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!