Saturday, February 27, 2016

You were in my dream last night...

Actually, you probably weren't. But many people would feel very uncomfortable if someone told them that. I don't know why.

Man Sleeping on Field
Man Sleeping on Field by Space Ship Galaxy Fantasy.
We dream about people we know: family, friends, work mates. Why wouldn't we? Except that I actually dream about lots of people I don't know, too. Well, I do know them in my dream, but when I wake I have no idea who they were. I have several repeat guest visitors to my dreams who I know only from my dreams.

I dream as soon as my head hits the pillow, usually entering the same dream I left off with the previous morning. That's often when I remember my previous night's dream, and the remembering sometimes wakes me back up.

Even people I dream about that I do know often don't stay that same person, morphing from one person to another, or are actually two people in one. For instance, my youngest daughter and my youngest sister are often the same dual-person in my dreams.

Last night I wasn't even in my own dream. Or I wasn't me. I was a mountain man or Clarence Birdseye discovering quick-frozen fish in the far north (thanks PBS!). A snow storm or avalanche (looking suspiciously like the dust cloud from the Dust Bowl, thanks again PBS!) was coming right at me. Whereupon a herd of bison and men with bison heads (some riding horses) came over the rise to escape the snowy disaster and were about to trample me. So I jumped in a hole in the ground that was also being used by hibernating cave bears.

Exciting for me. Boring for you to hear about. And don't bother analyzing it. Dreams don't mean anything. I often dream about something that happened during the day and whatever TV show I watched last before retiring. (Admittedly, though, I have no idea where the bison-headed horsemen came from.)

Besides being Clarence Birdseye, I have been a car in my dreams (thankfully with no singing or flying off into the sunset), a chair, and also Marlene's pillow (I gave her head a loving hug). I've even been... no, wait... that really would make you uncomfortable!

See you in my dreams!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Duck Diving Goose

"Duck Diving" is a technique surfers use to dive through oncoming waves.

Well I've got proof that surfers aren't the first to use this technique. However, perhaps it should be called "Goose Diving" [Quick Internet search to make sure this term isn't already in use as something untoward... OK, good; it's safe to use.] This Brant goose in San Diego Bay shows particular adeptness at Duck Diving.

First: Face the oncoming wave.
Brant "Duck Diving"
Second: Dive head first under the wave.
Of course, the Brant doesn't have a surf board. And it's hard to get completely submerged when you float like a cork. But it is definitely the Duck Dive.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Silver and Black Sculpture: Common Raven

Photographing black-and-white birds can be a challenge. The camera does not have the dynamic range of the eye when it comes to the full range of brightness from very dim to very bright. Such contrasts on a camera often cause the white to be over-exposed, or the blacks to be too black, losing any detail. I have often been disappointed trying to capture Buffleheads or other black-and-white ducks against a high-contrast lake. This can also be true on all-white birds against dark backgrounds, or black birds against bright backgrounds.

That brings us to today's photo. It is lacking in several respects. The two primary failures are that the bird's head is turned and there is thus no face as the bird walks away. Faceless birds hardly ever work as a pleasing photographic subject. Secondly, the sun reflecting off the jet-black bird is completely over-exposed.

Common Raven
Common Raven. Ramona, California. January 2, 2016. Greg Gillson.
In spite of these flaws, I am really drawn to the highly-contrasting feather edges. The glossy plumage provides mirror-like highlights to the otherwise feathery blackness. It reminds me of a metallic sculpture of a muscle-builder. I think it would also work as a black-and-white photograph.

Common Raven

Yes, that's it.

This bird loses all such impression and pleasing contrast when it turns around and walks toward me.

Common Raven

Friday, February 12, 2016

Bath time for a Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal is one of the more uncommon ducks in the West. So, I'm always happy to see them. I encountered over a dozen at Robb Field at the mouth of the San Diego River on February 1. One particular bird was really enjoying his bath time!

Shakin' his booty!
Blue-winged Teal taking a bath

Dip under and get covered with water.
Blue-winged Teal taking a bath

Work all the water into the plumage.
Blue-winged Teal taking a bath

Dip under again...
Blue-winged Teal taking a bath

Oh, how do I put those feathers back? Bad "hair" day.
Blue-winged Teal taking a bath

All done!
Blue-winged Teal

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Red House Finch

A few weeks ago I posted "Birds to Know in San Diego: Backyard." It turned out that I didn't have a photo of the typical red House Finch in San Diego. Instead, I presented a photo of an aberrant yellow-colored House Finch. So recently, I made a point to photograph the common red variety.

House Finch
House Finch. Imperial Beach, California. January 30, 2016. Greg Gillson.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mountain Palm Springs

My goal at the end of December was to find Elephant Trees in the Anza-Borrego Desert. These small, thick-trunked desert shrubs can harbor Gray Vireos in winter. There is an Elephant Tree Trail that supposedly leads to exactly one Elephant Tree. So I researched as best I could and came up with more of these rare-to-the-United-States trees beyond the Mountain Palm Springs in a remote area of the already remote Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I missed. From the parking area trails lead NW and SW to native California Fan Palms--rare in themselves. I was to take the SW trail, but it is not well-marked.

Walking up the wash led to the first palms with more beyond.

California Fan Palms

One of the driest areas in the United States and there was actually water flowing down the little creek!

California Fan Palms

Telling native California Fan Palms from the ubiquitous Mexican Fan Palms is not easy. Both are referred to by their scientific genus, washingtonia. What I think I have noticed is that the native palms are thicker-trunked and the fans are torn up into more individual leaflet spikes. But perhaps thick trunks are caused from access to year-round ground water and I just imagine the leaf difference.

California Fan Palms at Mountain Pine Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert

I should have kept following the stream into what looked like a dead end canyon at the head of the spring. From there evidently, a switchback trail leads up to the Elephant Trees. Instead, I followed the only sign I found and soon turned east out onto the desert floor. After a mile and a half I ended up at Bow Willow Campground.

Anza-Borrego Desert

It was still a pretty hike, with rocky outcroppings, Ocotilla, Cholla and Barrel Cactus. But I didn't end up where I wanted. I never did get to see the Elephant Trees.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Birds to know in San Diego: San Elijo Lagoon

This is the second post in a monthly series that depicts over 50 common birds in San Diego County. In the first post we discussed some common backyard birds. Now we head to San Elijo Lagoon at Encinitas on the North County coast.

San Elijo Lagoon, California
High tide at San Elijo Lagoon, California.
As a salt water lagoon, San Elijo Lagoon fills with ocean water at high tide. At low tide it drains out again. This type of habitat is very rare in California--indeed the world--as these marshes are often drained for the development of this high-priced real estate. Thus, many of the plants and animals living here are endangered. The lagoons are valuable real estate for wildlife habitat, too. But the plants and animals are often out-bid by the people. San Elijo Lagoon is thus a very rare and precious gem.

Here is my birding site guide to San Elijo Lagoon.

Many of the most obvious birds in the marsh have long legs for wading in the water and long bills for probing in the mud.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit. San Elijo Lagoon, California. March 8, 2008. Greg Gillson.
Marbled Godwit
This large salmon-colored shorebird with the "too long" upturned bill breeds in the northern Great Plains and winters coastally. However, a number of non-breeding birds also summer on the California coast. Thus, Marbled Godwits can be found here throughout the year, though they are most common fall through spring. They prefer salt water, so they are found primarily either on the beach or in the lagoons. Similar San Diego birds: Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, Willet, perhaps the much smaller Long-billed Dowitcher and Short-billed Dowitcher.

Ridgway's Rail
Ridgway's Rail. Imperial Beach, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Ridgway's Rail
Formerly considered the western subspecies of Clapper Rail, this critically endangered bird is as rare as the saltwater marsh habitat it lives in. Fortunately, where the habitat has been restored these birds are making a strong comeback from the low point in the 1980's. Ridgway's Rails were only re-established in San Elijo Lagoon since 1982. They built to 8 pairs in 1997 but dropped again to only 1 pair in 2000-2001 (San Diego County Bird Atlas. Philip Unitt. 2004.). Rails are secretive marsh dwellers that are usually hard to actually see. But at lower tides birds may be observed crossing shallow channels or foraging for snails at the edge of the cordgrass. Sometimes, if one calls, all the birds erupt in calls throughout the marsh. A dozen birds or more may be heard or glimpsed now in San Elijo Lagoon, especially August through November. Similar San Diego birds: Virginia Rail, Sora, Least Bittern.

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt. Imperial Beach, California. July 4, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Black-necked Stilt
This black and white wader is graceful and elegant despite the almost impossibly long and shockingly bright coral pink legs. They nest at San Elijo Lagoon and numbers can reach over 100, but they don't usually flock together. They are only slightly less common in winter. They use injury-feigning and distraction displays to lead predators away from the ground-nests and chicks. Similar San Diego birds: American Avocet.

American Avocet
American Avocet. Oceanside, California. May 24, 2015. Greg Gillson.
American Avocet
The stately avocets are often found with Black-necked Stilts year-round in sandy lagoons and shallow wetlands. This species has very long bluish legs and a thin upturned bill. In spring the head and neck sports a soft cinnamon-brown wash that disappears in winter. Semi-colonial; large numbers may flock together in any season. This rather large shorebird defends it nest and territory by screaming and strafing--flying straight at intruders (including people) who have ventured too close. Similar San Diego birds: Black-necked Stilt.

Cinnamon Teal
Cinnamon Teal. Chula Vista, California. December 31, 2015. Greg Gillson.
Cinnamon Teal
This tiny little duck with the big bill is regular, but not overly numerous, in quiet, shallow, marshes choked with floating vegetation. It is found year-round in California, but harder to find in summer and early winter. An early migrant; by mid-January the spring migration is noticeable. Similar San Diego birds: The camouflage-patterned females of Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal are very similar.

Willet. San Elijo Lagoon, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Willet. San Elijo Lagoon, California. December 15, 2013. Greg Gillson.
This larger shorebird is overall a rather non-descript gray throughout most of the year. In spring, it features a few browner spots and streaks. But when it flies it exposes its striking black-and-white wing pattern. They don't breed here, but a few non-breeding individuals may be found in summer, especially on the open beaches. But it is hard to tell a migrant from a summering bird, as spring migration continues through May and fall migration may begin by late June. Named for it's piercing and loud "Willet!" or "Pill-Will-Willet!" it is often first noticed by its call. Similar San Diego birds: None, really, but perhaps Whimbrel, Red Knot, Black-bellied Plover (bold wing stripe).

Birds to know in San Diego: introduction

Next: Birds to know in San Diego: Anza-Borrego Desert