Thursday, March 23, 2017

Birding Southwestern Arizona

Saguaro Cactus - White Tank Mountain Park, Arizona

My trip to Arizona was for a visit with family and a little birding.
                   View from Goat Camp Trail
White Tank Mountain Regional Park - The largest park in Maricopa County covers 29, 572 acres over 45 miles.  The range rises sharply from its base of 1400 feet to its highest peak (Barry Goldwater Peak) at 4,083 feet.  Climbing Barry Goldwater Peak was a bit beyond my capabilities.  I took the leisurely Goat Camp Trail with high hopes of seeing a few desert birds.  
Before I stepped on to the trail, I heard a Cactus Wren.  It took several minutes to locate the little darling, as there were many cacti.  Success at last.  A Cactus Wren was singing from a rather hefty Saguaro.  Although the Saguaro has a prickly nature, it plays host to a variety of animals. The Gila Woodpecker excavates nest cavities.  When the Woodpecker abandons the nest, an Elf Owl, Screech Owl, Purple Martin, Finch, or Sparrow may take up residence.  White-winged Dove, occasional visitor to the Central Coast, feast on the Saguaro fruits; Lesser Long-nosed Bat feeds on the nectar and pollen.  The Saguaro is a valuable asset to desert creatures.
The temperature was warm, 92° - 95° (33 C - 35C).  Fortunately, the birds cooperated - Curved-billed Thrasher, Costa's Hummingbird, Canyon Towhee, Gila Woodpecker (heard, not seen).  Upon leaving the park a Roadrunner sped across the road.
 Avondale Arizona - The tiny, 2oz Verdin is prolific.  Nearly every Palo Verde tree has a Verdin nest (photo taken in my brother's front yard).  It's light and cheerful song can be heard from dawn to dusk. 
While cruising through the agriculture areas of Avondale I was amazed to see an Osprey (common on Moro Bay) perched on a utility pole.   Although the Osprey possesses specialized characteristics that assist it in catching fish, they will also, on occasion, prey on small critters such as rodents and birds.  While looking at the Osprey a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds took flight from one of the fields.
Great-tailed Grackle (above) were abundant in the agriculture areas, especially where there were farms and dairies.  On the trip to Arizona I stopped in Blythe Calif., near the Arizona border.  Great-tailed Grackle had set up residence in palms trees that lined the parking area between two fast food establishments.  I have to admit I did leave them a few crumbs.  On the Central Coast Great-tailed Grackle can be found in the Costco parking lot near the food court.              
Estrella Mountain Regional Park - 19, 840 acres.  My brother and I walked up the Gila trail.  We saw or heard Cactus Wren, Say's Phoebe, Costa's Hummingbird, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Gambel's Quail, Red-tailed Hawk, and a male and female Phainopepla (below).
                        Male Phainopepla
The final Arizona bird on my journey was Arizona's state bird, a Cactus Wren.  He was boldly singing from atop a Palo Verde tree at an active Arizona rest stop on Interstate Highway 10; the fact that cars and trucks where coming and going nearby, did not faze the little singer one iota.

Back home - Today, in a Food 4 Less parking lot I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwing.  When you are out and about keep in mind, that birds can often be found in parking lots, highway Rest Areas, and around fast food restaurants.   Happy Spring Birding!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pre-Spring Observations

Montaña de Oro State Park - Oystercatcher's can often be seen on the rugged shale formations that reach out into the sea (above photo).   A few days ago observed three Oystercatcher's participating in what could be described as a mating ritual.  A pair possibly males, while cheeping loudly, were in unison, prancing and bobbing their heads while another Oystercatcher (below photo), possibly a female and slightly larger than the two prancers, sedately observed the action.  
Obviously she was not impressed with their performance, as she flew off.  The two males wasted not a moment, cheeping loudly, they dashed after her.  To my disappointment they flew out of sight.
Continuing with Montaña de Oro Observations - About two weeks ago California Thrasher, known as an exuberant songster, began his spring song fest.  Thrasher vocalizations mark territory, demonstrate motivation, and if luck prevails, attract females.  Like their cousin, the Northern Mockingbird, they are mimics.  The more varied their repertoire, the greater their attraction to females.

One of the delightful aspects of Thrashers is when they sing, they are perched atop a large bush and easy to observe.  The California Thrasher in the photo is perched on a Dune Lupine Bush.
Another songster that has begun his pre-spring vocalization at Montaña de Oro is the perky Wrentit.  Although the male sings all year, as spring approaches his song is more frequent.  Unfortunately, unlike the Thrasher, Wrentits are difficult to observe, as they spend most of their time well hidden in the brush, which this year is dense due to abundant rain.  When birding the coastal areas of California and you hear a song ending in a descending ping pong ball trill, you know that somewhere in the brush is a Wrentit. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Birding Before the Big Storm

Morro Bay Estuary - A  stormy, windy morning  - wind gusting at 16-27 mph. - a major rain storm was due.   I had walked to the Audubon Overlook.   Song Sparrow welcomed me with a cheerful greeting.  Kingfisher, making its usual rat-a-tat sound, landed on one of the pier pilings.  

The tide was on the way out.  In front of me, a large flock of Ruddy Duck floated peacefully.  Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Scaup, Green-winged Teal and one Cinnamon Teal, were feeding in the shallow water.  Along the edge of the receding tide, Long-billed Dowitcher and Willet probed the sand.  A vocal flock of Brant Goose, feeding across the bay, suddenly took flight when a high flying Osprey appeared. 
 The unofficial bird of the morning was the male Northern Shoveler.  A few minutes of sunlight highlighted the Shoveler's colors and in particular its white breast and deep cinnamon side.  (photo by Dick Daniels)
As the tide receded Willet, Long-billed Dowitcher (above), and Avocet arrived to feed in along the edge of the water.  On a nearby fence perched Say's and Black Phoebe.  Hidden in the brush a Spotted Towhee called.  I could have stayed at this peaceful overlook for hours, but the winds was picking up and it was time to head home.    

The Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival is next weekend.

I can guarantee there will be ample fascinating birds for the viewing pleasure of the participants.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Birding the Elfin Forest on Christmas Day

 Looking down on the Elfin Forest from the top of the Elfin Forest boardwalk.
 December 25th, 2016 - The last birding blog of the year.   The Elfin Forest Preserve is densely populated with California Native plants.  Due to recent rains, the preserve flora are cheerfully expressing themselves with new growth. 
 The preserve's abundant Coast Live Oak has produced a robust crop of male catkins from which bees were gathering nectar and pollen.  Hear bees gathering nectar.      Video also captured sounds of people walking by on the narrow boardwalk.   Many families were out for a walk.
 In the same area of the flowering oaks were flowering Fuchsia-flowering Gooseberry, a favorite of Anna's Hummingbird.  Several Anna's Hummingbirds were zipping back and forth, defending their territory.

As I meandered along the boardwalk, I spotted not one but two Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Not far from the Gnatcatcher, a California Thrasher and an Oak Titmouse were singing a duet.  Actually, they were making call sounds, perhaps establishing their territory.  
 Mixed Flock of ducks Year 2006 - The Eurasian Wigeon is circled

Morro Bay Estuary Birds -  The Elfin Forest offers excellent overlooks where one can observe ducks, raptors, and shorebirds, and with a scope, the entire estuary.  From the overlook I could see a variety of water fowl, shorebirds and wading birds.  Birds of interest were Dowitcher, American Avocet, Black-bellied Plover, and an Osprey eating her prey while perched atop half a sunken tire.  This proved to be my lucky day as I managed to get a clear and precise view of an Eurasian Wigeon.  Finding an Eurasia Wigeon is similar to finding a needle in a haystack. The male Eurasian looks exactly like the Northern except the Eurasian has a red head.  I was delighted! 

Elfin Forest Birds - White-crowned Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Scrub Jay, California Thrasher, Bewick's Wren, Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, Anna's Hummingbird, California Quail, Turkey Vulture.

Morro Bay Estuary Water Fowl - Brant Goose, Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal.  Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Eared Grebe, American Wigeon.  Thus ends the last Birding Blog for 2016.
                                 Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Birding the Last King Tides of the Year

                             Sweet Springs Wetlands
King Tides occur when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned at perigee (when the moon is nearest the earth) and perihelion (when the earth is closest to the sun), resulting in the largest tidal range seen over the course of a year. In other words King Tides occur when the Earth is closest to the Sun.  * 1 (see end of blog for more on tides)

Yesterday's morning tide was 6.8, the highest of the year.  I arrived at Sweet Springs at 9:45.  The tide was moving into the ponds.  From the small bridge I watched the water slowly cease its forward movement. For several minutes it was still, as if it were resting. Slowly the water began its journey back to the sea.  Within an hour the tide will be moving swiftly.  The higher the tide, the swifter the tide moves out of the bay. I have watched kayakers trying to paddle against the tide.  With great effort they make no progress.
     Two male Blue-winged Teal, one female Mallard
Blue-winged Teal and Mallards were the only ducks feeding in the flooded pickleweed.  There was a Song Sparrow singing which was delightful.  Watched a deer grazing on the far side of the wetlands.  Out from the overlook was a huge flock of resting winter ducks, primarily Ruddy Duck and Greater Scaup with a few Western Grebe on the periphery.  The below photo only shows a small section of the ducks.  Can you find the a Western Grebe?
 I could not linger at Sweet Springs, as I wanted to get to the Morro Bay Marina to get a photo of the  Winter plumage Red-throated Loon that had come in on the tide the day before. Seeing the Red-throated Loon, who may have just flown in from its Arctic breeding grounds, was quite exciting as I have seldom seen one and only at a distance.  (below photo by Roger Zachery.  I did get a photo, but Roger's photo was better than mine.)
 My faithful friend, the Spotted Sandpiper who usually probes in the wet sand along the edge of the marina was sitting on a post.  There were several Pied-billed Grebe,  two Common Loon, a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, and a Partridge in a pear tree.  In the below photo can you find the Red-throated Loon.  It does show, if you squint when you look at the expanded image.
The diving ducks, Brant Goose, and the Avocet were further out.  Most of the shore birds were clustered on patches of pickleweed waiting for the tide to go out.   My last bird of the morning was an Orange-crowned Warbler flitting through the brush. 

The Christmas Bird Count is Saturday, the 17th.   I will be counting yard birds.  Last year I had 23 species.   I have high hopes the local Bald Eagle will fly over.  That would be a real feather in my Bird Count Cap.

1. Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun combined with the rotation of the Earth.

                                   Merry Holidays

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Birding There but Mostly Here

Atascadero Lake, Atascadero Ca.  A short jaunt over the hill, about 25 minutes, brings you to Atascadero Lake Park. The photo was taken three years ago when the lake was full.  Last year due to the drought the lake dried out, as a result all the feathered inhabitants moved on.  Fortunately this October rains filled the lake enough to bring back some of the birds.

The air was crisp when my friend Mike and I arrived.  We went for a brief walk to check out the best spot for viewing, as there is quite a bit of vegetation along the edges.  Upon returning to the car we spotted Roger Zachary, one of the top birder/photographer in the county, setting up his scope.  Oh my gosh, what great fortune to come across Roger who had been posting to the slobirding yahoo group the birds he had been observing at the lake.

 Roger took the scope down near the edge of the water to show us 5 Common Snipe that were feeding in a slightly moist area along the weedy fringes of the lake.  Prior to Roger's arrival we had been looking for them but to no avail.  We also had fabulous sightings of Ring-necked Duck, male and female. 
The memorable sighting of the morning was of a Bald Eagle as it flew over the lake.  Photo was taken by Roger Zachary at Atascadero Lake.

 Birding the King Tides in Morro Bay - Very high tides cause the migratory shore birds to seek out higher areas when they can wait till the tide goes out.  Thousands of shore birds are densely packed on thin strips of pickleweed far out in the bay.  Most of the water fowl are in the shallower areas where it is difficult to view them.  As the tide goes out the birds move into their favored feeding areas.  The tide was at its highest when I arrived.  From the Marina boardwalk could be seen about 40 Brant Goose and a few Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler.  Many Snowy and Great Egret were feeding along the edges of the high tide.  There were 20 Avocet close enough to get a great photo, if only one had remembered to bring her camera.
                                 Morro Bay Marina
On the narrow boardwalk a cluster of birders were taking photos of the seldom seen Nelson's Sparrow whose habitat is somewhere out in the pickleweed.  The Nelson's only comes into view when the tide is extreme.  A photo of a Nelson's Sparrow is a feather in a birder's cap. 
The best time to bird the Morro Bay King Tides is an hour or two after the tide begins to ebb. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Baywood Morning Birds

Yesterday a Red-necked Grebe, and seven Brant Goose, were seen in Baywood Cove in the area of the little pier and the Back Bay Cafe.  This morning at 8:00 I headed out the door with binoculars, camera and high hopes that I could find the water fowl that had been sighted yesterday. 
Luck prevailed.  The first birds I saw were 27 Blue-winged Teal (above photo and center of top photo). Along the edge of the sandbar (the tide was going out) were two Black-bellied Plover, a very Long-billed Curlew, several Marbled Godwit, and a Ring-billed Gull.
Tiny fish were jumping and 2 Eared Grebe were diving every few moments.  Seven Brant were moving in a straight line across the bay. One was in the lead. It was a beautiful sight.  Out a little further were, not one, but two Red-necked Grebe (above photo by Caleb Putnam) and two Pied- billed Grebe, plus 17 Western Grebe, and a Kingfisher perched on the top of a mast (below photo). Saturday, October 22, 2016 will go down in history as the "Day of the Grebe."
All these great sightings in just a few minutes.  With the beautiful morning came the people, dog walkers, children playing on the sand bar, dogs in the water, and a line of people waiting for coffee.  The old adage, "The early birds gets the worm," was certainly true this morning.