Sunday, August 24, 2014

That daring young man on the flying trapeze

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorants. San Elijo Lagoon. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
When another Double-crested Cormorant landed on this wire over the lagoon, the whole wire swung back-and-forth, nearly causing some birds to lose their balance. It reminded me of the song "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze." 

He'd fly through the air with the greatest of ease, 
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.

So, where did that little ditty come from?

It is an 1867 song based on trapeze artist Jules Leotard. He invented the trapeze and, yes, the leotard!

Learn more about Mr. Leotard, the song, and trapeze here 

Double-crested Cormorant
"When I grow up, mom, I want to swing on the wire, too. But I don't want to wear the tights!"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Medley of bird photos at Palomar Mountain

I have several bird photos from July 13 up on Palomar Mountain that I haven't had a chance to show, yet. So here they are with minimal comments.

Oak Titmouse
Oak Titmouse. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Restricted to oak groves (imagine that!). Previous post on Oak Titmouse at Hot Springs Mountain.

California Towhee
California Towhee. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Common in chaparral, thus a widespread species in San Diego County. Previous post on California Towhee.

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Notice the grubs that dad has for his nestlings.

Band-tailed Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
These pigeons are quite common in the oak and pine mountains.

Mountain Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Found in mountain conifers in the west. This bird is foraging on a live-oak. This is the only chickadee found in San Diego County (not counting the very similar Oak Titmouse, Bushtit, and Verdin).

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Several forms of Dark-eyed Juncos can be found here in winter. This (Oregon Junco) is the most common and only nesting form. The belly feathers of this male are very messed up, probably from sitting on the nest for the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Purple Finch at Palomar Mountain

Purple Finch
Purple Finch. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The 3 species of reddish North American finches are one of the most-frequently misidentified bird species. It's not because they are rare--no, just the opposite.

The separation of these common finches is a beginning and intermediate ID challenge. House Finches are now widespread in residential areas across North America. Purple Finches are found in mixed and conifer woods. Cassin's Finches are found in the pine forests of the Western mountains. Often their ranges overlap, so in many places in North America you can't just assume that you only get ONE species where you live.

I'm just talking about the red males. And the brown-striped females? Forget it. Actually, the females are identifiable, but it takes more work.

Want to know what other common birds are frequently misidentified? Read my post from last year in the Birding Is Fun! blog: Ten most misidentified birds in the Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Killer Pizza From Mars

Killer Pizza From Mars
Killer Pizza From Mars. Escondido, California.
This is a busy place. Busy in terms of people--but not over-crowded. Busy in terms of a lot of decorations to grab your attention: flying saucers, aliens, movie posters. You'll see references to Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and B movies from the 1950's that you had forgotten completely about (for good reason). Busy in terms of noisy: they have multiple TV's set to ESPN for sports. They've got beer on tap. It's a fun place to go, great food, and left-overs for days!

Marlene and I like the works on our pizza. But we've found that we' rather have more vegetables and only pepperoni. So, we do what many do--order a vegetarian and add pepperoni. Our preference?

Pizza of the God's: a vegetarian pizza with mushrooms, lots of garlic, tomatoes, large artichoke hearts, with mozzarella cheese. We then add pepperoni.

Like the sign on the door says: "Sorry, we're open."

Killer Pizza From Mars

Monday, August 11, 2014

Phainopepla at Palomar Mountain

Male Phainopepla. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I really like these birds. They are unassuming and inquisitive, but still a bit shy. I wish my photos were a bit better. All-black birds aren't easy to photograph. They are a member of a group of 4 primarily Central American birds called "silky flycatchers." They are on the checklist next to Cedar Waxwing and not related to the other flycatchers. The name is quite the tongue-twister!

"Phainopepla" means shining robe in Greek. Indeed, males are glossy black, females grayer. Plumage is loose and fluffy. They have crests and a large tail, as well as white wing patches. The eyes are red and bill small but wide. Their call is an easily imitated whistled "whit!" somewhat similar to the call of Swainson's Thrush.

They are desert birds. I think of them most often from my visits to Arizona back in the 1970's and 1980's. They are found especially in the Sonoran Desert in mesquite trees where they eat mistletoe berries and insects.

According to The Encyclopedia of North American Birds (Terres, 1980), Phainopeplas in southern California breed in the desert in March and April and then move to riparian chaparral of the coastal slope to breed again in June. We had one wintering locally at our home in San Marcos that I saw a few times last December and January.

Female Phainopepla. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. April 20, 2014. Greg Gillson.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Acorn Woodpecker at Palomar Mountain

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
This was the most common species on Palomar Mountain when I visited 2 weeks ago.

Two years ago I guest posted on the Birding Is Fun! blog about Acorn Woodpeckers. Here's something I bet you didn't know... If I had a favorite bird.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New names for old birds

I recorded and photographed two new bird names on my list of today's birds. But I didn't record any new life birds. These weren't even new year birds for me. How?

Well, every year at this time the scientifically-slanted AOU (American Ornithologists' Union) publishes its checklist of North and Middle American birds (North Pole to Panama), adding new species discovered visiting North America the past year, changing names (common and scientific), reordering the checklist, and splitting and lumping species based on new DNA or morphometric or other evidence. Once published, the ABA (American Birding Association), the "birding-as-a-sport-club" adopts the checklist changes (but only for US north of Mexico, Canada, and the French Island of St. Pierre et Miquelon, and out 200 miles into the ocean or half the distance to another point of non-included land (but not Bermuda, Bahama (♫ come on pretty momma ♫), Greenland, or Hawaii).

Thus the following two birds I saw today now have different names for different reasons.

Nutmeg Mannikin becomes Scaly-breasted Munia
Nutmeg Mannikin becomes Scaly-breasted Munia. Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Just last year this feral former cage bird became a countable species in southern California. Wild birds are widespread in river bottoms along the coast. In the pet trade this bird is known as Spice Finch or Nutmeg Mannikin.

The bird has nothing to do with nutmeg, nor is it found where nutmeg comes from. [Maybe it is nutmeg-colored. But that's not a real color. It's a made-up color. The only real colors are those original 8 in the Crayola box. As a kid, my family evidently couldn't afford the 64-color box for me, or the unbelievable 128-color box, so now I refuse to recognize any other colors. This bird is brown (or close enough).]

The Nutmeg Mannikin is NOT related to the bird family of Manakins. Mannikins are finches (known for their lively songs and seed-eating appetites); Manakins are related to flycatchers (sub-oscines, which means they can't sing to save their lives; they eat bugs); Manikins are, well, Mannequins. Where's Ogden Nash when you need him?

Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata is the last bird on the ABA checklist--the last bird in your field guide, following House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Okay, enough silliness. On to Bird Number 2.

Clapper Rails in the West become Ridgway's Rail
Western Clapper Rails become Ridgway's Rail. San Elijo Lagoon, Solana Beach, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
It was low tide at San Elijo Lagoon this morning. Over a dozen of these large rails snuck (sneaked, for you word snobs) out of their marsh vegetation where they usually hide unseen to eat the many exposed fiddler crabs and clams or whatever those lumps in the mud are. They were quite excited and called out often, eliciting a response from all the other rails in the marsh--quite a noise! It is more usual not to see or even hear any rails during a birding visit.

Last time I saw these birds they were called Clapper Rails. But a bunch of Clapper and King rails (several in Mexico) were split in this recent AOU update (see definition of "cryptic species" in yesterday's post about White-breasted Nuthatches). "Clapper Rails" are now found on the Atlantic. Ridgway's (yes, without an 'e') Rails are now the form found in coastal salt marshes in California and along the Colorado River and coastal western Mexico.

Ridgway's Rail  Rallus obsoletus
Clapper Rail  Rallus longirostris

Saturday, August 2, 2014

White-breasted Nuthatch at Palomar Mountain

White-breasted Nuthatch (Slender-billed Nuthatch)
White-breasted (Slender-billed) Nuthatch. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
The most recent (May/June 2014) issue of Birding magazine has an article on White-breasted Nuthatches as a cryptic species.

Definition of Cryptic Species: "a group of individual organisms which are virtually identical in appearance but nonetheless each satisfy the biological definition of a species - that is, they are reproductively isolated from each other." --A Cryptic Species Complex. Daniel H. Janzen, Winnie Hallwachs and John Burns.

Five recognized subspecies of White-breasted Nuthatches in North America are thought to perhaps fit the definition of full species to make 3 species. Thus last year the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) voted on a proposal to split White-breasted Nuthatches. The proposal failed at this time. However, it is possible that such a split may happen in the future. Even if not, birders may want to be aware of the differences.

The Birding article discussed dividing White-breasted Nuthatch into 3 groupings: Carolina Nuthatch, Rocky Mountain Nuthatch, and Slender-billed Nuthatch.

Carolina Nuthatch found east of the Rocky Mountains from extreme NE British Columbia to Prince Edward Island south from eastern Texas to Georgia. Rocky Mountain Nuthatch is found from south-central British Columbia to western Montana south from Arizona to western Texas, and south in Mexico to Oaxaca. A few outliers are found in the Black Hills of South Dakota and western Oklahoma. Slender-billed Nuthatch is found from SW Washington, western Oregon, most of California, to NW Baja.

The Rocky Mountain Nuthatch has a narrower dark crown stripe, thus a more extensively white face than the other two. The Carolina Nuthatch has an obvious dark line back from the eye. The main difference in the field is darker black greater coverts and tertials on otherwise pale gray wing on Carolina Nuthatch, some on Rocky Mountain Nuthatch, and virtually none on Slender-billed Nuthatch. The flanks are darker gray on Rocky Mountain Nuthatch. There is overlap in bill length, but the Rocky Mountain form averages longer, and has a maximum length longer than the others (see my photo of the long-billed Rocky Mountain Nuthatch below). Call notes are different, as well, as would be expected for different species.

White-breasted Nuthatch (Rocky Mountain Nuthatch)
White-breasted (Rocky Mountain) Nuthatch. Grant County, Oregon. May 29, 2007. Greg Gillson.