states in the USA!    Three days ago birders had spotted a COMMON CUCKOO in the willows along the slough.  This bird is normally found across Europe, and from Siberia to Kamchatka and Japan; winters to southern Africa... yet a bird of this species was being observed here in California.

It didn't take me long to find the group of other birders looking in the trees along the pathway... so there were plenty of eyes looking to re-find the target bird. Within 45 minutes, we had re-found the bird... down low in the branches just above the water.  Frantic looking and pointing, and eventually everyone in the group was able to see the bird!   Yea!

I got the bird and a photo!   A new LIFER for my Lifelist!   Yea!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Russia River Cruise & Birding

Spent most of the month of August in Russia with then 5 more days in Ukraine.

The main portion of the trip was a Russia River Cruise which began in Saint Petersburg along various rivers and lakes, eventually arriving in Moscow; then fly from Moscow, Russia to Kiev, Ukraine.  It was a truly wonderful experience seeing so much of these beautiful big cities along with plenty of river edge countryside within Russia. 

It was a fantastic trip of much learning and discovery!   Enjoy!

Birding along the Volga River in Russia

Tufted Duck - male in Lake Onega; Petrozavodsk 

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Neva River; Saint Petersburg

Northern Wheatear - Svir River; Svirstroy

White-tailed Eagle - Kovzha River; Goritsy
Eurasian Magpie -  Kizhi Island; Lake Onega

 Hooded Crow -  Svirstroy 
Black Kite -  Volga River; Uglich

Monday, May 7, 2012

Migrant Landbirds Field Trip

May 6, 2012

Enjoyed the beautiful spring weather while participating in Alvaro Jaramillo's Migrant Landbirds workshop with the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.  This was a fabulous 3-day course with evening presentations on Bird Migration in the Bay Area, followed by a full-day field trip looking for migrants passing through our area heading north.  Finding (and photographing) these migrants is usually quite challenging... and the group succeeded in observing several warbler and flycatcher species. 

We birded trails within the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve & Sam McDonald County Park, with a final stop at the Wurr Road bridge to take a chance to observe American Dipper.   That last stop offered a quick success and the easiest bird of the day... the dipper was waiting for us on the rocks just below the edge of the bridge as we walked up! 

The usual habitat for many of these migrants are in wooded areas... with target birds often high in the trees hidden by many branches and poor sunlight.  It was a real challenge and I was fortunate and thrilled to capture a few species during the trip!   Enjoy!

Lazuli Bunting - pretty posing for his photo!

Black-throated Gray Warbler- high in the trees

 Golden-crowned Kinglet - a real challenge to photograph!

MacGillivray's Warbler - finally came out for a few seconds!

 Pacific-slope Flycatcher - small flycatcher likes shaded forests

Pygmy Nuthatch - found a the nest hole

 American Dipper - at the right place at the right time

Sunday, April 8, 2012

California Photography on Easter Sunday

Enjoyed a sunny Easter Sunday out and about the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The spring wildflowers are blooming in many of the fields... and to celebrate...  here is the California State Flower... and of course... the California State Bird!

California State Flower - CALIFORNIA POPPY

California State Bird - CALIFORNIA QUAIL